MoKS International Artist in Residence Program :: Van Sowerwine

1 – 30 August 2007 Mooste Estonia

Image supplied by the artist

Image supplied by the artist

From the 1st to the 30th of August 2007 I participated in the MoKS International Artist in Residence program in Mooste, Estonia. I participated in the residency with Camilla Hannan, a sound artist with whom I collaborate to create the sound/visual duo Vanilla.

For me, the aim of the residency was two-fold. Camilla and I needed time and space away from our separate practices to concentrate on developing and extending Vanilla. I also wanted the opportunity to create work in a non-deadline based context and to be able to experiment with different techniques and artforms.

In some ways the residency fulfilled both of these aims. Due to the long distance traveled, I was able only to take a limited amount of materials and equipment with me. Hence I was forced to improvise with the materials I could find either at MoKS or at the nearest town. I discovered a stack of old Russian magazines from the 1930s, left by a previous collage workshop, and experimented with collage techniques to create puppets. I also set up a couple of art-based exercises that I had to complete each day.  This allowed me to play with process rather than focus on results within my art practice.

Even though I knew that Mooste is a tiny village of 500 people, it wasn’t until we arrived that I realised just how isolated the residency is. The organisers, Evelyn Müürsepp and John Grzinich, live at the next village 10kms away, and the tiny village consists of just 2 small food shops, a post office and a chemist. This meant few interruptions, which was useful when we realised we had only two weeks left in which to make an entire new work!

Image supplied by the artist

Image supplied by the artist

In the first week of the residency we had a lot of visitors at MoKS. A group of Finnish artists and intellectuals arrived for their annual meeting, and after them came a group of curators and artists who are hoping to collaborate with MoKS to create a network of European artist residencies. We were able to present and discuss our work with these people and build networks and connections with people from Turkey, Slovakia, Finland and Poland. It was interesting to get a small glimpse of different ways of being an artist and working in Europe. To a certain extent it made me realise how in some ways Australian artists are disadvantaged by our geographic position – many artist in Europe seem to travel across various countries and festivals constantly running into the same other artists and developing collaborative relationships. At the same time, many artists talked about the weight of the European networks and tradition being stifling and restrictive.

In order to give the residency a focus we organised a performance of Vanilla at the end of our time at MoKS.  This also gave us the opportunity to present Vanilla to the many people we met throughout the residency. The performance was held on the 25th of August in Tartu, the second biggest town in Estonia about 40kms from MoKS. We developed a work based on our experiences in Mooste, and in doing so experimented with new techniques and different ways of collaborating. At times it was heavy going having to produce a whole new work in such a short amount of time. However I was extremely happy with the work I produced. Without the tight deadline the residency could have been very unfocused. About 30 people attended the performance at Genialistide Klubi in Tartu, and afterwards we gave an artist’s talk.

The organisers of MoKS, John and Evelyn, were wonderful hosts – we were taken on excursions to see some of the beautiful national parks, we went mushroom and berry picking and attended exhibition openings in various small towns near Mooste. The residency was an amazing time for me where I had to do nothing but make art, and where I unexpectedly met so many interesting and generous people. I only wish I could have stayed a little longer.

Being an artist in residence at MoKS was a wonderful opportunity. I was able to spend a concentrated amount of time making work without any distractions. I had the chance to experiment with various techniques and media, and different ways of making art. Camilla and I created a new Vanilla work which we hope to show in Australia soon. I also had the opportunity to meet and network with a wide range of arts practitioners, possibly leading to further opportunities for my practice.

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