Notes from the Vermont Studio Center Residency - An assessment of time spent
I sat on the plane and waited for the beginning of what was the final stretch of flights on my way home, unsure if I was leaving Vermont with answers or even more questions. It was a strange feeling, not being able to make that distinction. It was strange but not entirely unfamiliar.
Thoughts of my time there were drowned out by constant and silent prayers for a return trip unlike the one I endured just a month before. I didn’t complain about sprinting twice from what felt like Georgetown to Parika across the Philadelphia and Miami airports, oversized haversack on chest because the left strap popped. The fact was that the planes were all there, all on time with no cancellations and just a few minor delays. Could it be that the universe was finally convinced I had learnt whatever lesson I had previously missed? I couldn’t be certain but I most definitely exercised my trust in the things I could not control.
Just the night before, I was watching the international news from my hotel room for the first time in what felt like forever. The wild haired man was inescapable. Every news station seemed to feature some new havoc he threatened to release upon us. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to go back to that world just yet. I had found a wonderful kind of comfort in being disconnected from the brashness of that reality. Johnson, Vermont was the perfect escape, a place for weary souls to find solace in the comfort of kindred spirits. To be removed from that environment so abruptly meant summoning the last bit of energy I had harvested that month and braving this “new” world. But I was determined to cross that bridge when I got there.
In the time being I chose, instead, to consider the implications of the time I had just spent at VSC. A lot of the work done there wasn’t the kind you could analyze on paper or walk around in a room. A lot of the work done there was the kind that took place inside the dark recesses of my brain, places where I fought to untangle the knots that had accumulated over the years. And there was no time like the present to begin (or at least attempt) an extensive assessment of everything my brain had processed up to that point.
Thinking back on the work that actually materialized in the month-long residency (which at times did not seem like very much), it became important for me, now that my journey was over, to identify the common conceptual threads that tied everything together. Even as disparate as the work I created seemed, there were concerns present that have always been somewhat consistent in my practice, if I looked carefully enough. I also became increasingly curious about past developments I had chosen to neglect simply because I didn’t see them as being relevant to my current “aesthetic.”
It’s an exhausting exercise having to defend every decision you make or are about to make regarding your work. But like so many other trained artists, that was the tradition I came from and that was the tradition, it seemed, we would be destined to carry through until the end of us. I soon learned that the energy spent defending an idea could be put towards making it better. It was in the dreadful Vermont cold that I discovered this alternate route.
I hadn’t realized how defensive and tightly wound I was about my own ideas until I came into this new environment and those things no longer mattered. It wasn’t an end of semester critique/metaphoric boxing match. There was no blood to be spilled. It was, instead, a safe space that allowed creative practitioners the freedom to deviate from tradition without fear of being cut down. It was a space where decisions weren’t judged, mistakes and failed attempts weren’t considered mistakes or failed attempts. They were simply what needed to happen in order to move from one point to the next. There was a general sense of “This could be complete garbage but I’m going to work through it nevertheless to find what lies on the other side.”
It had been a long time since I not only felt that way but also had that much uninterrupted time to follow through on ideas. And although that was, hands down, the most time I’ve ever had to focus entirely on my work, there were moments where I felt my studio time was being hijacked by my writing. It became clear early on that I would have to find a way to balance the two since they both demanded equal effort. It was no longer simply a residency that facilitated the improvement of my art. It also brought into sharp focus the importance of writing as an essential component of my practice, as much as I tried to convince myself otherwise. It was an opportunity to polish a supplementary art and I felt encouraged to do so after experiencing the dynamic energies exchanged between the artists and writers.
All in all it was an amazing experience and I feel privileged to have been selected by the Reed Foundation to participate in such a progressive residency program. More importantly, I’d like to thank the foundation for their commitment to facilitating the growth of artists from the Caribbean region in a way that is conducive to the expansion of their practices and networks, particularly in the current global art climate.
In September of last year I was nominated for a Vermont Studio Center residency fellowship and sponsored by the Reed Foundation. Notes from the Vermont Studio Center Residency is intended to be a series of articles chronicling my experiences at the U.S. residency starting from the issuance of the fellowship award until the conclusion of the month-long program in February, 2017.
This article was first published in the Pepperpot magazine of the Sunday Chronicle newspaper on February 12, 2017. Click on the link to be redirected to their website: