Versia Harris lives and works in the country of her birth, Barbados. She received her BFA in Studio Art in 2012 and was awarded The Lesley’s Legacy Foundation Award, an annual prize given to the top graduate. She participated in her first residency with Projects and Space in 2011 and has since completed a residency with another local organization called Fresh Milk, followed by a residency at the Vermont Studio Center, and residencies at the Instituto Buena Bista, Curacao and Alice Yard, Trinidad in late 2013. In 2014, Versia’s work was featured in the IV Moscow International Biennial for Young Art themed ‘A Time for Dreams’. She was also apart of the follow up exhibition ‘MOMENTUM_InsideOut screening of ‘A Time For Dreams’, Berlin. Her animation ‘They Say You Can Dream a Thing More Than Once’ was awarded ‘Best New Media Film’ at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, 2014. Versia tackles perceptions of fantasy in contrast to the reality of her invented characters.
The Fresh Milk Art Platform studio feels a lot like home. Granted, my neighborhood scenery and atmosphere is not nearly as serene, but the quietness and time spent alone in the studio seems very familiar. That and the fact that I have spent a solid amount of time at Fresh Milk for various events and workshops since its launch in 2011 makes me comfortable in the space given to me. For the first two days I wondered whether this was a blessing or a problem. Because I was so at ease with the space and with Annalee, the Director and Katherine, the Assistant to Director, I could find my groove quickly and be able to focus on executing whatever idea I had. But then, what if I wouldn’t be stimulated to create something outside of my comfort zone because of the familiarity?
I spent four days of the week at Fresh Milk; Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On Wednesday I stayed home and realized the comfort I felt at Fresh Milk was because of a lack of pressure. During my daily life, after everyone has left for work and school, I have the quietness and space needed to focus my attention on my animation, one that I have been working on for the past 6 months. But I also feel a slight but constant pressure to produce something, anything of value; to feel like I am ‘doing something’ after leaving Barbados Community College (BCC). This pressure, self-imposed though it may be, keeps me active at home. However, when at Fresh Milk, I do not feel that pressure. The program gives me a specific purpose; there’s the ultimate goal of producing a fresh piece of work from this. It reminds me of having a deadline, like we so often did at BCC, which is comforting in its own way. At home though, there are no deadlines, no ‘projects’; I’m basically working to keep active and current, and therefore end up putting the pressure on myself to have work ready to avoid the feeling of idleness.
This past week I have been experimenting with lino block printing and my pen drawing in animation form. I have been considering the idea of incorporating lino block prints with my animated drawing for some time now, and Fresh Milk affords me the time and mental space to do that. I am stepping away from my animation film for a while to experiment with the printmaking. After a week, my thoughts and ideas are still very unresolved and scattered, but as week two starts I am intrigued by what could happen.
Yay for week two at Fresh Milk! This week was my adventure week. I spent a lot of time outside, either working or exploring with happiness in my every step. And in between the swing set, the creepy but gorgeous gully, electric wires, dead chickens, being followed by cows, the feather finding and hill climbing, I got closer to a concrete idea for the residency. In fact, the back and forth between my investigations on the computer and my explorations outdoors is what solidified it for me. I began to see my computer as not only a passage way to a worldwide network of communication and activity, but also as some sort of cocoon or cage. In other words, it connected me to a virtual world of business and recreational interaction and also the “world” of my creation; my animations. But, at the same time, being connected through the computer meant I was disconnected from my surroundings and the environment I was in. I realized that just as the screen offered so many possibilities of interaction and exploration, so did the physical world. The work that I have been producing during the week is centered on these ideas. The lino block prints that I have been doing within the animation have been yielding results that I am pleased with.
Onward to week three.
A visit to Workman’s Primary School as a part of my Community Outreach, kick started week three of my residency. I formulated a few questions and went with the intention of having a conversation with the students of class 4 about their thoughts and feelings on Disney films and characters, and also about the prominence of television in their daily lives. It was a first for me, interacting with that number of kids in that setting; I’m not very up to date on what the kids of today are like. However, they were surprisingly pleasant and very cooperative. In between the humor and fun that I had talking to these children, the answers to my questions were a mixture of the expected and unexpected. They gave me some insight into how they saw these films and how much they actually watched TV. Granted, this was only a class of about fifteen students, a number too small to be projected across the generation but they do watch a lot more TV than I did at that age. To them, watching TV was on par, if not more desired, with going outside to play. This relates to the concept of my animation about the push and pull between the physical world and the virtual one.
Later in the week Alicia Alleyne and Shanika Grimes came to the studio, along with my usual company of Katherine Kennedy. Even though each of us was set to our individual tasks and projects, I was glad for the company and the conversations. Sheena Rose and Mark King also came out to see my progress and to give feedback.
Through the laughter, the heated discussions and the dismantling of Annalee Davis’ work – which by the way took four people, two days and a lot of effort – this week also brought me some challenges with my work. Technological malfunctions are inevitable. But the despair of a program breakdown is magnified when it is your primary source of work. Obviously, working with technology for at least a year and half now, I expect it to malfunction or an important program to suddenly stop working, and yet after all this time it doesn’t get any less frustrating, especially when it hinders progress within the short period of time that I have. In any case all is restored and the animation continues.
This week was the wrapping up of the animation I have been doing for the past month. On Monday, I went to St. Gabriel’s Primary School to talk with the students of J4 about Walt Disney animations in a similar way to the discussion I had with the students of Workman’s Primary. The J4 students showed a keen interest in the Walt Disney films, as expected, but they also had high interest in animation making. Some of them even produced some pretty cool animated stories and flip books.
The rest of the week went relatively quietly, as I edited images and added sound to my work. Mark King started his residency this week and Aaron Kamugisha came to visit and have a chat with me about my work on Thursday.
At the start of this residency, I had set out to relax myself and experiment with something new in my animation. This process has not been without hiccups and bumps along the way. At the very beginning, I didn’t really have a concrete idea but soon progressed to having multiple ideas and not being sure which direction to take. And then, as I solidified my concept, the technical difficulties started. But all of these things were expected. I know now that the process of the animation is not easily compressed into such a small amount of time and so when the inevitable hiccups do come along it takes away from the progress of the work. But overall, I feel satisfied with what I’ve done even though I’m sure that I have just scratched the surface of a topic that could be explored a lot further and given a lot more consideration. The animation produced is a little over a minute long, in which I attempted to portray the tug of war between the physical world and the internet by presenting a series of contrasts. One of the ultimate questions arising was this: “In what ways does one realm pull our minds away from the other and to what extent?” And though I am not certain that I will continue this project in this particular way, I am glad that I did start to explore this area even if for such a short while.
This residency has been a much appreciated gauge for me in terms of experiencing how a one month long residency goes. I am about to embark on my first international residency for 4 weeks in Vermont, USA. I am aware that not all situations are created equal and the month I spend in Vermont could turn out to be completely different, but I do feel more prepared for the challenge of handling limited time.
I want to specially thank Annalee Davis, the director Fresh Milk and Katherine Kennedy, the Assistant to Director, for the opportunity and for supporting and assisting me along the way.