This is a little last-minute, but the residency programme in Tokyo that I took part in at the start of this year is taking applications until September 10th. You can learn more and apply here: https://creatorikusei.jp/en/application-guide-for-overseas-creators/
It’s not particularly common for me to come out of a creative development experience feeling positive and ready to recommend it to others, as I’m kind of sensitive to institutional inequities and the cult-like insider-group bullshit that surrounds creative fields. But this residency was just brilliant. I don’t think it could have gone better. I can’t recommend it enough – especially to anyone whose work is a bit weird.
I used this residency to start work on a project I’m calling “interactive portraits”, interviewing transgender people and turning those interviews into abstract, lo-fi, short-form interactive dialogues made in Pico-8, an 8-bit platform which is developed in Tokyo. I don’t think I can overstate how enjoyable and fruitful this residency was for me. I went in with tempered goals and expectations, and came out with much more than I dared expect – 13 recorded interviews with transgender people, carried out in two different locations in Japan, and lots of useful lessons learned from interactions and dialogues with artists and curators I’d met in various settings. The folks running this residency put a lot of work into connecting me with useful contacts so that I could achieve the goals I set out in my project proposal. Whenever I had an idea of something I’d like to do or somebody I’d like to meet, they had a way to help me to get there. They provide plenty of cash for day-to-day expenses, and there was even a travel budget to get me out to Kansai and get a comparative look at trans communities in different parts of Japan.
This two-month residency for overseas artists is sort of an offshoot built from a larger, year-long residency associated with the annual Media Arts Festival. It is a slightly odd one to explain to people, because although you’re an artist-in-residence, you’re not resident in a publicly-visible institution as such – people kept asking me what university I was with, so I just said I was on a programme funded by the Ministry of Culture. However, the organisers provide accommodation and studio space in the centre of Tokyo, and also allow residents to make use of their permanent office in Ginza if you want to bring someone to a fancy space for a meeting or interview.
The advisors are all extremely impressive people whom it has been a real joy to know. They all have their own interests and specialisms, and each contribute something unique to the programme’s selection panel, critiques, and events. This is not necessarily a programme that involves close contact with an advisor, though I think it’s something that you might be able to get out of it if it’s important to you.
Based on my cohort, and conversations I had with a couple of people, this programme seemed to be particularly good for the following:
- Self-directed projects: This is not a program with a strict predetermined structure. Everyone set their own schedule and plans for the residency, and we were all very independent. There were only a handful of mandatory events – everything else was up to the artists’ desires and interests. The organisers sent along a lot of ideas and suggestions for outings and events though, and clearly put a lot of work into discovering and sharing things that might interest the artists – and when we had a specific request, they made all sorts of cool shit happen.
- Critically-engaging work: all three of the artists in my cohort were making something that comments on contemporary society in a way that challenges conservative cultural narratives. There wasn’t really anything that reinforced traditional ideas about national heritage, or that served a market-oriented notion of innovative design – so this is a rare resource in the broader institutional landscape.
- Specific connection to stuff happening in Tokyo: one of the staff involved in this programme told me that the panel were really looking for artists who had a clear reason why they wanted to come to Japan, and the application form seems to make that pretty clear. They don’t seem to want people who just want to experience Japan because it seems nice, there was a strong preference for projects that clearly needed to be done in Tokyo – specific names of institutions and artists to collaborate with, a plan for how to integrate the experiences in Japan into the final work, and a decent understanding of Japanese culture all seemed beneficial.
- Maybe artist-researchers? Obviously this isn’t part of the description for the programme, so I might be overreaching, but research-led work seemed to find a good home here. Two out of three of the people in my cohort were carrying out ethnographic interviews as part of our creation process. Perhaps a research plan is a good way of demonstrating why the residency in Tokyo benefits the project, and maybe it also shows a readiness to engage critically with the context.