Creative Sabbatical – Penzance #2

Posted 4 September 2013 in Residencies

The drive back yesterday took 8 hours and we didn’t get home until after dark. Provided plenty of time to think on the happenings of the three weeks well spent in Penzance, St. Just, and on-and-off the coast around Lands End.

We designed this sabbatical to offer an antidote to an uneasy feeling that’s developed with our practice. Now this isn’t a grumble, but our recent years have been dominated by invited commissions where the parameters are pre-defined (engage with this locality, with this type of work, with this budget, by this date). Whilst demand for our work is positive – as can be the problem-solving mentality that comes when responding to commissions – the imbalance left us with no time or resources to think about what we would really like to make. We feel we’ve lost a sense of where WE are in the work and the excitement for what we are making.

Our time hosted by The Newlyn Gallery & The Exchange was the first of two creative sabbaticals, both undertaken to counter that ‘uneasy feeling’, with the second in Leeds hosted by East Street Arts in October. Three-weeks in each place to reconnect with our work, give our minds and bodies a chance to wander, and come up with some insights that might form the basis for some future works.

So did we create a fertile, welcoming space for those new ideas to arrive? Well, we tried to balance time and space in the studio for creative insight, with activities, encounters, and unexpected and unusual experiences the local area can provide.

At our studio at The Exchange we kick-started our creative juices with various Divergent Thinking tasks, discussions and writing exercises. We also continued drilling down into our past works to rediscover what interested us, and one thing that seems to be a preoccupation for us is breaking things down; analysing and detailing the social, economic, or environmental systems of a place; and believing that when we break something down into its constituent parts we can understand it better and also, possibly, put it back together in a subversive way. We’re also thinking about expanding our visual work, and putting together exhibition proposals allied to public projects, whilst keeping participation at the core of our practice.

Outside the studio, we could have easily filled our time with the abundant tourist offerings. Instead, we felt it important for us to get more of a sense of people and place, so offered free labour to various people and organisations including: a lobster fisherman, Bosavern Community Farm, Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network, and The Women’s Institute. There was also a pole dancing class (not a Women’s Institute initiative), and a morning spent underground with a former miner at Geevor tin mine learning about how they used to work. It’s not that we’re relying on these activities to inspire an idea, rather that by being open to new experiences encourages flexible thinking which would then help trigger new insights. Some activities that didn’t quite come off were: a day with a professional dog walker, a day at the National Coastwatch Institution lookout on Cape Cornwall, smelting in Geoff Treseder’s workshop, and volunteering at the Food Bank.

At the end we held a crit-style sharing with locals and artists, during which we introduced various ideas in their early stages (and certainly not perfect) including; an audio piece on decomposition looking at body-time-environment; The Song of The Sad Wind (Film? Score? Performance?); Portraits of Street Harassment; and Research Drawings of iconic and everyday actions and situation using some kind of notation. Some of these ideas excite us more than others, but it’s great we’ve got more than one; they’ll feed off each other as we work on them.

We’re encouraging ourselves to keep loose and undecided. So let’s see how we go …