When self-care doesn’t feel enough

Sinéad Brady reflects on her recent Nest Residency

When I saw Talking Birds’ call out for Nest residents as studio space had recently become available,
it felt like the perfect time to grab the books I’d wanted to read for a while, but not had the time or
space, gather my old notes on the topic I wanted to explore and delve deeper into the texts I’d
recently written. I was ready to jump back into an idea I’d been thinking about for a while, and I was
excited about getting to work around other creative people.

My residency took place in Helloland, a super comfortable and compact studio space with a calming
view of the canal.

It was a dream come true to have space to spread out and hang my research, thoughts and
questions on the wall. I brought with me old research and ideas for plays I hadn’t been able to return
to for a while and I spread out them out on the tables and walls. Suddenly they were tangible and
seemed possible again.

For a few years I’ve been interested in exploring how healthy I can be as an individual in an
unhealthy world. How much is my health and self-care my own responsibility? This interest has only
grown since the start of the pandemic, as we’ve been called to practice, and reflect on the meaning
of, collective care and since even more responsibility has fallen on us as individuals to make
decisions regarding our health.

After several stimulating chats with the Talking Birds team and a really helpful, constructive call with
Caroline Galvis, a Berlin based theatre maker and fellow co-founder of international Rule of Three
Collective, where I talked through my ideas and the reasons why I wanted to explore the topic, I was
getting closer to narrowing down my research to one urgent question: How much can we care for
ourselves in an uncaring world?

When I applied to the Nest Residency, I had an idea of the scripts I wanted to develop, and
potentially combine, but I ended up not only working on those scripts, but also digging out a poem I
wrote in lockdown about how difficult I find processing the news. I started bringing things together I
didn’t expect to, like combining this poem with movement exploring self-care.

After a week of delving into scripts, I felt it would be beneficial l to invite another theatre maker into
the space as an outside eye on my ideas and my writing. Angela Mhlanga, a Coventry based actor,
writer and director kindly came into the Nest and read my scripts out loud with me. It was invaluable
to hear Angela read the plays out loud and the chats we had about them afterwards really helped
me develop each idea – thank you Angela!

By the end of the week, I was able to start thinking about what mediums would work for each script
and how they could all work together in a multimedia installation with live performance, audio and

The Nest Residency gave me the chance to revisit an idea without feeling like I was restarting. It gave
me the space to realise how far I’d come with my research and script writing. By the end of my
residency, I also felt so proud of how far I’ve come as an artist through such a politically and
financially difficult time. I’m extremely grateful to Talking Birds for this opportunity and for all the
interesting and supportive chats we had during my Nest Residency.

The caller of the winds 

Duncan Whitley reflects on his Nest Residency  

I applied for a NEST residency to revisit my personal archive of sound recordings, distributed across a number of drives in my studio. I was interested in collating and catalogue recordings which connected to the subject of the wind: some of these would be recordings made incidentally during the production of moving-image projects, others captured with the specific intention of recording the ambiental sounds of wind. In reality, this time spent cataloguing and editing during the residency formed part of a wider process of listening, reading and thinking about the connections between the medium of sound, and that of the wind. 

The NEST residencies offer artists time and space to research and experiment without the pressure of producing an outcome. My last five years have been mainly dedicated to two experimental film projects produced collaboratively with composer Abul Mogard, Kimberlin (2019) and Phoenix City 2021 (2021). For me the residency was, first and foremost, an opportunity to step away from ‘projects’, and to instead return to thinking widely about the medium and nature of sound – my primary medium before transitioning to the field of artists’ moving-image. So, whilst researching future work around the subject of the wind, this residency was also an opportunity to think deeply about the medium which has driven my creative thinking in the visual arts. 

