Jennie Savage

Jennie Savage in Meduse

Jennie Savage - Méduse Report 2006


January to March 2006

Having read the other reports, submitted by the last 2 artists to go to Québec, I don’t think it is useful to repeat the descriptive information about the town and the weather etc. The only thing I could add to that was that I found a better swimming pool at the other end of Rue Saint Jean which was bigger and deeper, but busier that the holiday Inn pool. Also Fennel is really cheap and you can get it everywhere- this is a big plus for Québec in my book.

On returning home from Québec I have had a chance to reflect on my residency and still have no definitive way of summing up the experience. 3 months is a long time and within that period, doing anything, one will feel a variety of emotions, so to have that 3 months framed within the context of a residency, in a new place and outside of ones ‘normal’ life, these feelings are intensified and micro- exchanges become substantial events. This in itself is really interesting so, I am going to focus this report on the process I went through whilst making my project in Québec and the huge impact this has had on my practice and thinking. I have also submitted the dvd I made as this is very much a reflection on being in a foreign city.

Arriving in Québec city isn’t really shocking, culturally. Other than looking like a preserved French town it isn’t that different aesthetically or structurally, you know you are in "the West" and being there didn’t feel that unusual. The biggest difference was of course the weather- which I will come back to. Culturally therefore I approached being in Québec city in the same way that I approach being in Cardiff. I found a swimming pool joined a yoga group and started trying to get to know people. It wasn’t however until I had been in the city for several weeks that I got, not so much a culture shock, but a kind of dawning realisation that culturally I was falling down a huge chasm of difference, not in the obvious ways- but in ways which were profoundly subtle. So subtle that even now I couldn’t put my finger on what Québec was actually like. So perhaps the first thing that I learnt was that it is not possible to make any kind of statement about being in a new place without that statement turning into some kind of ham fisted generalistion. For example I could say. The whole time I was in Québec I didn’t really know anyone. In fact this is true, but it is also untrue because if I went back to Québec there are at least 10 or 15 people I could look up and they would know me, we would probably go out for a night and it would be fine. But actually knowing these people is totally different. There was a gulf or a distance, a superficiality or a depth, a lonliness or a community, that I could never break into or put my finger on. I could never work out if everybody lived in this state of isolation or if there was some kind of impenetrable close community that everyone was a part of and which shunned outsiders. It was these contradictions which interested me about my time there and there is no way to fathom an answer or suggest a reality because of course there isn’t one. I got the sense that Quebec was a misnomer- an odd ball place that it was neither one thing or another and which was isolated both geographically and culturally.

Within the context of my research it was just how it was and that became the work. I enjoyed being an outsider and having this perspective. In fact, when I stopped looking for signs of generosity or exchange as I would recognise them, suddenly I found that there was a generosity to this place, it was just expressed in ways that I would not notice ordinarily or see as signs of reciprocation. Once I began to be open to this huge difference I began to understand Québec and see that the process which constructed this place also expressed itself in human exchange. I imagined that the roots of this are in the fact that the space is huge, vast, massive, everywhere and civilised areas a more like pockets in a vast cloak of nothingness. The psychology is therefore embedded in space rather than closeness. This space must have been terrifying. I watched a film the other night called "the New World" and it was about the first settlers arriving in America. The struggle there was grim, survival of the fittest and really hard, I tried to imagine being in that situation in Québec in -30. The battle to survive. I belive this is absolutely intrinsic. Historically as well, without even going near the native Americans/ First settler debate there is the class struggle between English settlers and the repressed, French speaking Catholic settlers. The English had the cash and owned everything and the French did all the work, got sent out into the woods and then lived in appalling conditions, the language of the rich was English, the language of the poor French. Very black and white picture but, in fact this legacy remained until the 1960’s because up until that point the catholic Church was still in control politically in Québec. So, the relationship between the first settlers and my contemporaries is actually very strong and is only 1 generation away from a very different life. I realised, during my stay, that in someway all of these factors came into play in every single exchange I was engaged in. I don’t believe it was because of where I am from- that would be too easy, but that the culture, the language, the politics of that place, of any place, is fabricated out of these subtle nuances.

In effect this makes every place special and this was something really fundamental that I accepted during my stay. I also realised that no place is special. The paradox of travel I suppose is that or the grey area between the two, particularly in a paradigm of globalisation where there is a sameness even to the difference, that in preserving difference it becomes the same, falls foul of tourism and then becomes marketable and visible as signifier of ‘individuality’ that holy grail of consumerism.

