by Kelly Burke, writer-in-residence, January 2020
In January, 2020 — during widespread strikes which brought the city’s public transportation to a standstill — eleven international artists met in Paris under the auspices of L’AiR Arts for a multi-disciplinary residency entitled Revisiting the Roaring Twenties 1920/2020: Art, Culture and the École de Paris.
The purpose of the residency was to seek ideas, models, and inspiration for our own creative practices in the ‘intercultural artistic exchange’ of 1920s Paris. For three weeks we - and a group of international cultural professionals - lived together in Montparnasse, attending workshops with Paris-based artists and chasing the ghosts of the 1920s artistic community through galleries, cafés, ateliers — and salons.
The salon was an institution which took on increasing importance for us as the weeks went on. We gathered in the evenings — around inevitable cheeses and bottles of wine — investigating each other’s work, sharing practical skills, and devising games to unearth a kind of creative intimacy and symbiosis many of us had not experienced before.
A favourite of these games involved story telling. One of us would begin an autobiographical story and, just before the climax, would cede the floor to another member of the group to begin an autobiographical story of their own, inspired by some detail of what they’d just heard. The result was a dove-tailed narrative that was both shared and individual — disparate, with a kind of underlying cohesion.
Disparate with underlying cohesion might have been a good description of Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap’s Little Review, which was published between 1914-1929 and was arguably one of the most important ‘little magazines’ of the 1920s. The Little Review moved its headquarters from New York to Paris in 1923, where it brought together some of the most daring and eclectic work of the Modernists.
Ezra Pound criticised Anderson for not imposing an organising aesthetic or artistic treatise on the magazine — but he mistook her aim. Unlike other publications at the time, what Anderson sought from the Little Review was “inspired conversation... the best conversation the world has to offer.”
As such, the Little Review would ultimately become a touchstone for the expatriate artistic community in 1920s Paris: a place where they could test new forms, read each others’ work, and analyse it at length via letters to the editors. The richness of this ‘conversation’ had the Little Review flying from the shelves of Sylvia Beach’s iconic bookstore, Shakespeare and Company.
If you were to jump forward exactly one hundred years, you would have found the eleven of us tucked into the upstairs room at Shakespeare and Company, contemplating disruption and Modernism, pens scratching under the cynical eye of the bookstore cat.
You will find some of those scratchings in the following pages. Although the residency had been intended to be experiential rather than output-oriented, many of us started developing our own work, diverging unexpectedly from our habitual practices, and nurturing the seeds of unanticipated collaborations.
We were an eclectic family, united by a devotion to practice, by curiosity, by the unexpected rhythm of walking everywhere in a city designed for transport — by Paris itself. We were dancers, novelists, ceramicists, visual artists, poets, directors, performance artists, artistic directors, playwrights. We had come from Australia, South Korea, Armenia, Canada, the US, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands — to which places we have since returned, and where we are all now waiting out an indeterminate period of isolation and restriction imposed by global pandemic. Deprived of physical connection, the idea of conversation seems more important than ever.
What follows is a collection of work from L’AiR Arts’ multidisciplinary residents — the continuation of a conversation begun in a grey Paris January, and which has already wound itself into idioms, artistic collaborations, and friendships. We’ve called it the Little Review, in homage to its predecessor, and hope this will be the first conversation of many.
And if this Little Review provides no answers in this strange moment, perhaps it can offer some comfort, some incitement to curiosity, some distraction, some sense of long-distance community. Perhaps you can slip into the salon with us, into our circle of mis-matched chairs... It’s getting on towards midnight. The wine is mostly drunk. There is a moment of reluctant stillness, one of those transitions which could so easily mark the end of the evening. Then someone turns to you and says: “Tell us a story. But only tell us the beginning...”
by Debra Spark, United States
Writer-in-Residence, January 2020
“Hello, how are you doing, my beautiful peoples?” 36-year-old Armenian dancer Tsolak MLKE-Galstyan made a habit of saying in his delightfully imperfect English to his fellow artists in Paris. They were all new friends, an international group who had quickly bonded at L’AiR Arts, a January 2020 multicultural residency about the post-World War One art world. Led by Russian émigré Mila Ovchinnikova, the group explored that devastating moment in history when Parisian creatives felt the world had changed forever and old artistic approaches to experience would no longer do.
By the end of the three weeks, none of the L’AiR artists wanted to say goodbye. “We’ll stay in touch,” everyone said. MLKE-Galstyan (pronounced Mul-kay Gal-uh-stee-ahn) had a better idea. “Next year, everyone, you come to Armenia,” he said. His late father had built a large summer house outside Yerevan. MLKE-Galstyan was already hoping to secure funding to turn the beautiful spot into an artistic centre. Maybe he could put everyone up there?
Imagining opportunities where none exist is MLKE-Galstyan’s habit. In 2003, he and his sister Shoghakat co-founded Armenia’s first contemporary dance company, Mihr Theatre (named after the pagan God of sun and light). Now, he wanted to arrange for the L’AiR artists to gather again, so they could continue the conversations about art and life that were “like air” for the dancer.
