Marriage, Death and Tea.

"Come in for a coffee, then you can tell me all about your art. What's your medium?"

It took me a matter of hours to remember having a game plan was ridiculous. Of course it's natural to want to feel prepared, especially when someone has chosen to invest their time and cash in you, but, really, I should have known better. The people I meet, place I'm in and things that crop up are always at the centre of any work I make and it's not possible to pre-empt or prescribe that. I also know I can't visit a place just once if I'm to make real work there. I should have stopped the formulating, shoved some socks in a bag and just got myself here. 

I'm 120 miles from home in Peterborough; the city where 'picking, packing and plucking' make the world go round. As the fastest growing UK city, Peterborough's historically central, agricultural industry is moving away in geography but not importance. I've never met so many people involved in working farms, co-operative food growing initiatives or groups advocating sustainable living. I've also seen a lot of people tucking in to crisps for breakfast, but you've got to maintain the balance somehow.  

I've had two hosts in Peterborough: The Urban Engine Room and Sue's place. The Urban Engine Room is a very new space, built in the back garden of someone who saw a gap and didn't wait for someone else to fill it. Day to day, his children revise, watch films and hang out in there, but once a month or so it plays host to an artist. Sue was advertising her spare room, a twenty minute walk away, on Air BnB. I'd never been to Peterborough before and genuinely had no preconceptions of how it would be; everything about the week has been a surprise. 

My work involves delicately unpicking a place, situation or topic. Often this leads into an event, but the people, conversations and skills that are uncovered and engaged are more important. I can see the process come together in a really physical way. It's as intricate as lace: A thread out of place, or a click in the pattern, and it's noticeable. Sometimes the key is to iron out the kinks, at other times it's embracing the inconsistencies and framing them in a way that helps them be viewed differently. 

Once I had remembered to not worry about making 'things', I got on with saying 'Yes' to everything. Tea, coffee, beer, biscuits, curry, soup, sandwiches: A theme to the invitations emerged. In lots of ways, hospitality and food are synonymous, aren't they? Cooking and eating happens differently in every household, and depending on where in the world you are, but we all do it. It's a basic offer of care from a host and the ultimate window in for a guest. In that sense, I've been offered numerous windows into Peterborough. 

A private gig in a musician's back garden.
Chats with artists commissioned to reconsider 'Harvest'.
A meeting with Peterborough's first ever high profile squatters.
Sharing theory, ethos and practice with a seasoned community developer.
An introduction to a co-operatively run green space, growing and teaching about plants and food.
Conversations with a disabled dancer about labels, funds and motivations.
Learning about and hand-picking a kilo of salad leaves in the middle of endless flat ground.
Having my feet washed in the local church.
Bending over maps and hearing about what was.
Noting every detail of recipes by my new favourite Lithuanian sandwich-maker.
Sharing a soda and lime with the performer who serenaded David Cameron with a ukulele.
A tour of Lincoln Road.
Cooking local ingredients to feed new friends.
Mapping in my first studio space.

I left Peterborough with an offer to go back in September. And again next year. And maybe even the year after that. No parachuting in: A sustained investment. For the many people who told me Peterborough is nothing special, this was a surprise. 

I'd recommend a residency to anyone. Really: They should be a compulsory part of working in any any profession. Stepping out of your everyday is SO valuable. I came to know a new place through the people who live there; not tourist information. I had room to reflect on Leeds, where I live and work most of the time. I had space to map my thoughts in a way that really surprised me. I was freely given access to books, references and contexts that were new and exciting. I'm assured I was also able to reciprocate the incredible hospitality I received, open up conversation and kick off the imagining of other possibilities for Peterborough. 

And, as my host just said in a text, "it's all just the start".  


To carry on the conversation and see lots of photos from my residency, find me on on social media: 

Twitter: @LydiaCatterall
Instagram: lydiacatterall