In mid-November, I traveled to Rotterdam for an artist residency at a project space called Upominki. Developed by Weronika Zielinska-Klein, Upominki (which means “gift” in Polish) is dedicated to the idea of hospitality – and so there were many threads connecting her founding ideas to my current project of Taking Care. During the weeklong residency, I spent 6 hours a day in the space, embroidering words of care from the letters that people have written to me for the project, sharing about acts of care that they have received. I so appreciated the opportunity to really focus on their words: often I was alone in the space (or with Funky the cat) and it felt like an equal exchange of sorts, really taking time to focus on the words and doing justice to their gift, their risk-taking in sharing an intimate story with me, by spending hours stitching them. I found that I could finish about 1 piece per day – which feels slow but also like a good rhythm.
One thing I learned from the time there is that this is how I would like the project to unfold, through dedicated times and spaces of stitching and listening. If I work on it at home, I want to be intentional about setting hours aside where I do only that. This isn’t the kind of project that I want to be fit in around other things. And it may unfold best if I continue to do short residencies of this sort. I don’t yet have an ending point in mind; it feels like the project will be ongoing.
Also while in Rotterdam I had the opportunity to meet with some groups of artists. One group, coordinated through Deirdre Donoghue’s m/other voices foundation, came to visit me on one of their “field trips,” where we talked about the Taking Care project in the context of my longer history of writing and making. On another afternoon, a group of graduate students from the Willem de Kooning Academie visited to ask questions about the project and to share about their own work. For some reason I was a little surprised by their engagement with the work, but then in thinking about my own students as well, I find it a reminder that we’re all seeking authentic human connections. Other artists and community members stopped by during the week, to visit or just to be in the space with me. One woman, a student from Spain, shared some of her poetry with me.
The culminating event at the end of the week was a performative reading of excerpts from my thesis, Dear friend. Weronika, Deirdre, and another artist, Barbara Philipp, joined me in the reading. It, too, offered a space of intimacy. Weronika made soup, the lighting was low, the space was cozy and warm, and we read my words from the correspondences across time.
I was so glad to be able to bring the family along for this experience as well. Both Deirdre and Weronika’s organizations are committed to supporting artists with families, and they were so welcoming to us. We stayed on a houseboat (a magical experience!) and we shared several meals together, of varied generations and nationalities. They made it feel like a home away from home, and I am grateful to them both.