My Story – Scotland

10x Scotland

Gifford and Edinburgh

When I was 19, I followed a boy to Art School. Serendipitously, this is also now the school at which I teach, and have done so since 2007. At said Art School, I ended up graduating with honors in the Film program, and worked in the film industry for years. This built upon and developed an esprit-de-corps I had instilled in me from a young age. What I learned to do in art school and really yearned to do professionally was to be a Line Producer. This was a job in which you plotted the calendar days’ shoots, hired all the crew, and did some location scouting; I loved it. Ultimately, the ethos and pacing of a film shoot is very similar to that of an artists’ residency: you follow a pre-production > production > post-production arc, everyone works together, navigating personalities and negotiating for the greater good, if possible: all art practices are heightened from the communal experience, everyone shares knowledges, and everyone gets paid. 

 My new design for the 10XARTRES residency event would bring together six trans-disciplinary artists, three Locals from Edinburgh and three Non-Locals from elsewhere across the country or internationally. Those from outwith Edinburgh would guest stay in the homes of three of the Locals, bringing the potential for radical hospitality and a real experiential learning from intimacy and a trans-local exchange. I arrived at the residency design to also plan an 10XARTRES for Minneapolis later in the year, as a ballast to the Scotland one, and resolved to conduct an experiment in which two artists, one from Scotland and one from Minneapolis, would carry through to both, and therefore act like a control group. We could see what kinds of reflection in continuity or contrast between the two localities they might experience. 

To this end, I invited Steph Mann, who was studiomate to my co-worker at the Fruitmarket Gallery, artist Andrew Gannon, whom I’d first approached with the idea but he wasn’t available to be away from his family for those lengths of time. He highly recommended Steph, and after an initial coffee with her, I felt assured she would be a good invitee for this trans-Atlantic experiment. Simultaneously, I was looking at my networks of people in Minneapolis, a place where I’d been embedded for ages as an artist, teacher, and residency runner. I was reminded of Andy DuCett, a peer artist and colleague who’d recently had a one-person show of tremendous size and intrigue at the Soap Factory in Minneapolis, where he’d turned the whole 40,000 square foot warehouse into a life-size installation of one of his everyday systems drawings; I walked across the entry to see a 15’ foot tall Blatz beer can, and further in the labyrinth, half an airplane wing in which I could sit and be served by a Pan-Am flight attendant, and a small winter cabin bumping Guns-n-Roses that I could not enter; I was sold. So, I reached out to Andy, and as it turned out, he’d had exchange experiences for years in Dalkeith, a suburb of Edinburgh, as faculty at Uni of Wisconsin: Stout, and loved it. This all felt very serendipitous; I extended the invitation and he accepted forthwith, even though he had his first baby eminently coming, a sign of his excitement and commitment to our experiment.

In this way, Steph and Andy became my central trans-Atlantic residents, and they bonded as such. The residency groups, both in Scotland and Minneapolis, respectively, were built around and also with them.

As we built out the Scotland residency cohort, Steph brought in Luke Burton, from London, and previously I’d also lined up James as a co-producer. I was keen to explore a rural aspect to the residency, which I’d discovered through my secondary research is actually quite common in AR and I’d never tried it before. I decided on a hybrid situation, starting in the country and ending up in the City, in both Scotland and Minneapolis segments. In conversation, James offered an empty manse that his parents were fixing up to move into that they’d inherited in a small village called Gifford. Separately, James had asked me about running residencies and had even joined me in preliminary trips to look at ARs earlier that Spring. It was actually through pre-production to co-produce the 10XARTRES event that he also became a part of the MFBothy event, as our pre-production meetings often intersected. It’s actually through the MFBothy exhibition he’d put on at the Canal stop called Units, after which he then brought Anne-Laure into the 10XARTRES cohort as well. 

So, now we had all together built up a five resident cohort, and I sought one more. I’d seen Collette Rayner’s film at Collective earlier that year, which had knocked me out, and so I just emailed her, cold. I had a coffee or pint with each potential resident, and through dialogue and conversation asked the same question…

“Would you like to join me in this experiment?”

