Jo Hodges & Robbie Coleman: Residency Blog


New Years Day

We flew out of a monochrome ,rainy, cold, windswept South West Scotland into a full colour high definition Sri Lanka and were immediately knocked sideways by the humidity and temperature.  It took a few days to recalibrate our bodies and our thought processes are still being worked on.

Our house is a bit further into the jungle than Sura Medura, the main residency house, and this location has become more and more valuable to us.  As we have got to know the area a bit better we are realizing how great the divide is between our side of the train track and the beach side.  The beach and the road that runs alongside it is a continuous strip of hotels, shops and bars that are servicing the surfing/tourist community.  It provides a huge amount of employment for the village, which spreads into the jungle on the other side of the tracks.


This uneasy, though vital alliance provides us with much food for thought, especially as we are provided with food at one of the beach side hotels and so regularly dip into it.  More and more we are drawn back into where we live and our lovely neighbours.  Waking up at this house is a fabulous experience, the dawn chorus is a totally exotic mixture of monkey arguments and bizzare bird calls.

The heat and humidity have been a real challenge with the slightest exertion leading to being covered from head to toe in sweat. This affects our brains too and we feel that we are constantly thinking underwater, trying to get some clarity, if only the surface could be reached. The occasional time that we end up in an air conditioned place has immediate effect, we get lively, start chatting at high speed and feel an instant relief. The heat and the pace of life here have a knock on effect when trying to get anything done – everyone wants to help and will give you an answer, that often turns out to be some semi version of reality. By the time we have got on a crowded bus to the town down the road, negotiated the barrage of traffic, tuk tuks, trucks, buses and mopeds all belching out fumes, and have gone in and out of endless dusty shops, trying to locate a few materials, a whole day has passed. Making work here it seems, will require constant adaptation both in the form of the work and in the timescale it will take to make it.

photo 2 Hikkdua

A further impact of the climate is impact it has on our sleep.  We are mapping these sweaty and disturbed sleeping patterns in a series of photos of our morning sheets.

Photo 3 Sheet-tryptich

We have become fascinated with the bags that the street food vendors use.  These are home made, usually out of children’s homework or office paper waste,  so you can be standing on the corner having a snack and reading some childs attempts at maths, though our favourite has been a list of spare parts for a Sri Lankan military jet.

Photo 4 bags

This is leading us into developing a series of our own designs which we will copy and make into bags to give to vendors to use and become part of a new ephemeral communication system.

Other work we are developing includes a video piece, based on a local woman who runs an informal and unofficial  Tsunami Museum in her own house.  The house is on the coast and was mostly destroyed by the wave.  She has moved back into part of it but uses the rest as the museum.  It consists of hundreds of unframed and informal photographs, drawings, press clippings and personal testimony as well as her own philosophical musings.  All pinned up on walls without any sense of design or order.

Photo 5 Tsunami-Museum

Kamani is there every day to talk to the visitors, telling her story and listening to theirs. Because she lives there too, she cannot leave and feels a powerful obligation to stay there as long as there is someone to listen.  This open ended commitment to what she is doing is both moving and troubling, will she stay for ever, reliving and reinterpreting a catastrophe?  Or will she somehow escape it and be free and let her house be a home again.   She is very articulate about this side of her project, but has no easy answers.  This strange sense of entrapment will be the focus of the work.

The vitality and optimism of the people here are a source of constant wonder and inspiration.  It seem to us that in most parts of the UK we seem to have lost that sense of adaptability, resilience and ingenuity that runs through society here.

We stand, flat footed in wonder.