An Interview with Marcelo Sánchez-Camus - Artist in Residence
R.M. Sánchez-Camus, known as Marcelo, is a creative practitioner born in New York City to parents who emigrated from Chile. His research interests include audience interaction, public spectacle, social systems, the body politic and urban imagination. His arts practice include collaborative performance-making, psychogeographic explorations, installations and socially-engaged live events. Marcelo is the co-founder of Social Art Network UK and recently co-convened the Social Art Summit in Sheffield leading to the world’s first Social Art Biennial. He has extensive experience in arts & health with a focus on arts as a therapeutic intervention in the dying process. Recent partners include Tate Exchange, Site Gallery, Freedom Festival, Artangel and People United. Recent publications including the journal articles Righting On Social Practice, Defining Praxis in Social Engagement and the books Applied Live Art: Co-authorship in Socially Engaged Site-Responsive Performance Practice and a chapter in End of Life Care: A Guide for Therapists, Artists and Arts Therapists.
Marcelo is launching his project created from the Elan Links Artist Residency programme at the Festival of Nature and Wellness 26-28 July 2019. He spent 4 weeks living in Elan Valley in the Autumn and Winter of 2018.
What drew you to the artist residency in the Elan Valley?
Exploring a rural landscape from the perspective of socially engaged and site-responsive practice is something I have just begun developing in my work. Because I work with people and communities I’m often in more condensed geographic areas of population, where there are a lot of stakes claiming a place. Recently I purchased my first piece of real estate, 4 acres of ancient forest in a larger section of woodlands and have been really thinking about how to both respect nature and think of this as a long-term art project. So the possibility to have a residency living in a cottage off-grid and working in a specific nature reserve was a perfect way to bring all these interests together. I also love Wales, I do lots of cycle touring, walking and camping and have explored parts of the country before but was very much looking to find a way to build connections with the people here. I’m very self reliant and the idea of having a residency by my self where I could make connections with local residents but also spend time alone communing with nature seemed ideal.
Tell us about your project and how you’ve developed it.
The project that I’m bringing to completion soon is a kind of alternative companion guide to the valley. The book is 60 pages and is a cross between an art book, a walking guide, and a treasure hunt of sorts. My interest was to produce something that reflected the many stories that hang like mist in the valley, and find a creative way to bring ideas of history, migration, flora and fauna, and of course the engineering feat that both changed and preserved this huge area into one pocket sized book you could take with you on your day trips out exploring. The book is inspired partially by another short book The Vale of Nantgwilt: A Submerged Valley created by one of the dam engineers R. Eustace Tickell the late 1800’s. I searched for the spots he would have stood on to sketch the valley before the floods and did my own drawings from those locations. From this I was able to identify the changes in the landscape and impact of the reservoirs and protecting the site around them. I also spent lots of time meeting people, chatting to residents, Elan Trust and Welsh Water staff, hanging around with the Rangers and having casual conversations with the walkers and cyclists who pass through the valley. This was all material that inspired the stories that are in the book, and each story is developed for a specific location where I re-created one of Tickell’s drawings but as seen from today. One of the most meaningful conversations I had was with the landscape, I felt that this area was not only special in its beauty but had a specific energy about it that I wanted to describe as its own independent being. So there is a lot of anthropomorphism in the book. And following along the more esoteric lines I found a few ways to bring ideas of self-reflection, the magic of chance and numerology and even the tarot into the work. All of this really is and invitation to experience the book as an interactive work of art, one that helps fire your imagination while you’re out and about.
What’s been your favourite experience during the residency?
There are quite a few experiences that top the list so I’ll try to be brief! Getting to know the Red Kite has been magical, I feel a real kinship with this wild bird that's a kind of underdog, rising from near extinction. They are such majestic animals and to have so many around creates a unique atmosphere I’ve never seen anywhere. My daily walks up behind the cottage will also stay with my forever, the house is situated right on a perfect path to a very desolate spot where I never saw anyone else in my morning wanders to greet the sunrise. And Living off-grid was a lot of work, but I truly enjoyed it. The pace slows you down and keeps you focused on the basics of life: keeping dry, keeping warm, keeping clean. Its quite a chore the Rayburn as a housemate! Finally the most magical experience of all was to meet such dedicated and enthusiastic people who live and work for, in and around the valley. There is such love for the landscape and passion about the place, it was a real honour to be welcomed and made to feel at home. I also began to understand more deeply the beautiful pride in the country that the Welsh have, a powerful uninterrupted history with a unique and strong culture that's tangibly connected to the landscape.
What have you learnt about yourself/your work?
One of the most exciting gifts the residency has given me is the opportunity to take my practice and situate it within a rural landscape and develop new models for producing work. It allowed me time to draw and write poetically and exercise a part of my brain that I often share with others but don't nourish enough for myself. With the project I was able to learn a new way of doing both, which feels really important. I realise now that a true collaborative relationship nourishes both yourself and the other. So perhaps what I have learned is how to share with myself. This is real value of an artist residency where you can spend quality time being creative. The book is totally collaborative with loads of co-authored elements yet is very much my own art book. So somehow I have begun to find an interesting method of working through my social practice.
How will your time in the Elan Valley influence your future work?
Having a published book with poetic text will definitely inspire me to bring this kind of writing into future projects more. The last few years my writing had moved into a more theoretical and academic place, but now I feel ready to shift gears, or at least bring this creative part back to the forefront. So in terms of how I view myself as an artist and my output this has been a really special time. I also have this woodlands that I want to treat as a large collaborative work of art where I invite artists to respond to nature and create work in collaboration with the forest. I see this as a growing body of work, a piece that may take the next 20 years to complete. Because I work in process based creative way, there often isn’t on object left to display or a commodity. For this project I am leaving this book which will be sold at the Visitor Centre and at Carad (at printing cost). This was important to me to make something that was accessible yet special. Moving into the future I can see the real value of the art object that you can afford to buy and have, there is something special about that ownership and sharing. It has really been powerful to have this experience of the residency and to be so near completing this special book for the valley. I hope there are many more books to come in the future!
Don't forget, that the second round of artists' residencies are open until the 22nd March. Find out how to apply here.