Nathalie AnglŤs and Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria were interviewed by Verina Gfader with Beryl Graham at Eyebeam, New York, in summer 2008. Nathalie AnglŤs and Sebastien Sanz Santamaria are the founders of Residency Unlimited, a new not-for-profit organization that fosters artist residency initiatives by partnering with other organizations in New York and beyond. Previously, Nathalie was the director of the international residency program at Location One, a program which she built in 2001 and managed until 2009; Sebastien was the coordinator from 2004 to 2009.
Verina Gfader: There are four main issues I would like to address. The first is about the role of open source in relation to the residencies at Location One, and modes of alternative production versus corporate software. I am interested in your particular approach to open source and its potential as part of art practices.
Nathalie AnglŤs: Sebastien and I work hand in hand within the context of Location Oneís residency programme. Iíll give you a little history before going into this question about open source. Location One was founded by Claire Montgomery in 1999, and I joined the organisation in 2000 to create an international residency programme which over the course of eight years has become the central programme. Another key partner who joined the organisation at the start is Drazen Pantic, who is an open source expert and implementer; he was one of the founders of Radio B92 under Slobodan Miloöevic, which was, at the time, the only effective voice of opposition to the regime, and he created their Internet section. So his expertise in open source is really very important. Thus the open source direction has always been ingrained in the organisation. In terms of the residency programme, there are 15Ė18 resident artists each year from abroad, and in the past two years we have begun to invite local New York artists as well, which is important to create this mix. The specificity of the programme is that itís very customised in terms of the personalised support we give to each artist, which is both technical and project-based as well as network-based in terms of the people they are going to meet. The artists donít necessarily all meet the same people; it depends on their practice. We try to be as attentive as possible to their specific needs.
Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria: In terms of the physical support that we provide it breaks into two groups: one is just simply the development of the artistsí work during the residency, and the other is the opportunity to learn to use new tools, tools that they arenít used to using but are interested in. For example, we had a Japanese artist a couple of years ago who essentially is a large format metal sculptor and, obviously, our studios donít really allow that work. So she jumped into video, filming, editing and learned how to use a camera, how to capture and edit video, and then through that process got into stop animation, and created an installation. The whole learning process was reflected in that. We like the artists to get into technology. On the open source side, at this stage itís really more like an eye-opener, because a lot of the time a resident will come and they have their own tools, their own way of doing things, especially when itís media based. They are used to using Photoshop, they are used to using proprietary corporate software that they have paid for, and they are used to the process of using these tools. When we present them with the open source alternative itís sort of like an eye-opener, ĎOh my God, this is actually free?!í For example, GIMP [GNU Image Manipulation Program], which does the same as Photoshop. Itís sort of like ĎWow! I've been troubling myself with these ways of doing it when there is actually another way, that maybe isn't as easy but is much more accessible.í
NA: Many artists who come in the programme are not so familiar with open source. Some are, but a lot of them happen not to be, so this is one of the directions that we would encourage.
SSS: Thus a door opens where the finding of solutions becomes more evident. I say that because open source is obviously not as developed as proprietary software. It has done really well in the past two years, but still, for example, editing video in Linux is probably not as pleasant as using Apple software. So these hurdles that come with the open source cause a desire to find solutions. Especially when the artists have an idea and donít know how exactly to get to that idea, then we look at all the possibilities. Technically, for each artist we provide a studio with a computer that has an operating systemóready to do media work on. Up until now we have been using Macs with Apple software, and right now, during the summer, Iím looking for an operating system that would direct itself towards the manipulation of media. I found Ubuntu, which comes with image editing, video editing and sound editing software. Currently, I am testing it with our cameras to see if they work.
It is very interesting that with the residents who arenít really aware of open source, a sense of community comes up. And thatís really enriching for them as an experience. For example, when the camera doesnít work, when you canít plug it in, there is this resource of people who explain their experiences on the Internet, so itís about finding a solution and sharing that experience with others. And through that exposure it then also reflects a little bit in their experience at Location One, among the other artists.
NA: As an example, Geka Heinke, a painter, was interested in 3D animation, and learned how it worked in order to be able to integrate it in her pictorial practice.
SSS: I gave her an introduction to Blender, which is a 3D program.
