“Emily Gosling is What’s On Editor and Reporter for Design Week [www.designweek.co.uk]. Recently she visited an artists’ residency in Poland, spending time with the artists and observing their practice. Here is her fascinating report;”
Earlier this month, I spent four days visiting the Hello Collective artists’ residency in the rural village of Cieplice, South West Poland. The simple studio-cum-house sees young artists open their lives and art practises to frank and critical discussions in a setting far-removed from the urbaneness and privacy they’re used to.
The programme, which aims to use this honest, supportive environment to help artists develop their work, was started last year by Berlin-based artist Abigail Liparoto, a Camberwell School of Art Illustration graduate turned fine artist.
In early 2011 she first visited the house, which belongs to her boyfriend’s stepfather, Richard Zajac, upon the death of Zajac’s mother, Danuta Wolak. She instantly fell in love with it, and decided it was the perfect setting to realise her dream of creating a space where artists could come together and engage in productive, non-judgemental, and open dialogue about their work, while potentially collaborating with others.
During the 1960s, Zajac – a painter and sculptor himself – had used the house and the surrounding area for a series of artistic ‘interventions’ – a legacy living on through many of the young artists participating in the residency.
For this year’s programme, Glasgow School of Art Fine Art graduate Michael Smith is co-running proceedings, having participated in the residency as an artist last year where he continued to develop his performance-based work.
Disillusioned with the amount of ‘stuff’ in the world, his practice has moved away from creating tangible works into performance, and the act of minimalizing over making, finally culminating in what he feels is the most significant project of his residency this year. ‘The next logical step was to destroy myself’, he says.
Avoiding the actual act of immolation, he’s formally sublimated his artistic identity through contractual obligation. In the second week of the residency, Smith created a contract meaning that another resident artist, Jasmine Poole, will become custodian of his artistic identity as of 8 September – the final day of the residency. This will be valid for at least six months, though the specified period is indefinite, and can only be revoked when the two artists meet again in the same country.
Smith’s next step is a residency in China, and here, he feels, it’ll be easier to achieve his goal of shedding his increasingly frustrated and uneasy current artistic persona. He will become someone new, Charlie Dance, free of the shackles of his previous practises and ideologies.
The living space for Hello Collective residents is fairly basic, with accommodation attached to the studio space itself. Unlike last year, there’s now an internet connection and lighting in the upstairs attic area, though a fridge, washing machine and other 21st Century utilities remain absent. Rooms are shared with one or two others, and artists each pay 60 Euros per week to cover accommodation and studio costs, weekly invited mentors and basic living supplies.
‘This isn’t like a holiday. Well it is, but it’s a pretty tough holiday if it is’, says Liparoto. ‘People criticising and questioning you – “why are you doing that”, “why can’t you do this” – it’s not that relaxing. It’s a very small space, you’re producing work very publicly when people often see making art as a very private process.’
‘It’s hard work, from mopping the floors to everyone’s keeping the positivity going’, agrees Smith. ‘But when the people are right you can feed off each other’s energy. It’s a worthy project that gives people a lot in whatever it is they’re looking for.’
The lack of fridge means food is bought fresh from the market or small store in the village, and chores are shared, though in a relaxed, rota-free way. Away from the distractions, trappings and constraints of normal life, it’s not hard to see why people feel inspired here.
‘It’s really easy to produce work, but it’s hard to produce good work’, says Liparoto. ‘Here, it’s more a place for germination: there is work being produced and pushed but it’s more about the mental state.’
Liparoto’s work is usually portrait based when working from her studio in Berlin, focussing on painting and drawing, with the subjects primarily those close to her. This subject matter, she says, is inspired by the work of Danuta Wolak.
‘When she worked here she was sat here alone and had few visitors so she painted her family to remind her of them’ says Liparoto. ‘I felt like it was a bit like me when I moved to Berlin. I made a parallel to how we use Facebook now – seeing pictures of people you can’t see in real life: but instead she filled her walls.’
This year’s residency has seen her move towards more tactile, interactive sculptural pieces and installations as a reaction to the ‘uploadable’ nature of images today. Perhaps the most fascinating piece is a huge, golden swathe of suspended fabric that recreates a hug, using a pulley system to apply pressure to the viewer.
‘I was trying to address the question of “can you recreate a feeling”? All touch is really is thermal and mechanical sensors of pressure and warmth. So with this piece, we know a hug is nice, but this is a mechanical hug. When people pull the string it’s a hug – but a detached one.’
During my stay, artists Hyojun Hyun and Marie-Andrée Pellerin were completing their residencies.
Canadian artist Marie-Andrée Pellerin completed an Architecture degree at Université de Montréal, before moving to Berlin for a year, then returning to Canada. Her work frequently draws on her architectural background, incorporating urban elements and objects to create drawings, photographs, installations and video works. Though she’s completed other residencies – most recently in Romania – she was drawn to the Hello Collective due to the supportive atmosphere and unusually conversation-focused aesthetic.
‘It’s different here as all the space is shared’, she says. ‘It’s more an exchange with others, rather than just focussing on your own work. Others can push you in your own practice.’
Much of Pellerin’s work uses site-specific found objects, formed into installations that subtly challenge the nature of their components once reformed into new entities. In Cieplice, she’s using discarded building materials from around the house – some scavenged from the disused building next door – which will be used to create installations within the studio.
‘I like to create worlds that aren’t viable’, she says. ‘That’s why it’s interesting to come into this immersive experience. I’m working more with the area around the house and trying to make a transition between the primary materials I find around here and transpose them into my work.’
During the penultimate day of my stay, I go on a bike ride with Smith and Pellerin to scope out abandoned buildings for Pellerin’s work. She’s fascinated by the work of Gordon Matta-Clark, an American artist who cut up entire buildings. He died at only 35, and Pellerin’s artistic interventions seek to ‘propose new buildings for him to cut’, by finding disused spaces and spraying on painted ‘cut here’ lines. We end up clambering through a breath-taking (if rather terrifying and precarious) abandoned factory site, and small artistic interventions are quietly formed through the dust, rubble and shattered tiles of the former industrial behemoth.
Hyojun Hyun was born in South Korea, and now works in Glasgow, where he completed the MFA program at the Glasgow School of Art. His practice is focused on abstract paintings and experimental drawings, and he applied for the residency in order to explore what he terms ‘impromptu drawings’ through working outside the studio and drawing inspiration from nature. The most reserved of the residents, during my stay he’s mostly head-down working on watercolour and acrylic paint pieces.
It’s an obvious and clichéd statement that we’re all now more connected than ever. Artists and non-artists alike can view art and read about its creation process and creator at the click of a mouse, but it’s not too often that sculptures, drawings, interventions, or the elimination of an artistic identity happen right in front of you, opening themselves up to immediate questioning and critique.
‘The 1960s interventions and happenings have so much more relevance now: with online there’s all these communities, but this is a real community’, Liparoto points out. ‘Here there’s no washing machine, no fridge – we all eat together but it’s not in a hippy way. We’ve all got Mac Books for fuck’s sake, we’re not hippies. But it’s an actual community where we see each other’s work – we don’t just upload it to Facebook and click ‘like.’’