Farewell Hospitalfield

I think that we all knew that saying goodbye after working, creating, laughing, eating, and exploring together for a fortnight was not going to be easy.  Friendships were formed, ideas exchanged and debated.  At the very beginning, it felt like there was a thread that had already woven the nine of us together.  Without exception, everyone is concerned about the environment, and our impact on it and all agreed, at one time or another, that the natural environment of Hospitalfield was having an effect on our work, intended or not.

Three highly intelligent and creative young women worked inside the historic house while the other six of us were in the historic studio.  I only wish there had been more time to get to know these young ladies a little bit more.  Ruby de Vos spent her time working on her dissertation for the University of Groningen inside the main house.  Her research examines the embodied temporalities of toxicity in contemporary art and literature.  Ruby had previously studied Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam, and we found ourselves at the dining room table talking about the work of Mieke Bal.  I wish that I had more time to talk to Ruby about her findings, but I am grateful for our discussions about climate change and how the young people in the Netherlands are protesting the impact of climate change.  We both smiles when the news reported about students around the world walking out of school to demonstrate how important it is to this generation to find a way to reverse the impact or at least halt in and the utter dismay in the politicians who are climate change deniers.

Emily Furneaux studied Critical Fine Art Practice at Brighton University.  She now lives and works in Glasgow where she uses video, sculpture, installation, and drawing to create narratives that weave together truth and fiction.  Emily’s work currently deals with her healing and the impact of mental health on a person.  She was busy working on a project that will be shown in Glasgow.  Emily is one of the bravest young women I have met, meeting her demons head-on, accepting the trauma that has occurred, and using it in a positive way for her art and for her reaching out to others who have been in similar situations.  “Place and environment” work to inspire this young artist and no doubt Hospitalfield will take its rightful place at one time or another.  I will always be grateful for our very candid conversations.  Emily’s work has screened across the UK and as far away as Lithuania.  Holly Argent is an artist based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She uses various materials, often looking for strategies to utilize the fragmentary nature of archives to tell and re-tell narratives of artistic legacies.  Emily has taken the lead on a project focused on ‘Women Artists of the North East Library’.  In doing so, she is creating a resource that will contribute much to the untold stories of the history working in that area of the UK.  I wish that I had more time to talk to Holly but was so glad that she ‘ran’ to get into the group photo before I had to leave.  Holly was the recipient of the Luby’s Legs Artist Bursary (2017-18) and the Forshaw Rome Residency from Newcastle University at The British School at Rome (2017).

 

The middle section of the main studio was shared by Katy West and Lizzie Watt, both from Glasgow (OK, Katy is originally from Dublin).  At the very beginning of our residency, Katy was supervising the delivery of her electric kiln which she promptly plugged in.  That is one of the great things about the UK – the voltage of the plugs easily accommodates a kiln!  Katy studied ceramics at The Glasgow School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London.  Since her graduation, she has worked as a designer, and a curator propelled by her interest in the history and meaning of objects.  Katy is currently a Lecturer at Glasgow School of Art.  Her list of commissions and curatorial projects is impressive.  From the beginning, it felt like Katy was in a marathon race.  Little did I know (til later) that this was an exceptional time for this mom with children aged 5 and 7.  It was an opportunity for her to get back to her roots in ceramics, to have a period without the responsibilities of her family and away from her work.  She is currently working with the students and faculty of Glasgow School of Art to revitalise their first-year programme.  That is a big task!  Katy could have selfishly protected her time, but that doesn’t seem to be her way at all.  She has a beautiful sense of humour and is generous in sharing her knowledge.  A good example was her teaching Lizzie how to make moulds!  Here she is discovering that my new coat fit her perfectly!  Fantastic woman with great charm.

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Lizzie Watt has one of the most infectious laughs and like Katy, has boundless energy and curiosity.  She is a collector of ‘stuff’ and ideas all the while experimenting with the process.  At times her area of the studio looked like a debris field but, then again, so did Katy’s so busy were they with mixing plaster and dying materials.  Lizzie was particularly interested in making natural dyes.  She had borrowed a book from the library, The Wild Dyer, that led her to collect the pits and shells of our avocado salad one day.  Did you know that the combination of skins and seeds makes a stunning pink dye?  I didn’t either.

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Watt is known for her kitschy works in miniature.  Her bio in the Hospitalfield Residency list says that she:  “borrows imagery and ideas from archaeological and scientific discoveries to explore the messy intermingling of human and non-human timescales. Ideas about these relationships are manifested in Watts’ work, not through linear narratives, but instead in sculptural debris, fascinating objects, and in films and animations which focus upon isolated and enchanting behaviours”.  Like all of us, she drew inspiration from Hospitalfield and the stories and events that came up during our two weeks together.  This morning, she presented me with a “Dressed Herring” because of the story I had relayed to her after she had taken Lucy and me to the museums in Dundee.  It is an object that I will always treasure and encapsulates Watt’s playful attitude entirely.

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Kikki Ghezzi had the last studio in our building.  From Milan but now living in Brooklyn, she not only introduced me to various ways of working with a needle and thread to create imagery that was anything but simple but she also cooked a wicked Italian dinner for us one weekend.  In her studio at Hospitalfield, she sewed and dyed a body of work that will ultimately go to the National Museum of Women’s Art in Washington, DC.  Other pieces are destined for the Italian Consulate in DC where Kikki will also be blessing a tree as part of her artistic exchange.  Using only thread, silk, linen, and natural dyes, Ghezzi creates artist’s books with meticulous embroidery using beet dyes for the colour.  She was working on a larger piece, hanging in the wind to dry that is anchored in her experiences as a woman.

