september 20, 2018
oristá, barcelona, spain
Ava: Are you a cat or a dog?
Odette: I really want to be a dog but I’m a cat. I wish I was a dog.
Ava: Yeah, I think I’m definitely a cat but oftentimes wish I were a dog.
Odette: Why is that?
Ava: The unbridled exuberance. I feel exuberance but it’s usually kept very under wraps, or I don’t know how to express it. I just feel like dogs are extroverted. That seems nice. Sometimes.
Odette: I think they seem happier than cats.
Ava: They definitely seem pretty much always happy, unless there’s something physically wrong.
Odette: I feel like cats get a bad rap, as well. I know that I must be a cat because I just—I’m not a dog—but I feel like cats somehow… well, no. Loads of people love cats.
Ava: But you have to be a cat person to love cats. I feel like I can relate to cats just in the way that a cat sitting on a windowsill in the sun watching the world is so content. I can relate to that.
Odette: Yeah, and I think they’re independent in a way that dogs are not, and that’s also a plus.
Ava: Yeah. I relate to that too, for sure.
Odette: I know roughly what you’ve been working on, but tell me what you’ve been working on. If it’s easier you can just tell me about today, because sometimes the question’s just too big.
Ava: Well, I can definitely tell you what I’ve been doing this week. I came here without any specific ideas in mind, but it’s also coincided with this book I started reading, Women Who Run With The Wolves, which has brought up a lot of questions for me. I decided to start with questions, just answering questions in writing. The questions that I chose were kind of pertinent to themes I’ve been interested in lately, which are memory and intuition. I feel like the past however many years I’ve been existing with my mind feeling like it’s ten feet above my body at all times and not feeling very in my body. So, I’ve been thinking about returning to the body, and I think that has to do with memory and intuition. Like, feeling those things more so through the body. And I answered questions about other themes, like technology, which I’m always struggling with, and social media. I was answering these questions, and coming up with more questions, and I developed all this writing. I’ve been sorting through that and trying to make sense of it and trying to find connections and put it together into a cohesive thing. I’ve narrowed it down this week into working mostly with memory and intuition and how those things have been so influenced by smart phones. That’s mostly what I’ve been thinking about. I could see it taking a final form as a publication. I don’t know, I can’t really imagine having just text to talk about these ideas, or just visuals, so I want to have the two together. So, yeah. That’s the answer.
Odette: Ok. Can I ask a follow-up? I feel like this relationship between being a creative person and doing art and writing things are much more freeform than what the world gives people credit for. It’s really easy to pigeonhole people into like, oh, you’re a photographer, but you also do this. How do you feel about pigeonholing?
Ava: It’s definitely something I struggle with, and writing is something I’ve only seriously introduced into my practice in the past year. It’s always something I’ve done but I’ve never really thought of it in connection with other parts of what I do. When someone asks me what I do, I have the hardest time even saying "I am an artist." I struggle getting to that point. And then the follow-up question is always like, oh, what kind of art do you make? Or worse: oh, what do you paint?! I feel like I’m constantly introducing new media and new elements into my practice, and it’s hard to make it all feel cohesive. I think it’s easier to explain to other artists because I feel like we’re all dealing with it in some way or another. But I’ve just found that my different ideas just take different forms, so I have to let that happen the way that it wants to happen. I have a hard time with follow through, coming up with final outcomes, final work. I guess I had a very small exhibition of paintings about a year ago or so, but I really haven’t had a formal exhibition since my thesis show for undergraduate work. I’m not super concerned about exhibiting constantly, but I don’t know—I don’t really like looking at my CV.
Odette: I feel that the pressure is external. You probably take it on from outside. And really, the pressure is from people who don’t understand and want to have a nice easy answer that they can understand. You shouldn’t really need to give them one.
Ava: Yeah, the world likes to categorize and label things. That leaves me wanting to fit things into categories and labels. And then I don’t even end up finishing anything, because I start thinking about that too much, and I get confused about where and how to present the work.
Ava: First, tell me about your creative work. What would you consider to be your creative practice? What does that encompass? What do you currently have in progress, or what have you recently finished?
Odette: I haven’t finished anything for ages.
Ava: Which is fine!
Odette: Yeah, like a really long time. I finished a story last year. I don’t know if you ever have that thing where you start something and you finish it—like, the idea comes, you do it, and you finish it and it’s not really that hard to finish so it feels kind of cheap. That was a short story and it was in a weird form, it was a first-person narrative, almost a monologue, actually. I tried to get it placed in a few publications and nobody wanted it, because I think it was just slightly weird. It broke that rule of like, don’t just tell the story. At the moment I’m working on this project I’m doing with my sister. She is interested in soundtracks and so she made a soundtrack and gave me the premise of somebody escaping their life and then regretting the escape and then going back. She wants me to write 2000 words to accompany the soundtrack—like, she’s my editor now—and I’ve gone way over and I’m trying to bring it back. It was difficult because I really struggled to find a plot.
Ava: Yeah, that’s very interesting. I feel like just trying to find the reason to come back would be the challenge.
Odette: It’s turned into quite a bleak affair.
Ava: That’s ok. The world is bleak right now! But also not so bleak, in so many ways.
Odette: I don’t know how you feel about it. I feel the world is bleak in so many ways, and there is some kind of responsibility on us as artists and writers to show people that it can be unbleak, too.
Ava: Yeah, to bring joy to the world.
Odette: Yeah, totally. That sounds really trite, but—
Ava: I feel like I’m moving beyond cynicism these days. Unabashedly, I think it’s ok to say that artists and writers can bring joy into the bleak world.
Odette: Yeah, I like that idea.
Ava: How long have you wanted to run a residency, and when was that idea originally planted?
Odette: That’s a really hard question. If I’m honest, I’m not even really sure. There’s this character in a story that I really identify with. She is this old babushka in The Snow Queen. I don’t know if you ever read that when you were a kid?
Ava: It sounds kind of familiar but I don’t think I’ve read it.
Odette: Yeah, so I had a tape, like, a cassette, of this story, and it had this soundtrack that I really liked, and I used to listen to it a lot. This girl ends up walking for a whole year to find her friend and one of the stops she makes is to this old babushka in Lapland, who is described as having this oily skin, she’s in the middle of nowhere. This woman brings her in, gives her food. She’s like, it’s ok, here’s a bit of nourishment to help you on your journey. And I’ve always been obsessed with that idea of being a stopping point. For a while I used to think that maybe Jim and I could have a cycle shack—even though I don’t ride a bike—where people who are on long bike rides could stop and put air in their tires. I don’t know. We found this building and I was like, this building needs to be an art studio. I had run some writing workshops and so it kind of—we put all this weird shit in a funnel and this came out. But it wasn’t like, how are we going to fulfill this dream of having a residency?
Ava: It all happened when you found a space that felt a certain way.
Odette: And actually, I still feel like it’s very much in the making. I had a really clear idea of how to bring it about, but I feel like we have the building, we have so many people coming through, but it still really isn’t what it could be. So, we’ll see what happens.
Ava: Yeah. There’s so much potential! It’s exciting—you have the space and it can change over time, in so many different ways.
Odette: I think the people that come through will make it.
Ava: The babushka story reminds me of all the stories I’ve been reading in Women Who Run With The Wolves. All of the folklore and folk tales that she uses to illustrate her theories and lessons. I just finished the book today.
Odette: Wow! Do you feel bereft?
Ava: It’s a lot to take in. Fortunately, I was highlighting on like, every other page, so there’s a lot to return to.
Ava: What connection do you see between residencies and hospitality? What is hospitality to you?
Odette: To me, hospitality is something that I would give to any stranger. The residency could easily exist with very little hospitality. The residency is about having time—you have this time and space from whatever else you would normally do, to just do your work, which is a very simple concept. Sometimes it helps to have somebody there to be like, if you need supplies I can get you supplies, here’s a space, and you can live upstairs, and all of that is kind of straightforward. It’s really difficult to put into words, actually. It’s a very clear relationship in my mind. If you need something from me, and you know that I want to give to you, you’re more likely to ask, and if you’re more likely to ask, you’re more likely to feel comfortable enough to just do whatever the fuck you need to do here to get shit done. It’s like if you feel like it’s a bit weird, or the atmosphere’s not good, then the work won’t happen. So for me, hospitality greases the sides, you know what I mean? So that everyone feels nice and comfortable and everyone knows they can basically do whatever they want, make a mess, and it doesn’t matter, so the work comes along easily. That’s how I think it happens. I could well be wrong.
Ava: I was asking because it’s been such a wonderful element of my time here. I feel like I’ve really noticed it. It’s like, when I fantasize about running a residency, it’s those personal touches and that high level of hospitality that are factors that I’m drawn to. But yeah, it’s been so nice. It’s felt like a very well-oiled time.
Odette: I’m so glad to hear that! I don’t know what it would’ve been like if I’d been like, if you need anything, I’ll be in there, and maybe I’ll see you tomorrow and maybe I won’t. It could be that you’d have done exactly the same work, but I mean, why take the risk?
Ava: Well, I didn’t really know quite what to expect beyond seeing the pictures online, and I thought the space looked really cool from the photos. But I didn’t know if you lived here, or if you had a partner, or what the staff situation was, so I guess I didn’t really know much going in. I feel like, if you had just been hiding in your little apartment the whole time, I would’ve just assumed, oh, ok, this is just what it is. But the hospitality has just been an extra cherry on top.
Odette: Good. I’m glad it didn’t make you feel weird.
Ava: No! Not at all.
Odette: Good! I’m so happy. It’s like, my dream to hear you say that.
Ava: When you talked about that story, about being the little point house for travelers or people going on their way, that’s all about hospitality.
Odette: Yeah. Sharing’s really nice.
Ava: Can you describe your favorite parts of your garden and how gardening informs your creative practice? Or just talk about what you get out of it.
Odette: On the right, by the wall—that was the first part of the garden that I dug. Last winter, my mum came over specifically to help me dig the last bit of that flower bed and it was a really lovely mother-daughter experience, especially as gardening is a female tradition in my family. It was a year ago, nearly exactly, because I remember my friend from home was here around that time. He’s kind of cynical. He was just like, nothing’s going to grow in there. I was like, yes it is! But deep down I thought nothing might grow there, because it had been under a building and it was really compacted. When the plants came up in the spring it was almost like this weird emotional moment of like, I can’t believe we’ve pulled this off. Not just the garden, but the whole thing. Somehow it was all tied into each other. You get to these points where—we were talking about it—stuff just seems really scary or undoable and you’re like, well, I’ve started now, so I’m just going to have to keep going, and if I fuck up, I’m just going to have to fuck up, because I’m too far in. And this place felt like that a lot of times. When the garden came up on that side, it felt like all the digging was not for nothing.
Ava: Things fell into place a little bit. It’s not all for nothing.
Odette: Yeah. And for gardening in general—being good at gardening is not difficult, and that’s why I like it. Because as long as you read, and take into account what you’ve read and then do it, you basically get results, and almost nothing else in life is like that.
Ava: Since I’ve been thinking about Googling questions and getting information—Google is amazing for gardening.
Odette: It is. It’s like a teacher. It’s so rare that anything works that way in life. You can Google “how can I be a good writer?” and never ever find the answer. But, how can I take a vine from something, and make a new plant? It’s like, oh, ok, you just do that. And then you do it and it works. I suppose it’s like respite from all the dull, hard things in life.
Ava: It’s such a nice part of the experience and part of the space. I’ll have to come back in a year or two and see how it’s progressed.
Odette: Yeah! You will. This behind you, this marble thing—this was a bar, this room.
Ava: Oh, I was wondering what this room was.
Odette: And that big piece of marble was the bar. So, when we have more money, which may not be soon, depending on how the teaching goes, we’re going to have a guy who lives in the village make some legs, so we can make the marble into a table and have huge dinners in the garden! So, you’ll have to come.
Ava: Wow, yes! I’ll buy one of the cheap flights.
Odette: Yeah. Norwegian does a good cheap flight.