A residency that promises to recalibrate your practice

Gina Fairley

ArtsHub talks with artist Joan Ross about making art at Scotland’s Glenfiddich distillery, a unique residency that is up for grabs in 2018.
A residency that promises to recalibrate your practice

Photo Joan Ross; courtesy and © the artist

‘It was surreal; it was like you were transported to a different world,’ said artist Joan Ross of her experience being embedded in a whisky distillery in the remote town of Dufftown, Scotland.

Ross was the inaugural recipient of the Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Prize (2015), and after a year back in Sydney she told ArtsHub that she is still ‘recalibrating’.

‘I think it has really made me think about what I want to say in my work,’ she added.

The Residency came about as a way of pairing the maverick spirit of whisky making with the creative energy of artists. More than 100 artists have been through the program over the past 16-years.

Australian artist Stanislava Pinchuk (aka M-I-S-O) is currently in residence at Glenfiddich, and the company is calling for applications for next year’s resident.

Submissions for the 2017 Australian and New Zealand Artists in residence are now open.

Ross said the experience was ‘many, many things’, but one of the most lasting was the distillery itself. ‘I was there for four months. You could smell the whisky wafting off the ponds. That is what I miss the most, the smell.’

Ross said that she would often walk through the distillery at night to meet up with the other artists, and would see the grain trucks unloading and chat with the drivers about why they had often ‘dream catchers’ hanging in their cabs, but mostly just about the meaning of life.

‘There are so many little stories that are particular to this place.’ She continued: ‘It wasn’t getting dark until 11.30pm; the lightness was really surreal. I ended up getting very worried about the birds not getting any sleep.’

This “other-placeness” starts from the moment you arrive. She continued: ‘Immediately when you get there you have to wear hi-viz fluro.’ For those who know the work of Ross that might have been a seamless fit, but it was her Scottish heritage that drew her to the moors.

Ross works across drawing, painting, installation, photography, sculpture and video, and her often investigates the legacies of colonialism in Australia, particularly in regard to its effect on Indigenous Australians, punched that conversation into high volume with lashing of a hi-viz palette.

It seems Ross has always been ‘out of the box’. The artist who refused to do homework from the age of eight, Ross was comfortable slipping into the maverick spirit that sits core to Glenfiddich.

The Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Prize is currently open for applications and is inviting Australian artists to consider spending three-months in Scotland next year.

Photo Joan Ross; courtesy and © the artist

The right to roam

Ross said that she was intrigued with the Scottish Highland tradition of the ‘right to roam’. ‘You have the right to pass through someone’s property but not the right to sit down or light a fire,’ she explained.

The Land Reform legislation passed in 2003, allows all to enjoy Scotland’s countryside by passing over it, however, Ross said that, ‘it is essentially about pushing people off the land’ so they don’t settle.

It has some interesting correlations with Australia, and a history that Ross often probes in her work.  

‘I found the Scottish history so complex; I found it hard to land,’ said Ross. ‘The thing I really noticed is how that history seeped in in a different way. I let it go into my subconscious – I am still thinking and recalibrating what I saw.’

Ross said that she took about 20,000 photographs during her stay, and has been re-watching her videos since returning.  

‘I use the Australian landscape in my work and, to be honest, I am not sure how the Scottish landscape will come into the work – it may come more as a feeling than an absolute,’ she said.

‘For me it was a really natural connection. I was born in Glasgow. I felt absolutely at ease out there in the landscape,’ she said.

Want to make art in a whisky distillery? Click here

Dufftown Highland Games; Photo Joan Ross

Checklist for heading to Dufftown

Ross said that the best advice is to ‘just go and experience it’.

‘I don’t think a person needs to have an idea of what they will do, rather just be open to what appears and take up every opportunity. Explore the landscape, talk to the people … and go to the Isle of Skye – you have to go to Skye,’ she said.

‘And get a GPS…and don’t hesitate to hire a car,’ she added. Ross said that while some artists on residence ‘can’t help themselves making whisky things’, she felt that Glenfiddich was ‘very happy with whatever we did’.

‘Members of the Glenfiddich family have to go through the training program and some of them were staying there as well, so they become part of our people. It was a genuine interest in creativity,’ said Ross.

There were a lot of experiences that were purely “Scottish”. ‘I felt you had to be in free flow once you got there and go with everything that was offered you,’ said Ross, from attending the Highland Games in Dufftown, to weekly Scottish country dancing at the service club, heavy metal gigs in Aberdeen with kilt-wearing drummer and Residency Program Curator Andy Fairgrieve, to haggis and whisky tastings. 

‘I have a desire now to grab a friend and go back and travel coastline in a camper van.  Maybe what I am saying is that I haven’t finished – the Glenfiddich residency was just the start of something for me,’ she concluded.

While the distillery looks picturesque in winter, the 2017 Glenfiddich Artist Prize for an Australian artist will be offered in summer; image supplied

How to apply

The Residency Prize is valued at $21,000, which consists of travel costs, accommodation, a monthly per diem, and a materials allowance.

The residency is for a three-month period sometime between April and October 2018 - a period long enough to grow a connection with the landscape, and catch on to the accent. The program is also open for artists to extend that period.

The selected artist will have the opportunity to show their ‘in progress’ work or perform a project during the residency period.

Read the application guidelines.

Candidates will be shortlisted by jury consideration, with five finalists presented at Sydney Contemporary art fair in September.

The winning artist will be agreed upon by the Artists in Residence project manager / curator in conjunction with the Glenfiddich Australian Brand Manager. They will be notified by 18 September 2017.

Applications close 31 July 2017.

About the author

Gina Fairley covers the Visual Arts nationally for ArtsHub. Based in Sydney you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley and Instagram at fairleygina.