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Nov. 2022
Ruta Xarxaprod 3/5
by Bárbara Sánchez Barroso

I Remember.
On Artistic Residencies.

I remember Tunis, a house in the neighbourhood near the biggest hospital in the city. I remember a trip to the coast I made thanks to an artist who told me I should leave the city in search of action. I remember telling them that I felt confident about my process: first I would read and inform myself, and then I would go out onto the street.

I remember Sabadell, where I was supposed to spend 3 months and ended up spending 6, preparing a performance with dancers that ended up getting cancelled. I remember the friends I made living together in different rooms with bunk beds, the care, the chats, the bravas chips in the bar, the tears when it was time to go.

I remember spending a few weeks in the Amazon, I remember feeling that I wasn’t in the right place, I remember the artists around me from all kinds of countries, each one further and further away from South America. I remember the contradictions, the talks where political correctness left no room for the neo-colonial paradox we were all a part of.

As I recall my travels, and the residencies among them, I think of the contradictions we get caught up in every day, and I’m still unsure if a residency can offer you anything more than a trip as a tourist staying for a limited period of time in a hotel can offer you. An artistic residency is always a clash: a clash of habits, a cultural shock, a new experience. Over the years my opinion on residencies, their popularity and their status as a necessary prerequisite for any respectable artistic CV, has changed.

As an artist, many questions arise when I currently consider applying for a new residency. Each time, I study the conditions more and more closely, I think about the care, the collective, the follow-up, and above all the responsibility, not only on my part but also on the part of whoever is offering the opportunity. What does temporarily changing context, city, and even country, mean for an artist, in order to investigate and produce a work? Is change necessary for creativity, or does this desire respond to a neoliberal logic where travelling, moving away from home and feeding on the life and stories of others is like using them, to then leave that place with your stories, anecdotes, photographs and so on in a completely extractionist manner?

But it is also worth asking why residencies have multiplied, what they entail for institutions, what they contribute to the artistic context, what traces they leave behind, what needs they meet, what continuity there is over time with the histories, and the people who temporarily inhabit these spaces.

Because I also remember other proposals for places to stay that seemed to me to have been in almost subhuman conditions, proposals that I said yes to because to say no seemed impolite. Proposals that in the end were not what had been promised beforehand, that mentioned horizontal thinking, care, feminism, rural policies… and that later turned out not to be any of that at all. I remember some of them fondly, the ones that I said yes to then, but would now say no to: because of my age, because I’m not just starting out, because it’s about valuing yourself as an artist and not just saying yes “because they thought of you” and because they don’t do any good to either yourself or to the community. As artists we need a minimum level of guarantees that what is promised will be fulfilled, like a contract, we need to have a voice and say no: no to conditions of overexploitation, isolation, restrictive time frames, scarcity and perpetual precariousness. And at the same time to be allowed to modify that contract if we see the need to do so before signing it.

I remember that when I used to look at open calls I didn’t pay much attention to the conditions, the only thing that mattered was the fee I would receive as an artist, although often it was little more than visibility. When you’re young, (and also when you’re not), you often do things out of enthusiasm, not for money, otherwise who would get involved in making art. However, with time one looks at other equally important things, such as whether the setting is comfortable, whether there is a production fee, and not just a fee, whether the schedule is reasonable, whether one can take one’s family along if necessary, etc.

In a world where travelling, visiting and discovering is common place thanks to social networks, where everyone seeks to consume, use and cast aside, whether as a tourist or a traveller, an artistic residency should be construed as a point of resistance to this tendency. We might imagine residencies as a place of observation, of contemplation, a temple, a place to get to know and relate to each other and to explore the territory from a perspective of proximity and community.

Text by Bárbara Sánchez Barroso in collaboration with GRAF. Bárbara is an artist, feminist, traveller, book lover and film enthusiast.

This November took place the open days of the Xarxa d’Espais de Producció i Creació de Catalunya (Xarxaprod), during which various member organisations opened their doors, organising activities to make their spaces and contexts known. From GRAF we join in with the production of five GRAF Routes, which on this occasion take the form of reflective texts that focus on different themes linked to the centres of the network, from the point of view of five agents from the arts and other fields: mafe moscoso (treballa en entorns entre escriptura, etnografia i art), Helen Torres (sociòloga, traductora i educadora), Bàrbara Sánchez Barroso (artista, feminista i amant dels llibres), Rita Andreu (comissària, gestora cultural i realitzadora audiovisual) i l’equip GRAF. In each Route we link one of the texts with a group of Xarxaprod spaces, suggesting affinities between them.

Translation of the text by Victoria Macarte