Scroll down for pictures of a cute medieval French town and weird plant art, the rest is just neurotic musings...you've been warned.
When I arrived in Bourges February 1st, it had been nearly two years since my last art residency in February 2020. Two years of not only working in my house, but barely leaving it. It was an opportunity I waited so long for, I was ready to do something amazing, bigger and better than I had ever done before. For the past few years I've been making miniature sculptures of plants growing through cities and over buildings, starting at another residency in Budapest in 2018 with match boxes, and expanding to cigar boxes and vintage suitcases.
It turns out I bit off a bit more more than I could chew though. I had originally envisioned working with recycled architectural models from architecture students, but the logistics of that became too complicated so I settled for 3D prints of Paris instead which were a lot smaller. This meant not only having to scale down the size of the grass around the buildings, but also having to cover a lot more area with the clay pieces. From the beginning of the project I knew I needed to plan for return shipping to the USA, the most expensive single part of the whole project, so I divided the foam board I was using a base into several smaller panels. Originally there were twelve, about one month in I realized I couldn't finish that so I removed two off of each end to make eight my goal for the residency. Now, as I approach my last week, I will be happy if I leave with six of these panels finished.
Finding a good balance is still my biggest struggle as an artist. How do I balance the work I came to France to do with enjoying the experience of living in France? How do I balance the taking full advantage of the opportunities I receive with looking for other opportunities? How do I balance maintaining relationships with developing new ones? The remove or respite from regular life that is one of the best things about art residencies also means a lot of time to let these kinds of thoughts creep in and take over, especially for someone that's already neurotic like me. The division of time and focus never feels satisfying, doing well in one aspect usually means I'm neglecting the others. This being my first residency in so long only amplified these unrealistic expectations of what I can realistically accomplish, and the gnawing feeling that no matter what I do it's never enough.
So the last six weeks I have allowed myself to "waste" time exploring the medieval old town of Bourges and wandering through the gardens of Le Marais. I found a perfect tree with branches hanging over a canal to sit and sew in, and became a regular at adorable local cafes (where of course I am also sewing). I love the slower, more deliberate pace of life in Bourges, with shops closed Sundays and mid-day for sieste, and I wish I could have gotten to this headspace earlier in my time here. I understand how this whole blog post may just read like the cliche of needing to stop and smell the roses, although tulips would be more appropriate for Bourges, but when chasing the dream of a self-sufficient career in the arts drawing those boundaries is especially hard. What if you would have made an important connection at that opening you skipped because you were too tired, or that application you didn't finish because you chose to go to bed at a reasonable hour would have been the one in twenty you would have gotten? These aren't cases of FOMO, but real career decisions that can have equally real outcomes, so the quest for balance continues.
Before the pandemic began it had been over three years since I had spent more than three months in any given city. Travel wasn't a hobby or vacation for me, it had become a necessary part of the process for making and supporting my work. Within a couple months of graduating from SAIC with my MFA in 2015, I sold nearly all of my furniture and household belongings and moved to Vienna, Austria for a Fulbright Scholarship in Installation Art. At the time I thought it would just be a one year thing, a short reprieve before I went back to waiting tables or started the adjunct teaching grind. After a few months in Austria though, I knew I didn't want to go back yet. I used the time provided to me by grants and residencies to apply for more grants and residencies. I didn't have an apartment or even furniture to go back to, so I just kept moving. When there was a few months down time between residencies I would find a cheap sublet, visit friends and family, or even pass a month or two exploring to a country with a low-cost of living.
I love the opportunity to see new places, and being immersed in another culture, but honestly the best part of these residencies is the feeling of validation that comes from being paid to make art. Suddenly the long nights in the studio don't feel so self-indulgent, and I began to think I might actually be able to make this art thing into a career. Sometimes it could be lonely living places that I didn't know people, but living abroad meant constantly pushing myself as both an artist and a person. Then everything shut down, residencies were cancelled, and I found myself with nowhere to live. With less than 24 hours notice I flew back to the US from Ukraine, to my parents house where I stayed in a room by myself for two weeks, eating meals off trays my mom left outside the door for me while I self-quarantined.
Thankfully I didn't know then that it would be nearly two years before I could do another residency again. In the interim there was a lot of time for soul searching (probably too much time), and if I'm being honest there was a fair amount of self-pity too. Even before the shutdowns I knew I couldn't keep living the way I was indefinitely, after five years living out of a suitcase and relying on applications for income and housing was wearing on me more than I was willing to admit to anyone. But how could I say no to these opportunities, it's not as though there was a well-paid job with benefits waiting for me back in the States, let alone institutions offering to fund my art. It felt like my choices were to keep fighting through the burnout and financial anxiety, or give up on travel and the residency circuit all together because the stipends aren't enough to sustain an apartment in the US while I'm away. I've made a lot of sacrifices over the past decade and some change chasing this dream, and to stop now and start a new career from scratch in my mid-30s feels like taking a loss.
