Over the last decade, there has been a proliferation of residencies across the globe and in different contexts – from major art institutions to community cultural centers to non-conventional (and even non-art) spaces – that host artists, archivists, researchers, architects, curators, activists and scientists as well. Yet, the rise in residencies has not been matched with an equal increase in research and discourse around them as a practice and as a format. This quarterly edition of the ArteZine attempts to add to current debate and dialogue around residencies with a series of critical and personal reflections and provocations, while bringing together some of the existing resources and references. For ArteZine, Delfina Foundation and ArteEast have produced the Residency Resource Handbook, an overview of online resources and publicly available information on residencies. The reference tool is not intended to be comprehensive but rather serves as an initial survey. If anything, it is an urgent call for more research and analysis of contemporary residency models, as well as more discussion and public dissemination of such outcomes.
Still, without a significant body of research, several arguments have become widely accepted in terms of describing the effects of residencies on artistic development, urban regeneration, community cohesion, institution-building, and cultural exchange. Much of these ‘buzz words’ have emerged from language derived for – or from – funders, as it has largely been public funding and private foundations that have enabled an evolution and expansion of residencies through institutional and individual (artist-run) approaches. As Jakob Racek argues in Strategies of Weakness (from Re-tooling Residencies, a publication cited in the Residency Resource Handbook), it was major international foundations such as the Open Society Institute (now Open Society Foundation), Pro Helvetica et al who sustained organizations and thus the development of residency programs in the Western Balkans and other Eastern Bloc countries who were considered to be in early stages of ‘democratization’. However, as countries like Romania and Bulgaria became integrated into the European Union, funding priorities shifted to the newly marginalized countries that were then the ‘political and cultural screen onto which a whole series of Western European obsessions, such as order, violence and nationalism, was projected.’ As a result, many fragile organizations were left behind when the state failed to step in and fund these organizations.
In his contribution to ArteZine, artist and theorist Warren Neidich explains the correlation between residencies and open societies through a discussion of cultural capital and cognitive capital, where high ratios relate to non-authoritarian societies and low ratios are indicative of oppressive ones. Through the language of the humanities and neurosciences, he explains the implications for shaping cultural memory – and the mind’s eye – which can produce complex points-of-view, as well as a complex brain that is well tooled to deal with fluctuations in our globalized world. He proposes that residency organizations should embrace their role as sites of cultural contamination, where ‘neurobiopolitics’ are played out, rather than zones of conformity. The question he then asks is: how can we increase this potential through new forms of residencies that are more permeable?
In our networked transnational society, Warren argues for ‘a reappraisal of the residency as a conduit for information exchange that is actually vital for any sovereign looking to be relevant in the future.’ This has incredible significance to the Middle East during this crucial period. As the Arab Spring becomes the “Arab Year” and international NGOs rush in with some of the same aspirations of supporting democratization as they had in Eastern Europe, one can only wonder if existing residencies will feel a nudge from funders toward a certain direction or if new schemes will surface, only to find that sustainability is short lived when regimes fall and democracy spreads to, say, North Korea.
Moukhtar Kocache (Program Officer, Ford Foundation, Cairo) attempts to add some nuance and order into the current debate with regards to political philosophical developments and capital over the last hundred years. His contribution addresses the context of the Middle East and North Africa specifically with insight into the region’s needs and realities and how these could be addressed in the future both withstanding and in light of the current historic changes. He argues that now is the time, more than ever, to develop a local approach that focuses on home-grown and holistic development of the region’s arts ecology.
In her contribution, Aneta Szylak (Director, Wyspa Institute of Art, Gdansk) takes a broader view of the funding relationships of residencies. She recalls Martha Rosler’s argument that no monetary support for art is neutral and asserts that more and more understanding of how residencies can fulfill a new and much broader cultural and political role must be understood. This is very evident in our changing world where it is no longer possible to continue certain institutional formats because they reproduce the world we used to know.
Todd Lester gives a leading example of such possibilities through an account of freeDimensional (fD), from its initial idea of leveraging excess residency spaces for cultural practitioners in need to its greater ambition of establishing a network of Creative Safe Havens. In keeping with the idea of creating a resource out of this issue, Todd uses his contribution to archive the incredible journey of freeDimensional and bring together many of the online publications and research material that fD has developed over the last five years for ArteZine.
Artists have also been invited to contribute their own propositions and personal views on residencies. Youmna Chlala & Jeanno Gaussi present the artistic outcomes of a project produced specially for the ArteZine. As a continuation of their Home Sweet Home series, the artists place themselves in residence at their own homes in Berlin and New York demonstrating the notion of the residency as a state of mind and a way of (re)thinking home.
In an interview between Dar Al-Ma’mûn (DAM) and photographer Ahmad Hosni, the artist discusses his time among DAM’s first group of resident artists. He relates his residency to his on-going body of research into tourism and development in the geopolitical ‘south’. With residencies arguably another form of tourism, the interview raises questions about the role of artists and residency hosts in addressing local needs.
The last section of the ArteZine features reflections by a variety of cultural practitioners about their recent residencies. Each contributor was asked to respond to two sets of questions about their inward and outward journey: (1) What did you take with you to the residency and what did you leave behind? (2) What did you take with you from the residency and what did you leave behind? In their assorted replies, each resident unpacks the expectations and the results of their experiences through personal possessions that were carried, shed or newly acquired. The associated memories of these objects – or their ‘baggage’, as it were, both material and emotional – provide an interesting insight into the ‘mind’s eye’ of the resident. Featuring Ala Younis, curator-in-residence at La Galerie, Contemporary Art Centre of Noisy-le-Sec, France; Sarah Ibrahim, artist-in-residence at Makan, Jordan; Tayfun Serttas, artist-in-residence at Delfina Foundation, UK, as part of the Accented programme; Lotfi Nia translator-in-residence at Dar Al-Ma’mûn, Morocco; Nishat Awan, architect-in-residence at Decolonizing Art Architecture Residency, Palestine, with Delfina Foundation; and Abbas Akhavan, ArteEast’s first artist-in-residence at The Watermill Center, USA.
As part of this residency initiative, ArteEast produced a series of live discussions on Residency as Catalyst, hosted by The Watermill Center (New York); Alternative Residencies, Residencies as Refuge? and The Economies of Residencies hosted byInternational Studio and Curatorial Program (New York), and the culminating event Culture, Capital and Residencies at Gasworks (London). These podcasts complement the ArteZine and are brought together in the issue.
In conclusion, this edition of ArteZine aims to add to the body of research and information on residencies, while also calling for further knowledge exchange through networking, mentoring, symposiums, and the dissemination of outcomes, from publications to personal anecdotes. In the case of the Middle East and North Africa, there is an urgent need now more than ever to consolidate information and resources so that arts organizations working at the forefront change can advocate for residencies within governmental policies and public funding priorities. There is also great potential for private patronage to play a leading role in the region, taking risks to enable bold ideas and process-orientated practices. These are some of the lines of inquiry that must be explored and the launch of ArteZine at Gasworks will begin to unpack these complex issues through the round-table on Culture, Capital and Residencies in the Middle East.
Director, Delfina Foundation