Thinking through some analogies…

The wind is usually considered problematic for sound recordists, who look for ways to avoid its buffeting since it doesn’t play nicely with the delicate diaphragm of the microphone. The aggressive rumble of wind on the diaphragm tends to break with the transparency of the recording, and distracts from its intended subject. And yet to the naked ear, the sound of the wind can be beautiful, meditative, and even musical. Of course, the wind becomes sonorous only as it comes into contact with the surfaces of the earth, shaped by the contours of the landscape. The soughing of the wind give voice to the world, and bring its contours into relief, much like the rain in this famous passage from John Hull’s Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness:

“Rain has a way of bringing out the contours of everything; it throws a coloured blanket over previously invisible things; instead of an intermittent and thus fragmented world, the steadily falling rain creates continuity of acoustic experience… I feel as if the world, which is veiled until I touch it, has suddenly disclosed itself to me.”

Sound, like the wind, is shaped by the contours of the landscape, flowing through and around, colliding and reflecting off its relatively immovable surfaces. Land, vegetation and buildings shape airflow, and inside our buildings the walls and furniture likewise sculpt our experience of sound, and with it our perception of space. 

Sound is also tactile in a way which directly corresponds to the materiality of the wind: the thudding bass of the sound system pounds the chest and the gut, and is felt through the sensitive soles of the feet. In the world external to us, the forms we perceive as sound (once interpreted through our nervous systems) are, like the wind, movements of air molecules provoked by changes of pressure. I have a particular memory, an epiphany with some parallels to that described in John Hull’s passage on the rain, in which I recall my attention being brought to the susurration of the wind through a group of trees in front of me, in an apparent ‘bringing to life’ of the world around me. Seconds later I felt the same air which I had just observed animating leaves of the trees a few yards away, now brushing against my cheek – a moment of synaesthesia through which a particular understanding of the physical world came into focus. An entire set of relations momentarily became ‘visible’ for me through this ‘medium-in-between’, which connects us to the world.   

Thinking through this analogy, it is an unexpected outcome of this residency to find myself returned to one of my first sound works: my degree show piece Gunshot Corridor (1999). Installed in a 30-metre long corridor in the sculpture department at Kingston University, this early work has proved foundational to my understanding of sound as medium. It was an ephemeral work in which the negative space of the corridor was animated by the intermittent sound of gunshots, which rifled down the passageway, fleetingly breaking the inert quiet of the space. The movement of air of the gunshot, and that produced by the movement of the physical cones of the loudspeaker enter into an analogous relation, as the acoustic pressure wave is briefly made ‘visible’ in the negative space of the corridor. I pursued the expression of this set of relations through a number of installation works at the time, including a series of site-specific pieces which employed the sound of pigeon wings as metaphor for the movement of sound.     

Bullet Shock Wave (1970), Harold E. Edgerton, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum

The respiration of the world

Amongst the sound recordings in my personal archive which I returned to during my NEST residency, I ended up spending a lot of time listening to recordings from a particular project The Creature in Between (2016). The Creature in Between was a pilot project initiated by Claudia Fontes, an experimental colaboratorio taking place in a Wichí community in the north of Argentina (with sculptor Elba Bairron, photographer Guadalupe Miles and hacker Mateo Carabajal). The project was conceived as an intermedia and intercultural exploration of what it means to be a person living in the world with other creatures, in which “artists, hackers, potters, writers and musicians will come together to collaborate in creative processes, finding novel ways of translating their perceptions across cultures, generations, languages and species”. 

During the 10-day residence I worked closely with Mawó Mendoza, a member of the Wichí community who took me daily to sites in the savannah where he would attempt to share with me his deep understanding of the acoustic language of his natural environment – and where we would produce a series of over 25 collaborative field recordings. These recordings culminated – at least it felt like a culmination, I’m not sure this was merely my perception or whether Mawó had intended it this way – in two recordings of the sounding of a sacred object, which I now know to known in the English language as a bull-roarer, but which Mawó described to me as “the caller of the winds”. This delicately carved wooden object, shaped like a slightly twisted leaf attached to a long string, was traditionally used by the Wichí shaman to “call the four winds into conference” in times of drought. In Mawó’s understanding of the world, without the wind we cannot breathe and the plants shrivel (and of course, this is entirely true: it is the wind that moves clouds and brings moisture across great distances).

