Faraway So Close: Artist Residencies Outside the Circuit

In a year that has seen most of us grounded indefinitely, the idea of going away for a long stay somewhere else may seem like a distant dream, if not an outright fantasy. Yet not that long ago, residencies were a common occurrence in the travel itineraries of the art world. Unlike exhibitions and speaking engagements, the artist residency is seen as less a part of the endless cycle of production than a chance for artists to take pause and establish more lasting bonds with the communities among which they are temporarily situated. While the location thus matters, many residencies themselves are in urban centres or aspiring cultural hubs, and in some ways reinforce business as usual. What happens, then, when the residency is located outside the normal circuits of art, in settings normally thought of as remote or isolated? What possibilities emerge when artists remove themselves from the usual cycles of exchange and production?

On the occasion of Crafting Communities, the current exhibition at Asia Art Archive focused on the Thailand-based Womanifesto initiative, this panel features artists from three different contexts to discuss the questions posed above, taking as examples the artist residencies they have organised in rural or natural settings. In addition to learning about the qualities and conditions unique to each, the conversation will also invite artists to reflect on commonalities between them. They will speak about what motivated them to organise residencies for other artists, the effect that such a gathering produces on the visitors and the places and communities that host them, and how such gatherings, often international in scope, might shift the ways we think about the meaning of the local.

Gram Art Project, based in Paradsinga, a small village of about four thousand in Madhya Pradesh in central India, brings together artists, critics, architects, social workers, and farmers to collaborate and work with the rural community on issues related to the environment, women’s education, and rural India. As part of its programme, Gram organises festivals and invites artists to spend time in the village, learning about local crafts and practices. Shweta Bhattad, a founding member of the Gram Collective, is an artist and performer from Nagpur whose work often deals with women’s education and the female body.

Since 2015, Tree Tree Tree Person - Taroko Arts Residency Project has invited artists to a national park in eastern Taiwan to live with members of the Truku tribe, on whose land the park is located. Through the interaction between the high-mountain indigenous community and the artists, the project encourages the revisiting and re-imagining of the relationship between human beings and nature. Cheng-Tao Chen, the founder of the residency project, first visited the villages in 2011 as part of an ecology programme. The mountain setting and the culture of the community inspired him to establish the project, which has worked with some twenty artists.

Womanifesto is a biennial initiative founded by women artists active in Thailand from 1997 to 2008.  While it initially began as an exhibition-based project in Bangkok, two of its iterations, in 2001 and 2008, took the form of a workshop and residency respectively, bringing in total twenty-four participants to Boon Bandarn Farm in northeast Thailand. Nitaya Ueareeworakul, one of the founding members of Womanifesto, co-organised the Womanifesto Workshop and Residency Programmes. She lives in Kantharalak in northeast Thailand, where she is also part of the Border Art Group, which conducts community art workshops.

Timed to coincide with the launch of the Womanifesto Archive on AAA’s website in the fall, the archive project and accompanying exhibition also continue lines of inquiry related to pedagogy that AAA is pursuing this coming year in its programmes, exhibitions, and collections.

This event is is made possible through support from the Women in Art History Fund: Jonathan Cheung, Geoffrey Chuang, Luke Fehon, Shirazeh Houshiary / Lisson Gallery, Margie Lau, Dee Poon, and Claudine Ying.

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