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Residencies at Bluecoat

As we make preparations to reopen our galleries, Bluecoat curator Adam Lewis-Smythe reflects on the importance of artistic residencies at Bluecoat.  

Both Jonathan Baldock and Frances Disley, whose exhibitions at Bluecoat opened immediately before we entered lockdown, have spent time in residence in our studios. Residencies can be an incredible way for artists to produce new work, they can stimulate ideas and help to forge relationships with fresh networks of artists, curators and audiences. 

In 2018 Baldock joined us for a one month residency in partnership with Camden Arts Centre, in which he was given a studio and a budget. Although we asked Baldock to contribute to a public talk about his work, the time he spent in our studio was not limited by any thematic restraints or agenda. The time was given to the artist to use as freely as he would like. An initial plan to continue working on ceramics quickly gave way to a focus on textiles and costume making. For Baldock, Liverpool’s fabric district was a joyful discovery during his residency along with our print studio which opened up new possibilities in the artist’s work. The costumes made during Baldock’s residency were then worn in two intense and ritualistic performances at Tate St. Ives and Kunstall Stavanger in Norway. 

Whilst Baldock’s residency was open-ended, Frances Disley was given a much more focused period in Bluecoat’s studios. In the months leading up to her exhibition, Pattern Buffer, Disley was provided with a studio specifically for the production of work to show at Bluecoat. With an uncluttered studio, Disley was able to map out her exhibition, grow plants and mosses and work closely with our Exhibition Producers, Louis Palliser-Ames and Linny Venables. Disley’s residency studio was not only a place to make, but also to think, discuss and test ideas with others. 

 

 

Artists like Frances Disley, Amber Akaunu and Fauziya Johnson, who were all in residence earlier this year, are local to Liverpool. For these artists, the period of working in our studios allowed them the space to work in ways that their studios, offices or circumstances would not otherwise allow. For many of our other residencies, this period also involves a temporary relocation. In 2019 Indonesian artist Nurrachmat ‘Ito’ Widyasena travelled across the world from Bandung to Liverpool for a five-week-long residency at Bluecoat. This first hand experience of the UK was a vital aspect of research for Widyasena, helping to build on a body of work that takes aim at the myths of Western heroism through technology and space exploration. Widyasena’s residency saw him explore specific sites of interest, from Jodrell Bank to Stonehenge and allowed him to connect with artists in the city during a public talk in which he detailed his humorous take on nationhood and shared his experience of working with the Indonesian Space Programme and charming his way into borrowing one of their rockets for an exhibition. 

 

Artist Emily Motto, who joined Bluecoat in 2019 as part of the New Contemporaries Studio Bursary, relocated for a much longer period. The residency bursary gives artists a full year to work in our studios, which enables artists to move beyond their existing networks and find a new context for their work. For Motto, this has also included working with our children and families programme, developing a workshop based on the playful forms of her fragile and carefully balanced sculptures. Motto has also recently built a collection of material for our archive website, MyBluecoat available here. Making a comfortable home for artists to work in is an important part of our work, and this was also reflected in the work of Chinar Shah who worked as artist in residence over 4 months in 2019. Alongside her research into botany as a visible marker of the shared histories of Britain and Inida, Shah presented some of her work as an artist-curator. Her curatorial project ‘Home Sweet Home’ made use of the most immediate space available to her, her flat in Bangalore and the homes of her collaborators. Shah’s initiative to invite artists into the home created a context of generosity both for exhibiting artists and for audiences.


Chance encounters can be wonderfully productive, and this has been the case during our CreART residencies over the past 2 years, which have featured two artists from across Europe sharing a studio at Bluecoat. In 2018 French artist Gwénaëlle Petit and Croatian artist Petra Mrša met during their one month residency. Petit had planned to use her time using photography to explore connections between port cities and bodies of water, whilst Mrša was interested in meeting dance artists and developing her interest in gestures and the body. Bonding in the studio, the artists developed a collaborative work in which audiences were invited to participate in a new performance in which they were instructed by the artists to hold glasses of water, and think poetically about the relationship between bodies in the room and the life-giving properties of water.

 

Residencies are generative for us as an organisation too. They are a chance for us to develop meaningful relationships with artists, to listen, learn from and understand how we can build better ways of working with and for artists. In 2018 we launched Studio Me, a two-person residency and exhibition featuring Joshua Henderson and Veronica Watson. Watson and Henderson had both been working with Blue Room, our pioneering programme for adults with learning disabilities, over the past 4 years. The residency offered them an opportunity to go beyond the collective Blue Room studio and develop their practices individually. Working with Henderson and Watson has allowed us to think more carefully about the balance of independence and support and has been an important step for us to cater to artists with different needs.

Jade Montserrat’s residency in 2018 was broken into two month-long periods working in the studio at Bluecoat. In her resulting exhibition, Instituting Care, Montserrat filled the gallery with full height charcoal drawings, made directly on the walls. These drawings featured text with often confessional, bold and direct messages about the experience of race, gender and the lack of inclusion within the arts and art education. In the centre of the room Montserrat created a hexagonal structure draped and furnished in rescue blankets, offering a sheltered reprieve in which to reflect on the themes of Montserrat’s work. Meeting other artists in the city was a key part of Montserrat’s residency, learning about their experiences of exclusion, racism, sexism and ablism and how Montserrat’s work could connect, resonate and offer solidarity. These meetings led to a series of events which included a reading group, inclusive life-drawing and a discussion group led by Amber Akaunu and Fauziya Johnson. 

 

Images:
View of Veronica Watson’s residency studio at Bluecoat, 2018. Photo: Rob Battersby

Jonathan Baldock and Florence Peake, Judder Shudder: Act II, Kunsthall Stavanger, 2018. Photo: Oddbjørn Erland Aarstad.

Photograph of Nurrachmat Widyasena (centre), research trip to Jodrell Bank, 2018

Nurrachmat Widyasena, After Einstein Rosen Bridge, Installation View, Bluecoat, 2019

Emily Motto, Footnotes, Bluecoat, 2020

Renuka Rajiv, Big Hibernation, solo exhibition at Home Sweet Home, Bengaluru, 2016 Photo: Karthika Sakthivel

Petra Mrša and Gwénaëlle Petit in Bluecoat Print Studio, 2018

Petra Mrša and Gwénaëlle Petit, residency performance at Bluecoat, 2018

Joshua Henderson and Veronica Watson, Studio Me, Bluecoat, 2018

Jade Montserrat, Instituting Care, Bluecoat, 2018 

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