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.
by Robynn Smith, California, United States
Artist-in-residence, October 2019
Somehow I lived the first forty years of my life without going to Paris. I’ve made up for it since then, returning many times for many reasons with many different people under many different circumstances. My personal history with Paris has been one of seizing opportunities, so when the opportunity of a 2 week residency with L’AiR Arts was offered, I didn’t hesitate for a second.
At the time, I was acutely aware that every moment of my October 2019 trip was important. The independent activities and the residency itself were all of a piece, all woven together, creating a strong web of experience about connection, professionalism and opportunity. It was the first time in an artist-in-residence program that I was one of the elders touched by the fresh experiences of much younger artists while gratefully and proudly offering up my deep well to them. As a newly retired college professor, I was grappling with my new status. When to receive, where to give, how to balance? The wide diversity of people and experience, the comprehensive L’AiR Arts program and of course Paris herself, kept my synapses firing on all cylinders at all times. I was learning, connecting, offering and accepting in a whirlwind of aesthetic experience.
Upon returning to my home studio in California, I spent about a month printing plates I made in Paris, and sending them off to new friends made during the residency. A spontaneous mail art project of thanks.
In response to my L’AiR research, Margalit Berriet of Memoire de l’Avenir - one of the galleries we visited during the residency, offered me an exhibition in April 2021. All the while, my Paris experience was percolating, I began making plans for the exhibition, which will highlight Print Day In May, the annual, global celebration of printmaking that I founded in 2007. I was very busy contacting artists, working on Print Day in May 2020, preparing for an international conference and another residency at the end of March, when Covid-19 hit.
Overnight, our world shut down. As in a nightmare, realizations hit in waves: No conference. No residency. No hugging. As the whiplash of the early days became a constant struggle not to accept an isolating, devastating new normal, I began to find solace in memories of travel. I looked through photos, read old writings and felt so profoundly fortunate for having traveled so much in my life. Rather than looking forward to new horizons in the future, I turned to past trips, giving myself the time to process what I was too busy experiencing at the time.
And that brings me back to Paris. With Print Day in May 2020 winding down and Shelter in Place still in place, I am processing L’AiR Arts October 2019. Our recent Zoom call with many of our L’AiR group was very powerful for me. I thought about the effects of the pandemic on individual artists. The disruption of so many lives, the opportunities lost, the paths unable to be followed. Mostly I felt connection though. The group of us, lead by the indomitable Mila Ovchinnikova, spent some of the world’s last pre Covid moments together. We were professionals together, comrades, open spirits drinking in the world, blissfully unaware of what was to happen. That is a powerful connection. We will never forget each other. We will always associate Paris with another time, the Before Time. And now, as we navigate Covid World, we have each other, colleagues for life, hailing from five different continents. As we take baby steps and then, hopefully stride into our future, we will offer each other opportunities. Exhibitions in Paris, collaborations in South Africa, residencies in California.
I dreamed of Paris last night. I was walking hand in hand with my husband, toward the magnificent carousel at the base of Sacre Coeur. “Look” I said to him, “It’s the carousel that we passed by on our last L’AiR Arts day together!” It was our last day in Paris together, but it is not the last day that we will be together. Not by a long shot.
Podcast with Mayumi Lashbrook, Canada
Dancer-in-Residence, January 2020
Our alumna resident Mayumi Lashbrook sat down with Christian Peterson (CPpod) to discuss her artistic process and her career as a dancer. Mayumi also talks about the impact of her experience learning abroad at the L’AiR Arts Residency program in Paris. She speaks of collaboration and creativity, and of international co-productions that have already arisen from the program.
keep in Touch!
This community blog is designed for the residency participants to submit their reflections and share their updates on projects related to the residency experience. 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, January 2020