A is for advanced planning: what will you spend each day? How will you get to the studios? What equipment and materials do they have, and what do you need to bring with you? How does that fit into your suitcase and the airline baggage allowance/train baggage storage area? What will you be doing, what will the weather be like, and how does that change which clothes you need? Will there be any ‘must see’ exhibitions on locally? I booked lots of things on-line before I left Australia, which not only made the financial planning side of the trip easier, it also meant I wasn’t trying to make decisions about what to do with myself while also juggling a suitcase, a foreign language, limited funds and tiredness. I’m really glad I did that, but of course, it may not suit you
B is for good beer, and Belgium, where I would dearly love to go to the Frans Masreel Centre, and for Brigitte, the West Coast painter and printmaker who was such good fun and a great cook in our shared apartment. I did have some good beer in the UK (including a pub lunch with friends on the day I arrived – I swear it had no impact on the jet lag)
C is for the best coffee I’ve ever had in my whole life, at the Torrefazione Marchi, the only coffee shop in Venice still licensed to grind its own coffee, which they do each afternoon from huge sacks of beans in the front of the shop
D is for the discipline of a daily schedule, which I really needed. Arts residencies are a two-way street: you need somewhere to go and think/work, and the host organisation needs residents who think/work instead of drink/sight-see – it’s not cheap holiday accommodation, people!
E is for energy, and expecting to run out of it part way through. After all, I was a long way from home, the dog died, our friend died, we had money troubles, and I was trying too hard to make masterpieces… Once I calmed down and gave myself a bit of a breather, my energy levels returned
F is for fundraising, which I needed to get me there. I used Pozible, but depending on where you live there are other crowdfunding sites such as IndieGoGo and Kickstarter, which seem to work in similar ways
G is for getting out and about. Despite point D, above, it is worth seeing what is going on around you – just try to make that a smaller proportion of your time than actually working! For example, I would have been completely mad to ignore the Venice Biennale while I was actually in Venice, but I planned what I wanted to see, and tried to fit things in en route, while walking to the studio, so that once I got through the doors I could concentrate on work
H is for the hundred plus hours I spent head down and bum up in the Scuola’s Print Studios, as well as the silly happy feeling I experienced when I’d mastered Italian insouciance sufficiently for the pedlars to assume I was Italian, not a tourist, and leave me alone to enjoy dawn and dusk on my walks to and from the studio
I is for the Impact8 conference which kicked off my trip
J is for just being there, and not trying to be Leonardo da Vinci. I realised before I left that I would sabotage the whole experience if I tried to set my ambitions too high, so I didn’t
K is for Katrin, the German woodcut artist with whom I also shared the apartment
L is for occasional loneliness, and for Lorenzo who organises the residencies at the Scuola
M is for Myrtilles (also known as Huckleberries or Bilberries), the small, wild blueberries that I found at the outdoor fruit market and made into jam, Michael, the West Coast artist who was our ‘token male’ in the apartment, and my family, who very generously let me go without being cranky about me leaving them for over a month
N is for networking. If you crowd-fund your residency the truth is that you’ll be raising money mainly from people who are already in your wider network. While there are ‘angels’ out there who will donate money to your cause if you can persuade them, it is usually the people you already know who will support you. And of course, networking is vital while you’re away, too
O is for opportunities. As mentioned above, you’ll have a chance to network while you’re an artist in residence, so go prepared to make the most of the opportunity. Business cards? Check. Memory stick with lots of images of your work (so that if needed, you can give an impromptu illustrated talk about you and your work)? Check. Small pieces of work that you could leave at the studios for a quick exhibition once you’ve gone (and will be easy to post home to you if unsold)? Check. And against the odds, all of these things happened for me while I was in Venice!
