UnLocking : Future Ecologies

Dion Ellis-Taylor reflects on her Nest Residency

A dedicated studio space is a truly wonderful thing, perilously so … demanding inordinate ounceage of self-discipline, for wont of losing all sense of time, space and ‘other’. Fortunately there is a clock on the wall in Helloland with a fully operational acid battery. Life exudes paradox; compromises, contradictions, imperfections … there’s always room for error, improvement, mistake-making, potential for allowance of some slack. Everything remains where you left it in the dedicated studio space, pretty much just as your yesterdaySelf thought you left it. I’d forgotten this was even possible. The turnover on our dining room table revolves around the minute and second hand.

Like the of confines of A1 cartridge, facing-off the resistant bounce of board and easel, brittle charcoal, graphite, chalk stick and Stop-Clock of the lifedrawing room; anything is possible within certain parameters. Parameters to push against, adhere to, depend upon, agree, disagree, debate, request, contest, accept or change. The potential to perform, under pressure, against the clock, in the moment. Sometimes, nothing worth keeping. Always something to build on – to take forward. A dedicated studio space offers back-to-back moments (a full packet, the whole cake …). How to set one’s own internal parameters when you’re adrift, casting off ‘in the space’ ?

Thankfully, there is always someone elsewhere, ready to pull you out (ready or not) – School Run usually (“time at the bar”).

What an utterly joyous opportunity.

The last time I experienced creative practice within a dedicated studio space was as Fine Art undergraduate sharing messy spaces last millennium, in the early nineteen nineties (before the rise of Edit/Undo). The liberation of free construction in a wide open space had been a distant memory. A Room of One’s Own, indeed, even for the short term, resonates deeply within the psyche; worthy becomes the practice, practitioner and the work.

Now changed with responsibilities, technologies and disabilities involving long term mobility issues, hearing issues and more recently, permanent loss of central vision in what was a dominant eye. Initially truly debilitating for a lifetime photographer and visual artist. Not so for the lifelong experiential learner and stubborn optimist experiencing first-hand the wonders of neuro-plasticity, renegotiating spatial depth and relational proximity.

For the Nest Future Ecologies residency I set out to explore something of the psychology of behaviour … through the medium of interactive art; the potential for change [within ever-pressing Climate Change]. I planned to develop a tug, push-pull mechanism that might demonstrate modes of action; lone, collective and sustained interaction with audio-visual triggers and responses. I wanted all of this to be powered by dynamo, demonstrably off-grid (turns out Coldplay had the same idea, recruiting cyclists to power ostentatious gigs). I had it all mapped out. I knew what I wanted to achieve. I needed to gather a team of skilled engineers and soldering experts. All I had to do was bring them onboard and start experimenting as fast as possible, in this dedicated space. I could work on certain parts myself in the meantime, and start bringing it all together.

Things do indeed take longer than you first think, even though you already know that. I set about ‘cutting back’, editing; the process of removal, decluttering, identifying achievable chunks … reducing on a slow simmer, getting closer to the essence of it. Equally, within a day I started achieving more than even I could have listed on both sides of one envelope. There were also days of unprecedented setbacks, including opening an errant email by mistake and consequently losing access to a decade of emails and having to spend several days on the phone troubleshooting to get back to near ground zero. How many steps, which way?

I decided to slow down. As method in itself. I slowed down.

I looked, observing what I had, what was going on … and I listened to the work (I could see it, spread about me, pinned aloft, reshuffled, handwritten notes, building/ collating narratives, pegged to a line, rearranged, reviewed, removed decisively – having lived with it a while, having stood back – a change of perspective, being able to return to it after a break). That is when I started to play (and really enjoy discovering) – when I caught myself chastising myself for not keeping to what I’d set out to do on today’s Studio Diary entry – and realised over the following weeks, that those side-tracks were the deeper explorations of what was stirring within these ideas – they were already present, within – they are the sketches that stuck – the new dawnings of connection-making – that freely flowed when I ‘let go’ – that I presented – that formed significant particles in the unfolding narrative told.

I continue to observe how I operate and look forward to returning to the dedicated space.

One more thing … I am overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of public engagement with the work in progress that I shared for Random String; 2021. I thought I had printed (sustainably) a surplus of short, open questions;

  1. What do you think might be happening in each of the 3 parts of the video? What do they mean to you?
  2. How does the video make you feel? What feelings or thoughts does it bring to mind?
  3. What do you think should or might happen to get from one part to the next (to move from one phase or state to the next)?
  4. What else could happen?

Every sheet returned, spilling with glorious handwriting; the creative imagination of so many different people who each stayed the full 5 minutes and absorbed the 3 parts – some longer, engaging in the repeat, the loop, the cycle – the spoken and unspoken shared conversation.

The work takes on a life of its own when others see meaning and make their own connections; it begins to make ripples. Moving beyond the self of artist practitioner, if successful, art resonates with others. My task now is to harness what resonates and steer with integrity, more clearly able to actively listen to the work itself, in relation, with others.

A genuine, humble “thank you” to Talking Birds, Ludic Rooms, Arts Council England, the City of Culture Trust and all supporting partnerships in providing generous opportunity for artists in Coventry to develop creative practice in a dedicated studio space with opportunities for conversation, professional development, social connection as well as paid opportunity to exhibit work in progress, without pressure.

Talking Birds’ Nest Residencies are open to any Midlands-based solo or small company of artists (in pretty much any artistic discipline) and will prioritise d/Deaf, disabled and/or neurodivergent artists that apply. – find out more, including how to apply, here.