When I listen to these recordings now, they seem to synthesise a set of relations which trace a line from the analogy of sound to wind (the object which Mawó called “the caller of the winds”, known in the wichí language as Lhayialh, is effectively a sounding instrument which displaces air as it is swung in a circular motion), to interactions between Mawó and the birds around us via this instrument. Listening across other of our recordings, I hear other moments in which birds of varied species appear to be reacting – somehow animated but I can’t speculate as to what is really going on – to the changing intensities of the wind, in the exact same ways that they appear to react to Mawó’s bull-roarer. 

Sounding clay vessels produced collaboratively during The Creature in Between (2016). The making of the vessels was undertaken at a communal table once the direction and speed of the wind was considered favourable for this act of creation. Image by Guadalupe Miles, courtesy of The Appreciation Society. 

In Wichí tradition and thinking, the wind is understood as synonymous with breath – and I think it is principally this lesson from the Creature in Between which led me to be sat at the NEST revisiting these recordings, ideas and memories. The Wichí people and other of the ‘pueblos originarios’ (‘original communities’) do not deal with trivia, their folk tales tend to deal with the essential knowledge which is central not only to their own survival, but moreover to the harmony of the entire natural order.

Lhayiahl (2016), by Duncan Whitley and Mawó Mendoza. Audio track selected for The Slow Bird, curated by Claudia Fontes for Affective Affinities the 33rd São Paulo Biennial 2018.

I don’t yet feel able to draw together everything which I began to unpack during the two-week residency into a neat form (and I am a long way from these strands becoming reconfigured into the form of an artwork), but what the residency has enabled for me is to identify a number of threads from which I could plan out future research.. The residency went beyond a realisable process of identifying and collating recordings in my personal archive, to a far messier process of throwing onto the table a set of sounds, memories and concepts which have haunted me since my first visit to Argentina in 2016 (and perhaps since I first began to study contemporary art in the late 1990’s). The next phase of this work will be to take these strands of this residency research into a practice-based exploration through sound, perhaps piece by piece through further small residencies or commissions. 

A pleasure within pain

Sym Mendez reflects on their recent Nest Residency

STEP 1: You have absolutely nothing to prove to anyone. Here is your formal written permission to just exist within your lived experience.

These were the words I wrote to myself on the very first day of my Hatching residency at The Nest. Choosing to explore something so intimate as chronic pain as a performer and movement artist is relatively new to me. So used to over or under explaining myself – I could never unpack this layered experience in a way that best suited me until having a studio, space, time and freedom to do so here at The Nest, within my Space Odyssey. Being at The Nest – a place with access rooted within its infrastructure – was the first time I didn’t have to think about doing anything other than simply exploring. When I removed the imposter syndrome, fear and guards around my artistry, pain and practise- there was suddenly enough space to stretch into the fullness of my creative potential.

My first step within this journey was to ask where my pain lies – what does it say? I worked my way through and down – slowly – acquainting myself with deep knots and aches, conversing with dormant corners of myself. I held my body with a level of compassion that I didn’t have the space to do previously.

I was accompanied by two books throughout my 10 days of residency: The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel A. van der Kolk and Sacred Pain by Ariel Glucklich. I used these texts to unearth a deeper understanding of my own pain, where it comes from and how I also use pain for transcendence. Do these things contradict one another – and have I internalised beliefs around my pain that exacerbate suffering? Once I could gauge for myself the different avenues of pain that make up my embodied existence – I was curious to speak with other artists and movers about their chronic pain too (which Talking Birds happily financed so that the conversations wouldn’t become extractive or exploitative).

Knowing where to start with questions, thoughts and prompts to present to other artists proved more difficult than expected – does speaking about my own spiritual beliefs and thoughts on transgenerational pain undermine the experiences of others? How do we speak honestly without re-traumatising each other? How do I speak without assuming our experiences are universal? – and it wasn’t until the end of my first week that I finally had some semblance of a structure.

Conversations with other artists really enabled me to formulate my own thoughts, and from thoughts into potential performance. Topics such as crip time, grief, shame, internalised belief systems and movement/ motion beyond the physical body helped me to simplify all of the questions buzzing around my mind and begin to create something that speaks to the depth of my experience.

