Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

To the studio!

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April 2010: Having just finished my Masters degree in library studies, as my recent luck would have it, a dear friend of mine, art and craft journalist (though she would argue they are one and the same), Sara Titanic, decided to do a residency at Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island, and kindly invited me to share her studio. So it I happened that I hopped out of academia and landed square in that mystical physical and mental space: the STUDIO.

(STUDIO: A space designated for a maker to make within. SEE ALSO magic, quantum physics, shamanism.)

Growing up, my father never let me paint on my walls. I wanted the liberty to create and re-create dramatic scenes and characters that I could actually live in (and with). A STUDIO is the perfect manifestation of that desire: there are NO RULES. (ok… technically, there are some, depending where your studio is and what kind of flooring it has. If you share a studio and you want to enjoy that experience, you must cave to rules of respect, healthy & safety… but essentially) The space is open to you, often white and stark, a blank slate to throw up on.

Now that April 2010 has ceased to exist, I am no longer in possession of a rule-less space. I still have a studio, an off-room in my home devoted to the creative arts, but there is a sting of something missing, the open, limitless space of absolute potential.

Click here to see what transpired on this slice of paper.

I can just as easily argue that the space is not required – what is truly needed is the holodeck in the artist’s mind, the empty space where new things become. (I should know, having been generally STUDIO-less for the past two years of self-imposed grad school.) The fire keeps burning inside and comes out somehow, in whatever way it can. Yet, there is an undeniable comfort to a door you can close – the power to keep the world out, with nothing but you and your ideas inside. “Making” things – writing poems, stories, novels, plays, drawing, painting, carving and pulling prints, sewing and photocopying – can be a vulnerable, if exceptionally pleasing, task. The STUDIO’s magic is derived then from these two aspects: a safe, protected space, with the freedom to make all the mistakes and miracles you can imagine.

Some makers and shakers like to keep this space all to themselves. Though I enjoy the insulating quality of STUDIO privacy, I also derive extreme pleasure from sharing the space. There comes a point, usually into the third or fourth or seventh hour that you have been labouring over a drawing or fabric or text, when you need the calming and comforting presence of someone who is just as frustrated as you by their own project. Then you can rest you heads together, share a collective sigh, eat a tasty snack to brush away grumpiness, give helpful or supportive comments and jump back into the fray, somewhat regenerated. Sharing STUDIOs, of course, can involve a host of problems and challenges, just as in any situation where two or more people negotiate each other's presences. To me, the benefits of finding the right companion in crime far outweigh the required risks and compromises.

Aside from the magical and regenerative STUDIO, my residency at Gibraltar Point also presented me with another mystical and influential energy: NATURE.

Toronto Island (the Toronto Islands?) has always had a unique space in the part of my heart responsible for Toronto places. Somehow, the added inconvenience of a ferry ride has protected this piece of land from the commercialization, car culture and condo-it is that has afflicted most downtown property. Before I did this residency, I believed that the Island was one of Toronto’s last and only truly natural spots. The “truth” as I found after countless ferry trips and bike rides, and through the enlightened words of fellow writer Sarah Feldbloom, is that the islands inhabit a space that is both urban and natural. Though you can fool yourself at times, watching the other side of the lake from Gibraltar beach or tramping through trails through small clumps of trees, that this place is NATURE, it doesn’t last for long. More often than not, you’ll see and hear planes flying into Porter airport and on some late nights, waiting at the Ward Island ferry docks, you’ll hear police sirens screaming off the mainland.

Rather than bemoaning the lack of a place to really “get away” from the city, I suppose I am glad for these reminders. This Toronto of ours, impossible to deny or ignore, is a sprawling urban concrete structure. Would it help to fool ourselves with the illusion that unspoiled NATURE is possible on the periphery of this construction? Better to visit the island, breathe the slightly fresher air, ride our bikes on mostly car-less pathways, admire the stretching, sprawling tree tops, envy the kids learning plant science at the enviro-conscious school and dip our feet in the not-quite so polluted water and imagine ways that we can bring this influence, this slightly kinder way of life to the urban monster we inhabit. I recently read “GreenTOpia,” Coach House Press’ anthology of green Toronto ideas, and wondered whether turning the Gardiner into a garden could ever be possible. When I investigate the Island’s NATURE-like spaces, hear the birds singing their age-old NATURE songs, my hope meter rises.

Gibraltar Point Art Centre is operated by the amazing Toronto non-profit Artscape. Studio spaces are available for artists, writers and musicians of all stripes who have been dreaming about water. Visit their website to learn more about Gibraltar Point studios.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Marta Chudolinska

Marta Chudolinska is a printmaker, bookbinder, zinester, painter and writer. Her first (wordless) graphic novel, Back + Forth: A novel in 90 linocuts, was published in September 2009 by the Porcupine’s Quill Press.

Go to Marta Chudolinska’s Author Page