Why do an Artists Residency

Seeing as how the last four months of 2013 for me involved completing two Artists Residencies, I thought that while the memories are still fresh I would reflect on what they meant to me, their lasting impact… & a little bit of advice and encouragement if you are considering applying for one.

WHAT?
Without wanting to sound like a physics lecture, Artists Residencies are about space and time. Many different institutions and facilities offer Artist-in-residence programs all over the world – many are listed here. The residency must be applied for to a strict deadline and they exist to provide a place to work and develop your art, away from your usual place of residence. In a sense they could be considered a working holiday but the work you do and how you do it is the key. Some residencies are aimed to support specific mediums, which is obviously an important factor in finding a good match between you, the artist and the residency. So finding the right residency is the starting point.

WHEN?
The other key element that residencies provide is time, usually of a fixed duration. Time away from your local commitments, time away from your ‘normal’ life. Time to focus on your ideas, explore them, research and develop them, to create new work and eventually present or exhibit it… In my case, after a LOT of research, first I spent the two months of September & October 2013, on Shodoshima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan completing a residency with the ArtBiotop Organisation. Secondly I spent two months of November & December 2013 based in Little Huia, in the Waitakere Ranges Park near Auckland, completing an Auckland Regional Parks artist residency.

WHY?
The answer to this question (why do an Artists Residency?) will be different for every person who applies, because it is a direct reflection on where you are at with your own art. Some residency programs are targetted at new/emerging artists while others seek mature artists with an established body of work.

For me, I consider myself a combination of both of these. I have spent 20+ years working in the film industry and developing my aesthetics, approach and processes. I do have an established body of work, but the majority of that work is work on other peoples projects. At the end of 2012 I went through a period of reflection, initially motivated by the death of a dear friend & mentor. The resolution was a shift in my focus, to creating my own work. And successfully applying for these two residencies was a crucial part in my creative evolution, but it wasn’t quite the abrupt shift in approach that it might at first appear…

Back in the late 1980s, when I was attempting an electrical engineering degree I slowly came to the realisation that I could not live a life as an engineer. Electrical engineering just did not excite me, nor engage what I considered my strongest personal attributes. This finally became crystal clear in an interview with a local electronics company – in hindsight the interviewer was a very clever, insightful person who within 15 minutes helped me clarify what it was that I wanted to be doing. And it wasn’t electrical engineering! I am indebted to him for this, some people live their whole lives without such realisations. So I was slowly spending less and less time at Engineering School and spending more time hanging out with friends at Ilam Arts School, one of New Zealands two top fine arts institutions. The contrast in how these people lived their lives was in such contrast to those in engineering. This sounds ridiculously obvious now, but when you’re young & finding your way in life such things are important, especially when you consider the choices you make back then affect the rest of your life.

During this time I slowly vowed to live my life as an artist – not someone who has a job and works from 9 to 5, spending the rest of their time trying to forget or avoid work. I wanted to evolve my life to do work that I cared about, that I thought about 24/7, work that I could provide a unique perspective on. And this attitude has served me incredibly well in the following decades – both in the 20+ years of working in the film industry and during all of the spare time that I have invested in my own projects. But through reflection and evolution I have slowly come to want to reverse the roles, that is, to spend the majority of my time working on my own projects. And these two residencies have provided the most beautiful, supportive and inspiring situations in which to finally address that desire.

HOW?
The first step, after deciding you want to do an Artists Residency is the application process. I am sure this process alone eliminates a lot of people, because it involves a lot of deep thinking, and putting ideas into words, words that anyone can understand. Most residencies provide guidelines for your application, for example the Auckland Residency Program notes that priority will be given to:

• artists capable of high quality and innovative work
• artists who propose a clear result or outcome from the residency
• artists opting for new, site specific work either related to a specific place or park feature or to the residency experience
• artists whose work encapsulates or alludes to “sense of place”
• artists who offer some interaction with others eg. park visitors, park neighbours etc.