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It goes without saying that the two people who shared the end studio with me were the ones that I came to know the most.  Like all the others, Allan Whyte and Lucy Barlow are immensely talented.  Allan is heading off to Berlin for a three-month residency, and Lucy is shortlisted for the Olympic Park Public Art Competition.   Allan and I spent hours talking about everything, but the one thing he gleaned was how proud I am of my granddaughter, Elysha, and her principals about animal cruelty, Veganism, and the environment.  Allan works with deprived inner-city youth in Glasgow, and he sees first hand what poverty and a lack of love can do to children.  They are so lucky to have someone so empathetic to help them, those young men.

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Lucy has her interview this coming Thursday, and I cannot imagine a better artist to take that project on.  Lucy and I became fast friends, sharing many conversations on our evening walk about the garden about the challenges of being an artist, stopping to raise a family, and returning to one’s practice.  That is precisely what Lucy is doing, and she has many, many years to make even a more significant impact on the world of public art and installations.

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And last but never least, four individuals who worked very hard to make certain that our residencies were such a success:  Lucy Byatt, Director of Hospitalfield and her adorable Whippet; Scott Byrne, General Manager who wore so many hats I lost track; Cicely Farrer, Programme and Communications Officer who made sure on a daily basis both before and after our arrival that all was well; and Simon Brown who juggled Vegans, Vegetarians, and Carnivores, always smiling.  We thrived on the most amazing local food, still healthy and delicious.  All of their background work, devotion to the visual arts, and to Hospitalfield made this two weeks in Arbroath meaningful.  All of us were grateful for their care and attention.  As we depart, we join the illustrious artists who have come before us as Hospitalfield Alumni.

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Hospitalfield, Day 8

Inside my kiln at home is approximately three dozen perfectly formed, balanced, light in weight porcelain bottles with chattering.  There are boxes of less than optimum bottles broken up.  I couldn’t decide whether to really go for the colour which at the moment seems to be a range of greens and blues or blue-greens using stains.  For the past six months or so I have personally been put off by glaze.  Nothing seemed to capture what was in my head and that is where Hospitalfield comes in.  When I applied to be a Resident Interdisciplinary artist here, I had no idea if I would be accepted.  The ration of applicants to those accepted I have found is very low.  One in twenty individuals.  I am in great company.  My studio mates are amazing.  Lucy Barlow is shortlisted for the First Plinth public art award for Olympic Park in London.  I am really sending off the best wishes for her.  She has to finish her final presentation to the jury in a few days, so she is working on her project here and tackling that as well.  You can check out her art at lucybarlow.art      Lucy is re-entering the art world after raising her boys, and she is doing some fantastic work.  Allan Whyte also shares my studio.  He’s all over social media.  One of the things that Allan and I have learned together is that the sound recording from the iPhone is just pretty darn good.  He is working on finishing up a commission for Glasgow and is recording sounds and working with some interesting recycled materials.  Check him out, too…and of course there are five other amazing people who I will write about later including Kiki who happens to be a fantastic cook as well.

But the point I am getting at is this.  By choosing a residency that had nothing to do with ceramics I have grown immensely in these eight days.  It isn’t just stepping back in time, sitting here in this fantastic historical room with the paint and wallpaper peeling away in places that have inspired me but it is the sea.  I have never lived by the sea.  The east coast of Scotland is flat.  In fact, it is a bit of a cosmic joke because it reminds me of Manitoba!  Flat.  I did say flat, right?  Just in case you don’t believe me, those really high hills that are the only thing Scottish Tourism sends out – well, they are on the west coast of Scotland.  The work that I am producing is my first reaction to this house and to the sea and the light.  The featured bottle still has a lip that is smoothed out, and the joins of where the moulds met have been smoothed but that is now all gone.

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We had rain and blowing rain and snow when these were made and these huge clouds trying to push the sky backwards.  Today the sky was white, and the sea was blue.  It is ever-present.  When the chill is down to your bones even though you can see the daffodils blooming in the garden, it is because of the sea.  When the slip in your mould doesn’t dry like it does in Manitoba in the winter, it is the sea.  Damp.  Moss.  Cold.  And yet, I would not give up these eight days for anything.  I highly recommend anyone considering a residency to step outside their comfort zone and challenge what they have been doing.  For me, anyway, it has allowed me a time to be free, to be playful, to react to something and someplace.  Magical.

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The sea is just beyond the kitchen garden beyond the walls of the house.

For years it was the life of this village.  And today, if you meander around the harbour, you can find ‘Smokie’ stalls.  If in Manitoba you are expecting smoked sausage, you might be right, but here in Arbroath it is smoked fish.  There are five or six places.

Just a funny historical fact.  The people in Dundee used to have a tradition.  They would not eat herring, but on New Years, they would wrap red herring in little paper clothes and hang them outside to bring good luck.  It is called ‘Dressed Herring’, and it didn’t matter if the fish was smoked, salted, or dried.  You could also purchase them ready clothed at some of the market stalls in town.  They even made acceptable gifts I am told!

And with that little tidbit, I will close this blog today.  I am looking forward to the weather being balmy on Wednesday, and I am going to sneak out of the studio and take you on a trip to two of Scotland’s beautiful castles.  Keep your fingers crossed for the excellent weather arriving!