Colombo immigration office – Monday 26th January 2015
Sitting in the visa office waiting for a renewal so that we can stay to finish the residency.
What a lovely place, fresh flowers on the coffee tables and a clear, helpful staff who entertain us with stories from their childhood…
This is my fourth week here and Sri Lanka continues to surprise. I have made one performance in the local market, a collaboration with Adrian. Pretty wild there and very varied reactions…Mostly good. This follows a period of accumulating objects and costume ideas; spending time further up the road from Sura Medura at the workshop of Mangelika. I am hiring one of her treadle-powered sewing machines to work on: she bought it within the last couple of years as new for £150 but it is actually a reconditioned and vintage Singer that is on it’s last legs.
The Mirage Hotel. Colombo – Tuesday 10th February
So…Sitting in a room here on the Marine Drive, Colombo with a lot of very vivid memories and several exciting performance events later. In response to the potential questions ‘what have I learned here?’ I would answer that I’m not sure yet…I am certainly not the person I was before I arrived. I have undergone some kind of change here.
In response to the question ‘what is the value of this residency to me?’ I would say that it has provided an intense, uneasy, alarming, charming, edgy, humbling, annoying, astonishing, provoking, friendly, dangerous, challenging, contrasting, confusing and edifying experience in both artistic and personal terms.
I made six interventions:
Hikkaduwa Sunday market
Sunbeach Hotel into Vibration nightclub
Mangelika’s house in the jungle down into the sea
The Goethe Institut, Colombo
La Voile Blanche beach club, Colombo
The University of Visual and Performing Arts, Colombo
Each was a collaboration with one or more other artists and musicians, some of whom were part of the same residency programme and some of whom live in Sri Lanka. Each event was free and was accessible to both Europeans and Sri Lankans alike. I made a specific policy to create an atmosphere during the performances that temporarily removed the divide between White and Black that exists here as an ex-colonial island that suffered many generations of inequality. That sentiment also extends to the inequalities between sexes that is a very current issue here.
Speaking briefly as part of the seminar at the Goethe Institute I touched on the idea of artists as child and the audience as tolerant parent. The child makes something and asks the parents to look at it and praise it. The parents want to encourage the creative endeavours of their child and give it praise and the opportunity to make more things. This is a fundamental approach that would I would like to see adopted by all countries. I also discussed the notion that I use costume as a disguise for performance work that is more complex and demanding of the audience than they first perceive. Odd costume is used in my work to draw an audience close in to the performers, close enough so that they become aware of this duality and begin to question the nature of the work itself, promoting a debate about the work rather than presenting a set of solutions.
I am very interested in plants and animals and Sri Lanka has a phenomenal variety of both…Wish I had brought my binoculars.
Wish also I had brought tools and equipment as my concept of a clear slate at the start meant time was wasted trying to locate the right kind of shop that might supply both. In actual fact no single shop supplies everything and the journey of discovery can be more interesting than the success of finding…or some such mantra.
Colombo International Airport – Wednesday 11th February
At the airport there is a square of white cord surrounding a seating area that is reserved for clergy from the Buddhist community here. The priests were sat eating rice and curry from newspaper wrappers. Along the hall a little way were both Muslim and Christian prayer rooms. The chaos of life sits close to the surface, the speed of growth and decay so much faster than at home in Scotland. An acceptance of this rapid change sits alongside ancient traditions and practises that have not changed for hundreds of years. In rural districts more than half of the population are involved in manual manufacturing processes. Less than half of the population are ever likely to send an email.
It is almost impossible to avoid being labelled as a tourist and therefore as wealthy. Despite many conversations with people from here about my work as an artist and consistently failing to fit the mould of self-indulgent surf and sun worshipper, the local audience in advance of one event said that they were looking forward to seeing a tourist dancing. The word tourist simply means everyone not from Sri Lanka. No point in fighting that I think.
I had several days teaching fourth year textile students at the university in Colombo. Lovely people and very helpful staff. Unfortunately none of the sewing machines were working, the students didn’t know how to use them in any case, there was a national election and no one had told me that the students were going home for several days, the Pope visited the following week and the school was closed. None of the students that I had requested over several months of meetings and correspondence were available to make and perform a project with me. I must say that conversations with artist friends who had worked here last year helped to formulate a stoic attitude towards such conclusive shifts in available resources. I had a plan A, B and C.
That would be my main piece of advice to an artist trying to work here…Either that or be here more than two months in order to develop a clearer relationship with the people you need to work with.
I think that bringing a piece of work with me to show at the start of my residency would have helped local people to better understand what I was asking from them in terms of making a collaboration.
There exists in my mind now an idea that I might want to return here and resume the work that I have begun. That is the best indicator that I have to show me how I feel about the project, apart, that is, from feeling totally overwhelmed.