I also realised that it is impossible to say something, a truth, about any place. As an outsider one can easily say this is like this, they were like that. But that is not true. It is too dogmatic. Though I accept there is a specialness to place I don’t think that this can be expressed in words, perhaps the specialness of a place can only be expressed as a topography, a collection of fragmented bits of knowledge which when placed together create a topography of documents of a place – a Psycho Topography. This is the grey bit in between saying something and saying nothing.

I guess this was the conclusion of my stay. However during the three months a –lot happened and I will describe that now. When I arrived in Québec I had just finished STAR Radio and in truth had no idea what I was going to do there. This was a bit terryfiying but also full of possibility and the most amazing opportunity to do something totally new. But what…..hmmmm what… oh and what? I really really struggled for the first month. I walked about a lot, then a bit more and read some books, then walked a bit more, then went swimming then walked a bit more and in between that did loads and loads of writing and drawing and diagrams. But I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. All the ideas seemed too constructed, lacked elegance and were just plain dull. A project in a library, out on the street go for a walk with me. Yawn. Meanwhile each morning I got up and made a 5 min still film looking out of my studio window, over the city. Each day I recorded reflections on the city, was mindful of how I felt, how I reacted to things and tried to describe my working process. I also started to build a catalogue of references between other places I had been and here, memories, notions, ideas. It took me about a month to work out how to play the dv film back onto the tv. Well of course. This was the most interesting thing I had done. Also this was a big revelation. To obsevere this process was really interesting. The thing you think is the thing, is never really the thing, the other thing is much more interesting and you only ever realise that in the bath. Well that is what I have noticed.

Being away from everything in Québec allowed me to put this process under a microscope and really think about that. It was a really slow subtle process but interesting to see in isolation, out of the context of the rest of the world. "Out in the world" came from all of the above. It was an attempt to collapse time into space, the inner world and the outer world, the inner space and the outside and also the relationship between being a voyeur on the world and being active in the world. Again this process was so slow and at times quite agonisingly so but also incredibly indulgent. You may have noticed from this report that this time for me, although hard work, was incredibly indulgent the most amazing opportunity to focus just on my work. Now I am back I can really feel the effect of this time. The thoughts and processes I developed in Québec have really taken my understanding and practice to a new level. I went to Quebec to try and find my voice in my process and try to work out how I fit into my work. Whilst I was there I feel as though I made huge steps to achieving this.

Working with Avatar

Avatar was the organisation in the cooperative that I choose to be placed within. They couldn’t have been more helpful and supportive of me and my work. Marie France was the office director and was an amazing facilitator. She helped with anything from sourcing wood to printing and writing the postcards. She was also an amazing help with the recording of the narration in French and patiently sat with me and helped me with my pronouciation. Meriol Lehmann was the technical facilitator at Avatar and working with him was the most fantastic way to learn. He taught me how to use several sound editing programmes and a bit of final cut pro and also about mastering the sound. He had boundless enthusiam and again was an amazing facilitator.

In Méduse

There were a lot of arts based projects and organisations based in Méduse and I got on well with Antonio and Cederick in the wood studio and also hung around a bit with Marie and Mathieu from Vu. I have to say, though, until my exhibiton, at the end of the project, nobody was really that interested in my work, and in fact nobody even asked to see my work, apart from some European artists coming to work in the Mois Multi. This was really strange. I am not really the sort of person to make a big fuss and am (like most people) quite shy, so would not have organised anything myself, (other than my endless weird dinner parties!) however I thought that quebec could really have got more out of me. I would have been happy to do some talks or studio visits with other artists or even just been toured about a bit and wheeled out at a few events, but sadly nobody really seemed that interested. This was a real shame as had something simple, like a talk or event, been organised when I arrived, It would have given me the chance to meet some people. As it was I made lots of contacts in the last week once I had shown the work. which was a bit late. I do think however this was out of politness on the part of Méduse and felt that they didn’t want to intrude on my time.

The Mois Multi

The Mois Multi was a festival of multi media work organised by Recto Verso. They very kindly gave me a pass for the month, which sorted out my social Life for February. There was a wide range of projects and all the artists presenting work came over. This was great as they were mainly staying with me in the building and I got to hang out with lots of people and made a very nice friend called Jens Brand- a German artist who was doing a live presentation and around for 2 weeks. It was great to meet Jens and we plan to do some work in the future or organise something.

The Weather

Very cold but great fun. My favourite thing about quebec was the cold. It was just so amazing and I loved walking around in it. It was very cold though! But not penetrating cold like in the uk, so a good coat and nice hat sorted you out. Ice skating was great.

By Jennie Savage

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