Examples of your work, your history, your personal goals and character references are usually required. While there are some similarities with applying for a job, I believe the core issues can be summed up as: what do you want to do during the residency? And are you able and likely to do it and have a successful outcome?

Simply having to clearly express what it is you want to do is an invaluable process for any creative person. Clarify your intent, and communicate it in a way that anyone can understand.

Once your application has been sent off, then comes the waiting… and waiting… Usually there is a period of months between application deadline and any further contact, which is enough time that you have to just put the idea of the residency aside and continue on with life. The reason I applied for two residencies was about hope as much as anything – I thought if I didn’t get the first residency that I applied for, then at least there would still be hope for the second one. I pitched totally different projects for each of the two residencies and while there were some similarities in the application process, the majority of each required specifically and uniquely developed ideas. I put a lot of thought & research into making sure if I did get to do either of the residencies I was going to achieve the utmost that I could from them.

And then one sunny morning the phone rang… you could not wipe the smile off my face for weeks! And when I discovered I had been accepted for both residencies I was ecstatic – the universe was encouraging me in ways I would never forget.

Each residency program provides physical help in different ways. Some provide per diems, others provide transport (to the residency, and while at the residency). For the Shodoshima residency I was provided a house and a car for the duration of my residency, but getting myself from New Zealand to Japan was up to me. The Auckland residency provided a house and a weekly stipend (enough to live and cover basic materials) – getting to the residency and transport at the residency were up to me. So researching an appropriate residency for you, is dependent on what you need and can afford to do.

And there will be practicalities. For both residencies I needed to set up my own little composing/mixing/post production suite in the house provided. Now consider the practicalities of that: hundreds of hours spent in a room with all source elements, CPU, softare, storage & backups, monitors and acoustics. My excess baggage to and from Japan was equal to about half my airfare. But that didn’t worry me – I planned for it. Do not take anything for granted.

For me, making the schedule work with two residencies of two months each meant I had to juggle timing a little, and sadly I also had to pull out of working on a film that I was booked for. But there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity these two residencies represented.

WHAT DID I LEARN?
I won’t go into too much detail here, as the ramifications of both the residencies are deep, far reaching and in some ways beyond words. But I can imagine looking back in a few years time & being able to point directly to the residencies, as to why I am now wherever I will be by then.

The first thing I really noticed with the residencies was the dramatic shift from research, planning and developing/clarifying concepts to arriving at the residency and starting work.

In the months prior to travelling to Shodoshima, I spent hours and hours online doing virtual location recces on Google Earth, Maps & street view and Flickr. Hours and hours, stashing bookmarks, taking screenshots etc… And a lot of time clarifying and evolving ideas, researching concepts & techniques…

Arriving in Japan is always a buzz, but catching the ferry to Shodoshima for the first time (I have visited Shodoshima twice before, but it’s a different feeling arriving on day one of a residency!) I was like a kid on a sugar rush! But it was also interesting that within a week I had settled into my new temporary life, thanks to the help & support of the local residency people. The same was true in Little Huia – it is amazing how fast one becomes settled…

And that is one attribute of the residencies that was common to both: you arrive and instantly tap into a supportive network of local people, who are there to help you, and who want you to succeed. Being positive, open minded and collaborative are invaluable attributes in life, but even more so when being thrown in the deep end, meeting a lot of new people & forming new relationships in situations such as these. Good for the creative mind, essential in fact, but great for the human soul too!

The next revelations I savoured were the shifts from concept to reality. I remember a specific point during the Little Huia residency where this became crystal clear to me, it was right here:

A good friend & DOP/filmmaker had agreed to shoot a little documentary about my residency (you’ll get to see it, sooner or later) and while out recording in a really unique visual location (as per that photo, a road literally carved through the landscape) I suddenly thought of a great steadicam shot for the doco. I did a pre-viz version, shooting with my 5D and comped it into a video, sent him a youtube link and the next weekend he brought his steadicam out & we revisited the location.
But after shooting my idea for half an hour & getting it in the can, we both then relaxed & started shooting material with the steadicam that was so much better than what I had conceived. I came away from this experience with a resolution: it is the concept that gets you there in the first place, but the gold comes from being open minded and exploring the possibilities in situ. Its not a new adage but it reinforced my belief that the best work comes from working, not from thinking about working.

