From Joana BC at the end of her residency

21.03.2012 - 08.05.2012

I’m working in the studio, making just one more creature made of materials I found during my walks in Trélex, and I can hear the wind outside. 

That wind is not alone though. I can hear the cow bells ringing and, wow, they are noisy. When that happens I know it’s going to be a good day because all the animals are going to be out in the fields. 

The desire for freedom and adventure pushes me to the mountains and makes me wish to turn myself into a bird. The Montblanc is the great God. I worship it every time I come down the hill.

From where I stand this house looks perfect. But it’s when the floor creaks under my feet and the wind is blowing very hard outside that I feel my blood running faster. This house could be gloomy and scary but it’s just welcoming and gentle.

The studio is a big space with wood beams and an amazing view to the mountains but I’m interested in the little wooden house in the garden. The white of the studio doesn’t suit my imaginary. And one day Nina said: “If you like, you could think of using the little playhouse in the garden.” And that made my  residency into something really amazing and fulfilling.

I don’t like to be inside the studio and see the green grass outside and so I take my notebook outside and I write. It’s funny how pieces come together sometimes. I started writing a short story about a rather curious goat and the next day I found out the neighbour had goats. I went there a couple of times alone to see how they act. I was able to finish it before the end of the residency which turned out to be a major achievement for me.

During one of my walks through the fields I listened to Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” and thanks to it my ideas for installing my work at the house started to make sense. There’s something very crucial about the residency that was really important for me: this is a family house. My work deals with notions of domesticity, and family and interpersonal relations. At the same time I’m part of it and I’m an observer, witnessing how relationships are weaved and maintained.

The Trélex Residency is Nina’s fourth baby and she takes good care of it. She is a generous and kind person who can be critical and very down to earth for your own good. She is very skilled in helping you find your potential and take it further. It’s true that she studied the human brain for such a long time but there’s something more to it. I didn’t get any therapeutic lesson but good dialogue, real life examples, honesty and dedication.

And then of course it was really good I had Hira by my side with her lively laugh, her long conversations, her questions and her spicy and amazing food. I think about chillies now more than I used to, that’s for sure.

I have two loves in Switzerland: La Collection d’art brut in Lausanne (website here) and L’Espace Jean Tingely and Niki de Saint Phalle in Fribourg (website here). I’ve been interested in Art Brut (Outsider Art) for a couple of years due to my belief in a spontaneous and intuitive way of making Art. La Collection is not a museum, it’s an anti-museum and it’s a house of stories, where accounts of the outsider’s lives are mixed with their “artistic practices”. It is a temple.

And what can I say about Niki and Jean? They’re my favourites. They remained outsiders in their own way. It’s a love story that overwhelms me. It impresses me how they managed to collaborate and still keep such individual work, such strong personal characteristics. How one’s work speaks lower when the other’s needs to speak louder and how it all comes together as a scream of rage and peace at the same time. I admire their differences and duality and their reaction to Art and society. They were free and somehow managed to continue like that until they died, I believe. Their death was connected to their way of working. I like to think that what consumed them was what killed them but also what set them free and made them feel more alive.
Joana BC

From Hira Mansur after her residency

25.03.2012 - 21.04.2012

The Trelex Residency was my very first residency. It is a great residency for plenty of reasons. To begin with, the residency is in the attic of Nina’s house. I know, horror movies have created a very scary/uncomfortable image of attics in our minds. But trust me, this attic is 180 degrees different. The fact that the residency is at the top of the house, makes it a warm, welcoming, yet a very professional space. 

The common space is very spacious and open but if needed, one can have complete privacy as well. The rooms are very comfortable and the studios felt spacious but then I'm a miniature painter! The best part about my studio was, that there was a lot of natural light and a window that opened into a view that I had only seen on postcards and calendars. There is a fair chance you might see cows grazing with their bells tinkling - extremely soothing!

It is very important that the artists paired together must get along well. In my case Nina was very successful. Joana and I immediately clicked. Our subject matter was also similar. I consider my self luckier because Joana was good at research and planning our day trips really well.  As a reward I cooked. I learned a lot in and out of the studio.

All the museums very incredibly educating but the highlight for me was the Swiss Sewing Machine Museum in Fribourg (because I paint sewing machines), which without exaggeration was a Disneyland of sewing machines (click here for website). I was thrilled to see more than 250 sewing machines under one roof, starting from the very first sewing machine in the world to sewing machines for children.

The days we did not go out of Trelex, we took long walks in the neighborhood/woods and also cycled. There is a beautiful lake not far from the residency. During one of these walks I saw horses and grabbed the opportunity to photograph them so I can use them as references in my work.

When you spend so much time in the residency, it starts feeling like one big family. Nina’s kids are adorable; we got to spend time with them as well. One of the nights, we all watched Ice Age 3, tucked in a duvet - cozy and relaxing.  We often cooked and had meals together. Nina also invited her friends over for a coffee morning, when Joana and I did an informal presentation of our work. The feedback was very beneficial.

