It has been exactly two weeks since I arrived at the Rensing Center for a seven-week long residency. I came from Chicago, where I had been working around the clock to finish work from my last studio residency in preparation for a show, and then moving the entire contents of my apartment into a storage unit so that I can be a nomadic residency-hopper for the next several months. It was an incredibly frazzled and exhausting last few weeks in Chicago, and arriving in South Carolina with its wide open skies and vast expanses of green was truly a breath of fresh air, in both a literal and metaphorical sense.
At a lookout in Table Rock State Park, one of my first stops in the area.
Ellen made me feel immediately at home in the newly remodeled Rensing Center apartment and studio. I am thrilled with the work space, having not had a personal studio since last August, and never having had one with a view anywhere close to this! I love working at the huge table with the garage door wide open, listening to the birds and crickets. I was happy to be able to make some improvements to the space as part of my work exchange, doing some house painting and creating a new countertop for the kitchen. I also became fast friends with Bob the cat, who spends most of his time napping on my bed.
The exquisite view from my studio.
The last couple of weeks have offered an array of experiences different to my usual city life. Watching oats being milled, moonshine being distilled and blacksmiths at work at the historic Hagood Mill, all to the soundtrack of bluegrass music, was both sweetly charming and strangely surreal in its closeness to stereotypes of the South that I had always thought must surely be exaggerated. Getting dirty in the Rensing garden, squashing bugs that were attacking the vegetables, and pulling out a row of garlic at Dick Baird's farm down the road in exchange for a huge haul of organic veggies and greens, have been welcome first-time experiences for this city-girl.
Bluegrass musicians at the Hagood Mill
My creative process has been different here too. I'm currently working on finishing a stop-motion animation made from relief and silkscreen prints created at my last residency, but my mind is also full of ideas for the next project I will be working on here, inspired specifically by the surrounding landscape, and the tradition of Appalachian murder ballads. The waterfall is my favorite place to contemplate, although at times I feel my mind goes into overdrive and I need to retreat back the the studio to process the swirl of thoughts. On my first day, Ellen spoke to me about "breathing in and breathing out", that as artists we tend to do a hell of a lot of breathing out but sometimes forget to breathe in. This has really resonated with me, and I've been consciously trying to absorb as much of the environment as possible, whether that be through visits to the Pickens flea market, discussions with other residents and Rensing family at the Sunday night dinners at Ellen's house, or simply savoring the taste of a blackberry plucked from the bush right outside my door. I've yet to fully figure out how these experiences will filter down into my work, or 'be exhaled' so to speak, but I can certainly say that my lungs are full!
Stimulating conversation and delicious dinner with the whole Rensing crew, in Ellen's wonderful home.
- Ali Aschman