Alex Hilton reflects on their Remote Nest Residency:
For my nest residency, I wanted to explore reimagining work, using a framework of mutual space
So many inequalities exist in access to work, and so few people feel they have the space to be themselves at work. At the same time, so much work is extractive – creating pollution, contributing to climate change, contributing to inequalities, reducing the space for other beings to flourish in the world. What would it mean for work to be spacious for the people doing the work, and space-creating for wider society and the ecosystems around us?
I’d been thinking about these issues for a while, related to my own jobsearch as an autistic person and my concerns about environmental issues. My housemate suggested that art would be a good format for exploring these issues in a broader way.
As a new artist, it was wonderful to have the space to explore my ideas which the Nest residency provided. Initially, I really noticed how nervous I was about the project. Would I write the ‘wrong’ thing? Would what I made ‘count’ as art? This felt the opposite of spacious. But once I got into the flow of working, I found it easier.
I thought about how art could be used to communicate that elusive sense of how mutual spaciousness would feel when you haven’t experienced it. It can often be easier to see what’s wrong than to see how it could be right. So I thought of the role of art in imagining and inspiring the best of what society could be. This feels especially relevant in the year of the pandemic and the need to reimagine what a better future could look like.
Janet was really supportive and it was really helpful to talk through how the work could be developed. We settled on creating a postcard prompt to get contributions for a future zine/ exhibition. Janet introduced me to Andrew Moore, who helped to create a design for the postcards which really got my ideas across and was eye catching.
I’m hoping to get contributions and include a wider range of voices in a zine/exhibition later this year exploring reimagining the best of how work could be.
Imagine Spacious Work is an art project to make a zine and exhibition on the topic of re-imagining work. This will happen in Coventry in Summer 2021. We’re looking for creative contributions on the theme of re-imagining work. This includes paid and unpaid work, childcare, homemaking etc. If you’d like to contribute writing, drawing, audio or video on this topic please get in touch via ImagineSpaciousWork@gmail.com
Being a musician for many years, I’ve often witnessed Discrimination on many levels, and I thought if I could turn this into a play, theatre piece this could be good. For me it had to be done very differently to what I had seen on stage in the past, it would need to grab people’s attention, make them sit up, be involved somehow – and then of course go tell their friends, post on social media to get more people to come and see.
So the idea came and a few days later a friend posted online about ‘Talking Birds Nest Residency’ I had an idea that needed exploring, researching, bouncing around, talking through with a few theatre professionals. I grabbed my tablet made a few videos, picked the one I thought described what I wanted to do best and I applied for the scheme.
Tick tock time went by and one day I see a reply from them, my heart starts beating faster, getting anxious, scared of opening the email I put the kettle on and made a coffee. Grabbed one of my drums to feel calm again and 2 hrs later I slowly took my mouse, clicked on the email . . … Nearly fell out of my chair with the biggest grin, I got it! No Match Funding needed! I was going to be a Nest Resident, and so it started with a meeting with Janet and Derek. To be honest I couldn’t believe it, but they believed in me to get this started.
‘When Instruments come to Jam’ has at its heart the idea of using instruments as a metaphor to show discrimination on many levels. So I started to focus on the conversations instruments would have if they communicated with each other, (as humans would) the fun, laughter, judgemental, good/bad thoughts, gossiping, sarcasm, joking around and then of course discriminating!
I’ve not written a play before, so Talking Birds they got me a meeting with Ola Animashawun to help me start to sketch out the story I wanted to tell – this was a chance for me to start sounding out my ideas with a theatre professional/dramaturg, and for me this was again all new territory. Within a short time I’d realised there was a lot of work to be done by myself – he left me with provocations regards my idea which going forward would help me structure my idea/my play. I had conversations about my idea with musicians and animators and they all helped influence the way the idea shaped up.
About a month later my partner and I were off on a short break to Bulgaria (sadly not part of the residency!), the weather was great and I found this wonderful beach bar. The laptop came out and for the first time I was inspired to start writing the beginnings of ‘When Instruments come to Jam’, for some reason the beach bar provided the perfect conditions, the sea, sand and gentle breeze.
How do you write about ‘discrimination’? It’s simple, you draw on your very own experiences from the first day at school to today! Remarks about colour/size/abilities/being too good/being too bad/ethnic background/standing up for yourself/for your friends/not being white! And to be honest not all was that bad – especially because most remarks/insults around ethnic background were wrong (for some reason very few people could actually truly insult me about this since they never take the time find out what my ethnic background actually is!)