I wish I could say I had an epiphany during the pandemic, and my future path is now clearly laid out before me. I still don't know how much longer I will keep traveling, and I don't want to give myself a hard deadline. I have been working on improving and developing systems when it comes to goal-setting, time management, and all of the other things that fall of the professional side of being an artist. Even more importantly, I'm learning it's okay to ask people for help and admit when things aren't going well, and I'm seeking out support networks and spaces where it's okay to talk about these things. I guess that's why I decided to share all this, because I'm aware that with everything going on in world these are very privileged problems to have. I think it's important for artist's to share their problems, privileged though they may be, because otherwise we're left looking at the Instagram highlight reel and wondering how everyone else seems to have figured it out. My life on social media may look like an artist's dream, hanging out in Germany or France, working in my new studio of the month, but half the time I don't even know where I'm going to live after. For now it still feels worth it, and I'm so grateful to be at a residency again, I just want to be more transparent about the tradeoffs. this life requires.
This post ended up being pretty long, so thank you if you've read this far. If other people have positive and negative art residency experiences I would love to hear about them. Once I get a little further into my residency in Bourges, I plan to make a post about life and the project I am working on here.
So I have historically been terrible at maintaining this section of my website. Sharing my accomplishments and talking about my work in a personal way are two things that have always made me uncomfortable. I find it much easier for me to write about what I'm making in a detached, academic way, almost as if they were made by someone else. It's vulnerable showing my personality and experiences online, it feels different to have people reject you than your work and there are so many stereotypes about self-obsessed millennials performing their lives on social media I don't want to play into.
But I think it's time for me to finally get over that.
I'm realizing it's important to be more open and offer more of myself when asking people to engage seriously with my art. The fact is my art has taken me, metaphorically and literally, to some amazing places, and sharing that can people understand my work on a deeper level and help other artists as we pool our collective knowledge to figure out how to make this lifestyle work. Not only do I want to commit to posting regularly on this blog about studio and career updates, I also will be going back and retroactively writing posts detailing my experiences at art residencies, and sharing more process documentation for past and ongoing bodies of work. I will have these tagged and organized so they can be easily searchable for artists looking for more information residencies, or techniques.
My goal is to post at least once a month with studio updates, hopefully more often in the coming months as I play catch up writing entries about the past few years.
Nearby- Faraway opens in Bratislava tomorrow night at Gallery SVU, featuring a couple of my Migrant Maps dealing with the displacement of Syrian Refugees. It will be on display until June 26.
I recently received a Braunschweig Projects International Artist Scholarship from the Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony. From December 2016 to November 2017 I will participate in an Artist in Residence at the Braunschweig University of Fine Arts, in Braunschweig, Germany, culminating in an exhibition at the end of the year. I am so excited to get to work in this big, beautiful studio in an old warehouse on the outskirts of town.
The city center is super charming and it's been a lot of fun to explore.
One of my Migrant Map series will be featured in the 19th International Open at Woman Made Gallery in Chicago. It will be on display from 8/12 - 9/10/2016.
I'm excited to be showing my work in Bratislava for the first time as part of the group exhibition "Inšpirácia papierom III" at Galeria X.
I am excited to announce have a piece in Prescriptions, a bookart show at the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in Canterbury, UK. The show runs from April 21- August 4, 2016. Afterwards my book will become part of the University of Kent's Artist's Books and the Medical Humanities Collection.
In a little more than month I will be moving to Vienna, Austria for a Fulbright Scholarship in Installation Art.
There will definitely be more updates to follow, but here is a copy of the abstract from my application:
I will be researching and collecting data sets on the globes and maps at the Globe Museum that will then be translated into conceptual maps and globes based on a visual system I develop. I will be taking classes in the Art and Science Master Program at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna to learn about data visualization and receive feedback, while also collaborating with the alternative project space Kulturdrogerie to involve the community.
Heather Beardsley is an American visual artist. In 2016-2017 she was awarded an International Artist Scholarship by the Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony, Germany. She received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Fibers and Material Studies in 2015. She has exhibited work throughout the United States and Europe, as well as the UK, Austria, Germany, and Slovakia.