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Reflecting on Hospitalfield Interdisciplinary Residency – May 2021

Updated: Jun 8, 2021

The Residency Programme at Hospitalfield provides opportunities for visual artists and other cultural practitioners to focus on the development of a specific idea, project or the production of new work, within a studious setting. Residentshave had some kind of formal training or similar, and will be developing projects and new work for public exhibition or developing their research with some form of future public outcome in mind. The programmes are structured for individuals working at a range of points in their career. Each has a specific focus, and the Interdisciplinary Programme is a self-funded international programme aiming to cultivate a group which has the broadest range of practices.

As part of the interdisciplinary residency programme there is one place specifically for a printmaker who has access to their own print studio space. The Kinpurnie Print Studio was officially opened on the 28 of February 2011 by benefactor Sir James Cayzer. The studio, located in what was once Patrick Allan-Fraser’s dog kennels, has been refurbished in association with Dundee Contemporary Arts Print Studio.

Two days later…

I am sitting in my sister’s kitchen in Edinburgh two days after the residency at Hospitalfield has ended, in an attempt to reflect on this immersive and meaningful experience. It has shaped and framed this year in such a positive way after lockdown, having spent the last year and half being trapped in central London. To take that train and journey the length of this beautiful country from King’s Cross to Arbroath was made so much more significant and moving than many other long journeys by rail (which coincidentally makes up an important part of my own art practice) because it symbolised my personal ending of lockdown and satisfied my growing yearning for the rural landscape and space.

May is the best month of the year in Scotland, or so I’ve heard, as I wheeled my heavy-laden bicycle out of the station and embarked on a short ride in a cold torrential downpour to a grand house on the outskirts of Arbroath, looking out to the then grey and expansive North Sea. The weather wasn’t perfect but boy was it varied, and oh so full of life! We experienced cold sea mist (the Haar) descending on us like a shroud, wind so strong it almost blew us into the sea, hail storms and drizzle and then warm sunshine in a cloudless blue sky and bright blue seas stretching along the perfectly horizontal horizon. It was the perfect antidote to a year of high-rise inner city living.

My room (in the Servants’ quarters) was light and full of a mismatch of furniture, all of which I immediately began to draw and photograph, and close to the kitchen. This was the heart of the residency where we would come together three times a day and celebrate delicious meals, huge portions and the joy of not having to think about cooking, or clearing up! I was then led to the print studio, former dog kennel (lucky creatures!) and shown around this light and perfectly sized space which housed all I would need for the next two weeks of frantic making, in an attempt to put onto paper all the inspiration and excitement this experience was already bringing to my soul. A tour of the house, garden and the other purpose-built studio spaces was to follow; the combination of these spaces and the setting are what makes this residency a unique and stimulating place to make work.

A hospital for patients with leprosy was built on the site in 1260 to support the new Benedictine Abbey in Arbroath. In 1664, the Reverend James Fraser bought the estate and then in 1843 the artist Patrick Allan met and married Elizabeth Fraser and together they built and created the current Hospitalfield house. In 1902, following the terms of their bequest, Hospitalfield became an art school, later developing into a post graduate residential college. The remains of this Benedictine Plague hospital have all but vanished, and in its place is a remarkable building, a Classical architect’s nightmare but an artist’s dream, full of turrets, secret stairways, arches, doorways, castellated balconies and ornate sculptures. This inspiring building which the resident artists live in during their stay is also set in a beautiful garden with a recently refurbished Victorian fernery, and these have opened up to the public for free with a new café, so it is well worth a visit. It might not have been the most perfect Scottish May weather, but the bluebells blooming all over the grounds in their purple swaths added to the magic of this place. The large shared studio spaces were a great place for us to connect and share ideas, especially in the evening gathered round a roaring fire, and these conversations and interactions provided more connection and inspiration for us all, particularly after this year of no real-life meeting of new people.

In terms of my own art practice this opportunity has enabled me to be amongst like-minded and creative individuals. I found myself deeply embedded in the place, feeling the influence of these conversations and the observations of my fellow residents seep into my own work. I noticed and experienced this new environment, and my place within it, through the eyes of these multifaceted artists and thinkers, which was quite extraordinary and at times overwhelming. We laughed and shared stories together, it was so refreshing to find out more about the artists I was living with and making work alongside. We went on walks to the beach, photographed the clifftops in extreme wind, cycled along the coast, experienced our first Arbroath smokies at the harbour, visited exhibitions in Dundee (only 15-minute train ride away) and two of the crazy artists swam fully out into the deep sea. I thoroughly enjoyed being surrounded by this stunning setting and the seascape beyond but was equally inspired and curious about the caravan holiday parks that statically stood facing the ocean, the huge retail carpark home to a stocked-up Asda and useful B&Q, the ironically-named grey concrete ‘Pleasureland’ and various gazebos, shelters and pre-Covid café kiosks all still shuttered down, stoically facing the elements.