As an artist-administer I commit to flip the traditional residency script; first, this SSAR engages a certain ratio of local residents, Steph and James and I, and also Collette, who commuted from Glasgow but also stayed at her sister’s in Edinburgh for some nights. Then, it aims to work around the Local Residents everyday job schedules (Collette continued to work shifts at the Train Museum), and send them home at night to be with their families, and last but not least, pay them for their time and intellectual work. Each resident received a £250 stipend and each international resident received an additional travel stipend, Anne-Laure from Zurich and Luke from London and Andy from Minneapolis. Since we had no overhead, very little rent to pay at Bargain Spot, and us local residents were housing the guest residents, our other budget items were the communal meals, iced beer in coolers and hot coffee and tea, some black cab rides  and one karaoke room. The big ticket item was Andy’s international airfare, and later Steph and Collette’s, which we covered completely. Our funding came from one small PRE project grant, but otherwise out of my and my partner John’s household budget, which was partially supplied by a Uni PhD grant as well as our part-time jobs.

Quickly, the group formed, and people did not want to be left out. Given the choice, they were all there more than they were not, with very few exceptions. Reflection from these residents after the fact have suggested that this was due to four things: camaraderie, a sense of involvement – both in the social residency itself and also the making of each other’s work, a high level of rigour exhibited and expected by the resident nucleus, and the fact of getting paid. We would all occupy the former Bargain Spot as a work studio only, a deal sealed with a handshake between me and Abbe and Lydia. They were in between shows, and so this worked well for them. We had 24-hour access to the studio space, or “HQ”, and the house rules would be formed by all.


My Strategy for Building the Resident Group: Artist to Artist

A bit of history..
2012: In the beginning, as we were coming out of that first cold winter, I spent a good amount of time considering the Local trans-disciplinary artists I’d seen or to whom I’d been referred that felt both rigorous and risk-takers. I didn’t personally know any of them. I made a shortlist of about 15, and chose the one with whom I was most excited to work, following my gut. John Fleischer was his name, and I felt he made interesting work which pointed to things hidden and unnamed, operating on another level than most. I knew he often wore his long hair in a bun, or sometimes, I’d heard, two ponytails or long braids, and he spoke carefully at a very low decibel. I invited John to coffee, and, after some introductory conversation, discovered that underpinning his quietude runs a steely resolve and flashes of whip smart intellect. I sensed he held no pretension about him. After sitting quietly together for a while, I explained what I had been thinking and planning, remaining completely transparent about the project’s in-flux nature and it being essential to embrace that continuously throughout. I ended then by asking, “Would you like to join me in this experiment? It’d mean giving over most of your waking hours for three weeks in the dead of summer.” John looked at me owl-like through his thick black-rimmed glasses and quietly said “Yes, I’d be honored.” I began to build the resident group around this central person, asking each of them after joining whom else they would suggest or have dreamed of working with, local or not, and then I’d add those names to the top of my list. In this way, the resident group itself was built by the residents, each in turn. Each were offered that same invitation…

“Would you like to try this experiment with me?” To my surprise, everybody said “Yes”, and in this way I never made it past number 5 on my original shortlist.

I’d been working as an artist already for 15 years at that point, and had financially been patching everything together with odd jobs, especially serving evening diners at fancy restaurants. Even after 2007 when I’d secured a coveted, though also very contingent, teaching position at the local Art School, I continued moonlighting to make ends meet. In 1994, when I first made this choice, the freelancer pastiche felt more like a romantic Bohemian lifestyle choice than the presently ubiquitous Post-Fordist condition against which our generation now continually tries to push. Alongside my precarious economic situation, by the epiphany of 2012, I also had an eleven-year-old daughter, and had known and deeply felt all the art opportunities I’d had to turn down because I could not simply dislocate for several months, or even three weeks, economically or geographically. The otherwise attainable opportunities my surrounding art comrades were actively snapping up, for example, Skowhegan Summer School in Maine or being a resident artist at Headlands in San Francisco, quickly left me as flights of fancy; you couldn’t take families with you to attend these modules. Further, for literally every single residency opportunity I could find in America from 1990-2014, participants were expected to pay a fee to participate; a double whammy. 

Since my first residency project as an artist-administer, I’ve sought to change up this model to better serve artists, by working around the local artists everyday job and home lives, and last but not least, pay them for their time and intellectual work. In the pilot summer of 2012, each resident received a $300 USD stipend and each out-state resident received an additional $250 USD travel stipend. Since we had no overhead nor rent to pay, all the money we could raise went directly to pay these, the Guest Lecturers’ $100 USD stipends, and some of the communal meals and studio drinks. That pilot summer, we funded 50% of the $4,200 USD total needed through a Kickstarter campaign, and 50% through my and my partner John’s own pocketbook.

This 10X2015 Scotland residency creates a new assemblage, and demands the same ethical construction to pay and house residents in the social studio. The new designs: international residents sharing their cultures, knowledges and worldviews, incorporating a rural as well as urban locality, and all valuations of thickening place create a unique situation of living together as/and education.