Transferring this to instruments at first was difficult but then surprising enough started to become easier as even instruments have a make-up. Colour/size/background/abilities/the sound they produce/presence and they too have feelings. It’s hard to explain that although music has no barriers, the musicians choose to put up barriers.
As the title says, the story starts ‘When instruments come to Jam’ – although I have an idea of how the story plays out, I want to develop it collaboratively over time, maybe once a week with an open call to musicians to attend; building up a group producing great music regardless of knowing or ever having played alongside each other…. that’s where the trouble starts!
Without this Nest Residency, I would not have been able to get started on this project – the funds and support allowed me to schedule time in to my work specifically for this project/idea, think about why I wanted to tell this story, and who it was for. Being a full time musician means I have to generate my own income and anytime spent on ideas, looking at new projects in my own time would mean I’m not earning. The Nest Residency meant I could afford to spend time on this and explore this idea of mine: contacting artists, writers, audience development specialists. I wanted to see if, firstly, this kind of delivery has been done in theatre, have instruments been used as a metaphor and the main point was would audiences be open to a play without spoken words and just music? I’ve spent a lot of time wondering, experimenting, and being ‘brave’ in order to develop the idea further.
The next step for this project has been to apply to (and be shortlisted for) the We are Unlimited/City of Culture Trust commissions, taking this to the next level of applying for an Emerging Artist Award in theatre. My time as a Nest Resident exploring this idea needs to end to move forward. I’d like to thank Talking Birds for their time, guidance so far and hope that we’ll continue this on the next step as it starts to take flight . . .
From November 2020 i collaborated with T, this experimentation did not go as planned because of external factors (pandemic, family challenges, uncaring processes, race, gender, ableist dynamics…) and internal mechanisms within our exchange on which i am about to expand audio-visually and verbally in this performative sharing.
i am including some of the correspondence emanating from me in the blogpost as a sort of a mixed modal and fragmented essay. You are invited to take as much and as little as you wish from this buffet. The video shows me reading the letters i delivered to T for the first time. There is an audio version of it as well that i recorded on my phone simultaneously for those who have had enough screen for the day. The tone of this entry is self-reflexive but it is not only a sharing of feelings and post-collaboration analysis but also just a sharing space. Only unedited documents are shared, because i believe in the force of self-exposure, i believe it tells a lot about the context and the re-contextualisation of creative processes and about oneself. Welcome in the bits and pieces of a ‘process that went wrong’ and made me grow on multiple levels.
As i am solely elaborating from my proudly subjective perspective my last Nest residency has been a much needed grounding work on collaboration. It literally brought me down, and pushed me to my limits. Reflecting on it i am grateful it happened yes if i were to choose, i would do it in similar ways again.
i have tried to collaborate outside of my political practice and it ended up in exhaustion. i wrote to my collaborator in one of my correspondence: ‘i was exhausted before (anyway)’.
In the context of a global pandemic and under lockdown restrictions adding up extra difficulties to a state of things already hard to navigate in was a doubtful choice that guided me to learning more about my limits.
This collaboration beyond the initial excitement quickly turned out no longer serving me but rather weakened a friendship, my mental health and future possibilities to collaborate as a free spirit. In one of the letter i regretted that i did not : ‘appreciating the distance between us. Same city, different contexts, different bodies.’ prior to this experimental process.
i got trapped in the process:’there is no start nor ends just complexity’
Can setting up new collaborations be taken lightly or ahistorically? My current self would reply with the negative to this question. Power forces have been neglected in this experimentation. My only desire was to stop worrying, stop caring about my collaborator, stop the guilt of not caring as i should, just stop. Stop, observe, and learn from the unfertile ground from which we started and from which we did not manage to grow a healthy exchange.
That went wrong because that was wrong from the beginning. Consent checklist, management of expectations, and regular checking that the other part does understand your struggles, needs, and claims are essential for me even more so now.
This experience has furthered my understanding of myself, reasserted the importance of informed consent when collaborating and highlighted my limited capacity to expand emotional labour here and now. Which is a shame but it is also the ugly truth of what it is. Reflecting on the process and gathering some thoughts has proved to be helpful to start to repair and look at this scar right in the flesh so far. i take away my need to say no without solely pondering the validity of my need on consensus to be able to stand still. i use my practice as a liberating force, i understand better that there are deviations that i should not take if they do not bring joy.
i dis-placed one of my hair jar at T’s home during the creative process. When it came back i started to gather my strength back.