I also knew I would be influenced & inspired by engaging with the environment and locations from both the residencies. People talk about the form of light in New Zealand, but waking every morning to a view of the Seto Inland Sea of Japan was bliss. And equally, living mere metres from the Manukau harbour had a profound effect on me, it reminded me that I could never, ever live out of sight/hearing of the sea.

In both residencies my work was totally altered by the places I spent time and the people I met. It is easy to say in hindsight, and it is easy to think about beforehand. But just how it happens, moment by moment and day by day, is heavenly.

The two biggest things I learned from the residencies?

First, was about process. Evolving my process, learning how to do things I planned but had never done before. Clarifying what I was willing to accept and what I wasn’t. I’ve been accused of being a perfectionist before, but I am not – I am a pragmatist. But what I accept as ‘good enough’ for myself is based on my own ideals, no one elses. And not a new lesson but: perseverance. As example, one 20 second shot in my Shodoshima short film took six hours to capture, and it wasn’t timelapse, it was a real time shot. When people see the shot & ask about the actors, there weren’t any. It was all real. Hence the time….

And despite having witnessed it many, many times on other peoples projects, the process of evolving my own projects with a clear screening deadline rapidly approaching, is some of the hardest work I have ever done. If you want clarity of vision, book a screening! What is that old saying by Leonard Bernstein:
“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time”

Screening my work, and discussing it with the audience was also profoundly satisfying. The stress and adrenalyn of finishing the work, the anxiety of it screening (I’m not religious but I prayed to technological gods for pleeeeease, no playback glitches!) and then witnessing how my work changed before my very eyes, just by having an audience present, are incredible things to learn.

And unlike any time in my past I felt like I really OWN my work. I have always had a slightly uneasy relationship with what I make (I am without a doubt my own worst critic) but after weeks and months of being present, and making the most of every day to create the best personal work that I could, I was more than happy to own it. And during the Q&A from both the residencies I answered questions with answers I didn’t know I had until I said them. Insight into your own work, is such a blessing.

Secondly, and finally, the most important things I learned during the two residencies are the most personally profound: growing as an artist, and clarifying my ouvre. I feel that in my own personal work I have evolved, from crawling around exploring & bumping into walls, to walking with a sense of purpose and direction. Without the residencies I simply would not have that, and that alone will serve me deeply, in the years to come…

SOME ADVICE?
Should you apply for an Artists Residency? Only you can know the answer to that question – are you ready? Are you able to take months away from your normal life? Are you able to support yourself? Is your work ready? Do you have clear ideas about what you’ll create? If yes to all of that, I cannot reccomend the experience highly enough – it IS life changing.

But.

I can also imagine a hundred ways someone could come unstuck, and for that reason the residencies tend to be well screened. But bear this in mind, even the process of applying for a residency will teach you things about yourself that you may not even be aware of. For that alone it is worth it. And I tend to take the long view, if you are committed then even if you don’t get accepted with your first application, then that is just feedback to you, to evolve your ideas & present an even stronger application next time round.

And some important advice: most residencies only occur once a year, at most. So if you are interested, it pays to track the application deadlines. Why I mention this is that the deadline for the 2014 residency in the Auckland Regional Parks is closing on 17th February – you have just over a month to get your application in – more info here

Good luck!

And I can’t finish this monologue without offering my profound thanks to all of the people who made these two residencies possible for me. From the bottom of my heart, thank you! I know I will revisit both residencies, for the rest of my life & I so look forward to meeting again the fantastic people involved in making both happen. Thank you! Arigatou gozimasu!

