For ten days in July, Nottingham Trent University’s Fine Art studios and workshops host The Summer Lodge. The Lodge started as a means for busy academic staff to reclaim the experience of experimenting with their own practices without constraints or distractions during the vacation. More than a decade later, it has evolved, providing a collective space for thirty invited artists to undertake experiments, pursue new ideas and allow unexpected leaps of imagination.
There is a strong emphasis on a relaxed social/community environment with regular potluck meals (in fact, the Lodge starts with a shared meal), activities and opportunities for new dialogues and critical exchange. There is also a significant emphasis on research. The first week concludes with a symposium addressing a different topic every year, comprising presentations from a range of invited speakers from international academics to undergraduate students, followed by a panel discussion and participation from the audience. The 2018 Lodge provocation was ‘Autotelic/Toward Play‘ exploring ideas around playfulness and experimentation within artistic practices. We explored parallels between the immersion and absorption young children experience in their play, combined with reflection on our motivations when making work and on achieving a balance between working towards resolution whilst simultaneously leaving things open.
My starting point for the residency was examining the influence science has on the cosmetic dream of youthful and transformed skin – I had planned to make some simple salves (incidentally, the university workshop staff couldn’t have been more helpful and encouraging about my experiments). It’s interesting that the freedom to simply play, with no expectation that you need to make or show anything can result in considerable creative results. Making fairly effective salves is remarkably easy – I had a whole range produced after a couple of days and this actually became secondary to curiosity about the application and transformative effects.
Conversations with other participants prompted me to explore the mythology and plant lore in greater detail – the idea that our faith in the modern science behind cosmetics might be influenced by much older cultural paradigms. I researched and collected wild herbs from the local graveyard and botanical gardens and explored how I might harness their (purported) powers into my range of salves. Lodge members were also surprisingly enthusiastic about trying out some of my concoctions, although we learnt (the hard way) that some of the active ingredients like turmeric aren’t that pleasant on skin … The realisation that I needed a stand-in for real skin led to other surfaces that could be palpated and transformed resulting in some training on a sewing machine, which I had never tried before (alarming!).
Aside from being really enjoyable, the residency had a lasting impact on my practice, both in terms of my willingness to play more within my processes of making and also the range of materials I engage with. Certainly my interest in utilising ‘real’ and living materials in my sculptural and installation work started during the Lodge experience and some of the pieces I made and ideas I entertained during that ten day period continue to morph and evolve today.