by Alexandra Crosby and Alex Davies
We had the privilege to be FoAM's first family in residence, and we certainly hope we are not the last. From the onset, we were very interested in the possibilities of intergenerational art residencies. Both of us have been involved in a number of artist in residency programs over the last ten years, Alex as an artist, and Ali as a facilitator. While the number of these programs is growing, the model of how they function remains remarkably unchanged. Whether based on social engagement or productive seclusion, they are usually still designed as opportunities for individual artists, rather than integrating existing social relationships into the art making process. There are a number of reasons for this stagnation, but mostly, artist in residency programs are built on the myths surrounding the individual and secluded (usually male) genius artist. Even residencies based on social engagement are usually based on one artist engaging with a community. In fact, artists in residence depart and return to their families and communities as fathers, husbands, girlfriends, sisters, cultural activists, educators, and social advocates. Some artists in residence can be found isolated in studios making ‘art for art’s sake’, but most artists' work also includes important activities that get slipped in spontaneously between formal requirements of programs. These activities nourish much more than individual careers.
Artists today are expected to be increasingly mobile, wherever they are from. Critics, audiences (and many artists themselves) valorize the nomadic condition and the necessity of displacement that has become so deeply embedded in our ideas of artistic success (Kwon 2000, p. 33). It also means that for those people for whom it is more difficult to travel, (those with disabilities, the aged, and yes… you guessed it… mothers of children) such artistic success becomes less achievable. Also, for many artists, the idea of family is incompatible with creative pursuits for other reasons. They may feel that during our lives, there is time for play and experimentation, and once you have the responsibility of children, that time for play is over. That it is time to ‘settle down.’
As most residencies are not geared for families, they generally results in more time apart, more juggling of different interests, and more anxiety over uncertain and impermanent living conditions. How can the idea of the artist in residence be interpreted and extended, for example, to include the needs of families? From the moment you announce pregnancy (particularly the first), there is advice from websites, doctors, friends, books, grandparents, distant relatives, and strangers in the street. One of the expectations is that once you are a family, you will become a kind of closed social unit. For example, although we (Alex and Ali) have almost always lived with groups of people (in share houses, communties etc.), we felt that, as a new family this would perhaps no longer be a possibility. Of course, on one side, new parents need privacy to work out what they are doing, and, on the other, very few people would want to be around a crying newborn who is not their own. But there are also a lot of reasons this does not make much sense. The exclusive ideology of the nuclear family in concert with an aging population has lead to, for many developed societies, the simultaneous crises in both elderly care and childcare. Surely, other social structures are possible where people do not feel isolated and both the responsibilities and joys of children are shared.
The residency at FoAM has allowed us to temporarily continue our itinerant lifestyle and extend our stay in Europe. It has meant that all three of us have had the opportunity to experience life as a family in multiple cultural settings. It has shown (even through a very short experiment) that as parents, we can also maintain our identities as creative people. we can share our son with others. and that we can still be part of multiple families and communities.
We hope that the concept of a family in residence has the potential to bring more warmth and flexibility into arts communities. What FoAM already does with food (makes it an art form, but not by making it exclusive, rather by opening it up to all its paths and processes) it could also do with family.
In this context, we hope that parents can feel supported and also feel free to find their own paths, to counter the consumerism associated with parenting, and to reject the notion that becoming a parent is a step outside of creative communities of adults.
Given the above context, we wanted to work on a project that redefined the chore of putting a baby to sleep as a creative challenge. The problem was that baby Luka (probably as do most newborns) needed help getting to sleep. Our little family moved to FoAM from Linz, Austria on the train in November, 2009. The major discovery on this long trip was that (then 3 week old) Luka loved to sleep to the sound and rhythm of a moving train.The aim of this project became to simulate a train to lull him to sleep.
As the FoAM studios are so large, we felt we needed to have him sleeping close to us in order to hear him in case of emergency. Needed to be controlled from a laptop so that normal activity could be continued while baby was sleeping. Without being experts, we had to be totally confident that the device was safe and there was no chance of Shaken Baby Syndrome. For ecological and financial reasons, we wanted to use mostly salvaged materials. Alex wanted to integrate his current artistic interests in mechanically enhanced illusions .
Driven from motor below the seat. (see documentation) Second prototype
Second Hand Maxi Cosi car capsule (2.5 euros, Salvation Army Store) disassembled plastic flower posy (found on the street) bungee chords (found in FoAM studios Solution/Results A prototype of the robotic au pair (Robaupair) has been completed. (see documentation: diagram, photographs, video)
One of the unfortunate ironies of this project was that we could not bring the robaupair back to Australia with us. Friends and family have given us a range of devices to soothe the baby, but they are all inferior. Time to build another one! The other issue is that as the foundation component is a baby seat for 0-6 month olds, the robaupair is not a long term solution to baby sleep. We have other ideas for helpful robotic devices. One that would be tremendously useful at FoAM would be a robotic composter.