 

 

Other resources:

Rate my Artists Residency

 

 

 

 

Forecasting your field recording

While the weather doesn’t matter so much if you work indoors, spending time outdoors is essential for mental & physical health and if you work hard then your free time is invaluable and not to be wasted. So whether you are just planning to go for a hike at the weekend, or as a field recordist or photographer you totally depend on environmental conditions I thought i’d collect together all the websites & apps I use to plan my missions…

There is an old saying: ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes’ which is fine if you’re just a tourist but for people such as fishermen and farmers, their lives & safety depend on checking and interpreting the weather forecast. For they must plan far more than just whether to take a brolly to work with them the next day. Having access to reliable weather data & forecasts is only half the equation – local knowledge is equally crucial to understand how the weather will actually affect your planned locations.

So the first two tools I use are for VERY local weather conditions ie in my lounge!

As a kid I grew up on my parents farm, and one sound that I remember from as far back as my memory stretches is that whenever my Dad got up from the dining table after breakfast or lunch, and headed off out to work on the farm he would always pause by the barometer hanging on the wall in the hall and tap it with his finger. I never thought about why he tapped it, it just seemed a funny sort of ritual…

Many years later when I bought a barometer for my own house, I learned to appreciate why he tapped it. Barometers display the current pressure and the indicator tends to have some friction by design, in that it displays and holds the current pressure. And when you tap it it briefly it frees itself and changes to display the current pressure, so it behaves a bit like refreshing or reloading a website. The same applies to my barometer above, so it must be by design but also note my barometer has a second arm which you can manually set. So when I check the pressure, I note the current reading, tap the centre of the glass and note which direction the pressure is changing, and then set the second arm to that position.

Here are some useful articles about interpreting the information you get from a barometer:

– How to Read a Barometer
– How to Set and Read a Barometer
– Fair or Foul? How to Use a Barometer to Forecast the Weather

The second tool I use is a temperature and humidity meter – I have this one in my lounge, another downstairs and another one outside. It is interesting to compare them all, and then compare them with the recorded average for my local area as per the TV News forecast. Local conditions vary, but as a home owner I am especially interested in whether eg my basement is damp.

I really think everyone should own a barometer and a temperature/humidity meter and know how to use them. I also have a rain gauge outside but I only really use it in summer, to check how much rain my vege garden is getting and whether I need to irrigate.

When I did my Artists Residency in the Waitakere Ranges I got to spend some time with Park Rangers, and I was especially curious at the Visitors Centre what weather advice they provided as they were often the last point of contact before people headed off for hikes in the Waitaks. I expected them to direct me to our local government weather forecasting, but was surprised when one Ranger told me he relied on a forecasting service based in Norway! Ever since I have used them daily/hourly and long term forecasts: Yr.no is a joint service by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation.

Daily forecast:

Website: yr.no and iOS app and Android app

Yr.no allows you to save Places, but I also save web bookmarks to the places I am permanently interested in (eg my home, my GFs home etc) but when planning a field trip I also save a link to each shoot location and the latter can be really revealing as to variation in local conditions. For example when I was recording a sound library of WIND IN TREES, I would check the hourly forecasts for each of my planned locations, and depending on the direction of the wind some locations that were relatively close together would have remarkably different conditions even though they are all under the influence of the same weather system. I guess this shouldn’t be too surprising since if you live near the sea the predominant wind is going to be from the sea, as there is nothing to restrict the wind from impacting on your location. But in the mountains and in more complex landscapes the weather can vary hugely, and hikers live and die based on being properly prepared for the best and worst of conditions. My point is that weather forecasts are invaluable but not infallible. Be prepared!

Local weather forecasting in New Zealand:

MetService website and iOS app

As I am often in coastal areas I also check the Metservcies marine forecast eg Wellington Marine

NIWA can also be useful – their website

And local independent weather forecasting Weather Watch are also very useful: Weather Watch website

A few other international weather sites that have been suggested:

Wunderground website and iOS app

Weather Nerds website

Blitzortung live lightning map

How great to see a TV weather presenter use chalk! Contemporary weather forecasting is as much about modelling based on sensor data, so these next two are brilliant for clearly visualising weather patterns.