Switzerland is very expensive: everyone says it and guess what, it's true. The trains, food – everything! It is essential to plan your days in other cities properly, so you can make the most out of it.

For grocery-shopping Nina took us with her when she went to shop for her family. Not just that, Nina was generally very kind and extremely generous in terms of helping and using the facilities in the studio. There is no pressure about making or finishing work. We were given complete freedom!

Switzerland in 3 words for me: Chocolate, Cheese and Coffee!

I would highly recommend this residency: it will be a great experience in every way possible. Take my word for it!

All the best!!

About Joana BC

21.03.2012 - 08.05.2012

Joana BC is a young portuguese artist whom I met in London. Her work, whether drawing, painting, animation or sculpture - increasingly combined through installation - veers between lighthearted humour and much darker, cynical subject matters. Her canvases may be covered in seemingly childish cartoons or deep layers of acrylics heavily collaged with found materials; her work may be playfully spontaneous one moment and painfully cruel the next.

Joana in full swing with painting and drawing. The lady in the painting 
on the right didn't survive the night.

Consistent throughout is her concern with ideas of family and home, filial duty, obedience and control, violence, rebellion, rage and love. These ideas are painfully tangled with Portuguese history and identity and were insidiously corrupted during the Salazar years. However, Joana's work is not so much concerned with history, politics and social commentary. It comes from a much more personal place, sometimes inspired from family histories and tales, sometimes from her own fears, dreams, imagination.

Most poignant of all for me, is her refusal to compartmentalise the characters that people her narratives into good and bad. No-one is ever completely evil: violence is at worst pathetic, always defeated by her humour. Similarly, love and faith are also manipulative, suffocating and incomplete. Joana declares a healthy suspicion of the self-declared saint and sympathy for the rejected  - expressed through her use of things discarded by others in her sculptures.

A number of mischievous little beings have come to life from 
things found in and around Trelex and are invading the studio.

While in Trelex, Joana has made a number of paintings on paper, worked on a large installation in the old station master hut at the bottom of the garden where we look forward to an impromptu candle-lit private view one night next week. Above all, Joana wrote the first draft of 'The Goat', a substantial short story about how the efforts of a young girl to integrate a goat into a catholic family stirs up all sorts of anxieties rooted in the grandmothers past.

Joana on the lawn, taken from the studio by Hira Mansur.

In the end, Joana extended her stay by a couple of weeks which allowed her to put some finishing touches to her story, have a small candle-lit private view out at the hut in the garden and film a performance of herself as a bride interacting with her sculptures. 'It's amazing what you can get done in a day, when you are on a residency. You can put an idea into practice so quickly here', she concluded...

Further information including more photos of the work from the residency about Joana BC can be found on her blog here.

About Hira Mansur

25.03.2012 - 21.04.2012

Hira Mansur is a contemporary miniature artist from Lahore in Pakistan, currently studying for an MFA in  painting at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. Her delicate watercolours are laboriously built up in many successful layers with such fine brushes that the hyperrealist images are sometimes more detailed than the photos she works from. Her imagery is derived from her personal history and that of her adoptive mother who waited for many years for a child and found patience at her sewing machine. While she is influenced by surrealist collage, every object and animal in her assembled compositions are derived from childhood experiences. Zebroid and branches are symbols of infertility, scissors of pain, sewing machines of waiting. Animals and objects morph into one another, sometimes around empathic portrayals of her mother. Symbols meld seemlessly to speak of beauty, time slowly passing, yearning and loss.

Macrophotograph of a work in progress

Hira uses her hand as a palette to avoid damaging the delicate brushes

While on the residency at Trelex, Hira coincided with Joana BC, and we have had a number of discussions on the importance of time in her work. It typically takes Hira 2 months to complete a miniature, which wouldn't be apparent to the uninformed viewer. But the care and loving attention lavished on her work is central to her practice. She has experimented with needle piercing and more recently with copper-plate embossing (etched with needle piercing or solar plates). While in Trelex, however, she started to notice that as she built up the water colour, it was prone to flaking on the embossed paper (rendered less absorbent by the press). This forced her to look for other methods of making images. She grew fascinated with japanese Chyogami paper and used some I had in the studio to make her first collage. She is now considering ways of combining this with her painting and needle-piercing.

Collage, 15 x 20 cm - not yet titled... I particularly like
 the timestamp on the colour copy that Hira made the collage on.

Hira's space while the collage was in progress.

Beyond the studio, Hira found source material in the farm animals of Trelex (particularly horses and goats) and in a sewing machine museum in Fribourg. She was also immensely moved by our visit to the Collection de l'Art Brut in Lausanne where she found plenty of artists whose work was perhaps even more fastidious and obsessive than her own.

Hira at work on her watercolour miniatures which required very specific lighting, a sturdy easel.

In the woods near Trelex.

Examples of Hira's work can be seen on the website of the Vasl Artist's Collective