Studio artist Justin Balmain, in residence with us until late October 2021, answered to our questions and gave us some insight into what is a digital residency.
Throughout the next month, you are undertaking a digital residency at PICA from your home in Melbourne. How does this compare with your other residency experiences?
It differs for me significantly. Residencies for myself have always been about carving out some time and space to focus, think, maybe create work, depending on the agenda of the organisation or where I am at with my practice. They are an invaluable means to step outside of ones established, or even perceived, methodology, and disrupt the pattern that can form with the day-to-day, week-to-week, studio flow. And obviously the networks not being as freely or as intuitively available; everything is much more planned in terms of online meetings and arranging whom to bring into the residency. In a ‘physical’ residency (seems so odd to even read that term) there is a lot of discovery and happenstance depending on who is around, the shows that are on, people that you meet peripheral to the residency itself.
During the monotony of lockdown, and without access to my Gertrude Contemporary studio, having the PICA online residency has been an invaluable means to open up my studio and practice a little, start bringing others into the work. For me just that forces a critical component to what I am wanting to discuss and show people, and I myself can start to then step outside the work and look at it more objectively.
What is your studio set up at the moment? How does it influence your making process?
I really find it hard to seperate home-life from working-life. I’m with my family, homeschooling, and I love to cook and there is always cleaning, so it’s hard to just sideline these responsibilities whilst at home. I work from a tiny little room with a narrow desk, a laptop and my video equipment. It is small and not ideal, but I make do with what is available and try to be in here when I can. Its mostly frustrating in that when I move from one activity to another I have to totally pack up. I do these little watercolours whenever I can or am bored or can’t proceed with anything else, and obviously watercolours and computers and cameras aren’t compatible, so it gets packed up all the time. I try and do these watercolours with my 6-year old son Otto, and that is really fun and inspiring, its special to tap into that innocent way of making work that children have and I maybe forget working in the studio project to project.
Can you tell us about some of the projects you’ve been concocting?
I’ve been developing scripts, which I started last year for this current project, 3-Days without Light, and am also starting to write a feature-length video/film. I got part-way through some production this year between lockdowns, so right now I am working through some technical issues around that (I screwed up audio and video frame rates so am manually syncing), and doing some preliminary edits during the PICA residency. I have been working with professional actors and crew, so I try and connect with everyone here-and-there to keep momentum, and have been reaching out to others who I want to bring into the project when we open up here in Melbourne. There is another project I am researching on insomnia, which is just at an initial stage, so just reading and taking notes around that. There is a DIY skatepark in my area and I go down and document that, more because it’s there and it gives me something to do, but there appears to be a narrative coming together around the community the space has spontaneously generated, so maybe that becomes something in the future.
The opening of your exhibition at Gertrude Glasshouse in Collingwood, Melbourne, has been postponed due to lockdown. Can you reveal to us some of what audiences can expect to experience when it opens?
My show has been installed for nearly 2-months now and one or two people have seen the totality of it. There is an LED lightbox work installed outside of the gallery, which is illuminated 24-hours, and this has been viewable all through this current lockdown. Within Gertrude Glasshouse is an architectural intervention titled All Structures are as One: Potent, Adaptable, Removable. The work takes Sibling Architecture’s 2016 Glasshouse design and inverts it by placing the fluorescent lighting system on the ground. This grid system is characteristic of the architecture of the gallery, and the lighting structure sits as a topological footprint of the space. The idea was that the gallery starts to take on a sculptural capacity through this intervention, and that the encounter would bring these practical components of the gallery that are often less visible, directly into view.
On Tuesday 5 October, from the comfort of your own home, you’ll be holding a virtual open studio. During the live virtual studio, audiences, both local and international, will be able to hear, see and talk with you about what you’ve been working on. Can you share some hints with us?
I want this to be everything people dream an online presentation can be, and more. It won’t be, but dreams are still important.
Image: Justin Balmain, Black Mirror working (still), 2019.