Monday, March 24, 2014

Residency Report: Can Serrat, Spain

Residency Report is an ongoing series of posts from artists undertaking creative residencies with their families. Find out about programs that support artists with kids, and see how other artist-parents balance the residency experience.
Christa Donner shares the experience of a dual residency with her husband, accompanied by their young daughter, at Can Serrat in Spain.

This fall my husband and I undertook a dual artist residency with our two-year-old daughter in tow at Can Serrat, one of a handful of international programs that supports artists with families. Unlike the residencies I'd participated in before, Can Serrat is not free: there is a modest residency fee for each person - half off for children - and travel is not covered,  so we had to seek outside funding. Our work there was supported by Faculty Enrichment Grants awarded through the college where we both teach, as well as a Support Stipend through Can Serrat itself.
Can Serrat is located in El Bruc, a tiny Catalonian village that’s about an hour’s bus ride from Barcelona, which we visited several times. The living areas, studio space, piano/performance space, and a basic printshop are all situated in a former sixteenth-century farmhouse. So it's an old building, and previous Can Serrat artists we knew described the place to us as "rustic." To parents with small children, it's important to note that this term encompasses many things, some of which are wonderful (stone arches, decorative frescos, hanging grapevines), and some of which mean keeping a close eye on the kids (crumbling masonry, stinky and loosely-covered sewer holes, clouds of mosquitoes). That said, the staff made every effort to make our time there comfortable, setting us up in the largest bedroom and even a good crib with plenty of bedding.

communal meals served outdoors in warmer weather
a shared studio space overlooking the courtyard
Residency at Can Serrat includes breakfast and a big home-cooked dinner shared with all the residents six nights a week. Lunches and Sunday dinners offered time to try out local foods on our own. It can be a relief for any focused artist not to have to think about what to make for dinner every night. For us it was even more so, as we arrived during the height of our allergy-prone two year old’s picky toddler phase, and Karine managed to work with that challenge, along with everyone else's culinary needs, amazingly well. 

Since both of us needed studio time, we took turns watching our daughter during the day, getting in four-hour shifts on either side of her midday nap and then coming together for dinner and conversation with our fellow residents. This wound up being more complicated than we'd anticipated: even after jet lag the time difference really changed the usual sleep schedule, but after about a week we finally sorted out a system that worked for us. The large shared studio space is divided up between residents, and everyone meets to stake out table/wall space during the first few days. The studio walls are all plaster, so bring a good staple gun or plenty of removable sticky stuff if you want to hang anything on the walls.

The unique geography around Can Serrat is part of what makes it so attractive to artists: the residency is halfway up the Montserrat mountains, which are fascinatingly lumpy and tubular and magical to explore. You can get dramatic views of them from anywhere in town, or make a day trip to visit the monastery and a really great little art museum at the very top. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of hiking involved in El Bruc, even if you just need to get something at the grocery store. We hadn’t thought to bring along a baby carrier for our active two-year-old, but later wished we had: the lightweight stroller we brought wasn’t so useful on steep gravel roads. Our daughter loved the excuse to explore and climb the hills on foot, even if it was sometimes verrrry slow.
Christa Donner, 'Colony', gouache, ink and cut paper in two locations

The end of the residency felt like a beginning more than a conclusion: without the pressure to exhibit finished work, I was able to treat my time in Spain as an exploratory research mission. I left Can Serrat with stacks of small drawings, and a suitcase packed with field recordings,  video footage, reference images, fresh ideas and new information. This rich archive of material is now feeding much larger multimedia projects in my Chicago studio.

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Christa Donner reimagines the human / animal body through a range of media including large-scale drawing, printmaking, digital animation, and small-press publication. Her process often incorporates public projects and collaborations around narratives of bodily experience. Donner's work is exhibited internationally, including projects for the Museum Bellerive (Zurich, Switzerland); Horst-Janssen Museum (Oldenberg, Germany); Kravets-Wehby Gallery (New York, USA); BankART NYK (Yokohama, Japan); Chiaki Kamikawa Contemporary Art (Paphos, Cyprus); the ANTI Festival of Contemporary Art (Kuopio, Finland); and the Centro Columbo Americano (Medellin, Colombia).

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