This week we have part 1 of a fantastic 2-part insight into the process of applying to and undertaking an SGSAH artist-in-residence post during a PhD. A huge thank you to Catherine Weir for sharing her story and photographs with us. Part 2 will be posted next week.
Twelve months ago, weighed down by a heavy rucksack and my hair sprinkled with fine sawdust, I stumbled into the foyer of the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow for SGSAH’s first ‘Meet the Host’ event. I was in the midst of preparing for an important exhibition and, to be brutally honest, might not have attended had the event not been staged just down the road from Glasgow School of Art, where I study.
I was also not entirely convinced adding a residency or an internship to my already considerable and intimidating workload was a particularly good idea. Many PhD researchers, I am sure, will share my sense of chronophobia; and recognise the often-guilty feeling time not spent on research is wasted time. Our PhDs are short, and the prospect of taking weeks, or even months, away from them to go and work on an internship or residency can be incredibly daunting.
This is not to say I did not like the idea of doing a residency, quite the contrary. For professional artists, residencies are often an important way to make new work, gain new insights into a place or organisation, secure funding, develop networks; and see the world a little differently. Were it not for the weight of thousands of unwritten words pressing down on me, I would have jumped at the chance. With this in mind, I thought I at least owed it to myself to find out more about the opportunities on offer, and if they could fit with my art practice, before rejecting them out of hand.
So, with my own Jiminy Cricket whispering the importance of professional development in my ear, I made my way up the stairs, ditched my backpack, and made a beeline for the orange juice and canapés. Glass in hand; I began to survey the room, looking at all the different organisations and their proposed projects. Some, I had already ruled out because they lay too far outside my area of expertise, or the briefs were too narrow, but there were a few I knew wanted a closer look at: The Fruitmarket Gallery, Dundee Contemporary Arts, and the RSPB.
Of the three, the RSPB was the only one offering a residency as opposed to an internship, which made it particularly appealing because it offered greater scope for me to develop my own project. Meeting Kat and Fiona from the RSPB’s Glasgow office was a turning point, because it gave me an opportunity to ask them questions, talk through their needs and aspirations for the residency, and develop a greater understanding of the organisation than I could from the information online.
That night I left the concert hall with a little more spring in my step than when I arrived. I was beginning to have ideas, to see ways I could make a residency work for me: ways to not only further my professional development as an artist and researcher, but maybe even my PhD research as well. I still had doubts, but I was one step closer to applying than I had been when I first stumbled through the door.
Now, one year on, and just coming off the back of two important exhibitions in as many weeks, I still have a gnawing worry about making the most of my time, my backpack is heavier than ever, and I probably still have traces of sawdust in my hair. But I can also tell you doing this residency at this point in my PhD was a real boost to my research. I won’t lie: finding the balance between my needs as an artist and a researcher, the needs of the PhD research, and the needs of the host organisation was not always easy, and once or twice I did wonder if I had made a mistake in applying. I hadn’t.
 Chronophobia: fear of the passage of time.
Remember to come back next week for part 2, in which Catherine discusses in detail her experiences at the RSPB Mersehead site.
Catherine M. Weir is third-year PhD Candidate at the Glasgow School of Art. Her work combines elements of both photographic and digital arts practices, drawing heavily her previous studies at Gray’s School of Art (Aberdeen) and Goldsmiths College (London). Catherine’s practice-based research, funded by SGSAH, explores the evolving field of digital photographic practice, with a particular focus on developing works combining photographs with recorded and real-time data.
Contact Info and Web Links
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Blog posts: “Why are you here?” – http://www.cmweir.com/why-are-you-here/
Camera Obscura – http://www.cmweir.com/camera-obscura/
Egretta garzetta, or the little egret – http://www.cmweir.com/egretta-garzetta-or-the-little-egret/
Another Sky – http://www.cmweir.com/another-sky/