Artscape International Artists Residency :: Chris Flanagan

2005, Toronto Canada

First of all I would like to express my gratitude for ANAT’s support which enabled me to take part in the Artscape International Artists Residency. This was an extremely valuable experience which allowed me to concentrate on a project which formed the basis of a solo exhibition, and connected me with several Canadian and International artists and curators

The Toronto Island is a stunning natural oasis a few minutes by ferry from downtown Toronto. The setting for the residency was an old school which served the small Island community until it was replaced in the 1970’s. For many years it was slated for demolition until Artscape, the organisation responsible for the residency saved the building with the mandate of bringing international artists together. There are no cars on the island, so on arriving we were golf-buggied to the site and showed our lodgings-small bedrooms but huge studios. As there was a wide variety of arts practioners from visual artists to writers and dancers, everyone’s studio catered specifically to their needs. The idea behind the residency was simply to provide artists with an intensive period to concentrate on a project without distraction. To that end all meals (dinner and lunch) were amply catered. I can’t remember eating so well! They were also very conscious of different dietary requirement which must have presented quite a challenge. This coming together at meals was also a great opportunity to get to know the other residents in a relaxed setting.

While geographically very close to downtown Toronto the island feels worlds away. This is largely because the bulk of it has been declared a national park . While there is a small community who live there, the provincial government has decreed that no new houses can be built, which has led to an enormous waiting list for any available properties. The car free environment also contributes to this tranquil setting. On our first day we were given 2 speed bikes to explore the island, which proved to be a great way to get around.

After spending the first couple of days recovering from jetlag (I think Canada is about as far from Australia as you can get!) and exploring the small island it was time to hit the studio. As I wasn’t working with a specific exhibition deadline for the first time in a long while-It was really nice to take the time to experiment with ideas and materials without the pressure to produce a resolved work by date-X. The director of Artscape also put my mind at ease by reminding us that we weren’t there to produce a completed work (writers in the middle of a book weren’t of course expected to suddenly complete their project within this time frame). This was a really rare luxury and this acknowledgment of the importance of process was very validating.

A couple days later we all got to know our fellow residents through organized studio visits where we presented images, readings or descriptions of our previous projects. This was a great way to get to know each other better, in terms of exactly what kind of work we did, and ultimately led to collaborations between a couple of residents from quite different backgrounds-Walter Van Bruikheusen a young installation artist from the Netherlands and Elizabeth Langley the most mature resident (at 70 years old) who had a lengthy background in dance.

Two weeks into the residency friends and the Toronto arts community were invited to visit the studio’s and see what we were up to. Through my involvement with Downtown Artspace, I had already curated an exhibition of emerging Toronto artists a year earlier. Much of this was done via email and so the open house presented a great opportunity to meet up for the first time with several of these artists; Zin Taylor, Derek Sullivan and Allison Hrabluik. We share quite a bit of common ground in our artistic practice and I have kept in regular contact with these three. Aside from their feedback and inspiration they have actually been very helpful to me in introducing me to curators of galleries in Toronto and across the country which has yielded some promising results.

The work I began during my residency has expanded and on the strength of that I have been invited to take part in a solo exhibition at Gertrude Contemporary Art Space in Melbourne in February 2006. It is in interactive exhibition which continues to build on the new media aspect of my installation practice. The residency allowed me the time to focus and experiment in a supportive atmosphere in a beautiful natural environment. It also gave me the opportunity to share and work alongside nine other cultural producers from all over the globe, many of whom I stay in regular contact with.

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