Monday, October 04, 2010

Post Residency: A Letter of Reflection by Esteban del Valle

In more ways than one, I arrived at ISLAND at the perfect time. I had just wrapped up a large project, the weather was phenomenal, and I was ready to get some new ideas off the ground. Upon arriving to the Hill House, I immediately felt welcomed. Being without a car, I was fortunate enough to not find any excuses to leave the general area. I say fortunate because the solitude I experienced in such a beautiful environment helped me discover new things about my work and myself. When I am in the midst of the hustling and bustling world, I seldom get the chance to create my own schedule. I was actually surprised at how naturally it came. I always figured that when I had unlimited “free” time and zero obligations, I would run wild like a British school boy from Lord of the Flies. But it was the opposite. I craved routine because it provided a rhythm for the day.

As soon as I woke up, after sleeping in of course, I threw some coffee on, grabbed a book, put something on the record player from the Hill House collection, and went out to the porch where I would spend the next two hours reading in the hammock. Listening to a great collection of classical records, I spent the time taking notes and doing some inspired writing. My work has largely been influenced by the research I do through books, theater, and film. While in the midst of city dwelling, I rarely have the opportunity to critically approach each aspect of my research. An idea has to quickly be evaluated as worthy or not worthy of extra time. If deemed unworthy, it is tossed out with all the other things I can never remember, such as where I left my wallet, birthdays, and grabbing my glasses before I leave the house. But while I was at ISLAND I noticed something I had never experienced before. By the third day my thoughts became louder. I realized that my mind, not having anyone around to speak with, began to act like another conversational presence. I was finally able to slow the process in my head and truly listen to what was going on. It may sound like a simple event, but for me it was profound. I was finally able to comprehend both the ridiculousness and the validity of certain points. I often asked myself, “Why is it that you think that?” One of the most sincere questions I have ever grappled with.

With the positive changes in environment and self-awareness, my time at the Hill House quickly turned into the perfect opportunity to begin work on a play/film I had been developing. I felt confident that I would be able to solidify the foundations of this project, something that may have been impossible to do while in Chicago. The project will eventually take the form of a reproducible performance, a video piece, and an installation. But the project revolves around the central theme of the relationship between a political speech and a theatrical monologue. Being in a space that allowed for clarity and freedom of thought resulted in an increase in the amount of daily ideas, both new and old. Needless to say, being immersed in a quiet environment was a fruitful experience.

My work sessions were sprinkled with delicious food and plenty of time to cook! The locally grown organic vegetables, which were the best I had ever tasted, inspired me to change the way I eat. I was also fortunate to have the time and space to get in a 3-4 mile run every other day, which further allowed me to take in my surroundings and meditate on the thoughts of the day. The river a mile away from the Hill House became a point of reference and a friend to visit. I would later go on to complete my very first kayaking trip, a two-hour solo adventure that took me down the Jordan River in the company of a blue jay. After a late night dinner I often watched interesting films with the goal of learning more about iconic directors and actors. I mainly focused on the dialogue and how the scenes were filmed, which helped me visualize how to solve certain problems in my own work.

That being said, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the awesome amazingness of the entire ISLAND staff. These warm and generous individuals proved truly inspiring. Their efforts to welcome me to the program consisted of a canoe trip, a wonderful potluck dinner, and a night at one of best microbreweries I have ever been to. They also arranged for me to give a visiting artist talk complete with a screening of my film. Each time I met with the staff we had engaging conversations in which I learned a lot about the program and the surrounding areas of Michigan. I was so excited to learn more about ISLAND’s philosophy of embracing the arts as a positive social tool, making the program all the more amazing. I truly hope that more artists begin to look at the ISLAND program both as a resource and as an inspiration. As for myself I am happy to report that another application is in the future!

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