On the 2nd of May I concluded my residency at Alice Yard with a presentation of new work created during my two month stay as part of the British Council’s Trans-Atlantic Artists Residency Exchange programme. I have been exploring a wide range of enquiries, and the work I presented was an assortment of works in progress I will develop further on my return to Scotland. Many of the pieces are in collaboration with artists in Trinidad and Scotland and my hope is that this is the start of a lasting connection between the two places through collaborative artist led initiatives.
My proposal for this residency was to explore Port of Spain and the surrounding areas through a process of investigative walking and in close collaboration with the artistic community surrounding the yard. I was also keen to research Alice Yard as an artist led space to increase my understanding of how this works in a different context to the one I am accustomed to at Tin Roof at home in Dundee.
The walks I undertook during my residency resulted in a map of the city, painted as a live interactive performance in the “box” space of the yard. The ink used to make the map was made up of pigment I carried with me from Scotland, mixed with sea water I collected from Las Cuavas on the northern coast of Trinidad.
When I first arrived in Trinidad I went walking with artist Josh Lu, who spends a lot of time investigating artefacts he finds dating from the mid 18th to early 19th centuries. I was surprised and moved to learn that many of the salt glazed ceramic fragments we found littering the ground were made in Scotland, and this provoked a collaborative project with Dundee Ceramics Workshop, an artist run ceramics facility run by Tin Roof in Dundee. I was fascinated to find pieces of clay, literally pieces of Scottish earth, buried in the Trinidadian earth, relics of Scotland’s colonial influence on the island. I commissioned three Scottish ceramic artists, Kevin Morris, Stephanie Liddle and Steven Peebles, to create new vessels inspired by the penny inkwells I found in Trinidad, and we shipped them across the Atlantic to be used for the final performance in the yard. I am interested in these inkwells as symbols of power, property, language and transaction, and a way to acknowledge my own Scottish heritage and it’s connections to the Caribbean. To create a map of Trinidad from the memories of shared experiences using these inkwells was a way for me to begin a conversation about this that I will continue on my return to Scotland.
Another element of my presentation was a collection of pinhole images I made during my walks around the city. I have been using pinhole photography in my work for a number of years now, mainly because I enjoy the process of deliberately slowing things down, and the way it forces a relinquishing of control.
In my initial research I came across the essay “Tropicalization” from Krista Thompson’s An Eye for the Tropics, which examines, among other things, the role that photography plays in the continued contestation of space in tropical regions, particularly in portraying a Eurocentric aesthetic for touristic consumption and perpetuating colonial ideas of the primitive. I was interested in the way this particular way of seeing continued in my own gaze and way of understanding the space. My own European, Scottish gaze is something I was very conscious of and examining it certainly affected my process enormously, almost to the point of paralysis. Pinhole photography offered me an interesting way of interrupting or examining this gaze, as it presents what could be described as a ‘double vision’ in that we are looking at an image that has just been made but gives us a sense of a distant past. I utilised this idea of double vision by presenting images that responded to the multifaceted ways of seeing I encountered when walking around Port of Spain and listening the many varied opinions and perceptions of the people I met. During one of the pinhole photography workshops I ran at Alice Yard I was lucky to meet photographer Dabura Muhammad, who was keen to experiment with multiple aperture pinhole cameras. Multiple apertures allowed me to begin capturing images that represented the kaleidoscopic view that was presented to me. I began making images that captured my experience of being both inside and outside, and seeing city through the apertures of breeze blocks and fences. This became a way to create a dialogue about the gaze and the way in which Trinidad is seen with a multitude of very different eyes, shaped by class, race, age, ethnicity, power, gender and religion.
A large volume of video and audio work was made resulting from walks with the different people I met thought Alice Yard. A particularly fruitful collaboration was with artist Luis Vasquez La Roche, who is a founding member of the art collective See You on Sunday. Together we created a sound work responding to a walk across the western peninsula of Trinidad, from Chaguaramas to Macqueripe via the old Tracking Station left behind after the cold war by US forces. The work explores geography, language and contested space as well as alluding to the kind of silences and questions brought about by the context of a transatlantic encounter. We submitted this work to play as part of Lights Out Listening Group – a sound art collective who meet bi-monthly in Glasgow, Scotland, and the piece was selected to included at their listening session at The Old Hairdressers in Glasgow the same night as my presentation at Alice Yard. These kind of transnational collaborations and platforms feel like a very important way of continuing the work I have started here in Trinidad, and we are currently investigating further platforms for showcasing collaborative work.
Beyond the work I presented at this showcase at Alice Yard, this residency has started the process for a much larger body of work and ongoing long term collaborations. I am excited to see what projects will emerge in the following months and what opportunities will arise for further transatlantic encounters.
I would like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to the community of artists surrounding Alice Yard who made my residency possible, who provoked and supported me and helped me navigate the complex space of Port of Spain. Alice Yard is remarkable in it’s spirit of generosity, which filters out wide beyond the island and the region. I hope this may be the first of many visits.
Thank you to Sean Leonard, Christopher Cozier, Nicholas Laughlin, Luis Vasquez La Roche, Celeste Walters, Jyotir Gittens, Dabura Muhammad, Nikolai Noel, Alex Kelly, Wasia Ward, Lena Jogie, Shaun Rambaran, Antawan Byrd, Tamara Tam-Cruickshank, Kriston Chen, Josh Lu, Nadia Huggins, Alicia Milne, Shanice Smith, Andre Bagoo, Kemble Lazarus and Richard Rawlins. A huge thanks finally to Annalee Davis and the British Council Caribbean.
About the programme:
I was was selected as part of the Transatlantic Artists’ Residency Exchange (TAARE) programme initiated by the British Council Caribbean working in collaboration with Delfina Foundation, Gasworks, Autograph ABP and Hospitalfield Arts; and Caribbean partners: NLS Kingston in Jamaica and Alice Yard in Trinidad. The aim of TAARE is to focus on artistic exchanges between UK, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. The residency is for visual artists, art critics and curators who want to make new transatlantic links, build on existing connections or to explore the further developments of their practice.