I’ve never been an artist in residence before. What is a residency? The act of dwelling in a place. The title of my project proposal is A House By The Water, and I love that the word residency implies an address, an occupancy, a home. Dwelling is such a beautiful word. But what does it mean to dwell? One definition is to think moodily or anxiously about something. Well! I could be quite good at this.
I’m still moving into my new “residence.” I carried a second batch of supplies to the studio today: a camera tripod, a lamp, a digital projector, a webcam. So many wires and glass surfaces. I have a list of things to try. But mostly I’m drawn to the books and the kettle. I want to dwell.
What am I here to think about? How the way people inhabit this island has changed and continues to change. I could start by considering this spot I currently inhabit, a small room in a larger Rooms. The Rooms is a daunting architectural structure, dominating the cityscape from almost any angle. Soaring into the skyline of historic St. John’s, The Rooms combines twenty-first century technology with a striking visual reference to our past. Its unique design mirrors the “fishing rooms” where families came together to process their catch.
Like any city landmark, The Rooms accumulates nicknames. My favourite is The box the Basilica came in. From a distance, the building resembles the kind of house a child might draw: a square box with a trim triangular roof, one big door, one big window. All that’s missing is the chimney. I like how the facade over the entrance seems to play with this motif.
So I sit in this enormous house and think about enormous houses. When I imagine the way the visual landscape of the island is changing, they’re the first thing that comes to mind. We were hiking in Maddox Cove on the weekend, and there they were again: a cluster of huge new houses overlooking the water, looming incongruously over the smaller buildings below. Older homes in Newfoundland can be remarkably tiny, so low and humble it’s easy to imagine the island was once populated with hobbits. Then there are the modest saltboxes of St. John’s, and more suburban homes like the one I grew up in, a medium-sized split-level in Pasadena. There’s the new subdivision my parents live in now, full of houses slightly taller and wider than the older parts of town. And then there are the giants, which are mostly found wandering outside the city grid, jostling for position in a scuffle for the best view of the water.
They jut out, ostentate, occupy the horizon in a new way. They’re signs of prosperity and wealth, and as such, they’re easy to begrudge (or difficult, depending on which side of that equation you’re on). But perhaps that’s the laziest reaction. What interests me is how our collective landscape is changing. What does landscape mean, exactly? An expanse of scenery that can be seen in a single view, but also an extensive mental viewpoint. How do these structures reflect the new ways that we view and engage with the land? Surely these dwellings are worth dwelling on.