During this period of investigation we have sent threads of thought and element of practice to one another that ended up in a nonsense collection of letters and things that mismatched with each other but did narrate our impossibility to collaborate. i had extreme difficulties making peace with the imbalanced exchanges, and my refusal to self-censor. The issue was that refusing to self-censor did not help the other half of the research to feel welcome nor to find ways to play in the process.
My love goes to Talking Birds to Janet and Philippa for their kindness and never failing support and to Dr. Bharti Parmar and Janet again for gentle and transforming mentoring sessions. i am sending love to my collaborator towards whom i directed a spectrum of feelings and thanks to whom i learnt to appreciate failure and found joy and contentment in unexpected spaces and challenging times.
Have you ever thought about the concept of ‘throwing away’? Neither had I, until I had a very interesting Google chat with Dominic of Ludic Rooms (a company based right here in Coventry). The gist of the conversation came from this concept of ‘throwing away’? What does this even mean? Where does all this stuff go? Stuff just moving from one to place to another. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, ‘all things on earth only exist in different stages of becoming garbage’. I pondered this on one of my now regular walks along Coventry’s Canal path. I had not long discovered the small minority in the city who ‘magnet fish’ in the murky waters. What on earth is that, you may ask? I indeed had the same question. The man made canal, built for the purpose of transporting/exchanging goods from county to county and once functioning as an additional life line to the city, has now become somewhat of a dumping ground of antiques and lost treasures but for the most part, a passing place of plastic and takeaway boxes. This bothers, but the silver lining is Coventry’s up and coming rise and it’ll be interesting to witness the Canal’s placement in all these developments.
Having these interesting and dynamic conversations with Dominic about Coventry’s relationship with water formed a unique focal point to explore – as for the most part Coventry is pretty much land locked.
On a not so particular day, I walked out of my front door and realized that I just about walked every direction out from my front door. I then remembered the entry to the canal – bridge number five to be specific. Off I went and set off for a new adventure. It was around about midday that I realized everybody and their mother was outside using their government issued hour – so it was not so much of the solitary walk I’d envisioned, but on that given day that’s exactly what I needed. Like a radio frequency all the bars within me had gone from red then slowly orange/yellow and just like that, green. The spring in my step restored as I gazed upon the boats, whistling with birds, dodging fast paced cyclists in balletic pirouettes as if living some sort of alternate musical reality.
The feeling didn’t last too long as I approached the long and dimly lit tunnel towards Gallagher – did I mention it was long? The solitude I’d initially hoped for somehow became very apparent. Then I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and kept moving. I began to think back about how I discovered the Canal, it was about two years after we’d moved to the city. It’s an easy miss but there’s a life force of its own that runs underneath the city. Back then the waters were clean-ish (well there wasn’t as much rubbish everywhere). Though this first walk was initially relaxing but the rubbish was always drifting in the corner of my mind.
A few months later, my sister and I took a walk in the opposite direction on a sunny day. The clear blue sky reflecting in the man-made waters, ducks in a row flowing in a steady stream and somehow coinciding with the piles of takeaway boxes, plastic bottles, foil paper and blue off licence bags.
One object in particular called out to me the most and I thought it’d be really interesting to explore the Canal for my Talking Birds residency. Particularly the scattered blue bags from off licence shops and Coventry market that have somehow found their way to waters. Blue in association with water usually represents serenity but the murky waters of the Canal were anything but, as the blue drifting around posed a looming threat for all the natural creatures trying to cohabit with the trash in this space.
Walking along and also noticing the reflections and shadows cast in the water inspired me to further explore the Canal’s essence.
Though scenic for the most part and providing a sense of ease and solace with a gentle movement of current, every so often that is disturbed by litter. Beer bottles, takeaway boxes and strikingly blue off- licence plastic bags (which I found particularly interesting as blue is Coventry’s color and often associated with water.) I explored this further – particularly in how the nature of the canal has adapted to this.
The materials used to create the puppet were a blue off licence bags with a plastic water bottle (magnet) fished from the water to create the bodice, synched in with the cuff of a Culture Coventry uniform.
I then painted a background of hues on foil paper that feature a silhouetted crowd representative of the people of Coventry.
To add to the final layer of the piece- I used a blue marker to draw some of what Coventry is best known for, for example-: the statue of Frank Whittle, the logo for Coventry FC, Lady Godiva’s statue and an Outline of the Coventry Cathedral.
