One aspect of all of artists’ workshops and residencies is that in making work side by side, artists inevitably begin to understand each other despite their differences. Empathy is a fundamental ingredient in most art, and while individual works are vastly different from each other, much art confronts and offers unique answers to such essential questions as, what does it mean to be human? Artists are vital to easing political friction because by fostering a vision and purpose, they can dissolve borders and provide a psychic geography.
HUE, Vietnam — Brothers Thanh and Hai Le are at the center of the contemporary art scene in Hue, the Imperial City, located on the coast midway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. They have a frenetic and positive energy, and everyone in Hue seems to know who they are. They have relationships with established artists in Hue, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City, as well as with young students and artists who have just completed their studies. I learned about them from the artist Morgan O’Hara and contacted them because I planned to travel to Vietnam. They invited me to stay at their residency at the New Space Arts Foundation.
LAUGARVATN, Iceland — I came to Iceland at the beginning of August for a month long stay at Gullkistan, a residency for creative people in Laugarvatn (pronounced something like Lurrahgahvaht-n) in southern Iceland. The residency fell into my lap and was perfect for what I wanted. As much as I love New York, I wanted to spend a month in a setting that couldn’t be more different — I wanted sublime natural beauty, peace and quiet, relaxation and simplicity — a reset button for myself. Gullkistan was an ideal answer.
Often the role of an artist is simply to disrupt and create a perceptual shift. This past April, I was invited to participate in a residency program where the studios were on the outskirts of a small town, scattered among a forest. The residency promoted its relationship between artists, nature and quiet contemplation. Upon arrival, I was confronted with this somewhat contrived environment, but also with performance artist Jordan McKenzie.
CHICAGO — The LA Times reported on February 20 that there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle about a public sculpture in Wasilla, Alaska, the town that will forever be associated with ex-mayor of Wasilla and former half-term governor Sarah Palin, though it turns out that the story has absolutely nothing to do with Palin.
ZURICH — Is being an artist-in-residence in a third world country akin to being a participant on the Survivor television series? If visiting artists are left to fend for themselves in unknown territory, this may well be the case, however at what point does a residency in such an area need to step in and moderate a visit?
On Wednesday evening at 6 pm CST I was standing in a domestic violence shelter introducing my project “Everyone We’ve Never Met from Memory and Imagination” to a group of about twenty women. They listened politely as I showed them drawings of people like Gene Simmons, Brittany Spears (Snarling, head shaved), 1950s Elvis vs Vegas Elvis, Martha Stewart, Oprah and shared some of the memories other people had written about the subjects. After I finished the introduction, I passed out some brainstorming worksheets. One woman completed her list almost immediately.
Sheboygan, Wisconsin — Today marks the second week of my residency here in Sheboygan, a place which remains elusive to me. I have become familiar with the stretches of road between my cabin, the Arts Center and the Piggly Wiggly Supermarket on a highway named Business 28. I like going to the “Pig,” as the locals call it, to buy coffee and admire the vast selection of frozen pizzas they sell. The freezers filled with pizzas alone would choke a bodega. I admit, I bought one and ate it while watching the Matrix on the small TV/VCR combo here.
This morning I stood frozen in private terror facing a room full of smiling senior citizens with various stages of memory loss, feeling ill-prepared to ask them to draw someone who they had never actually met. That is the conceit of my memory-based drawing project, here on the sunny shores of Lake Michigan north of Milwaukee: to get as many people as I can to draw a person or character relying only on their memories and imagination.