Dwelling: Thick Place, Conversation, Hanging Out, and Living

10x ARTRES: Scotland

Gifford and Edinburgh



Residency conversation outside kitchen at Braewell House
Casual conversation with Collette and Steph in the Braewell House garden
Resident Andy Ducett being woken up by house cat “kitten” in Ella’s (guest) room, Edinburgh


Braewell House – Gifford

Braewell House Garage

20 July, 2015

Braewell House, Gifford

While brainstorming ideas for the project, I’d said that I was interested in starting out the group in a rural place for four days or so before bringing them into the city for the next 9 days. James mentioned that we could possibly use a house in his family that was in transition, his Uncle had passed and had been living in it, and it was being remodeled for James’ mum and dad to move into soon. This would be the first domestic house I’d ever occupied for residency, and so I was eager to try.

The domestic space of the house made us feel like we were already dwelling when we stepped inside. The kitchen was set up already and the livingroom, though empty except a long dining table at it with enough chairs for all of us, was cozy and well-lit. James had gone to some effort to ready the house for all of us, and had already designated the two bedrooms upstairs a Boys room and a Girls room. I thought this was quite quaint, to separate us this way, until I saw that the boys had bed rolls and sleeping bags to bed down in. James said later on reflection that this was an issue of high-anxiety for him, how would he have enough beds for everyone! He managed, though, unbeknownst to us.

On the first evening after settling in, we went to the local restaurant in Gifford, our first outing all together. We were still in the getting-to-know-you stage, and energy was high with lots of chatter, and nervousness. Once back at the house, we settled into a rhythm around meals, sleeping and eating two meals a day together. On the second night, I made my Grandma Rosa’s family recipe pasta sauce for everyone, and accidentally exploded tomato sauce on us cooks in the kitchen and even onto the ceiling, to James’ dismay. The next evening, Anne-Laure quietly transformed the leftover sauce into lovely pizzas she’d made with dough from scratch. We had a trip to the town pub in the afternoon, where James’ mom was tending the bar and treated us like family. It was the one place we could get wi-fi, and Anne-Laure and Luke did some “life admin” from that post for several hours whilst we all explored. We collectively threw some money in a tupperware on the dining room table, made a grocery list, and went shopping for provisions. We did have a car, but we walked everywhere.

We had two hunkered-down evenings around the dining room table in a round robin show-n-tell wherein we each took an hour to show the others our work, using Steph’s BT cell signal, and talk about our strategies for making. This is when we really began to “gel” as a group. The smaller everyday conversations we’d been having were thickened by this more vulnerable and pointed exchange, and a trust began to set in. At first, I recall Anne-Laure taking her backpack to the pub and missing part of the show-n-tell, and I sensed that she wasn’t quite sure if this residency atmosphere was going to work for her. I knew from experience that sometimes it takes time for each resident to figure out how they fit into the group, or to surrender themselves to it, and I sort of watched her for the first few days. Underneath the fun and conviviality, there was also a tenor of anxiety, which was evident especially for James and Anne-Laure, and my partner and assistant-adminstrator-by-proxy, John, also. He was with us for the first overnight to hep us get settled. By the third night, things had begun to coalesce, and everyone had settled into a rhythm together. One night, we had a late night dance party in the Girls room, someone had rigged up colored flashing lights and were singing loudly to youtube videos.

James had grown up in Gifford, and so he’d planned a long walk for us on the second day, several miles away, taking us by the grounds of a mysterious estate called Yester House that was a part of long local lore. Having him as an embedded host was so effective for us to be able to get to know the village, its history, its stories, and be welcomed by the townspeople. This long walk was also an occasion of expanding and contracting lines between us, as we moved in relation to each other, sometimes two and sometimes three at a time, in conversation as we exercised mind and body.

We’d planned an Open House in Braewell for the last night, our fourth together, and hung some fliers around the village and put out libations and had one or two of the works-in-progress spread about the house. This was a high energy night; Colette had a patch on her eye, and whilst we were awaiting guests to arrive, there was a zany energy that I couldn’t quite place. We had one or two townspeople through, and James’s parents, and artist friends from Edinburgh: John, Stephen, Donald and Kate, and Matthew, who slept overnight in my tent in our back garden.

We packed up seemingly quickly the next morning, being sure we’d scrubbed the tomato sauce off the ceiling and set everything to rights for James’ parents move-in, which was very soon. Piling into cars, we separately made our way into the city, as now we’d be splitting off for sleeping arrangements, Luke staying at Steph’s flat in Dalry, and Andy and Anne-Laure with us in Bruntsfield. We even had a day off of residency, this Sunday of travel and disbursement into the city. 

