I recently read Rebecca Solnit’s book A Field Guide to Getting Lost, where the writer describes how getting lost and searching is useful in that it’s an opportunity for finding something.
“Certainly for artists of all stripes, the unknown, the idea or the form or the tale that has not yet arrived, is what must be found. It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own.”
The writer’s words led me lost in my own experiences, memories from the Jan van Eyck residency in 2021-2022, and I reflected on the unknown described by Solnit and how it appeared to me personally during the residency period.
My residency at Jan van Eyck Academie started in October 2021. My plan was to kick off the making of a new set of paintings and to learn more about the new painting and base materials that I had brought with me. I had also been dreaming of breaking my personal daily routines: of a space in an unfamiliar place where I would be open to new possibilities and insights.
Soon after my arrival, however, I had to admit that my thoughts and feelings didn’t match these pipedreams, and I became aware that my wishes were in conflict with the reality. I had felt an intense need to leave and experience something unfamiliar, but I found myself in a situation where I objected to being there at the residency. I questioned my choice to move my paintings to an unfamiliar place in the back of a van and to share my time with people whose habits were a complete mystery to me and to work in a new space. I had also become aware of the fact that I was the only visual artist whose practice focused on questions from the perspective of painting, and I wondered whether the residency could offer me the kind of reciprocity that I had been longing for in my work.
Despite my hesitations, I ended up being incredibly happy about the wonderful environment that the residency offered me for furthering my work. In addition to my studio in the main building, I was able to build a laboratory in my home and prepare colours there myself – I found that this work method worked for me.
On Wednesday, I attended lectures where each professional working at the residency took turns presenting their work, after which we all had dinner together. I had the opportunity to invite visiting art experts to my studio and discuss my work. I also attended seminars and events organised by the residency. Some days I wandered off to the library to see what they had in their collection, other times I marvelled at how amazing the printing and publishing lab was in terms of the vast selection of machines there as well as all the information that the staff had. I booked a meeting time with the person leading the Future Material Laboratory project to discuss ecological materials.
I immersed myself in all of this gradually, slowly getting used to it all. Afternoon coffee breaks in the garden, interactions in the cafeteria, discussions in the studio and shared moments out and about in the city. Initial hesitations aside, I found myself in a situation where reciprocity and openness were part of my daily life. I could wonder about the pigments I used in my paintings and analyse the complexity of perception with my colleagues even despite the fact that their medium differed from mine.
I became more aware of the personal background and culture where I had grown up in as we exchanged thoughts while we were analysing the expression of form in art or talking about training opportunities. I got confused often, I wondered about things often, and I laughed a lot.
I’m happy that I went out to look for the unknown and that I got to do it with the help of and together with the people who shared this time with me at the residency.
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