The idea of an artist residency sounds straightforward at first. It’s a place for an artist to create work without distractions. 

However, for visual artists Ailish Corbett and Carolina Gama, the process- distractions and all- was the point of the residency, rather than the final work. Corbett and Gama were artists-in-residence at the Cotton Factory over the summer, courtesy of a joint initiative between the creative space and the Hamilton Arts Council.

“In choosing these two artists for the residency, we recognized the importance of the process,” David Hudson, Community Engagement Officer of the Arts Council told the attentive crowd who gathered to hear Corbett and Gama speak in one of the final experiences of their residency. “In selecting artists, the Arts Council looked for artists who sought opportunities for growth and a willingness to continue the momentum following the residency.”

Their different styles and approaches were visible through the presentations that each gave on Wednesday, September 11. Corbett spoke of her original proposal to expand a series that she had started, but quickly found herself venturing into new materials and exploring ways of transforming everyday craft objects (such as googly eyes) into abstract works. The result was a conscious decision to move away from a traditional canvas- something the young artist hadn’t considered previously. Her evolution as an artist throughout the process was not one she could have predicted, she admitted to the audience before encouraging them to explore the sculptures she had left on display in the shared studio space.  

“Having this residency has changed my practice and changed my scale of work,” Corbett commented, recalling that before the residency, she frequently worked at her family’s kitchen table.  

For Gama’s residency, she sought an autobiographical approach. Medical treatments caused her to reflect on what it really meant to be a woman; and whether one could be a woman without some of the physical characteristics of the gender. As a result, Gama’s art aimed to be reflective of her personal grieving process for her body and experiences. Gama’s original proposal involved the creation of a “cloak of visibility,” which would culminate in a powerful photo shoot where she would remove the cloak, but still remain as a woman.

“But there’s an unexpected twist between plan and execution.” Gama told the audience, laughing. As she began the process, Gama recognized that the cloak was a much bigger project than she anticipated and sought assistance from friends and her fellow artists who enthusiastically supported her. While Gama still intends to finish the cloak, the garment now also represents community on her journey.  

For the Hamilton Arts Council, the residency program, which is offered throughout the year, provides more than just a much needed physical space for artists who may not otherwise be able to access a dedicated space. The residency also provides opportunities to connect artists to each other while providing them with a professional development experience that they will utilize for the rest of their careers.

“This residency isn’t about what is being created,” Hudson said. “It’s about ideas and process.”

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