25 July – 2 August

EDI – Bargain Spot

Our studio HQ, situated on busy Lady Lawson in the Tollcross neighborhood, drew a bit of attention on a daily basis. We walked a curious line between public and private. Lots of foot-traffic going by, mostly a mix of university and office-goers, though this stretch of Tollcross feels a little dodgy, which none of us seemed to mind.  Whilst we did not hold our doors open to the sidewalk, we did not lock them, either. We received at least five passersby per day popping in to inquire what was happening at this dormant site. Our occupation created a public/private territory that vibrated and thickened this place and slowly, over time, also the city dwellers around us. This was in large part due to Andy’s performances in the storefront windows.

Andy and I had both described the feeling we had walking down Bruntsfield Road from our flat to HQ each morning was like soaring, made more vibrant because at this time in the summer in Edinburgh, the sun hardly sets. I was often tired, or elated, or exhausted, but each morning was charged with energy for what the day would bring. On the first day, after exploring the empty storefront space, we’d set up two long tables in the middle of the large empty space, which alternated as a collective work table, a hot desk, and a dining table, sometimes all at once. Always music playing. Luke painting. Anne-Laure weaving. Kettle on. Colette and Steph head-to-head at their laptops. Someone found a couch from the back storage room and set it up near the front windows which became a lounge area for working or just hanging out. Along one wall, we gathered chatchkes and leaned postcards and other tokens; “off to Sainsbury’s, who needs anything?” Orienting ourselves to this place, walking the dark stretch of the concrete basement towards the dirty bathroom to find a semi-broken toilet, it felt like we were in CBGBs in the 80s. Silently, we negotiate collectively how we handle this situation, each of us trying to do a little thing to the dingy bathroom- bring a handtowel from home, scrub the corroded sink- over time to make it more manageable for each other in our tight little world.

This residency scripts in the condition of “embedded host residents”, which means the half local residents, in this case, myself, Steph, and James, act as hosts for the out-of-town or international “guest” residents. As James’ flat is small and they have a toddler plus his wife Silke was 9 months pregnant, we easily took on one extra guest resident. In this way, Luke stayed with Steph, and Andy and Anne-Laure stayed with us for the week we were based in the City. Colette came through from Glasgow, where she was still working two days at the Train Museum; she’d stay with her sister in Edinburgh, and on the last night of the whole residency, she stayed with us (and Andy and Anne-Laure), too. The embedded host residents work to not only give the guests a place to stay for the night and bed in, but crucially, an intimate bond begins to form between the one host and their one (or two) guest(s) that is different than the dynamic of the fold as a whole.

These one-on-one transferences of trust and vulnerability also inform and build up the foundation of the trust of the group. Steph and her partner, Rich, made special breakfast for Luke, and in our flat, we played a game invented by an old friend back home called Monster Cards, and over beers, shared our views of the differences between the EDI and Mpls art scenes with Andy, amongst a million other small things gifted, given, shared, and negotiated in the other twelve hours each day we were not at studio HQ. As much as our time spent in HQ, this shared home downtime was equally a part of the “warm room” learning environment Ryan Gander and Claus Oldenburg were on about. The shared home is a place for hospitality, but it also holds space for a kind of trans-locality to occur, where Luke can really feel from Steph what it’s like to be an artist in Edinburgh, what the scene is like, how she operates within and negotiates it, through observing her, but also doing it with her at times, almost as if he were a ride along. She can bring him along to openings or meetings and introduce him to people as well, her peer artists and friends, but also the baker on her street or her favourite barista.

Our week in Edinburgh was during the last week of the Edinburgh Art Festival, and we attempted to intersect with its events and artists from in and out of town as much as possible without robbing our time alone together; it was a healthy balance. I was trying to arrange a guest artist to join us for dinner, such as Fran Stacey from Collective Gallery, but few people could actually come because of EAF commitments though they wanted to join us. We ended up having our own dinner by catering in Thai food to the HQ and simply showed each other some of the work-in-progress we’d been making and critted it. We joined the closing EAF dance party, and when arranging for our Open House on Thursday evening, reciprocally extended open invitation to everyone we’d been in conversation and hanging out with during the festival; many of them came through. These ways worked to suture us to the embedded community and also thickened place.

On Friday evening, our second to last together, after our packed Open House the day before, we’d collectively decided to cap our time together with a night out, just us, singing karaoke. We’d rented a private karaoke room in New Town, as is the custom in Edinburgh instead of the more common karaoke bar found in the US. After the first timid icebreaker song delivered by Andy, everyone really let their hair down, and that was that. The three-hour session was all a blur, but at one point each person had their own spotlight song, which we all lovingly supported, made reassurances, and no judgements, and it was the all-sing powerhouse songs that brought us together into full chorus. This is quite usual for karaoke nights, a common form of friendship amongst my peers back home, but here, as we neared the loosening of our tight little world, it felt more powerful. On returning back to the counter to pay, again, for more time in our room and another six-pack of beer, the Korean gents rolled their eyes and said “You’re the last ones, you have to leave by closing time”.