A Glass Envelope was initiated by Svetlana Atlavina and Sally Stenton and set in motion through the active participation of 5 other artists; Pragya Bhargava, Sylwia Dylewska, Ean Nicole Konopnicki, Ceyda Oskay and Sarah Praill. Warm thanks to architect and designer, Alex Abadjieva who created and managed the website.
There is a strange and unexpected hole that can appear after an intense course of study in contemporary art. The risk of unbalancing increases with the current loss of physical proximity. What crafty devices can we use to propel the onward journey and prevent ourselves from falling? How can participatory, physical and tactile practices be re-encountered in the light of corporeal separation and digital mediation?
It was September 2019 when Sally Stenton embarked on a Masters in Research at the Royal College of Art. Svetlana Atlavina had just completed an MA at Cambridge School of Art and at that time it was Svetlana who was losing her foothold and Sally grabbed her hand and pulled gently to steady her. This year, as Sally completed her studies and the ground became more unstable, there was a need for proactive scenarios. Within 4 weeks they had envisioned and activated A Glass Envelope online artist residency, opening up to other people who might have a similar vertigo. The internet facilitated an immediate replication of something that would have taken a year to achieve as a physical residency. In contrast to this acceleration, qualities of slowness, quiet listening and receptivity populated the newly created virtual space.
A Glass Envelope (AGE) was a three week international residency. It sought to emulate, in a playful way, the space and conditions that make artist residencies conducive to art practice. In this acting out, it has reached beyond imitation of the conventional idea of a residency and found alternative ways to overcome blocks and traverse distances. A Glass Envelope spanned 12,448 km from India to Indiana via Turkey and the UK, with a time difference of 11.5 hours. Day and night occur simultaneously and our 2 dimensional screens feed live evidence of our multi-dimensional earth. We find connection through the collective creation of physical objects, the facilitation of parallel sensory experiences, movement of our bodies together and playful attempts to tunnel between our online cells.
Voices from Zoom might be like hearing people from a distance or behind walls, so near and yet so far. Whilst we grapple with the frustration of not being physically together, the breaks in internet connections and the competing demands of home and work, the residency has put in place gentle structures that have enabled powerful, supportive bonds to form. It has become a rich collaborative exchange that is continuing through a weekly session beyond the timeframe of the residency.
Words emerge and overlay on the digital whiteboard as we write simultaneously about the value of the residency:
collaborative exchange | physical evidence around our studios | gifting | a routine | prompts | structure | companionship | new experience | accountability | sensitivity | acceptance | the gift of time | use of space in different ways | recognition and validation | drawing meditation | framework and flexibility | safety | plurality | spooky action at a distance
Responses to A Glass Envelope
On the final day the participants in the residency met with two other artists (Aya Hastwell and Sandy Layton) to discuss the experience of the previous 3 weeks.
The following reflections were shared:
It opened up possibilities
Gave me a push – you can do more than you think
Excited to share with others
It feels like people have a similar perspective, but different enough that we can share new things
I was surprised at my ability to write for the blog
The residency set a special tone from the beginning.
I was surprised how quickly we created connection in this strange way through the screen
Not about judgement or outcome – if you make something that’s a bonus
Not about getting, more about giving
Doing meditation the same time as drawing the first time was stressful, but then not worrying about having to draw something – just making marks.
From the first day the connection was very easy to maintain with everyone.
Everyone was very excited.
We managed to share a lot of experience and we learnt new skills from each other.
Helped me develop a routine. Afternoon and night check-ins each day worked very well.
Setting out tasks for the day and knowing that someone would ask me about them again at night was incentive enough to work efficiently and get a lot done each day of the residency. Sharing practice, ideas and new techniques inspired new ways of working and thinking. I am now looking forward to feeding back the enriching learning experience, from the residency, into my practice and the workshops I do with children.
I was really happy to connect with a group of wonderful artists who were generous, kind, and creative.
I enjoyed our meetings, workshops, and exercises.
For logistical reasons, I couldn’t do the weavings, but there was already quite a lot to do with the group.
It was a great experience, and I’m really happy that we’re all keeping in touch and continuing to meet up! Will hopefully meet everyone in person one day!
The international aspect was significant, being on different sides of the planet and making art ‘together’ and inspiring each other.
Appreciated that we all made lots of effort in gifting ideas, sharing experience, critiquing.
The structure gave enough freedom to be part of the group and to develop my own practice.
I am now more open to innovative approaches, which start to show through my artwork
It emphasised the value of being patient and polite and accepting anyone without judgement.
The online residency had a particular importance during lockdown, but could also be a good model to use at other times.
A safe, supportive, generous environment - incredible, especially as it was online.
It eased me back into drawing as a thinking and experiential activity alongside walking and writing.
At the start of the residency I created a physical space that was conducive to my art practice.
I learnt a lot about myself - my blocks and possibilities. I was able to open up to the discomfort of this because of the positivity of the group.