Lived residencies, experiential learning and thick geographies: how artists produce knowledge(s) in the social studio
McMeans, Patricia Healy
This practice-based research articulates how contemporary artists learn from their peers and others within social studio, or group, artists’ residency (SSAR), and ways in which the disruption of one’s habitus contributes to processual learning. I ask, when undergoing a durational place-based residency event, how does an individual artist’s practice shift, and how does conversation and “hanging out” work towards this shift? I conduct this examination in part by doing residency as a means to study them. My principal research aims are to better understand and determine how peer-led experiential learning in situ and over time affects the creative process and imagination inside the SSAR, and how this is situated inside the arts ecology both globally and regionally. To do so, I draw from the immersive learning approach unfolding from Black Mountain College (1933-1956) as a key democratic model in reimagining the place and possible futures of residency. A recent cadre of self-organised residency initiatives reflects horizontal knowledge exchange evidenced in this and other artist-run initiatives, underpinned by social constructivist, pragmatic and non-representational theories (Dewey, Ingold, Manning). However, the perception of art residencies as merely exotic getaways for artists and an escape from everyday preoccupations persists. To address these misperceptions, my research seeks to (1) determine what knowledges are produced and how meaning is co-constructed through various intensities of experience and polytemporality in SSAR; (2) articulate how artists in residency affect and are affected by itinerancy, building and dwelling, and construction of the public sphere; and (3) by centering the artist, assess the degree to which the fracturing of traditional artistic methods engenders a new essential art practice. My methodology evolves from Practice-as-Research and Participant Observation. Through my experiential art practice, I created four itinerant residency events with a cohort of international transdisciplinary peer artists, each 3-4 weeks in duration and making place in both urban and rural settings centred in Edinburgh (SCOT) and Minneapolis (USA). Secondly, I conducted fieldwork at established SSAR case studies in Scotland in order to investigate closely how these spaces function, resources are distributed, and geographies affect residents. This thesis examines host and resident experiences through semi-structured interviews with artists and residency administrators, documentation photography, videography, fieldnotes, binaural sound recordings on site, and reflective narrative. Outcomes of the study show how SSARs can engender a social contract of place-keeping and hospitality, and triangulate trust amongst artists, hosts, and publics; this, in turn, does affect practice and thickening of place. Furthermore, my research contribution to the field proposes the doing of SSAR can engender a new artistic research methodology in itself: the Live Residency, which can be deployed by other researchers and applied across disciplines.