Sarah Neville is an Australian chorographer, theatre director, and multimedia performance maker whose current work examines climate change, the effects of which are rapidly impacting the landscape she calls home. Her recent practice incorporates an ongoing series of Family-in-Residence projects together with her two young daughters and her husband, scientist and musician Matthew Thomas, to creatively explore the environment, human impact, and the next generation. We’re thoroughly pleased to share her thoughts on family residency here, a process that continues to evolve and change.
Until recently I spent most of my time researching new projects, applying for grants and leading teams of collaborators in a creative process. Over the last two years I have been sustaining my arts practice through a ‘family in residence’ model. Having young children has changed my perception of work and life. I realised that this was not just a phase of life I needed to manage but that my life can positively inform my creative practice. My husband’s field is music and visual arts, but his primary work is in the science of Human Factors, and together with Miranda (now 6) and Florence (2) we have pursued research on the artistic project Weather Lore / Speculative Culture over a series of family-focused residencies.
'Changing the world will always require action and participation in the public realm, but in our time that will no longer be sufficient. We'll have to change the way we live, too. What that means is that the sites of our everyday engagement with nature - our kitchens, gardens, houses, cars - matter to the fate of the world in a way they never have before.' - Michael Pollan, “Cooked”
Family in Residence I: FoAM
How we live matters to the fate of the world. Our first residency was facilitated by FoAM in Brussels, Belgium, who explore ways of living and working as creative processes. They are also committed to the concept of the ‘family in residence,’ and so were a great fit for us.
Working as an independent artist means I can organize work around my own availability and creative focus. Thanks to FoAM and their very generous family in residence program, in 2012 I travelled to Europe with five-month-old Florence in tow. We spent a week in a mini castle in Istria near the legendary city of Motovun, participated in a futurists meeting at Time’s Up Austria, and ended by consolidating our residency at FoAM headquarters in Brussels. Throughout, Florence was great company.
The residency was structured to include our whole family. Collaborating remotely from our home base in Australia, my husband Matt experimented with sound and Miranda sent drawings and stories in response to the creative content generated there. FoAM founders and collaborators Nik Gaffney and Maja Kumonovic not only contributed creative ideas, but picked up the ‘hard to do with a baby in your arms’ tasks like note taking and documenting. I am not sure what I would have done without any of them.
In my experience, working in the performing arts cannot by design be a selfish pursuit, so there has been no giant shift in life perspective now that I am responsible for a family. It goes without saying that without a sense of others in the world then collectives would fail, partnerships dissolve and collaborations would bomb. During my residency, Florence’s smile, giggle and attentive observation of the world were a delight.
All in all we arrived home with much gained. For Florence, a sense of herself in a larger world. For Miranda, that wherever I am I cherish her involvement in my work. For Matt, that creative collaboration is part of the glue of our relationship, whether that is formalized in an artistic collaboration or the creative stuff of flexible parenting. For me, high quality artmaking takes fabulous teams of people working together seamlessly; the same goes with creative parenting and a workable family life.
Family in Residence II: Adhocracy
The following year we trialled the Foam model at the art lab Adhocracy at Vitalstatistix in Port Adelaide, Australia. Here I found that my creative drive was by necessity directed into being active in daily life: cooking, playing with the children, caring for our plants and talking to our visitors. Whilst I was frustrated at not being able to focus on my work in a way I was used to, by bringing my domestic life with me and living the artistic questions that came up, I found a new method of working. We also had challenges with visibility. Our residency was the only event not reviewed, and there was little documentation taken of our presence by the arts organisation. This raised the question of whether a domestic space can be perceived as a public space and whether family life/ artistic work can possibly co-exist in the spectators’ expectations.
Family in Residence III: Oratunga Sheep Station
Our most recent iteration of Artist-Family-in-Residence finished on the first week of November at Oratunga Sheep Station in the Flinders Rangers, facilitated through Open-Space. Here Matt, Florence and I were alone, without outside arts facilitators, at a large sheep station. Interestingly, though we were based in a house, domestics were not as in focus as the last residency, which was housed in an arts organisation. The home was not ours, and the landscape and weather immediately dominated our experience. Our presence as a family definitely softened our relationship with the larger community and, as in our first residency, Experiencing the world through Florence’s senses certainly heightened our observations of the world around us and fed into the richness and depth of our artistic enquiry.
To Be Continued
I am still uneasy with my new method of artistic practice. Sitting alone researching, sorting, and speculating is an old habit to kick. However the Artist-Family model is similar to contemporary dance/ performance studio practice in the short time of practical creativity that comes after the millions of hours of planning, grant writing and imagining. Whilst you enter with a depth of knowledge and a handful of expectations, what happens ‘on the floor’ is what really matters. Managing energy, personalities, co-operation, and synergy of ideas becomes the main state of play. With a family this state of play is the full focus of the creative journey, and what is really exciting is that creative outcomes become grounded in family history.