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.
by Hiie Saumaa, France/Estonia
Residency co-host, January 2020
In the midst of the Paris transit strikes in January 2020, they came, from Armenia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Australia, USA, and elsewhere. A group of international artists, writers, actors, and choreographers, selected to participate in the multidisciplinary L’AiR Arts residency program on the theme of the intercultural artistic exchange in Montparnasse during the Roaring Twenties. These aspiring creators were ready to explore the Paris of the 1920s through guided tours, workshops, readings, and a symposium. They were eager to inhale, live, and embody the Paris of 2020 through opening their eyes to what and who is around them. Their dreams as artists were ready to merge with their dreams of Paris and the ineffable dreaminess of the city itself.
I participated in this nearly month-long program as a co-host. Mila Ovchinnikova, the Founding Director of the program, had gathered an inspiring team of specialists from different fields of art to guide the group of international artists. The co-hosts formed an international team itself, all residing currently in Paris. As a dance and movement educator and dance writer, I facilitated a few movement events.
One of these was a joyous and liberating embodied dance class at Columbia University’s interdisciplinary Institute for Ideas & Imagination located at Reid Hall in the sixth arrondissement of Paris, in Montparnasse. We danced in the Institute’s seminar room, usually reserved for the fellows – a group of fifteen Columbia scholars and international artists in residence at the Institute for an academic year. In this space, lit brightly by the sunlight coming in through the large windows, the fellows exchange ideas about their projects, manuscripts, and musical compositions. For an hour, this room turned into a lively place for ideas and imagination but received and practiced through dance, in movement. We mixed simple choreography, free dance, playfulness, and sensitivity toward how we felt physically, emotionally, and mentally. There was energy, joy, tears of relief, connection, community, sweat, and laughter.
At the renowned Micadanses dance studio in the Marais, the heart of Paris, I led a longer workshop on the potential of somatic tools for creativity. “Somatics” is an umbrella term for a range of physical awareness practices that emphasize participants’ embodied experience and moving from the inside out. I dedicated this workshop to exploring heartfulness. We discussed whether impacting the audience’s feelings is important in our work as artists. What is at the heart of the project we are creating, be it a dance work, a poem, or a play? If that project had a heart, a liveliness, what would that heart be like and what would it communicate? By extension, can we develop a heartful connection to our project?
In the artistic process, there are ebbs and flows, ups and downs – periods of enthusiasm, absorption, and flow but also of uncertainty, unclarity, and disconnection. We might even feel like abandoning the project. In the workshop, we used inner-directed, improvisational movement, spontaneous writing, free-form drawing, and witnessing/sharing with a partner to awaken or rejuvenate our soulful connection to what we create via art. We enlivened the artist within, through movement, colors, and words.
As I was watching the performances of our three resident dancers-choreographers at one of the culminating events of the program, a celebratory dinner at the famed restaurant La Coupole, a symbol of the history of Montparnasse, I felt excitement and inner peace. I saw three different approaches, three distinct personalities, themes, and methods of composition. I saw a sensitive dancer exploring vulnerability, strength, and grace. Another dancer exploring questions of ancestry, methods of verbal and kinetic story-telling, and the call for the audience to use their imagination actively as they watch movement. And yet another dancer examining what it is like to be an artist – using his clothing as a canvas, he let dance guide the movement of the red, blue, green, and black markers as he drew lines and circles on his grayish white clothes. Rolling up the sleeve of his garment, he showed me later how some of these lines had left bruises on the skin.
What are the experiences that touch us on the surface, like the colors of the markers on the clothes of the dancer? And what are the experiences that reach us underneath, that leave us with marks that go deep? Witnessing how this group of international artists has stayed in contact months after the residence, reflecting on their time spent in Paris individually and as a group, I feel like their time in the residency program and the bonds they created were amongst the experiences that go deep. They and their art were touched beyond the outer layers.
To learn more about Hiie's work as a dancer, writer and educator, visit her website www.hiiesaumaa.com
by Debra Spark, United States
Writer-in-Residence, January 2020
Last January found me with a group of international artists in the small second-floor space of the Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company, thinking about this very issue in the context (initially at least) not of the 2020s but the 1920s. We had all come to France for an artist residency/cultural exchange devoted to exploring the flowering of the arts in the 1920s and perhaps to recreating some of that same energy, 100 years later, as we were educated about the period. On this particular day, we were being reminded that the disaster of World War I radically changed art, because artists felt that the old way of narrating and depicting the world would no longer work. “Make it new,” as Ezra Pound famously said. The horror of the war, the fragmentation of everyday life, the mechanization of society, the sense of the world as irrational and absurd led to surrealism, cubism, and expressionism in visual art, and some of the same in literature (the automatic writing of Breton, the interest in dreams and surrealism), as well as a modernism that dispensed with the abstractions and flowery rhetoric of the Victorian era.
Read the full article published by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs
by Ed Bell, France/United Kingdom
Writer co-host, January 2020
Last night, I had the pleasure and privilege of taking part in a virtual salon organised by Deanna Galati and Mayumi Lashbrook, two amazing creative performers from l’AiR Arts. This is an artists’ residency that myself and other representatives of Paris Lit Up collaborated with in January – three weeks of workshops, museums, walking tours, restaurants, experiences and that most beloved of elixirs – conversation.
... [The Salon] was a true moment of appreciation, because we were not only heard, but actively listened to, and this is when the strongest links are formed. It was incredible to share, but it was sublime to observe.
Read the full post on Ed's blog
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Cover Image: L'AiR Arts residents, Multidisciplinary Program, January 2020