Solitude for the creative

Amidst rapid industrialisation, residencies can help artists and writers step back into nature.

April 05, 2015 05:56 pm | Updated April 19, 2015 06:49 pm IST



As a writer, I have always worked another job to pay my bills. A few times, I checked on the possibility of finding some space, for just a few months, to write. I always drew a blank. Maybe, because I was not an academician. It was at my book launch in 2012 that a friend asked me to send my application to Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart. I sent the application and forgot about it. A few months later, I found I had been accepted. I quit my job. When I was leaving for my residency at Solitude, my father-in-law asked me, “What will Solitude get out of supporting you?” It is a valid question. In this market-driven economy, when almost everything is evaluated by its immediate material utility, it is hard to explain why some place ten thousand kilometres away would host a writer or an artist, pay a stipend and not want anything but goodwill in return.

Solitude is pretty. It is also quiet, very quiet. It snows and the white shower creates a curtain between the world and me. We are located on a hill overlooking the city of Stuttgart, adjacent to a forest with walking trails, in a late-Baroque castle. It was a hunting lodge, built by Duke Carl Eugen in the eighteenth century. These days, for the first time in my life, I work full time on my writing. Sometimes, I think of my father-in-law’s question.

Jean-Baptiste Joly, the Director at Solitude, tells me that this year Kaiwan Mehta, an architect from Mumbai, is the head of jury to select the next Fellows for 2015-17. He explained, “Right from the 1990s, when we started, the jury has been international. Asking for an Indian head of the jury means that as a European institution we now want to have a view of the globalised world from a non-European perspective; from another history of culture, another system of representation, another system of invention of your biography.”

Fellowships for writers

The jury met in the end of January to select 70 fellows, from over three thousand applications, in the categories: architecture, visual arts, performing arts, design, literature, music/sound and video/film/new media. Until now, in twenty-five years, Solitude has enrolled over a thousand fellows from 127 countries. Funded by the State of Baden-Württemberg, Germany, Solitude regularly conducts workshops on art, science and business and has tie-ups with many cities around the world for exhibitions of the resident artists’ work. It is now putting together a much wider network through the Internet. With the help of private funders, Solitude has instituted the Jean-Jacques Rousseau fellowship for writers in distress.

Kaiwan, a fellow here in 2007, says, “Being here is really about what stage in life you are as an artist. This is not an academy, a university, or even a research cell. This is something else. It is a space for thinking, calming down your anxiety, looking back at your work. It is a particular kind of typology of an institution and you should know how it could support you in your intellectual and emotional life. As a juror I am interested in how can we introduce the right catalysts in the programme. It can be by selecting the Fellows, by a thematic, or planning future exercises. When a part of the jury is Indian, there is a change in the ways in which we evaluate the applicants. Those ways of seeing each other are important.”

Solitude is a glowing example of how Mr. Joly has been able to constantly renegotiate with the stakeholders and preserve the space. He says, “Solitude is the result of three things: (a) the institutional tradition, residencies started in Europe in the four hundred years ago; (b) historical, in moments of industrialisation artists step back into nature; (c) the focus, not only on the result of art but also the process of the art. Everyone wants to know how you make gold from mud. Now you have them coming up in south Asia. The future of the world is moving from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast.”

I hope the culture of residencies reaches the Indian coast. I also hope they stay as open as Solitude.

Amandeep Sandhu is a writer and novelist.

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