P is for paper, which was hard to get hold of, mainly because I had very little money, but also because the best supplier was a lovely man who spoke no English at all, and I tried twice before I managed to locate his shop…
Q is for quality control, and the ruthlessness with which I culled my prints before bringing a scant half dozen home with me! Paper is heavy, people, see point A. So if you want to avoid excess baggage charges, be careful what you try to bring home
R is for arts residencies: periods of time spent somewhere else for the purposes of developing your arts practice and making new work. It is also for being a realist: gone on, how much work are you REALLY going to be able to do in two weeks…?
S is for the supporters who got me there, and for the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice where I was a resident
T is for technology, which made things run smoothly. I used Skype to keep in touch with my family back home as well as the contacts and friends I saw on my travels. I took an Australian power board with me, so that I could plug all my Australian electronics (i.e. phone, laptop and yes, a hair dryer) into it, and then I just needed one European and one UK adaptor for the power board. Genius, huh?! I also bought myself a UK SIM card which made it possible for me to give European contacts and friends a UK mobile phone number, making it easier and cheaper for us all to keep in touch by phone while I was travelling. And I took along two memory sticks with my conference presentations and visuals on them, plus my SkyDrive account, so that I had all bases covered if the technology failed
U is for underestimating how much time it would take me to settle in and settle down… With hindsight I should have stayed for at least a month!
V is for Venice
W is for working very hard, and feeling good about it
X is for Ximena, the Chilean artist in the apartment downstairs
Y is for why didn’t I do this sooner? And why I’m going to plan to do it all again (for longer) in a year or two
Z is for zonked out on the plane on the way home
I’ve been doing lots of things lately, but you may have noticed that they haven’t included blogging. I’ve been asking myself the question, “Why not?” and have come up with a few different answers including being tired, spending most of my time since I got back from Europe at work and… they’re all excuses. The truth of the matter is that I haven’t known where to start (plus I’ve needed to think through a few things), but I guess all I need to do is to follow my usual methodology, which is to put my stick in the ground and start from where I am now. So here’s a brief photo diary of the last few weeks, and in a little while I’ll start posting about what I got up to while I was away.
Lester, one of my line managers at TAFE, took this while we were sneaking out to the ABC Building’s café to find a decent coffee during a day-long meeting in Sydney on 17th October. The date is significant because of the fires: at 06:30 we flew over the Blue Mountains from Coffs to Sydney and saw nothing but clear blue skies and sunshine.
That same evening we flew back in an orange cloud of ash and smoke. It was a very bumpy ride for us in the air, and much, much worse for everyone on the ground…
More recently I went to see an exhibition at the Regional Gallery in Coffs Harbour of work by local artist Nigel Killalea. Interestingly, or ironically depending on your point of view, many of his paintings concerned burnt or burning landscapes with bonfires and camping accidents depicted. I don’t know that either of these landscapes drew directly from bush fires as I know Nigel often paints en plein air, but their atmosphere reminded me of the smoke. I loved Nigel’s exhibition and only wished I had enough money to buy a painting! Like many (most) artists, Nigel probably isn’t rolling in money, but it was encouraging to see a lot of red “Sold” dots on the works at the end of the show.
Meanwhile, almost a month on from the Blue Mountains bush fires, Coffs Harbour is wreathed in smoke most days from fires still raging up in the mountains behind us. Guyra, Ebor, the national parks… they all seem to be on fire. Today the smoke is so bad my eyes are stinging.
Sad though it is to see a dead bird – and this one presumably flew into our windows – I had to photograph her, as she is so beautiful. Such soft feathers, and what look like amazing eyelashes!
But the final word has to go to the maddest of our chickens who, it appears, likes sitting in an old paint can, clucking to herself. Chicken in a bucket, anyone?
