Travel to art destinations can be a rewarding experience for collectors and curators, providing opportunities to escape their daily grind and immerse themselves in learning experiences, whether the draw is a biennial, an art fair, or a far-flung art scene with the promise of intimate studio visits. For artists, on the other hand, such undertakings can have all the glamor of a tightly budgeted business trip, with a packed schedule of installing art or overseeing complex fabrication. The century-old idea of the artist residency seeks to counter this source of stress by providing living and studio space away from home so that the artist can focus on their art. Typically these grants provide the chance for artists to retreat from the world, working from the assumption that the creative process is a solitary endeavor or one undertaken in the company a few like minded colleagues.
In contrast, Creative Time's newly rebooted Global Residency stands out for its novel approach, built on the understanding that artists are most productive when they are socially engaged. Under the program, artists are sent to a location of their choosing to research any topic they propose. The aim is to "give artists the chance to travel and pose burning questions, to really interact on the ground," says Laura Raicovich, the nonprofit's director of global initiatives. Moreover, the primary requirement for the grantees is merely that they present a report on their experience, freeing them from the pressures to produce that so often encumber a residency award. "We didn't want to make this another hoop that artists had to jump through," explains Raicovich.
With the season's first round of field reports from the intrepid artists taking place last week, it was clear Creative Time's unusual approach has yielded rich rewards notable for being tailored to the particular needs of each artist.
Kicking off the evening in the casual setting of Joe's Pub, Theaster Gates had the audience laughing along with his description of the stereotypically "concerned artist, concerned about his concerns for the world." But as his talk progressed it was clear that his journey to earthquake-striken Haiti had deeply affected Gates, who is known for his sculptures and performances that grow out of interaction with the communities of Chicago's South Side, where he lives. Even before taking the trip, the act of planning his itinerary shifted his thinking about how concerned citizens of all stripes become invested in and start to take ownership of the objects of their concern. Once on the ground, the effects were more profound. "I met these amazing people," he recalls, "but I felt hopeless, nothing made sense." Ultimately, he continues to hope to find some way to help local artists find access to the international art markets.
Similarly, Lisi Raskin, who discussed her own experience in Afghanistan while flipping through slides of the notable historic sites and museums she visited, conveyed a sense that the sojourn had destabilized some of the assumptions underlying her work while also reinvigorating her. The artist—who is acclaimed for her artful reconstructions of the architectural detritus of the Cold War, sometimes as room-size installations and sometimes on a smaller scale—explained that it had been the first time she had traveled to a place where that conflict in some sense was still in play, a country where the the effects were not to be seen in crumbling monuments but in conversations with the locals whose lives were being upended.
Notable in both these examples are the bald difficulties in undertaking such off-the-beaten-path trips. In addition to encouraging artists to think big and reach far in their proposals, Creative Time offers the sort of logistical support needed to really find entree into the local communities.
The third presenter last week, Naeem Mohaiemen, initially traveled to more familiar ground, revisiting Bangladesh to continue his research into radical movements of the 1970s and the repercussions of their brutal suppression. The most intriguing part of his talk concerned a subsequent trip to Holland to meet with a Dutch instigator of Bangladesh's revolution who was jailed until the Netherlands was able to leverage his release. Creative Time's ambitious program, with its open format, is based on the understanding that artists are sometimes pulled in unanticipated directions, and that they deserve support wherever they need to go.
A similar backing is being provided to the next group of artists, including Duke Riley, Mika Tajima, Suzanne Lacy, Andrea Geyer, whose travels are already underway. (Creative Time curator Nato Thompson accompanies some of the artists during part of their trips, which are funded by Robert Sterling Clark Foundation. The Rockefeller Foundation funded a pilot season in 2010/2011 whose participants included Sanford Biggers, K8 Hardy, Emily Jacir, and Maya Lin.) One can only hope that this reimagining of the residency as an opportunity for engagement rather isolation takes root in other programs.