By Dominique Hunter
The end of my time in Vermont is swiftly approaching and I’ve been earnestly trying to ignore the cloud of anxiety that has been building around me. I didn’t come with a plan in the
same way some of the other residents did. Some came to finish a particular series of work while others came to build something they could document for future proposals. Despite the varying points of entry, the general consensus was that we would work as long and hard as our bodies would allow us.
While I had no idea what I was going to produce, I knew that (like everyone else) I wanted to make the most of my time here. That meant equal amounts of experimentation and uncertainty. And there was most definitely a lot of uncertainty. Being transplanted into a completely new environment (if only for a short time), for me, usually signals a distinct shift in my work. I’m never quite the same person anymore and so the way I think about my work changes. The parameters I’ve boxed myself into are constantly being pushed further outward and, in many ways, I can only begin to make sense of everything once I’ve returned to the place I was transplanted from (that is, home). This has been the general trend of my residency experiences thus far.
They have become more about allowing myself to shed those anxieties about my own techniques, use of materials and “cohesiveness” of the final works. What this space represented for me was the opportunity to embrace new ways of seeing and thinking about the process of making things. It also represented a safe space for the type of open-ended questions that threatened to trigger a kind of existential crisis. What is necessary to make a work of art? Why is one thing considered art and not the other? How did I even get here? It’s usually just further down the rabbit hole from there.
At the very core, art is ultimately about problem solving and decision-making. Usually there are multiple ways to solve any given problem but we rely on (among other things) intuition to lead us to the right decision each time. How well equipped we are to navigate between the two lies squarely in how well we’ve been trained and/or trained ourselves to look at and really see a thing (looking and seeing being two very different things in my opinion). What happens when we stop looking at the things around us as items to be removed from sight for a “better” or “cleaner” space, particularly in a gallery-type set up? Is it possible, instead, to embrace them and somehow work those unwanted things into the narrative of our work? How would the narrative change if we do? Of course in the end it all comes down to preference.
The fact is, the work I’ve made here is quite unlike the work that usually comes out of my modest home studio. They are a far cry from the flat 18×24 inches paper collages I was working on as recently as last year. I’ve noticed that every time I’m removed from my personal space, the work is usually transformed into something sculptural. And I think this speaks volumes about my indecisive nature and impulse to do a little bit of everything. Two and three-dimensional works provide relief for me in very different ways and alternating between them is a good way silence the noise in my head. Here in Vermont I had the freedom to make anything. Unfortunately, my brain interpreted that as, “Let’s make everything!” After good sense prevailed, I moved myself out of the way and let intuition take over.
I have no idea if and how the work I made here fits into my “usual” body of work or if that even matters. But my time here was definitely, among other things, a rigorous exercise in discipline. Prior to this, I would’ve spent the hour or two in between activities like dinner from 6-7pm and readings at 8pm, “killing time” as Guyanese would say. I never thought myself to be the kind of person who could break concentration, shift gears and fall back into rhythm easily. But I was pleasantly surprised at how much you could get a lot done in the short time between two activities (if you are disciplined enough). Even if all you manage to do is drive yourself crazy trying to resolve a problem in your work. I cringed at the thought of how often I “killed time” back home and how much further along my projects could’ve been by now.
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.