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.
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.