Before I left, I was asked curiously by several friends and family - What is a residency?
I described the opportunity as a unique time and space to contemplate and respond creatively to a new and fresh environment. It would be an opportunity to revive, inspire and nurture my artistic goals that all too often becomes clouded and jaded with daily distractions. I was correct! Yet my residency at Sam Rit gave me the freedom to realise far more than just artistic outcomes.
I was fulfilled both artistically and holistically, and I know my husband Geoff who joined me made the very best of the location and time to enjoy his love of photography, reading and exploring, in a welcoming and unobtrusive environment. We thoroughly enjoyed immersing ourselves in this community, walking the streets, exploring unfamiliar paths, eating at the local family restaurants, visiting monuments, markets, temples and nearby archeological sites, riding the bikes, watching the kites flying, engaging in animated, gestural conversations with the locals and simply absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of an authentic Thai village.
The residency is a very friendly, relaxed and unpretentious, professionally run family enterprise. The Thai people are incredibly warm, optimistic and generous people and we experienced their hospitality from the moment we arrived. ‘Art’, the program coordinator, kindly picked us up from Bangkok where we headed off for a longer than usual 5 hour drive up-country (due to the very heavy holiday traffic) When we finally arrived, quite late, we were warmly welcomed by Lindsay and his wife On, who are the backbone of the Residency, who met us with a drink and we relaxed for a while. They introduced us to Program Facilitator Ek, and other members of the family. Nothing was too much trouble, and we felt very comfortable in our strange new surroundings! Due to good timing we also had the pleasure of meeting other members of the extended family who were in Thailand for the holidays during our stay. Together we had the most memorable evening, when we were officially welcomed to the village with a celebration of music, lots of food, drinks, local residents and traditional Thai dancing - we will never forget it!
During the residency I spent many productive days in the studio producing some often, unexpected outcomes! My interest and fascination for the Thai script prompted me to experiment with Calligraphy, which then resulted in me using these shapes as the inspiration behind a layered, collage artwork depicting my fourteen days in Sam Rit, using left over materials found in the studio space from previous resident artists. From these, I began to explore poetry and quotations.
This time to ‘play’ and follow threads of inspiration is the very heart of a residency objective.
Aside from drawing and sketching opportunities both locally and in nearby Phimai, I also found myself painting with watercolours on the river bank; Playing with T-shirt designs; Impromptu portrait drawing and I was encouraged to leave my mark with a ‘street art’ style artwork of Ek and Art on residency walls! I’ve returned with fresh ideas to pursue at home that include a childrens Thai/English counting book and complete some of the other illustrations I had started on.
One of the absolute highlights of our stay was the two mornings I spent at the local Sam Rit Village School. Elysha, who is an also an artist and the programs Operational Director, and Art helped to coordinate this prior to our arrival, so the children were very excited in anticipation of our visit!
It was quite an event visiting the school of about 150 students, and Art was instrumental in helping us communicate with the School Principal, staff and the gorgeous students we met at the school.
On the first morning I shared my children’s book, ‘Me & My Family Tree’, with a class of around eighteen 8 year old students. This was such a thrill! The children listened to Art attentively as he translated my book, but I think they were more excited to receive the activity booklets I had prepared for them. They were intrigued by the drawings I did on the blackboard of well-known Australian animals. Lots of photographs were taken recording our visit by both Geoff and myself, and the enthusiastic teachers. Geoff was a hit with the children on the sidelines, engaging them with technology, an ipad - something quite foreign to these children, and entertaining them with the apps! We returned the following morning to the classroom, this time to share a craft activity and also do some portrait drawing, lovely ‘Nui’ was my volunteer. Children around every corner entertained us with song and dance and big smiles! Leaving the school, my face, heart and soul were just bursting from such a rewarding experience! I would thoroughly recommend future residents to incorporate a visit to the school - it was such a delight!
The following day some children stopped on their way home from school at the residency gates to yell out, “Hello! See you tomorrow!” in English. Pure joy!
We were privileged to meet Emma Sedlak, who was also on residence during our time at Sam Rit. Emma holds a PhD and is a writer, poet, and actress. It was so lovely to spend quiet time in the air conditioned Studio working on our own projects, lunch in the courtyard, casual walks, bike rides and dinner at the end of the day at the local family restaurants, and our orientation outings and shopping trips.
I really enjoyed reading Emma’s beautiful words and observations of the residency, as they enhanced and informed my own experience. A valuable exchange of insights, as writing and journaling is also an important part of my arts practice.
Among the many lessons I learned, Sam Rit made me acutely aware of the verbal interactions, subtle body language, gestures and our innate desire to ‘connect’ with others despite communication and cultural barriers.
How very important it is to maintain a sense of humour; to be patient, kind, and to explore the world ferociously!
This is the type of baggage I wanted to take home, and as I prepared to leave the residency at the end of our stay I realised that rather than leaving Sam Rit, I didn’t want Sam Rit to leave me!