NA: Exactly. Geka realised how complex this program was, but she also realised that she would benefit from a certain level of autonomy by learning it. I am not sure whether she did continue after the residency ended. But here is a typical case: an artist who wasnít working with Ďnew mediaí or new technology and became exposed to it at Location One. On the other hand, we have residents who are very familiar with all of this technology.
SSS: Sometimes these artists also help the others through their experience.
VG: Talking about how open source affects the communities and the practice itselfóhow does it affect your curatorial practice, your residency programme, the whole economy about new technology and its incorporation in your programme?
NA: When Location One first opened, the focus on new technology was very important. Since then the discourse has evolved, but some people tend to think of Location One simply as a Ďdigitalí institution, which we are not. We define ourselves more generally as a platform for convergence between all of these different disciplines including technology. And the term new media has evolved tremendously between eight years ago and today.
SSS: Itís now just media.
NA: I mean itís multiple media oriented and itís about raising awareness. Our role is to try and foster relationships between artists and create situations, but you never know what is going to happen until you are actually in the moment, and the people are there in front of you.
VG: So you see that as a really open mode?
NA: Itís a process. Itís a completely open mode and often artists will arrive with a very specific idea, and then when they are here their initial intentions change completely. In fact it is best when an artist does not have a specific idea because it creates a more enriching experience, rather than having this very focused idea about what they want to do when coming to New York. Itís not just about making a project. Itís also about experiencing the context. All of this is very dependent on personalities. But you never really know in advance whatís going to happen. The curatorial process is very fluid. As a Ďcultural producerí the Ďcurating aspectí consists of following the artists closely in the development of what they want to do. So the word Ďcurationí for me encompasses all of these other elements. Itís an ongoing process.
SSS: In terms of open source on the technical side, I see it more of a tool, more of a facilitating thing than an actual motivating factor. It also depends on the artist, and it depends on how far they get into it. When I think of open source it does not necessarily mean just software thatís free. For example, the Internet, in a way, is a huge open source. I do encourage the artists to really get into that as well, because thatís how they find answers. So I see it more as a facilitating object, and then whether it influences or not depends on the particular artist.
VG: Letís go back a bit to the selecting process in curating. You say that one of the focuses is that the work develops during the residency, but what are the criteria of selecting, and is there a desire to incorporate alternative practices?
NA: As far as the selection process is concerned, we have international artists on the one hand and the local New York-based artists on the other. On an administrative level the international artists are supported by various institutions abroad, ranging from foundations to governmental organisations, with which Location One has created partnerships. These partners pre-select three to five candidates, and out of this pool of artists Location One makes the final selection with a panel made up of staff and outside curators. Itís important for us to select the Ďfinalistí because we are going to be working together. Thatís one thing that defines the selection process. As far as the New York-based artists are concerned, we extend an invitation to artists of our choice. There is also the factor of creating a balance between the different finalists in terms of gender, practice, etc. Reading an application often conveys a sense of the artistís personality, and we do try and create a mix. But all of this is very abstract during the selection process. And some mixes are more successful than others, but once again, there are personality factors that are not predictable. I think that answers your question. You asked if there are any specific criteria; there really are not.
VG: I am quite interested in how over the years the institution has developed, how the scale of the institution has expanded and your experience as well. How do you see this accumulation of content, of experiences and of complexity?
NA: You mean that the residency programme began with only a few artists and grew into a larger programme?
VG: Yes. And the size of the organisation.
NA: Location One is to a certain degree like a production centre, because all the work thatís shown comes out of the studios. Everything is focused towards the residency. And then everything that comes out of the studios is shown in the exhibition space. It has expanded in terms of numbers. A few more staff members, many more resident artists, but on the whole we continue to operate as a very small organisation. We started with three artists, residents, now we have 15Ė18 per year. So weíve grown but the organisation has maintained its personalised relationship with each artist.
SSS: In the earlier days, participating artists were more technically orientated but in the last few years they have opened up to all media.
NA: The other change is the inclusion of mid-career and established artists. There are now three categories of resident artists: senior artists, international fellows and emerging artists. In 2008 we invited Martha Rosler to create a specific installation, which she would not have done in a commercial environment. Next year [in 2009] the senior artist in residence is going to be Laurie Anderson. The first international fellow is Jane Philbrick. Jane is also a Fellow at MIT and has a significant international exhibition track record. These more established artists will interact with the emerging artists. This is all new but we feel that it is important to generate interaction between all of these artists at different stages of their careeróin both directions.