First: Windy.com website and iOS app

Apart from choosing location, and zooming in/out of a map of the world, note that you can also choose on the right hand side whether the display is wind, rain & thunder, temperature etc and down the bottom you can choose to play a simualtion of the forecasted weather today & into the future.

Another similar site is called Earth: website

By comparison Earth website does not provide such specific forecasting, but why I like it and also use it regularly is because when you zoom in to the area surrounding your location, you can see clearly the systems that are creating the weather. For New Zealand, as an island nation surrounded by a lot of ocean, it is invaluable to see where cyclones and anti-cyclones currently are, and their projected trajectory as that helps me clarify my thinking about incoming weather.

Of course these displayed simulations can’t be taken too literally – the animated wind display is not actually moving across the planet at the speed displayed on screen!

TIDES:
As both a photographer and a field recordist I am often working near the ocean, so having current reliable data about the sea is crucial. On my recent road trip I timed my visits to some locations primarily based on the tides. I can cope with variation in weather and happily shoot film from under a brolly. But some locations are inaccessible depending on the tide, and when shooting photos involving the sea the tides play a vital part in previsualizing the shot you wish to take.

One aspect of tides that I did not understand until recently is that the time for high tide slowly moves around the coast line! I stupidly thought when it was high tide in NZ it was high tide everywhere in NZ at the same time. Doh!

Of course high and low tide times can be calculated far into the future, because “they are produced by a combination of forces that are predictable. These forces are determined by the movements and positions of objects in our solar system, particularly the earth and the moon in relation to the sun.”
So even if planning for a trip months in the future, you can still find out the tides and plan accordingly.

NZ Metservice Tides website
Tides Chart website

The two groups of people who depend on the tide more than you or I, are fishermen and surfers. So it can be useful to ask them where they get their marine weather info from and it was a surfer who suggested Swellmap to me. Swellmap not only provides tide times but also predicts wave height and periodicity, and if you are recording sounds of or near the ocean this is invaluable information. For example when I recorded the SEAL VOCALS library I closely followed swellmap and at times saw wave heights of 4.5metres (taller than a house!) which would make for a totally wasted trip as the roar of the ocean would drown out any seals grunting!

But by observing both the weather systems and the ocean for the specific area I wanted to record, over a period of weeks I managed to wait and identify a number of days where the weather was settled and low tide timed for early morning, which I knew meant there would be less noisy tourists around.

Swellmap website and apps

FLIGHT PATHS:
Another factor to take into consideration primarily when field recording is flight paths. There is nothing so frustrating as being in the presence of a fascinating sound, hitting record and then sensing a distant plane approaching. While some smaller planes may have unpredictable flight paths, most larger planes follow well established flight paths and knowing where they are is key to avoiding them.

Flightradar24 is a global flight tracking service that provides you with real-time information about thousands of aircraft around the world. Flightradar24 tracks 180,000+ flights, from 1,200+ airlines, flying to or from 4,000+ airports around the world in real time. If you zoom in on a major international airport it is a little scary to see just how busy that traffic is!! And for example at the same zoom level compare New Zealand with Japan:

Apart from avoiding flight paths it is is also handy for checking arrival times of flights (eg when pick up someone from airport) or for passing time while waiting to record you can check and see what flight it is that is ruining your recording, and where it is headed to.

Flight radar 24 website and iOS app and Android app

Other useful apps: (more for photograpy)

Moon phases via timeanddate website

The Photographers Ephemeris website and iOS app and android app helps you plan outdoor photography in natural light, by seeing how the light will fall on the land, day or night, for any location on earth.

LightTrac app similarly helps you find and previsualize ideal light conditions, time and location to photograph by calculating and plotting the angle of Sun and Moon on top of a map, for any location.

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OK so who do you rely on for your weather forecast?
Who provides the most accurate forecasting for your country and locations?
What websites or apps do you reccomend?
What books do you reccomend for learning about the weather?

Email me and I will update this with your suggestions

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