Marla Botterill received her B.F.A from Queen’s University, Ontario, and went on to pursue her M.F.A. at the University of Waterloo, which she obtained in 2003. She has exhibited widely in Ontario, Canada, including the solo show Close to the Skin at the AWOL Gallery in 2007, and most recently in the group exhibition In a Pinch, The Eleanor Pearl Gallery, 2013. She also exhibited in Berlin, Germany during the months of July-September 2011, where she took part in the Takt Artist Residency programme. Her work explores recurring characters through a combination of painting, drawing, collage and puppets that generate interwoven fictional narratives.
Conan Masterson received a B.F.A. from Concordia University Majoring in Studio Arts, and in 2007 earned an M.F.A. from The University of Western Ontario. Her solo exhibitions include Sea Dab Jig at the Full Tilt Creative Centre, McIvers, Newfoundland, and earlier this year she took part in the group exhibition Process and Place at the Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine. Her residency experiences include: the MECA Baie Sainte-Marie Artist Residency in New Edinburgh, Nova Scotia, Harold Arts – Do Do II Session in Chesterhill, Ohio and the Fibres Student Association, St. Charles Borromée, Quebec. Her work aims to perceptually alter the traditional gallery space, manipulating the physical materials of sculptural installation and the audience in a way that is both impulsively humorous and unsettlingly carnivalesque.
Fresh things are starting to happen already. We arrived on May 1, a little groggy after travelling all night without sleep. But the warm welcome we received from Blue Curry who met us at the airport and Fresh Milk’s dynamic duo of Annalee & Katherine certainly gave us energy. The people are not the only warm thing about this place, the heat envelops you and we welcome that after the frigid winter and chilly spring we left behind in Canada.
The first few days were spent in a whirlwind of meeting some members of the art community here in Barbados, including past resident Mark King, Ewan Atkinson & Allison Thompson (who proved an excellent and knowledgeable tour-guide). We enjoyed the generous hospitality and tours of impressive art collections of Leandro Soto, Mervyn Awon & the historical Colleton House as well as studio visits to Winston Kellman & Ras Ishi. It’s been a bi-coastal extravaganza! We find the lively scene here in Barbados invigorating and encouraging. We are delighted to be included among the artists in ‘A Performative Moment’ happening next week with the Northern Kentucky University visitors to Fresh Milk and we enjoyed meeting the local artists who will be presenting their work at a group meeting. We also got to attend BCC’s graduation exhibition of both the Fine Art and Foundation students. On Monday, playwright Matthew Kupakwashe Murrell began his residency at Fresh Milk and we look forward to a continued and on-going dialogue with him.
Since our arrival we’ve been on sensory-overload. The sound-scape here in Barbados is very unlike anything we have at home and it took some time to adjust to the singing frogs, alarm-sounding crickets, mahogany tree bombs and new bird calls as well as the farm sounds of the cows and roosters! Even when inside, the surrounding landscape is ever-present, there is very little separation between outdoor and indoor space, the windows all open wide allowing nature to be seen, heard, smelled and sometimes even entering your space. The grounds surrounding Fresh Milk are a sensory feast. We are drawn to the repetition of long narrow tendrils and laying in the landscape. Our work began in earnest last week. We are using Fresh Milk as a platform to experiment with new ways of working. Though we have known each other for many years, this is our first journey into working collaboratively. It is not without challenges. As individual artists we are used to processing and working though our ideas independently and privately, we are still adjusting to this new way of working. The first couple of days we set up at opposite ends of the studio, but have gradually begun shifting our things together and working jointly on some initial puppet pieces. There are obvious references forming in the work to the vegetation, insect, bird and animal life that surrounds us.
Annalee’s dogs have appointed themselves our chaperones, though we think they are just using us for the chickens they hunt after assuring we are safely home. We spend most evenings at Prendoma, reading through items borrowed from the Colleen Lewis Reading Room. Our walks home are filled with the seductive smell of ylang-ylang blossoms.
