Rethinking residency with Pro Helvetia Johannesburg

In the Southern African region as in most other parts of the world, cultural events have been temporarily paused or reshaped in virtual formats. Likewise, our programme emerges from this moment of stasis as we work closely with partners and artists to plan, reconfigure and reschedule postponed projects.

In light of this moment, we find ourselves asking pertinent questions about what a residency is and can be in the current context. In dialogue with the other international offices of Pro Helvetia, we have developed a ‘Home Residency’ option for artists scheduled to go on residencies between April and July. While ‘staying at home’ is understood as a temporary condition, it prompts questions around the broader assumptions underpinning residencies. In the coming months, we will be listening, learning and considering the implications for how we think about and support residencies in the future.

In synchronicity with this, Cape Town-based artist Mitchell Gilbert Messina has created an irreverent video series out of a year-long ‘digital residency’ within our programme. In the 10-part series, which will be released weekly, he contemplates speculative residency models proposed by Swiss and regional artists from our network.

While outwardly things are on hold or progressing in slow motion, ideas and discussions around how to move forward are speeding up as we work together with our partners to fashion a new and enriched reality for international artistic exchange and collaboration post-COVID-19.

What a Residency Be? is a ten-episode video series on hypothetical residencies, how they could look and what they have the capacity to be. Created by Mitchell Gilbert Messina in collaboration with artists from Pro Helvetia Johannesburg’s programme, each weekly episode takes a proposed artist-in-residence model and unpacks its broader implications, thematics and logistics within a minute.

Episode One: An Introduction

In this episode, Mitchell introduces the series by elaborating on his initial impetus to explore residency models: His uncertainty as to whether he was on an official Pro Helvetia residency or not.

Episode Two: Travelling abroad with Rudi van der Merwe

Rudi van der Merwe proposes a residency where the artist must backpack and barter their way to the hosting destination, raising the broader question of freedom of movement.

Episode Three: Trading places with Sarah Elena Müller

Sarah Elena Müller proposes a residency where one artist swaps lives with another, broaching the topic of authorship and the benefits of relinquishing control.