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Art Residency Work at ANET

INDIA | Wednesday, 19 February 2014 | Views [574]

Our reason for returning to the Andamans was to go back to ANET (The Andaman & Nicobar Islands Environmental Team) - a place that made a huge impression on us in December and where we'd shared experiences remaining with us long after we'd left (only 4 weeks earlier to be fair).

The ANET team is in the process of developing an Arts division, contributing to the multidisciplinary nature of the research centre and its rich learning environment and I was asked to spend the month helping to establish their Artist Residency programme as part of the wider Arts division.

Arts and Science commonly exist as separate disciplines and within the residency at ANET there is much potential for arts and science practitioners to explore the mutual platform existing between the two – an interactive and beneficial exchange for both disciplines, and the start of an exciting new relationship at ANET, one which I was looking forward to being a part of and contributing to.

As an artist working within a scientific environment, unique opportunities exist in terms of a fusion or exchange of ideas between the arts and science. Living and working alongside resident researchers and scientists not only provides a wealth of knowledge covering extensive topics, but also provides scope for a valuable interchange of thinking which in turn can be used to consider alternative perspectives, expand the artistic process and extend the possibilities for 'making' within the diverse environments.

Klas was going to be working with Jackson, an American designer/architect based in Bangalore, and his team to design and build the Tree House Art Studio set in a beautiful banyan tree overlooking the mangroves. We were both thrilled to have our own projects to get involved with and which meant so much to each of us personally.

Before leaving the UK we'd talked about spending a longer period of time in one place to have the experience of getting to know people in more depth and to contribute to a wider project. We hadn't wanted to plan anything before leaving home though - if this happened we wanted it to happen organically. The fact that this opportunity came about all because of a chance meeting with Smita on a random bus journey between Leh and Manali in September once again restored my faith in fate and reminded me of the beautiful Scottish saying 'What's for you won't go past you'.

After a few days we were back in the rhythm of life in the forest (this time in a tent in the mangroves), bathing in harvested rain water, adjusting to regular meal times, and remembering the necessity to walk carefully wherever we went to avoid stepping on snakes. There is truly something special about living life completely outdoors - I have never felt healthier or more energised.

Through discussions with the team I was invited to create a 'Visual Art Library', a resource that would be used and referred to by artists coming to stay at ANET. I was also asked to produce a number of supporting documents and to investigate how an Artist Residency programme could be incorporated operationally.

I set myself a month long project of producing drawings, paintings and prints to represent and interpret The Elements of Art (line, shape, form, texture, colour, space) and The Principles of Design (unity/harmony, dominance/emphasis, balance, hierarchy, scale/proportion) within the 4 ecosystems surrounding ANET - the coral reef, the tropical forest, the intertidal zone and the mangroves.

My mornings were often spent researching and writing in the beautiful timber library and in the afternoons I'd either venture downstairs onto the veranda overlooking the forest or wander off into the forest/mangroves  to draw, paint or make prints. Having this amount of time to 'make' was just incredible. It reminded me of how important it is to find balance in my life between working therapeutically with clients and being involved in my own art practice.

Whilst at ANET Klas and I took every opportunity to dive in the nearby Mahatma Gandhi National Park and we both started our advanced dive courses. The intricacies of the coral reef formed further inspiration for some of the new art work once back at base. The knowledge of the dive team and the researchers was invaluable - I learnt so much.

My most treasured moments of the month were getting to know such an incredible group of dynamic and inspiring people. Despite the fact that Klas and I were “foreigners” coming to work at ANET for unique purposes, i.e. not scientific research, we never felt that we were considered as outsiders. From the moment we returned we were shown nothing but love, warmth and encouragement - part of the big family.

It took me a while to really put my finger on what it is about the team here that makes it different from other communities I've stayed with - what it comes down to is authenticity. There is a realness to the people and there's no bullshit or backstabbing. Everything is out there, all disputes are aired. I guess that within a communal setting negativity can very quickly infect the atmosphere and start to shake the foundations. The sense of positivity and determination to make things happen and get things done has made for a totally inspiring environment in which to work. It also made for some bloody good party nights tucked away deep in the forest wearing Amazonian style masks and lungi dancing on the dining table.

On our last evening I was invited to exhibit my artwork and spoke to the team about what I had been working on over the past month. It was a fantastic evening starting with some intellectual conversation and ending in twenty people dancing to Shakira! ;)

How could we ever leave this place! Discussions have already begun about future collaborations. I think this HAS to be to start of a lifelong relationship!



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