East coast/West coast
There is a strong contrast between the night and the day here. The contrast is not just one of light, though this contrast is severe. In the day the sun is blazing, but the darkness falls early and quickly, cloaking the island in darkness. Was there a moon the first week? If there was, we didn’t see it. The sounds and smells change; it is almost as if they are two entirely different places. There is a mystery to this island; it is felt most keenly at night. Perhaps we feel this contrast more being in the country and away from the lights and traffic of the city, but we feel that mystery, pulsing around us like the oceans and enveloping us in the darkness.
In conversations with the people here we’ve learned of the caves beneath us. As fellow resident, Mathew Kupakwashe Murrell pointed out to us, the whole island is formed over limestone caves. Is this a space where are puppet characters could come from? Have they bubbled up from the dark, damp, mysterious caves beneath to the lush, sun-filled land above? How long have they been here? How have they evolved to live on this island? They are taking on characteristics of the vegetation, animal, insect, bird and amphibian life above, but there is an unnerving quality to them, they come from that place of mystery. In the past two weeks we have jointly created a small ensemble of puppet creatures that will continue to grow but now we must listen to them, hear their stories and take them out of the studio and allow them to explore this island where they come from.
We had our own chance to explore this week, we were taken on an island tour by Joscelyn Gardner, the love of her homeland is palpable and contagious. A collector of stories herself, she shares a combination of local history and personal anecdotes with us. The tour turned into a double-night sleepover at the family’s cottage on the Southeast coast, where we had a mini-vacation and also experienced the deluge of a tropical rainstorm. The rain comes as quickly as the night, you fear it will never stop, but it can leave just as abruptly and replaced once again by the sun. The rugged Atlantic coastal landscape is such a contrast to the manicured calm of the Caribbean west coast; Fresh Milk is conveniently located in the middle of these extremes, a rural, hilly centre point. We want to take our puppets out into these contrasting landscapes.
The platform at Fresh Milk continues to be a hub of activity and a place of networking and interchange. We are finding our days are becoming more productive as we begin to feel at home here. Though no matter how hard we try, we cannot wake up early enough to start the day as early as the Bajans do! On May 16th FM hosted ‘A Performative Moment’ with Northern Kentucky University and we were happy to be included with the past and current residents of FM and to be given the opportunity to briefly present our individual and shared practice. Even though Annalee and Katherine are both abroad, we feel very looked after by the people (and pets) of Barbados. Winston Kellman dropped by FM one morning to return a book and see our progress so far. We had an interesting discussion about Barbados, we focused around the night/day contrast and as he left, he wished us “many more sleepless nights.”
It is always a pleasure to meet artists and see their work, last week we visited a couple of studios and also spent a lot of time in our own studio at Fresh Milk; we managed a balance of work and play. We began week 3 with a jaunt to the south east coast with artists we met at Fresh Milk: Sheena Rose and Versia Harris. After exploring a couple of beaches we visited Sheena’s studio. She had a number of projects to show us and her excitement is infectious. Versia showed us a couple of her imaginative animations. We enjoyed looking at their past and current projects and hearing about their future plans and were impressed by their work ethic. That evening the four of us went to Oistins for the famous fish market, ate an amazing meal and were joined by other FM artists Alicia Alleyne, Shanika Grimes & Mathew Kupakwashe Murrell. It was a truly memorable day.
Joscelyn Gardner arranged our second studio visit of the week with Akyem Ramsay at Gun Hill. We had the chance to see his work already in week 1 when we toured Mervyn Awon’s collection, so it was great to see more of it. There is always something exciting about seeing active work-spaces and a wide range of projects. We had a morning of stimulating conversation and viewing a mix of both 2 and 3-dimensional works and his inventive tools.
Our own studio has been productive, we continue to build puppets and have started to learn more about their respective character traits. A few of them are anxious to be introduced so we’ve included a brief description of four of them below:
Nancy Pillow: You never know where you’ll find her, but she will find you. She’s always watching.
