ART RESIDENCIES: In this series of interviews we ask artists and creative professionals what art residencies mean to them and what benefits they bring to both sides. There is a wide range of art residencies available and it is crucial to make artists aware of such possibilities, recommend the most interesting ones, and allow art practitioners to share their experiences. Alongside the interviews, we also publish articles with selected open calls from around the world, and run a Facebook Group “Open calls/Residencies/Opportunities for artists” where the arts community can share more opportunities and experiences.
We talked with Maess, an intermedia artist who connects in her practice visual arts (painting, drawing) and music. She has a broad experience when it comes to international residencies for artists. Last year she took part in the well-known Residency Unlimited in New York and in Yaddo residency, which is the main topic of our discussion.
Michalina Sablik: How did you find out about the residency programme? How did you apply?
Maess: A few years ago, I came across an article in the New York Times about Yaddo residency. The Corporation of Yaddo is a historic artist retreat in Saratoga Springs, in upstate New York. The article quoted John Cheever, who was a frequent guest and once wrote “40 or so acres on which the studios and principal buildings of Yaddo stand have seen more distinguished activity in the arts than any other piece of ground in the English-speaking community or perhaps in the entire world.” Established in 1900, Yaddo has been host to notable alumni including Sylvia Plath, Clyfford Still, Katherine Anne Porter, Hannah Arendt and Leonard Bernstein, to name a few. I must admit that even the prospect of applying at that time seemed quite intimidating.
In late 2017 I attended a residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. There, I had the pleasure to meet Victoria Wulff, a fellow painter, Guggenheim fellow and Yaddo alumna. She described Yaddo as an idyllic environment that provided the necessary space and harmonious surroundings to focus on her works. It was exactly what I was seeking. With her encouragement, I finally applied on the New Year’s Eve of 2018, submitting portfolio, recommendation letters, and project description.
M.S.: What does your regular, art residency day look like?
Maess: Every morning I took a stroll and sometimes a bike ride from my private studio, through the dense woods, to get to the gothic mansion, where a generous breakfast, including eggs made to order and freshly baked croissant, was served. After breakfast I would begin to work until about early afternoon, then I would go back to the mansion to pick up a lunchbox and sometimes have a conversation with a fellow artist. Then back to work until 4pm, at which time the mandatory “silent hours” were over. I would then go to the West House to squeeze in some piano practice on the old Steinway. Dinner started at 6:30pm at the mansion. It was a somewhat formal affair at which all the guests were expected to be present. I would find myself seated next to top composers, visual artists and writers. Conversations were often about the New York art scene, and we learned more about each other’s career beginnings and trajectories.
On most nights, I would return to work after dinner. Occasionally, the fellows would invite others to their studio to host an open studio in a form of recital, performance, reading or exhibition.
Outside of work, leisure activities included playing pool, table tennis and visiting Saratoga Springs, which is known for its horse racing tradition.
M.S.: In your experience, what distinguishes working as part of residencies from working in your atelier?
Maess: The experience of working as part of residencies is always enriched by the dialogue and feedback from the fellows. Yaddo fellows, especially, came from many disciplines and their approach to my work from their perspectives was often unpredictable, curious, yet refreshing.
M.S.: Does the change of context help you in the creation process?
Maess: Yes, it is exciting to get to know other artists’ processes as well as to have your work seen within a wider context as I described earlier. The interplay between looking at one’s work and having your work seen by a supportive and sophisticated audience is a good point on which to reflect.
M.S.: Do you place emphasis on your work or rather on meeting people and exploring the city?
Maess: It really depends of the residency and location. In the summer and fall of 2018 I was invited to two residencies in the US: Residency Unlimited and Yaddo, and was fortunate to benefit from both these distinct experiences in different ways. Residency Unlimited was more about exploring the City of New York and networking in the busy metropolis; while the latter, Yaddo, was about undisturbed artistic creation in the serenity of a lush forest. Both aspects were crucial in artistic development and I found it well timed, to be able to participate in these two programmes during one stay.
M.S.: What challenges and opportunities did the residency involve?
Maess: Yaddo offers a rare retreat from the logistics of every-day life, a secluded microcosm on its own and an opportunity to meet accomplished creators from different generations. Some of whom will surely become the canonical artists of our times. I have been humbled by this remarkable opportunity, but also burdened with anxiety to live up to my imaginary expectations of what it is to exist among the ranks of the highly accomplished alumni of Yaddo.
What I found the most challenging was being the only foreign guest for the most part of the residency. After coming back from Residency Unlimited, where the group was highly international, Yaddo was predominantly North American. Suddenly I discovered that not only did I represent myself, but also Poland, Eastern Europe, and sometimes all of Europe. It made me confront ideas about my own national identity and the beliefs people have about this part of Europe and how I conform (or do not) to those historical and geopolitical views.
M.S.: Name three objects which are the most important to you during the residency.
Maess: Sketchbook to work, concert piano to play, lunch box (pictured) to wait for!
M.S.: What is the role of an institution in your residency? What does it provide you with?
Maess: Yaddo provided full financial support, first class accommodation space and restaurant style meals. For an Atelier, I was fortunate to be assigned the Helen Frankenthaler studio, named after the abstract expressionist female artist (coincidence?). The house was designed by Phinney Design Group (pictured), which was supported by Helen Frankenthaler Foundation.
M.S.: What would you recommend to artists going abroad for an art residency?
Maess: It is important that an artist makes an honest self-evaluation about what kind of residency will be a good fit at that particular time in their career. The most important thing is research. It is crucial to ask yourself about what part of your practice you would like to expand, be it networking, seeking collaboration, or seeking simply space to just work without distractions. One should analyse what kinds of artists are chosen for the residency and how your experience compares to those artists. If there is a specific residency that you have in mind, it is also helpful to seek advice from former residents.
Interviewed by Michalina Sablik
Edited by Lisa Barham