An Interview with TS Anna & Adri Schokker - Artists in Residence
Around the time when the Elan Valley residency opportunity came to our attention, we were conducting first experiments and conceptualising a new project we called The Forest. We were visiting forests and woodlands in the Netherlands and digitally capturing parts of trees and other vegetation that caught our attention. We were making use of different DIY 3D scanning techniques to capture the trees and plants and transform them in 3D models. From these experiments grew the main idea of our project - a combination of a digital archive and a virtual reality installation that lets the visitor virtually explore a patchwork of 3D scanned forests from around Netherlands and Europe (and in the future - around the world). Most of the time we did day trips to forests in the region around the city of Groningen to collect material for our archive, but we soon realised that in order to do it thoroughly it is important to be able to be in the nature for a longer period of time.
What drew you to the artist residency in the Elan Valley?
We were first drawn to the residency programme primarily because of the nature. We went on several Google Street View trips around the Elan Valley, as well as Rhayader. We explored as much as we were able to find online. We read and learned about the woodlands and the nature, and the art scene. On our online explorations we already encountered some people that we knew we would like to meet and talk to if we were selected. We didn't know where it could bring us, but we wanted to talk to people and engage with the community, which the residency call had focus on.
We were also very much drawn to the remoteness of the valley, and the isolation. It seemed like an ideal way to immerse in the nature, focus on what we see and hear and encounter, and not have many distractions.
All this made us think that us and Elan Valley would be a great fit.
Tell us about your project and how you’ve developed it.
When we came to Elan Valley we had three ideas we wanted to focus on. Firstly, we wanted to do more thorough and focused captures of nature and experiment with new techniques. Secondly, in order to get to know the area better we wanted to walk and talk with people that live and/or work in Elan Valley. Thirdly, we wanted to carry out a number of workshops for the younger and older generations and specifically interested people from around the area - to do some 3d scanning together and to give insight in the techniques we use. We had already discovered that the act of 3D scanning triggers one to observe a subject more closely and that it can be a playful way to learn new techniques and to explore the natural surroundings.
We divided the residency in two parts. First two weeks in September 2019 and second two weeks in December 2019. Our first part consisted of exploration of the Valley and walking and talking with different people that live and work in the area. When we arrived in Elan Valley and saw the landscape for the first in real (not Google Street View) we were overwhelmed by the vastness of the Valley. We literally didn't know were to start and everything was equally fascinating and beautiful. The stories and fascinations of the people we met became the starting point for the collecting of the materials. So we used the time that we had left scanning specific trees, lichens and plants we discovered during these walks. We ended the first part with workshop "Tree D Scanning" at the Elan Valley Visitors centre.
The second part in December was very rainy. Aside a couple of walks and workshop "Forest Creatures" at the Visitors Centre, we mostly worked at the Rhayader Gallery and Museum and prepared a two day exhibition with the help of Cath and Krysia. We wanted to show a series of works we created during our working period and a new version of the virtual reality installation. Part of the exhibition was a special evening with a live music and virtual reality performance that we developed in collaboration with musicians Harry Love and Toby Hay. Each visitor had the opportunity to explore the virtual forest while a personalised soundscape was performed based on what the visitor saw and experienced.
It was great to see how our research and activities came together in the exhibition and to hear and see the reactions of the people that came visiting the special evening and the exhibition days. A very inspiring and positive conclusion of our period in Elan Valley.
What’s been your favourite experience during the residency?
It is difficult to pick out one favourite experience, instead there are quite a few. What really inspired us were the walks and talks with different people working and living in the area. Meeting them and listening to their stories and passion for the valley gave us a lot of inspiration and opportunity to look at our project from different perspectives.
Living in the cottage halfway the hill without internet and mobile phone reception was at times challenging, but also gave us an experience nowadays very uncommon. The sense of isolation changed the experience of time and allowed us to shift focus more to the environment and surroundings.
The collaboration with Harry and Toby for us was also very refreshing. We had thought about collaborating with musicians or sound artists, but never had the time to actually make it happen. The live music added a more poetic and immersive layer to the installation. Aside that, it was also great to have Harry and Toby enthusiastically on a short notice jump into it and create great results.
What have you learnt about yourself/your work?
Back home we spent most of our time working in the studio. Even though our work demands working outside, we always had some resistance towards going out to a forest on a working day. Instead we would do most of the outdoor work and scanning on festivals we were invited to, weekends or other 'free' moments. In contrast, during our time at Elan Valley, we did lots of hiking - by ourselves and with others. This experience revealed us the value of being outside, walking, thinking and observing. It convinced us of the importance of this outdoors experience to our own artistic process and work. It is something we certainly take away from the residency.
Before applying to the residency, we read that there is a lot of rainfall in the valley. Still, the numbers and comparisons on paper (or screen) are very different from the actual experience of it. Much to our own surprise we learned to appreciate the rain, lots of rain. Sometimes it worked against us as we work with somewhat sensitive equipment.
Aside this, we also realised how dependent in our work we are on being online. Some of the software we use only works with an internet connection that proved to be a challenge at times.
How will your time in the Elan Valley influence your future work?
Being able to live and work in Elan Valley for a month gave us the opportunity to bring our project forward in several ways. Having the time, space and focus are all great benefits we are very appreciative for.
We applied with a hunch that talking to people and engaging with the local community will bring us results - yet we didn't know how this would work out. This position of knowing, but at the same time not knowing is something we became more certain about. Meeting people with knowledge about and passion for the valley has been very inspiring. For example, after having met Ray Woods, and seen the beauty and diversity of lichens in Elan Valley, some of our work in the future will certainly be around these fascinating organisms. During the residency we saw how new ideas evolved in dialogue with the people we met. We are currently starting to set groundwork for working with a community in a village not far from Groningen where we live. Our time in Elan Valley will certainly come along to this community we will be working with and the woodlands we will be working in.
Of course, the trees, plants, lichens and rocks that we scanned in Elan Valley are there to stay in our virtual archive and come along with us.
All this said, we would like to express our gratitude to Beth, Cath, Daniel, Dave, David, Eluned, Harry, Krysia, Jane, Jen, Jim, Paul, Peter, Ray, Richard, Sarah, Toby, Vic and all the others who we had the honor to meet.
To see more from our other artists in residence, see below: