There’s something intrinsically exciting about lonely islands, vast and shifting frigid green water and waves that break violently onto a long and desolate beach. It sounds romantic. The kind of setting where you might Start Again, Write a Novel or undertake intricate Experiments in Sound Art. (All the while wearing thick cable-knit sweaters, whittling bits of drift wood and gazing mysteriously into the sea…those who can, will probably grow a beard).
Perhaps it was this exact same scenario that inspired the folk of Fogo Island, off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada, to launch an artist residency that combines the allure of the natural environment with some truly awesome architecture. The Long Studio, the first of six, with its extraordinary vista was designed by architect Todd Saunders. (Just quickly: Todd Saunders was born in Canada, and is actually a Newfoundland native but his architecture practise is based in Norway, where he has lived since 1997.) Saunders has won over the glossies and eco-movement alike with his warm but minimalist approach to architecture that frames the landscape while maximising drama – the Fogo Island studio is no exception. (Other eye-catching Saunder projects include experiments with summer houses and this extraordinary highway look-out in Aurland, Norway.)
The Fogo Island Arts Residency – which is open to applicants all over the world – is part of a geotourism project that seeks to reinvigorate the local economy through the arts and the creative economies. Fogo’s community is traditionally dependent on fishing, but as fish stocks are depleting and the young migrate to urban centres for better and more varied employment opportunities, communities like Fogo are seeking to reinvent themselves – or at least diversify – to give them a more dynamic future. The geotourism initiative is the brain-child of local millionaire Zita Cobb; one of its results, the importation of an Icelander, Elísabet Gunnarsdóttir, who set up and is now Director of the Fogo Island Arts Corporation that aims to ‘give visibility to Fogo Island and Change Islands through the arts’. The charging of architect Saunder’s to build such a photogenic project means the island may well enjoy something of a ‘Bilbao effect’, albeit on a more human scale.
Coming on the heels of the residency, Saunder’s is also building the Fogo Island Inn scheduled to open in 2012. According to Gunnarsdóttir local tourism has already increased since the studios opened, but this is expected to amp up significantly with a the opening of a five-star hotel (facilities include an art gallery and cinema) and the resulting publicity.
As a newcomer to the island, Gunnarsdóttir has been won over by the landscape and people of Fogo Island. “This experience has made me humble; it has made me look more intensely for the essence of things. I have enjoyed three rounds of the islands’ various seasons and they are always different, you never know what to expect and the sunsets are the longest I have ever experienced.
The horizon is vast and the sky above your head is immense. Living among the local people and learning about their culture makes me understand that the more I look and listen the more there is to discover. This has taught me to believe in our future, this has made me want to encourage people in other places to do something similar. It has given me the freedom to take risks because it is a cause close to my heart.”
If these poetic words don’t inspire you to pen an application, nothing will! Gunnarsdóttir suggests that would-be artist applicants check out previous projects, such as the Sans Façon four-dimensional mapping project that explored traditional foods and the spatial knowledge of local fisherman and their understanding of the sea’s (unseen) topography (see link above for pics & project summary). Another project bought Quebec designer Elaine Fortin of Bipède and local craftspeople together to explore and create furniture inspired by the Fogo environment, such as driftwood, see her blog here.
In terms of selecting artists, Gunnarsdóttir says, “We seek to work with artists who identify with our mission, artists who have the humility in them to kneel down and listen, who share our commitment and wish to contribute to our critical objectives through experimenting and exploring new ground.”
To our mind this means artists with a proposal that will enrich everyone: the artist, but foremost, the island and its future in this world. Even if you’re more likely to visit as a tourist than an artist -in-residence, you should check out the blog of the ‘photographically inclined’ Montreal designer and previous participant Eric Demay. Photos taken during his residency got us all excited about the Fogo landscape. See ‘Morning view of the bay from my bedroom window’ and Climbing up Brimstone Head, a photoessay of Fogo’s small mountain.
Residences are three to six months long and are open to visual artists, designers, curators and filmmakers. Artists are accomodated in (renovated) traditional homes and have access to exhibition spaces, such as de-consecrated churches. To date four studios have been built, final two will open by June 2012. This year’s application deadline is (postmark) July 31, 2011. So, get cracking and apply here. Drift wood awaits you!