SSS: Sometimes itís just a metaphor; itís like cooking, throwing in ingredients and seeing what comes out of that.
Beryl Graham: I have a question in relation to your cooking metaphor. You talked about open source in relation to production, but I was wondering whether it might also apply to exhibition or other curatorial practices or artistic practices. Is the recipe made open by the curators?
NA: Not really, we have worked with a few curators from the outside. This is something that I would like very much to encourage, namely more curatorial input from the outside. I am hoping this will happen soon.
SSS: It does occur in the Ďcurating of the curatingí, almost, in a sense, because Nathalie does an amazing job of connecting artists with the New York art scene. Thatís actually the other huge part of the residency programme. It exposes the artists to the New York art scene, and so curators, art critics and directors of other institutions come and visit. In this sense, there is curatorial input from the outside.
NA: You are right. And thatís a huge part of what we do, creating these network opportunities for the artists. We organise studio visits but we also invite people from the outside to come and talk about their activities. And here, the informal format is something that in our opinion works best. Studio visits are fine, but when you get people to meet over lunch and to talk as peers, it makes a difference. Our guests are mainly New York-based art professionals and people who are passing through the city. Thatís very much part of the way we work. It is an effective format. Itís not just about bringing people in to look at the work; it is also about dialogue. We also make it clear to the residents when they arrive that it is important to balance work and play. You can get easily engulfed in the New York scene, the number of events, etc.
We emphasise at the beginning that this is Ďoneí experience, but that itís part of an ongoing process. When the residency ends the relationship doesnít end. Thatís very important also for the artist to know. If the artist wishes to pursue the relationshipósome may choose not toówe continue to be a resource. Itís about dialogue. I really like working that way, and the most satisfying relationshipsófor me at leastóare the ones where this dialogue continues.
VG: You say that one of your focuses is dialogue, and the conversations and exchanges between the artists, and between you and the artists. In what way is this visible to the public, or where does it remain obscured, opaque?
NA: We have public discussions, for example. Next week I am going to be talking with Shin Jean, our current resident, itís going to be a public programme. She is going to talk about her installation, but thatís not really what you are thinking about.
VG: Iím enquiring about your methodology. To what degree do you make it visible, to what degree does it reveal itself?
NA: Itís transmitted through the artists. There is nothing to hide. People know me, people know Sebastien, people know how we work. The artists will then transmit their experience at Location One, whether itís good or bad. But as far as transmitting the methodology to the public, itís probably transmitted in different ways.
SSS: There is the website as a site of documentation. But it really is reflected more in the experience, as Nathalie says, in what the artists go through, and what she does with that here.
NA: And maybe the artists wonít realise it until six months later after theyíve left. Itís such a personal, subjective experience in each case. There are tons of things I am sure I donít know about, Iíll never know about.
SSS: The residency section of the website reflects a lot more in terms of the experience, and that in a certain way is very satisfying. When an artist comes out of Location One and has learned things and also has been confronted and exposed to a lot of elements, this is important. In terms of physical trace, we do have our interview series, where we pair up a curator and art critic, or anyoneósometimes itís another artistówith the resident. And they have a conversation that then is online. And that bears the fruit of making these connections between people to get the most interesting result out of their encounter.
NA: The way that I work could be very different from the way someone else works. I have a very personal way of working that might not suit other people. Itís about exchange and dialogue, and itís not just about providing a space for an artist who is going to come through. Because a lot of residencies are more administrative, itís more bureaucratic perhaps. I mean we really invest ourselves personally in each artist.
VG: As far as the curatorial process is concerned, what are the difficulties with this kind of investment?
NA: In a way it would be easier just to be less involved. It could be more like a factory.
SSS: Well itís about communication and information and being aware of what the artist is going through; I donít think itís just about work.
NA: And also defining a direction that the artist might not have been thinking about, right there and then. But that kind of work is the most interesting part of this job, and that is part of the curatorial input.
SSS: For example, when artists come for the first time I give them a handbook and direct them to go and see other places. I give them the Ďnonsense NYCí mailing list, a listing of underground events, which maybe they wonít like, maybe they willóthere might be a crazy event or performance happening in the streets on Saturday night or something like that. Thatís also a little bit of curating, exposing them to different things.