It was crucial to use materials that would cope with being submerged and not affected by the water- much like the litter found in the Canal.
Filmed with a highlighted plastic bottle lens cap to create a filtered effect whilst in a way symbolically filtering Canal waters and revealing the beauty of the city. I hope to further explore this project with the help of the amazing Talking Birds company with the first flight residency and collaborating with Ludic Rooms. My aim is to help clean the canal, magnet fish and create sculptures from what I find in the water and rebuild the art trail. Time to to unclog our cities vessel and clean up the Canal!
“There is just wonder right in front of us, and we don’t spend enough time thinking about it.” — Michael Pollan
My artistic practice heavily involves the exploration of shadows, reflections and silhouettes. I’ve always been draw to these elements because that is the only way we can physically view ourselves. On a bright sunny day your shadowed figure mirrors your movements in synchronicity and is always right behind you. When you look at yourself in the mirror it is merely a reflection of you but somehow we’ve become accustomed to how we view ourselves this way.
As Coventry is formed of different energies, cultures and communities – I began to view the city more like a body and how the canal is a vessel. I began to value its importance and need for it. Spending a lot time around the canal has made me become consciously aware of its unconscious clogging. The level of plastic is suffocating to the environment. To detail my process: I knew I was searching for a solution and there were all these pieces of the puzzle hovering in the air, waiting to be put together. The canal is forgotten. The Art trail is abandoned. Almost as if the pieces of it were drowned in the water.
On a now regular walk along the canal path- I took my scooper and reusable bag and began my first round of magnet fishing. I picked up a lot of treasure – a blue off license bag, a plastic water bottle, foil paper, cling film and many other items but these in particular are the ones I decided to use.
Initially I had aimed to show reflections of the canal on iconic structures in Coventry (and I still might) in hopes of commenting on how, as ‘the body’ of Coventry, we view the city. I then came up with the idea of drawing iconic landmarks and statues of Coventry on cling film as I’d seen a lot of its scrunched presence surrounding the waters. I took a liking to the transparency of it but when I tested the sketches in the water, I realized that it was mainly the base of my tub that was bringing out these images. The practicality of it became unfeasible at this stage because one wouldn’t be able to see the projected images.
It was around about this time the foil paper stuck out to me, I began to think about how this would provide a perfect foreshadowing to the sketches of cling film. I thought about just having the sketches on foil paper and decided against it as the floating, threatening motion of the plastic in water differed from any other material I had found.
What can we do to make the city more ‘green’? In Coventry’s case, it’s more like, what can we do to make the city more ‘blue’? Blue like the sky or water. Blue represents clarity, stability and tranquility. In a city full of wheels and fast motion, the canal represents a break away for its residents or a moment of pause for the locals.
The lens I created from blue and pink highlighters and the bottom of a water bottle helped create the filter used in the final projection. The video itself metaphorically symbolizes the filtration of the waters whilst the sculpture, sketches and foil papered backgrounds represent the sources of materials that can be used to recreate the art trail.
When I first started this projected I’d hoped to run a lot of the tests by the canal but the sun set way late as it was still summertime then. My only other choice was to test these images in my tub – which in a sense follows suit with the man-made essence of the canal. Granted I didn’t have to adjust myself as I would have, testing outdoors but I rather enjoyed the solitary experience of forming my findings of what I had discovered from Coventry’s vessel.
[Sinead Brady reflects on her remote Nest Residency]
From my home in the UK, I recently collaborated with Berlin based theatre maker Caroline Galvis and Dublin based theatre maker Katie O’Byrne in a ‘Hatching’ Remote Nest Residency to explore the theme of home. Caro, Katie and I met while studying an MA in Barcelona. We found a common interest in reshaping and reframing our collective history and formed international Rule of Three Collective to create theatre that celebrates togetherness.
Before the pandemic, whilst Katie and I were visiting Caro in Berlin, we began questioning what home means to us. Since then we have had lots of time to think about our surroundings in lockdown in three different cities. Whilst working from home, we have each been adapting to physical and political changes on a private, local and global level. This has led us to pay more attention to our own rituals and routines and question our delineations of space: What do we consider home? Why does home exist within these parameters? What is our relationship to our home, the planet? Having started previous creative processes by writing together, we decided that this time we wanted to try to begin from a visual perspective.
