The V&A's Residency Programme
When we opened the Sackler Centre for Arts Education in 2008 we wanted to really re-focus the learning programme onto Creative Design and in our minds there was a really strong triangular relationship between the museum and its expertise and collections here, the visitors here and then creative practitioners here and that was one of the reasons why we wanted very much to have residency studios as part of the centre, because that is a way of ensuring that creative practice is absolutely central to the programmes that we run.
Each resident stays with us for six months. We try to co-ordinate them so that there is a pair or residents who get to know one another and perhaps feed from each other a bit in terms of their practice and their interactions
It sounded like an amazing opportunity, and one that doesn’t come along a lot for writers, I think I am the first non-visual artist they have had here, and they had wanted to branch out into poetry. Just automatically being here makes me feel that I want to get something great done.
Bettina von Zwehl:
One of our residency proposals was to make a body of work which was inspired by the collection so basically the new work which you see on this wall and that wall is inspired by the miniature paintings here in the galleries.
In working intensively with the collections for six months they get to know the curators, they can look behind the scenes, they can do things in detail that you couldn’t do just as a visitor to the museum.
Bettina von Zwehl:
What we see as visitors coming to the museum is really just the tip of the iceberg so I’m seeing what’s underneath now, which is unbelievable.
It’s a slightly unusual programme in that having an artist in a learning space is a bit different from having them in a gallery per se.
The purpose of this was that they would engage with the public and there would be an element of participation in the work that they did.
We’ve been really sort of surprised and delighted at the ways that the residents have informed the programmes and a lot of them have come up with new types of events that we wouldn’t have thought of so it has been really enriching.
It’s very important that the museum isn’t just a repository for objects in that old-fashioned custodian sort of way, but that art and design lives, it’s a living, breathing thing.
People will come in and sometimes they are not even here to see me, they are here to see the photography, and they’ll stop off and they’ll say ‘I don’t know anything about poetry, tell me something about poetry’ and it’s made me reconsider how I think about my work because I have had to talk about it in a different way to a non-specialist audience.
Another great thing about this residency is that there are two practitioners next door to each other working in very different mediums. I’m a poet and Bettina next door is a photographer.
Bettina von Zwehl:
I call it Sophia, this project. Nothing really changes except maybe our relationship because we started as strangers, but already nine weeks into the project we are not strangers anymore.
You can be your natural self, you don’t have to put on an act. Just be yourself, get on with it. This programme has brought out the creative side in me. Sometimes you put things on the shelf and after starting this project I am taking some things that I have put on the shelf back off the shelf and letting my creative side come out.
Bettina von Zwehl:
I definitely have settled in yea, I can’t actually imagine leaving, that is the problem. I have connected with so many parts of the museum and so many people, I just really feel part of it.
The great thing about this programme is that because the artist is actually based here there is a sort of unity between the work they are actually making themselves which is often linked and influenced by the collections we have here at the museum. That work is also connected to the workshops that they give to specific groups.
Bettina von Zwehl:
Part of my job is to engage with diverse audiences so I have been involved in a workshop with autistic children, I have done a workshop for partially sighted visitors at the museum and I’m going to run it together with a partially sighted photographer
In a way it’s taking away the mystique of actually what it means to be an artist.
I am working in kind of conceptual projects usually. Rather than writing a poem here, a poem there, there is usually a thread running through the poems, which is to do with the initial concept that I want to explore. My initial proposals were to do with specific collections and there were specific objects that I wanted to work with but once I got here I became increasingly interested in the structure of the museum so I’m not really working with any specific collections anymore. I am responding organically to the idea of the museum as a whole and I am trying to recreate the museum in the form of little poems.
Very few members of the public have easy access to artists, so I think that the public can really learn about where the artists get their inspiration and the process that the artists go through to produce the work.
There are some changes that have taken place over the three years, of course. We didn’t really know how it was going to work out when we started and one of the great joys of it really is that there are a lot of unexpected outcomes. Two of which I can think of: a half-term activity with Jo Lawrence who was a digital resident, and the families who participated in it really enjoyed it - she made a little animation film with them which was wonderful.
The second one I can think of particularly was a Friday Late on a Chinese theme, which involved Jianhua Lao from Shanghai who is a product designer. He did a most wonderful activity with little paper boats and we discovered that adults really enjoyed this kind of thing. It’s the sort of thing that we might have done with families or schools, but there were queues and queues of adults.
There have been some really exciting moments with the public events that the artists have led. One of the most recent events that stood out for me is a very recent event that we ran with the fashion designer-in-residence, Juliana Sissons. She created a really fantastic collection of eight pieces of knitwear that was inspired by the medieval armour and we presented them in a show that was attended by I think about 1200 people. We worked with Mary Butcher who is a contemporary basket maker, and not a basket maker in the sense that anybody would expect. She did a series of drop in workshops that really engaged unusual audience that we didn’t really expect. I think her work really repositioned the way that basket making might be seen by some of our audiences.
The Digital Design artist Christian Kerrigan who is here for six months working with the digital programmes, we did a fantastic installation as part of the Decode weekend. He had done a digital film which was connected to the collections and visitors had to put on their 3D glasses and engage. It was really popular with the visitors.
I think it is really fun and it is particularly engaging for young people and children and families to work with an artist and to be learning not through a formal learning process that you might find in a school, but through a creative process.
As much as we look at the artist from a research perspective, we also offer them the chance to meet with curators and access different collections across different specialisms.
Phoebe is the second artist-in-residence to be working in this new studio in the ceramics galleries. What has been very exciting for us is to have the opportunity within these new galleries to actually have practical work taking place.
It’s a very different environment to be in a public space actually making things. Normally you are making the work on your own and people only see it at the end, so for me it was really interesting to have that contact. It was a unique opportunity to have that connection in a way.
From a curatorial perspective it’s very interesting because its avant-garde; it’s quite outside the normal way of working in a way that would be quite difficult to do with a static collection of objects.
It’s become clear that in order to get maximum benefit in a way it makes a lot of sense to try and link the residencies to the major exhibitions, so for example we have an exhibition called ‘The Power of Making’ and we’ve got a collective coming in to be the residents during that exhibition.
I think the most exciting thing has been meeting actual makers who are at the peak of their powers lets just say. They are here because they are pushing boundaries in terms of their own practice, and having the residency here is a way for them to develop and push further.
Everybody is creative in one way or another and we hope that our visitors will go away and try to develop that further.
I suppose my approach is quite organic, and I just try to go with the surprises and roll with it, and let the people that I meet and the objects that I encounter here guide the project, so I am trying to be open to the surprises.
The innovative Museum Residency Programme at the V&A gives designers, writers, makers, musicians and artists of all kinds the opportunity to have a studio in the museum for six months.
This film looks at the V&A's Residency Programme following a 'day in the life' of current artists - Poetry Resident Sophie Robinson and Photography Resident Bettina von Zwehl. Key V&A staff give an insight into the programme and what it has achieved since it began in 2008.