Having the safety and support of Talking Birds and The Nest gave me the ‘permission’ to create without rigid expectations, to dive in whilst knowing I won’t drown, to hold a gentle and nurturing space where it is impossible to do anything other than play and create without restriction. Who knows when this piece will fully come to fruition. What I do know is that I can leave my residency with the understanding that I have the capacity to create something enriching. I have ideas I can persevere with when I’m afforded the privilege of resource.

Routes of Our Culture

Emily Tyler reflects on her Nest Residency earlier this year

Since I heard that Coventry was to hold the accolade of UK city of culture for 2022 I’ve been excited.  I’ve found that other creatives have felt that it hasn’t been as positive as it could be.  With the main events heavily weighted towards artists from the rest of the country, creatives have been feeling ignored. They have spoken loudly about this being a missed opportunity. I’m inclined to disagree on this subject, mainly because I haven’t stopped all year, and have not directly been employed by the official channels.

I have been a photographer longer then I’ve been a painter. And my dreadful film photographs did little to document my life or even be in focus. But with the invention of the digital camera, and later the camera phone, like many people I take photos of everything from food, to my child to times out with friends. But mostly I have found that it is a brilliant tool in which to share a unique view through your eyes that is easy to understand.

I created a map of Coventry to root this project to its geological routes. I used colour and texture to transport this image from a tool into a feeling and mood enhancer which reflects the cultural tapestry which I feel represents our city.

This project has been about how the general public are the important audience this year, those people who might not attend a gallery, events or a performance normally. For those that think arts are elitist and unrelated to their life. During these times where our current government is cutting arts funding left, right and centre, it shows that not only is it an important part of everyday life, but a way to build communities, bring money into the city, but something that can enhance your life.

As an artist I always start out taking my own photos, and editing them into the image that I want before I start to draw it paint. With this in mind, I decided I wanted to do a project which showed the peoples view of the City of Culture 2021 by collecting other peoples photos of events.

We are living in an age where language is becoming more visual then ever. People abbreviate words, use a sentence or two to describe a picture, and although I’m a bibliophile, I am first and foremost a visual learner and sharer.

Photo courtesy of Talking Birds

What I thought I needed to support the project when I began at my Talking Birds Nest Residency was space to work, and advice on how to reach the general population within the city.

But I quickly found that although a studio space is useful for creating a large canvas, as a part-time extrovert and general clutterbug, I didn’t actually enjoy being in an empty space on my own. I found that the loneliness was not something that worked well for me. This is possibly because of my dyslexia and my mental health problems.

As part of the residency deal, a mentor was found for me to help me with my social media coverage. Tara Rutledge is an artist and social media guru who currently works for Imagineers within the same building as Talking Birds (Daimler) and is currently working on a “up my street “ project with ArtSpace and embarking on her own art residency with Talking Birds.

The two issues are complicated. Firstly, I need to share more of my work in progress posts, and make it more personal so that people relate to me better. Next I need to post stories more often, to keep my work in peoples’ awareness. Also I need to make my posts more chatty so that they are more understandable and people get what I’m trying to do, and how easy it is to take part!

As part of the career progression part of my social media, the above will generally help, but using the right tags and hashtags will also pull in people who are looking for the type of work I offer. Simple planning of posts and posting at the right times also can help.

All this said, social media is not the only thing I needed to do to be able to promote myself and my project. Media coverage, including digital newsletters was recommended, as well as focusing on certain publications and media outlets locally.

Fingers crossed that all this will help me to complete this project and increase the positive view of the City of Culture. And I hope to get this project displayed in the City Centre in the next few months!

With my mental health problems, I find that I lack physical and mental energy most days, and that being around people and bouncing ideas often helps to lift my mood and productivity.

Once I had my large canvas painted, I decided the best use of my residency time was to pick the brains of the team at Talking Birds on how to get the word out about my project, and how to market myself as an artist.

For my social media, I needed to appeal to two different demographics. The places that might want to commission me and my work, and those people who will share their  pictures with me to show the city as a cultural place open to everyone.

Keep an eye on my social media @emilytylerartist for updates and further projects!

Thanks for reading!