It’s been 4 days since the return from Italy and the MA Research Trip/Residency at Casa degli Artisti in Canale di Tenno. There is a lot to reflect upon.
Initially I really had thought I’d not be able to follow through in going. It would be the first time I’d left my daughter for that length of time and for that distance. In the months leading up to it I confess to having had several nights waking up in panic at whether it was the right thing to be doing. Yet it also felt like too good an opportunity to miss and perhaps time apart would be a healthy experience rather than an anxiety driven negative one.
So on 22nd April I found myself sat on the plane with others from the group heading into the unknown. If I’m being totally honest it was the unknown I was craving. The stepping out of the ‘usual’ the sense of adventure, the ability to be someone else, to have some autonomy, to take a risk and most of all to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ a different place. I’d been to parts of Northern Italy previously on occasion so had some sense of what may lie ahead but never had I been up in the Dolomits or indeed on an MA trip.
In advance of going I had read a little about the area. I was curious in a psychogeographic way what the place may ‘feel’ like and how far I could wander off the beaten track. I had these thoughts in mind in advance. I also had some pre-conceived idea of what kind of work I may do out there (which turned out to be quite different when there). It was tricky knowing what to take in terms of materials & equipment. As much as I wanted to record and edit sounds out there I also didn’t want the ‘burden’ of taking my heavy laptop or indeed my printing tools. So I chose the bare minimum. My Zoom recorder, a set of cow bells (more on them later), some grey & white drawing paper and a selection of 5 acrylic paint colours (white, bronze, silver, purple & blue) & some pre-prepared cyanotype paper.
We arrived after a 10 hour journey on Saturday evening. It took a while to find between us and the coach driver who had never been to the house before. It involved leaving the coach in one of the lay-bys and walking up cobbles with noisy suitcases late at night. The place seemed deserted, there was no sign of life. Inside Bianca & Fabio, researchers at University of Trento greeted us (with they 13 month old baby). Everyone was fairly beat by then but a few of us went to have a sneak peak of the house and the exhibition space.
It was old. The next morning we met Manola & Juri who run the Dolomit Learning team and gave us a sense of the area’s history. It was with them we would potentially spend the next two days getting a feel of the place and going down to Riva del Garda on the shores of the Lake. At this stage I’d begun to play with some of the Cyanotype paper with remants used from the garden. I’d figured it was the only sunny day forecast and needed to make the most of it.
I hadn’t yet had a really clear goal in mind except I wanted to explore Lago di Tenno, a glacial lake higher up fro the house. We went as a group that afternoon and it was far less remote than I had envisaged. It was disappointingly quite touristy and accessible. For some reason I had in my mind a sense of needing to scramble through the wilds to get there but it turns out there was a path and a coffee stand next to it. The water was a stunning colour though – turquoise. And the sounds of what it turns out we think were crickets was overriding. I went off to record some of their incessant clicks.
After a couple of days it struck me there was an inherent Tension i was feeling between wanting to be part of the group and wanting some solitude and to be on my own. This began to form the start of the working process for me. By the time I got to Tuesday I was in need of retreat and passéd out on going to the 2nd of the tours, instead choosing to stay at the Casa and work/walk/wander. Two others stayed and did their own version of retreat. It was also the day I really felt I was missing my daughter and began to muse on what and how do we keep connected when far away. In the situation of working with the group I also began to reflect on relationship dynamics. How we work alongside each other, what each other’s personalities were. Some of this internal dialogue began being reflected in the stories of the area Manola & Juri had told us of the people in the region. The conflict and the understanding of those who lived in the Alpine regions alongside those who lived at a lower level nearer the Lake.
During all of these days I was picking up snippets of sound recordings. Of general village atmospheres, of water in the lake, of yachts, of church bells (which chimed every hour), of mountain sheep & goats, of local dogs, of conversations, of night time acoustics in the stone walls and tunnels. It was this inter connectedness of sound and form which formed the basis of the installation I chose to do for the final show day.
In the garden I’d found many larger stones, some of which I’d used to hold down the cyanotypes earlier. They seemed perfect to use for their symbol of stability and for the fact that everywhere are stone patterns and the entire village is in itself a homage to building in stone. Everywhere I walked was on a myriad of stone patterns, all the walls were made using stone formations. So I chose to begin painting these stones with symbolic forms representing connection and relationship. Alongside this I began drawing out sections of the stone walls and the ‘spaces in-between’ as a metaphor for our interconnectedness. I was going through a kind of stripping back, of deconstruction, of simplifying thoughts to their most purest form.
Ever action felt very intention and not wasted. The rubbings of white chalk on grey paper over the stones was in itself a small meditation on the animals who walked into the lower part of the house to feed. The hung cowbells on the wall was a symbolic gesture to the co-existing relationship between human and animal. The painted stones left exhibited on stone stairs against a white wall were intended to be a symbolic gesture of how we move through & around our own human relationships. The water in a bowl from Lake Tenno was a reminder of how we rely on water for our survival. The sounds playing directly from the recorder were a way of sonically tying these relational aspects together.
What struck me most about all of the time I spent here was that for the first time I have brought an emotional content into my work. I think it is what I have wanted to do for some time but never felt at ease doing so. It was in essence only by going away, by leaving home that I found some kind of voice to be able to do that. Posting this content out and even having to talk about it to the exhibition guests felt like an extremely vulnerable place to be yet almost a necessary place.
Now back home I am hoping I can tune into that voice I found to continue to weave it through my future work in Studio Practice and indeed through the remaining MA and beyond.