Bargo: The constant worker-bee. Bargo longs for a moment free from work to play. Bargo also wishes to grow in size, to fit better into the world.
Jer-Rad: Never at work, always at play. Really wants to become a professional beach bum.
Speight: A self-taught dancing machine. Currently mastering the “6:30” and “wukkin-up”
We took the puppets with us on fieldtrips outside of the FM studio as well this past week. Joscelyn took us to St. Nicholas Abbey where we explored the buildings and grounds and shot some short videos with the puppets. The next day we went to Bridgetown. Jer-Rad was anxious to get to the beach (we will blame him for taking us there) so we spent a few hours at Carlisle Bay.
We also had a fun night out with Annalee and her friends. Her dogs continue to be our daily companions and self-appointed guardians. We find it hard to believe that the end of our residency is fast approaching. We have grown accustomed to the sounds of the singing frogs and the heat. We are enjoying the food & have done some “souvenir” shopping at the grocery store as we’ve become fond of Bajan pepper sauce. A lizard visits us daily for a share of any fruit we have with us for a snack. We’ve been given fig bananas, mangos, fresh coconuts, baked goods, meals, drinks, tours, catalogues & pendants. The people we’ve spent time with here are generous in many other ways as well, they give you their time, share their stories and recommend their favourite places and activities on the island. The community around FM is supportive and provides an excellent platform for the experimental way we have been working during this residency. We have one week left. The final week includes a visit to the caves and a presentation of our puppets and videos at Fresh Milk on the evening of May 30thwhere fellow resident Mathew Kupakwashe Murrell will also be reading from his play.
Our last week began with a trip to Harrison’s Cave. We elected to do the walking tour, the guide was patient with us and gave us ample time to shoot videos of our “little dolls”. We thought the caves were spectacular and well worth the visit. The peculiar forms, continual dripping sounds, humidity and darkness combine to create a mysterious, prehistoric ambiance. After emerging from the depths of the caves, the fresh air above was welcomed in our lungs.
We kept busy with videos the last week. Our puppets went on many excursions where we improvised performances, intuitively working with the surroundings. We reviewed all of our footage and began the editing process. This was the most tedious part, but we found it rewarding and exciting to see the puppets come to life through movement. We did not find all footage successful, but we agreed that many moments intrigued us and made us laugh such as the unexpected moments captured on camera. A lot of these snippets were edited into our short video “sketches” that we presented publicly on our final night.
On May 30th along with Matthew Kupakwashe Murrell we presented what we worked on during our residency at Fresh Milk. We enjoyed seeing excerpts from Matthew’s play being performed by the actors. We hung our 10 completed puppets in our former studio space and projected 11 short videos. It was a crucial time for us to get some feedback on the work, as we must now digest and process what we’ve accomplished and determine a path for continued development. We were happy with the turnout and pleased to see many familiar faces and the feedback provided raised interesting questions and things for us to consider going forward, particularly in regards to the videos and the relationship between the puppets and their environment.
Our puppets boarded the plane with us and successfully made the journey north to Canada. They have already complained about the cooler temperatures and lack of ocean breeze – some even miss the singing frogs. We plan on taking the puppets out so that they may explore their new surroundings, some may need adjustments and we will likely have to make them some new friends to ease in this transition. We foresee some sweaters and toques after the summer ends. FM provided an excellent and encouraging platform for us to freely experiment with this new body of work and new partnership.
We are both thrilled with our experiences at FM. So many people welcomed us into their studios and homes, we passed many evenings in the company of new friends. We want to thank everyone who contributed to making our residency rousing and fulfilling, in particular: Annalee, Joscelyn, Ewan and the Davis’. A special shout-out as well to Rico & Mica for their determined and steadfast companionship and protection.
We soaked up every last minute of our trip to Barbados; we are changed from our time at Fresh Milk and for us it was the first step in a collaboration we expect will continue in London, Ontario as we are both delighted and motivated by our production at Fresh Milk.