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Artists Residencies, MoKS Centre for Art and Social Practice
in Mooste, Estonia

30 September-15 October 2012

MoKS - Centre for Art and Social Practice, is a non-profit artist-run project space in Estonia, situated in the rural community of Mooste. The MoKS ‘guest studio’ was opened in 2001 as an organisation dedicated to local and international cooperation in the fields of arts and environmental research in the rural context of post-soviet Estonia. Apart from managing the residency programme, activities range from hosting an international art symposium to educational workshops for artists and culturally interested people, both locally and from all around the world. 

CABN offered an exciting opportunity for three Scottish Borders based practitioners of any art form to live and work at the MoKS in rural Estonia for two weeks. Full travel costs, accommodation and subsistence were provided whilst residents were required to cover any additional costs, such as art materials/equipment etc.

The three artists were:

Kate Foster – Environmental Artist

Jules Horne – Writer

James Wyness – Sound Artist

The key aims of the residency were:

  • to provide an inspiring opportunity for professional Borders based artists to develop new work
  • to engage with the MoKS centre and community
  • to explore any potential for future links or project development with MoKS 
  • to explore the model of the rurally based MoKS centre and it’s programme

It was appreciated that whilst two weeks is a short time to develop work, the residency had the potential to seed ideas for contacts and potential collaborations. Due to the rural location and nature of MoKS, applicants were expected to adapt to village life and share routine tasks such as cooking, shopping, stove lighting and accept reliance on local public transport.

The three residents presented an event on their return, sharing their experiences, and some new work, with the audiences. All three have maintained the connections with MoKS, and Kate and Jules have returned to MoKS, and Estonia, on several occasions.    

Reflections on the Residency:

Jules Horne – Writer “I’ve had time to write several draft vignettes for ‘The Book of Blood’, one performed as a reading at MoKS with one of the MoKS directors, who is a trained actor. Normally I don’t get to hear early-stage drafts in progress, and a sight-reading in front of an international group is very helpful for hearing how the story connects with an audience. I had the chance to read and discuss Estonian folk tales and song lyrics which have a strong resonance with the atmosphere of ‘Book of Blood’ and ballad/myth traditions, and fed into the world of the piece, eg drawing on Estonian geology for ‘The Man who Ate Stones’.

I wrote several ‘nanonovels’ (short-short stories) based directly on experiences in Estonia. This was a new departure inspired partly by seeing artist Kate Foster’s work, which responds quickly and directly to the found environment.  …Colour from the natural world around Mooste found its way into these stories, and I also took photos which I hope to experiment with further as a way of illustrating my fiction.

This residency has been exceptionally inspiring in unexpected ways. I have had the opportunity to produce some new work, find space to develop ongoing projects, and exchange with artists whose academic and cultural interests complement and challenge my own. I’ve been particularly inspired by the example of MoKS directors John and Evelyn, and their artist-led model in a remote rural community. This was a refreshing change from the usual top-down, centralised funding model we know here, and has made me aware of a personal tendency to accept and defer to urban models and a lack of confidence in my own abilities as an artist with a rural background. Hopefully their example has inspired change, and I will now seek opportunities that are more in line with my interests.

I had also lost touch with my international background and foreign language abilities, and felt this was frustratingly underused in my current practice and setting. This residency has reconnected me with a more global agenda, including my environmental interests, and suggested avenues to explore independently. The ‘art as social practice’ idea also ties in well with discussions I’ve had with Nutshell Theatre (who produced my plays ‘Allotment’ and ‘Thread’) about the politics of the performer-audience relationship and theatre spaces, and I feel more confident now about pursuing this direction.

… for creative work to emerge, you need a certain amount of creative and intellectual renewal and stimulus to ‘fill the well’. …As well as the obvious stimulus of being in a new country and culture, it has been helpful to meet others working in different art forms for cross-art inspiration, mutual exchange and potential collaboration.

It has been a massive privilege to go to MoKS and has helped me recontextualise what I do and progress more hopefully, as well as meet new people and make helpful contacts. I would highly recommend the residency experience to anyone who feels stuck in a rut, and wants to defog and strike out in a stronger direction. Siiri the centre manager played a huge part in making us feel welcome and kept a wonderfully tactful balance between practical support, and companionship and conversation that helped us get orientated in the Estonian culture.”

Kate Foster – Artist  “Broadly, my plan worked out. The combination of a large and warm studio with fieldwork within a rural community; contact with a cross-disciplinary arts group; an experimental exhibition space; a bicycle, and focused time led to great productivity. …Not understanding Estonian language was helpful in a way as it channelled my attention to visual cues. So, overall, it affirmed trends in my developing practice and allowed time for experimental drawing. This period also allowed me to understand the rural context of the Borders in a different light. Reading history and conversations with centre staff helped me to see the post-Soviet situation. The network around MoKS provided contacts eg with Tartu University zoological museum. All this was stimulating, but I realised a return visit with more preparatory work is important, to be able to use this opportunity to the full – so, that is what I am aiming for. A really good outcome in the shorter term was to develop working relationships with two other Borders artists across art-forms and this is leading to further projects in Scotland. I could not anticipate how fascinating Estonian land and culture are! The experience of being in land that is not farmed intensively - with huge reserves of wildlife – was eye-opening ecologically. The post-Soviet context was revealing and gave much to think about, as did the country’s accent on folklore and rural life…

…the opportunity, even expectation, of presenting work in Mooste and also in the Borders spurred production and pushed me into presenting a show of work in progress, where I showed seven pieces of work in different stages of completion (including a quiet public art intervention). … It gave confidence in my work but also gave me the ambition to extend and develop it. …confidence came from firstly being invited to take part in the residency and secondly finding that people in Estonia were interested in my work. It also helped immensely to have a protected period within which to produce work.

… The place of conversation and text had to be reviewed given language barriers and this was the first time I had shown work in a non-English speaking setting. This meant I pushed up the visual aspect and I think this will be a lasting legacy. …Having processed the work, I will make more specific plans for a return trip to southern Estonia with the target of an exhibition/public artwork. It was a fabulous opportunity and I am proud to have taken part in this. It was excellent to go as a group of three for the sake of exploring MoKS and Mooste and also continuing to develop ideas on our return.”

James Wyness – Sound Artist  I have returned to the Borders with in-depth knowledge of the initiation, running and development of a very successful arts research and experimentation centre in a rural area. By adapting and modifying the Estonian model I intend to work at starting up a similar initiative in the Borders.

In addition, I gathered raw material in the form of sound recordings which were used as the basis of an extended work shown recently (October 2012) at the Alchemy Film Festival in Hawick. I also began establishing strong links with traditional musicians in Estonia with a view to seeking performance opportunities for young musicians in the Borders.  It has made me realise that creating opportunities for younger and emerging artists such as residency programmes and seasonal extended workshop events will have a significant beneficial effect on my own career and practice. It has also taught me the benefits of showing leadership in one's chosen field. I am collaborating right now on putting together a 55 minute radio programme for 'Framework', based on equestrian culture in the Borders, which is directed by Patrick McGinley, one of the Estonian team. I will also be collaborating on workshop development with John Grzinich, technical director at MoKS, over the next year.

As part of my proposal I wanted to gather recordings from cottage textile machines. This I did and produced a large-scale multi-channel sound work for 'Loom' shown at the Alchemy Film Festival.  Overall, I created a series of twelve sound works of between 12 and 20 minutes each.”