But the coronavirus epidemic put an end to that particular dream. Within weeks of returning to their respective countries, MLKE-Galstyan and his new friends weren’t studying the artists of 1920s Paris but mirroring them: trying to figure out new ways of working, given the crisis of the times. They’d gone from one of the most social, culturally rich experiences of their lives to one of the most isolating.
The solution? The group wasn’t going to even wait a year to capitalize on their friendships. Instead, online from their own homes around the world, they began to consider solitude collaboratively and from a global position.
Read the full article published by the Dance International
by Jennifer Printz, Miami, United States
Artist-in-residence, March 2020/21
Sometimes things don’t work out, but then again they do. This paradoxical statement beautifully explains how the 2020 L’AiR Arts Drawing Research Residency manifested. It has turned out to be a situation none of the artists selected could have imagined.
In early March, I found myself eagerly planning for my arrival to Paris and was excited to be connected to the other artists by Mila from L’AiR Arts through What’s App group chat a few weeks out from the residency date. What none of us knew then was how COVID-19 would soon spread across Europe and then the United States. Ultimately the pandemic would prevent travel to Paris and demand that many of us shelter in place.
The connections Mila put in place among the residents to help coordinate arrival times and program plans in Paris turned into conversations about how the virus was gaining in number in each of our countries and how that was impacting our lives. As we lamented our not being able to meet in person in Paris in 2020 as planned, we also mentioned the idea of collaborating together.
In Miami, the Bakehouse Arts Complex, where my studio is, had to close, but offered to help facilitate our community presence through online programming. The idea of collaboration mentioned among the L’AiR Arts group inspired me to propose an online conversation among us about our work and drawing practices and the Bakehouse staff agreed. On April 10, I moderated a zoom session with Yen Ha, Nicole Shimonek, Ole Lejbach, Hannah Stahulak, and Grazielle Portella. Each of us shared our work and we saw the similarities of process, and focus, oftentimes meditative, in nature in our work, as well as, our need to continue to draw during an uncertain time.
Having learned so much about these artists in this inspiring conversation, I left with the desire to do something again in a format that allowed for as many artists who wanted to participate to do so regardless of time zone. With some thought and feedback from L’AiR Arts and the Bakehouse team, a virtual residency was proposed to the group. Each artist was to submit a video that shared their studio and working process to be presented on social media. When the videos were submitted, I was deeply touched by the hard work each artist put into creating a presentation that represented who they are, as well as, their art and process. From Akira’s clear descriptions of graphite pencils to Nicole’s engaging performance to Dipali’s vibrator drawings, the videos as a whole present drawing across the globe as a dynamic and adaptive media.
Watch the videos for Drawing Us In - Part II, artist presentations:
In addition to this event, other things are happening among this group. Grazielle, with help from her colleagues at the University of Lisbon, has organized a recurring program titled 5 Minutes of Drawing and several of us have already participated or have signed up for future dates. Many of us have posted the images of the beautifully drawn postcards Yen has sent us in the mail. I am excited and pleased to be a part of this amazing group of artists. We have yet to walk the streets of Paris together to visit galleries and art fairs, but we have already met the intercultural exchange goals of L’AiR Arts as we have connected and learned from each other. We have exchanged ideas and drawings, and we are just beginning. What has worked out is the reality that when we do arrive in Paris next spring, we will arrive as collaborateurs, as fellows, and most importantly, as friends.
by Lía Arenas, Karina Muñiz Pagán, Deanna Galati, Zsuzsi Page, Crystal Willie, Alexandra Hatcher, and Julie Fossitt (Residents, January 2020)
Arts and culture organizations now have the opportunity to look at their business and operations, make systemic changes, and adjust ways of working and ways of presenting in order to shift to more resilient and agile organizations. Whether it’s a municipality, small theatre company, or large performing arts venue, exploring the business of arts and culture from a sustainability perspective, from a user/visitor/audience focus, from the viewpoint of community need, is now a necessity.
The following publication includes presentations from cultural professionals participating in the L’AiR Arts Residency, January 2020. The group has come together with the intention of showcasing the connections between the work being done internationally, discovering how we can contribute to the sustainability of the sector and the artists and organizations within it, bringing the contribution to the quality of life of our planet through our creative ecology to light, and highlighting a series of calls to action to continue and broaden the international conversation that began in Paris.
We invite you to actively participate as well. Read the full document and contribute to the conversation at hatliegroup.ca/creative-power
To learn more, listen to the Social Impact Lab webcast for the Creative Power interview with the authors who chat about their experience at the residency, their work and the role of the arts in their diverse communities.
keep in Touch!
Residency participants are invited to submit their reflections and share their updates on projects related to the residency experience with us. The resources shared here are meant to further the engagement among all residents, stimulate active thinking, and create pathways for knowledge transfer and cross-cultural exchange.
Cover Image: Artists-in Residence, October 2018