During this time, I often felt overwhelmed or rather, overstimulated and totally saturated with so much new and exciting inspiration. Therefore, it was so good to be able to retreat into the print studio, finding quiet time and reflection through the process and physicality of printmaking. This gave me the chance to work through my thoughts immediately, by producing a series of monoprints, which was a real luxury. Usually as a printmaker, one has limited time to rent out the studio and various equipment needed for these elaborate processes, one has to come to the studio prepared and with a thorough plan of what needs to be achieved in this allotted time. Whereas, in the Kinpurnie Print Studio, the space was all mine, meaning I could spread out, pin my ideas and failed print attempts to the wall to learn from and cover the surfaces with various colours and shades influenced by my new environment. I was delighted to be using colour again and practise my monoprinting techniques and test ways to incorporate my etching and intaglio work that I mainly use with a broader range of printmaking techniques, bringing more immediacy to my work. Although the studio was well-equipped it did not use the same etching acids I was used to, or have an aquatint box (an essential and strange piece of equipment used to make tone in etching prints), this change in facilities instead of restricting my work gave me the opportunity to work outside my usual and familiar style and enabled me to push the boundaries of my print practice. I often find when faced with boundaries and restrictions, art finds a way to challenge these and break through in often innovative and unusual ways.

Having spent a long time photographing, filming and capturing the everyday details of this place and the inspirations it unearthed, I began by cutting out various stencils of objects or buildings as bold contrasts to the muted colours of my abstract monoprinted landscapes. After this, I produced a series of small aluminium etchings which I intended to layer in these landscapes. I would like to explore ways I could use my etchings in a less confined way, and attempt to bring the prints almost out of the pages.

As I continued to layer these images and experiment with composition and materials, I noticed the theme of domesticity and ‘the everyday’ emerging. The contrast of this grandiose setting and rather mundane objects came together on the page. This is something I hope to reflect on over the next few weeks, I have always been drawn to ordinary and fleeting moments and how to represent them in visual form, frozen on the page and I wonder if my room being tucked in the eaves of the Servants’ quarters also played its part. I also created a series of smaller works which were quite different from my usual layered and busy dreamscapes – these were geometric coloured shapes with an illustrative etching printed over the top, a much-more minimalist approach and I will be interested to see how this may develop in my work over the next few months.

The other artists – my inspirations and confidants during this magical time.

On the final day we came together to celebrate our time there (and two of the artists also had well-timed birthdays) and share what we had been working on. We began with a beautiful and carefully crafted, imaginative journey through the house, garden, woods and to the sea through taste. Ieva shared her extraordinary practice with us by creating a diverse menu of tasting ice-cream flavours, each one beautifully presented in a shell, on a thin slice of wood drizzled in whiskey, or a cone held in a holey rock found on the beach. This remarkable idea has changed the way I approach place in a profound way, the fact that all senses are important in exploring new environments and that there are many different flavours that we are yet to taste is so exciting!

Unfortunately, Fiona and Camilla were only able to join for one week and yet it was quite incredible how much they were both able to create in such a short stay. Fiona’s research into mapping and property borders and boundaries in New York City were now being explored through pleasing visual ideas, using glass slides in situ on the Arbroath beach. Equally Camilla’s practice pushed her current research to this Scottish setting, looking at the edges of place as well as objects found and gathered on her many runs and walks around the Hospitalfield area.

Ione was also drawn to exploring her surroundings. The process of making the raw materials, like clay and ink, is an essential element of her practice and she went about creating a set of inks taken from the grounds, extracted from ferns, plants, and the red sandstone from which Hospitalfield was made. All of these colours began to influence my own prints as her inky shapes and tones filled the studio walls.

Alex’s sculptural practice and the way in which he celebrated the functional and mundane objects within our surroundings also influenced my own approach to place. Using collage as a starting point, he gathered images of bollards, bins, tree grates and benches then spent time reimagining them as satellites, or space ships and focusing on these shapes to distort them again, like a magic-eye book. He hopes to turn the 2D back into 3D and put together in various mediums a whole body of new work, created in this short time.

Lindsay’s studio was in the main part of the house and for our sharing she was able to set up her work in the space like a mini exhibition, which invited us in to explore her works side by side, and look for themes within them and connections to each piece. Her work was made up of many different mediums and materials and was delicately put together and displayed.

Phoebe as an artist researcher shared a film she made during lockdown in one of the grand rooms of the house. The film ‘Queering the Waiting Room’ which explored the idea of using queer theory to change the way mental hospitals and spaces are constructed was made even more impactful by watching it in this grand setting, miles away from the cold stark interiors of the hospital waiting room. She also set out her studio space in an exhibition-like style and it was interesting how both these artists used the space they were in as an extension of their practice.

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