One of the questions on the exit interview from the Lucas Artist Residency asked whether the change of location was helpful to my work. This got me thinking about travel, and about when and whether a change of location can really be justified, especially when grant funding is involved. I also must note that family support was essential to this undertaking: my partner and kids are ultimately the ones that made these trips possible.
My travel for my Montalvo residency was covered by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. MSAB funding also made it possible to attend a workshop on Alternative Aesthetics (led by the amazing Dani Tull) at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center over the summer, and to make a quick trip to Los Angeles to photograph the plaster mathematical models in the collection of the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Unfortunately, current and future MSAB visual arts grantees won’t be able to use the funds for this kind of travel: new rules allow artists to travel only within the state. Without the MSAB grant, I would not have done the residency (or the other trips): but how do I explain why the travel was important?
Part of being at a residency is about being somewhere — anywhere— new and different, away from your regular life and responsibilities. But I would also argue that being at Montalvo was about being at that particular place, at that particular time, with that particular group of people. It was great to have light and warmth — and the weather certainly facilitated the work I was trying to do. The artists I met were not artists I would have ever met in MN (I’m not sure any of them had ever even been here), and that was great. Meeting artists from around the country — who travel all over the world — gave me insights into how artists make work and make a living under all sorts of circumstances, in a variety of places. I certainly better understand the advantages, disadvantages, and peculiarities of where I live than I did before. I had to rethink how I articulate my work and career in a different, broader context, for people who don’t know anything about my state or what’s happening art-wise here. I was far out of my element, it was a challenge, and that was great.
Really, though, in many ways, the argument for travel is just the same as the argument that those who pushed to eliminate the MSAB’s “wasteful” spending on artists’ travel: it was selfish. I wanted to attend a workshop on cults and UFOs because it it was so far from — and yet such an obvious extension of — my regular path. I wanted to go make my own photographs (and, as luck had it, cyanotypes) from real plaster mathematical models that I could study, handle, and discover directly for myself. And traveling to Saratoga for a residency gave me a month in the studio, in the sun, and with a great group of inspiring people. I did my research, I figured out what I wanted to do, and I pursued the idea selfishly. I work with constraints all the time; the ability to travel removed a big constraint, and lots of resulting little ones, that conspire against my desire to make the work I would most like to make.