I’ve had a good day! I walk up to the studio every day, about 3km from where the apartment is in Campo San Maurizio (down near San Marco) up to San Leonardo in Cannaregio because the vaporetto is expensive at EURO 7 per trip. Now I could get an I-Mob card from the Piazza Roma, near the studios, which would then give me greatly reduced vaporetto tickets, but the outlay for the I-Mob card is something like EURO 50, and the walk does me good. I have been walking up towards the Rialto bridge and then north and west along the Strad Nuova, but the last two days I’ve walked across the Accademia bridge, just one piazza over from where I’m staying, and up through the quieter area of Dorsoduro. I’ve done this partly out of interest, to see a different bit of Venice, and partly to try and find an arts supplies shop which I heard had lots of different types of paper. Yesterday I got up early and walked that way, taking many photos as I went, but failed to find the store even though it turned out that I stood right next to it while consulting my map… But today I nailed it and came away with 3 sheets of Fabriano Rosaspina 285gm etching paper and one thinner sheet of Tiepolo, for possible wood block printing – even though the owner speaks not one word of English. I felt rather proud of myself, although to be truthful it was my hands that did the talking rather than my fluent tongue.
The apartment is simple and basic: 4 bedrooms (three twin rooms and one single, which I’ve got) plus 3 showers, 2 toilets and a small kitchen. But what makes it nice is the company: a Hawaiian Chinese man called Michael, A German woman called Kathrin, and a German-American woman called Brigitte. Kathrin is lovely, speaks good English, and is very serious about her work using wood cuts. She’s been here for 3 weeks already and is putting in a lot of hours in the studio, although this week friends are visiting Venice so she’s gone in early and then met up with her friends in the afternoons. Brigitte arrived the same day as me but spent the first three days meeting up with her brother and his family, also visiting from Germany. The last couple of days we have all eaten at least one meal together, sharing the food costs and a bottle of wine, and it has been lovely to have other people to share my work with, and to talk about art.
More residents and students live in the lower two floors and I’ve spent time with some of them and hardly seen others – not only are people busy (some of them have spent NO time in the studio and have either been out partying or looking around the Biennale!), but the studios are quite large so you can just work in relative peace and quiet without having to spend a lot of time with people if you don’t want to. Today I did just that: I got in at 10:00am having bought my paper, and found myself the only one there until lunchtime. This evening I went out with Brigitte and we bought bread and cheese, olives, mortadela and a bottle of wine and sat in the courtyard with Michael and a Chilean artist called Ximena for an hour before we all went back to work. I’ve just walked home.
I’ve taken the view that I really need to knuckle down and work, work, work, otherwise what am I here for? I started by playing around with type, inking it up and printing it like a relief print – probably horrifying my letterpress-expert friends in the process – but I decided that was a bit of a distraction. Since then I’ve been working on a series of collograph plates of Venetian monsters, tying it in to my own interest in genetic chimerism in humans as well as a slowly-growing need for some autobiography in my work. I’m not even sure if the plates will print well, but I guess I’ll find out tomorrow.
I have yet to get out and about to the Biennale, either the main exhibitions or the ‘fringe’, however the maitresse of the print studio, Mathilde Dolcetti da Castro, an accomplished print maker and something like Venetian royalty from what I can gather (apart from being an absolutely lovely woman!), is hosting the Iraqi “pavilion” in her palazzo near the San Toma stop on the Grand Canal… it’s had really good reviews, I gather, so that’s definitely on my list of things to see. Also new here since we were last in town is the Museo della Dogana, an Ando-designed triumph of Venetian-byzantine-meets-Japanese-aesthetic architecture, by all accounts: a private museum of contemporary art that Ximena and Michael think is better than the whole of the rest of the Biennale rolled up. I’m trying to budget and plan for visiting things next week. More reports soon, after I’ve finished grappling with my plates. So much to do, so little time!
I wanted to give you a quick glimpse into life at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice, where I’ve started my residency. I can’t believe this is my 3rd evening, and I “only” have another 13 to go! There is so much I want to do… I’ve conquered a number of practicalities: I know how to get to and from the Scuola from the student apartments, I’ve done my first load of washing, I’ve found a hardware store, a paper supplier and shops in which to buy everything from laundry liquid to salami, and – most importantly of all! – I’ve found the shop where you can buy GOOD red/white/Prosecco wine in refillable plastic bottles for the grand sum of EURO 2.30 per litre. Essential.