At the start of the residency we had an incredibly stimulating mentoring session with Janet from Talking Birds, which helped us consider how to approach the process visually. We were inspired to draw floor plans of our houses and maps of our local areas with places which were important to us. We took each other on virtual tours of our homes and neighbourhoods. Along our routes, alternating who would lead the way, we found similarities but also many differences.
We then began to explore our ‘home rituals’ through movement and were interrupted by all of the unpredictable things that can happen when working from home such as wardrobe doors flying open when jumping on old, creaky floorboards and little neighbours determined to finish their beginner’s level recorder practice.
We ended up paying a lot of attention to the sounds in and around our houses, comparing the different bird song we wake up to… do seagulls fighting outside your bedroom window count as bird song? Another theme which emerged in our mentoring session was the idea of building and destroying a home or the contents of a home. Experimenting with this idea fascinated us – it was tricky to explore from a distance, but it is something we plan to look at when we are physically together.
The Remote Nest Residency helped us carve out space and time and provided us with the support to come together to experiment and create. The fact that we were given no specific deadline or end product goal was invaluable and really encouraged us to keep on exploring, sharing thoughts and working in ways we would not have felt as free to do otherwise. The residency has enabled us to reconnect and refocus. We have found new ways of working together at a distance, which will have a great impact on our creative process when we are able to be physically together again.
**If you are an artist based in or near Coventry and you have an idea you’d like to explore, please consider applying to our Nest Residency Programme.**
Nest Residency No 1 by Andy Sargent – Contemporary visual artist.
As I write this, I am looking back on four weeks of a residency organised by the wonderful Talking Birds which ended on the 22nd March 2019, that took place at Eaton House in Coventry. The studio space was provided by Coventry Artspace, up on floor 11, which is I think, the highest place I have ever created work!
I wanted to use this opportunity to further my ideas on a series of works called “Hidden monster”, which deals with the subject of sudden (and permanent) injury, the impact it has on one’s life, how one deals with having to adjust to it, other peoples perceptions of it, and so on. It deals with the isolation, pain, depression, vulnerability, and struggle that comes with disability. I use the motif of the “Hidden monster”, and through this character I can describe the issues I have faced, and still do, as I have first hand personal experience.
This residency allowed me to expand my ideas, and as I don’t have a personal purpose built studio space, I jumped at the chance to take up this opportunity. Even though I struggle daily with mobility issues, I made sure that I could get into the residency as much as possible, to get full use of the studio space provided. From day one, I started creating lots of charcoal drawings, mapping out and moulding images that could be used for three dimensional and two dimensional works. These ideas then filtered into paintings on either board or canvas, small sculptures, and also two large banners or wall hangings. All these works dealt with a multitude of subjects to do with this over-arching subject of being “the monster”. Some of the work dealt with “who is the monster?”. I had been called a monster after my injury, however I see ignorance and hatred towards the disabled as far more monstrous, than someone who has found him/herself on what has been described to me in the past as “the scrapheap of society”. I cannot, nor could I, speak for all disabled people, however these works represent a collection of outpourings on a subject often swept under the proverbial carpet!
During this residency, Talking Birds were busy contacting various people and organisations they saw as being interested in seeing this work and meeting me. I got to discuss the work, the issues depicted in it and life as an artist with physical limitations. Many ideas were discussed, ways and places to show the work, reactions to seeing this work, how the work could be presented in other forms etc. Certainly, from being an artist who lives on the outskirts of Nuneaton, away from the cultural centres in this country, the residency with Talking Birds provided me with a way to raise my profile, and be noticed by more people, getting the message out that my work exists. One aspect of becoming permanently injured in my case, is that you lose your career/job, and earning money becomes a major issue. So not only does physically getting out to meet people pose a huge problem, but you often can’t afford to go anywhere after you’ve paid your essential bills! So a major part of this residency was meeting other very creative people, and feeling, albeit temporarily, part of an artistic community.
So, on reflection, this Nest Residency has been a fabulous four weeks in which to get work created, meet great folks, plan further ideas and opportunities. I would certainly recommend to any other artists who consider themselves disabled to apply for a Nest Residency. You never know what it may lead to!
(A huge thank you to Phillipa Cross, Janet Vaughan and Derek Nisbet from Taking Birds, and Mindy Chillery at Coventry Artspace for making this residency happen. Also many thanks to all the artists, arts organisations, and arts professionals who came to see my work during my residency)
[Photo gallery pics by Talking Birds, Photos in the text by Andy Sargent]