NA: We had a French artist, Vincent Lamouroux, who wanted to photograph rollercoasters; and this is in the middle of the winter when all rollercoaster sites are closed. So we found a guy in the Midwest, who had his private rollercoaster set up on his property, and Vincent met the guy. That kind of support requires an investment on our part. But thatís part of how I see my role as cultural producer.
SSS: I am responsible for the documentation and archiving, and itís quite nice to see there is a lot of room for evolution and development. Some people, for example, come and visit and ask about the residency programme, they have this notion that we have a reputation as a more new media and technology base, and they often compare us to Eyebeam or Harvestworks. And, well, weíve started up like this, but now itís become more open on that level and we cater for everything. The website is more classical in the way itís set up, there is not much web 2.0 or social networking capability. I donít see this as a bad thing, I see it as an opportunity, not only for us, the people who maintain Location One, but also for the artists. They can jump in if they want to.
NA: The dialogue is always possible.
VG: How does the focus on exchange and social transaction inform your work as director of the programme?
NA: You mean is there a hierarchy in the way that we work?
VG: Within the institution.
NA: I built this programme so I have always had a lot of autonomy, and the founder of the organisation is ultimately the one to give the green light to all of what we do. We work very much transversally. We donít plan very much in advance, which has its advantages and its disadvantages. This is because we are very process oriented, and it informs the way that we work, so if we have an interesting idea that we can implement, there is room for that. And among ourselves, we work in a very transversal way.
SSS: Everyone has their own particular skills that are essential to making everything run. This runs from networking but itís also physical. Itís the knowledge that everyone has. A lot of times if I donít have a solution, technicallyóand this ranges from a bug in a computer to where to find something in the Bronxóweíll talk about it, with Hank Stahler, for example, our installation manager, who knows the city really well, and also with Drazen, who is amazing on the computer operating system level.
VG: I am interested in this notion of production, this crossover of studio, exhibition, and, informed by new technologies, lab situation. How do you consider the final exhibition, or the final outcome of the residency? What is left after an artist leaves? (a document? a record of exhibition? a record of the talks?) Is the document more important?
NA: Thatís a good question. Until now each artist in residency has the possibility to present the work realised during the residency in the gallery spaces. Rashaad Newsome just did a performance in the performance gallery. Jean Shin did a three-tiered installation in the main gallery. Rob Kennedy decided to present his work by inviting another artist, Peter Rose, who is an underground film-maker, and their intervention was about the impact of language on image, on media. The exhibition format is just one format and not always the most successful one. What if there were no exhibitions at all? We are thinking about that. Everyone who has come through this programme wanted some form of materialisation, and whether or not it adds to the residency experience I donít know. And the term Ďfailureí is a term that does not really apply since a residency is a moment when the artist can experiment.
SSS: We have been also testing different exhibition formulas, group shows of all the residents together in the main space, smaller solo shows in the project space, seasonal shows. Weíve done big group shows and then Nathalie presented two artists at a time and at shorter intervals. When we pair the artists there is a choice we make. And maybe next year there will be another formula that we will try to implement.
NA: The open studio format, like at ISCP (International Studio and Curatorial Program) is a good format, but it doesnít work at Location One because the studios are very small, in the basement, and we canít have an uninterrupted flow of people coming in and out. Location One has the advantage of its gallery spaces. It would be interesting to create more discussions in addition to the exhibition format.
VG: You are also running online residencies in parallel to the other residency programme Ö
NA: Yes, the virtual residency programme is a new direction that Heather Wagner is developing as online curator. It consists of an open call, three artists who were selected and who are collaborating together. And we absolutely donít know what the final result is going to be. That very much exemplifies a way we work.
VG: Itís probably an interesting experiment to see those two types of residencies. Are they mutually exclusive or not? How do they operate in relation to each other, in parallel? What is their relationship?
NA: The online residency is happening during the summer when all the residents have left. But then thereíll be a manifestation of the virtual residency in the fall, when the new residents arrive and occupy the studios. Thereíll be an overlap at this level.
SSS: When the residents are out in September and there is a virtual residency programme, maybe some of them, who arenít used to it, will want to use these other possibilities of expression and will then want to jump into it. Thatís where I come in and say: ĎOk, here is what you can do, these are the possibilities.í And thatís one of the really important things.