Urban's farm

After retiring, Colette Urban developed her own artist residency

Colette Urban’s Bare is featured in her film Pretend Not to See Me, which will screen at the Screening Room on Feb. 8.
Colette Urban’s Bare is featured in her film Pretend Not to See Me, which will screen at the Screening Room on Feb. 8.

Performance artist Colette Urban is looking for a way to wear moths on her head.

The Denver native spoke to the Journal via Skype from her home in Newfoundland about her newest performance, involving a hat of moths and life on the farm.

Urban is about to embark on a speaking tour next week, taking her to the University of Toronto Scarborough, OCAD University and Queen’s. The MFA graduate of the University of Victoria taught at various universities in Canada, most recently in the Visual Arts Department at Western University.

During the summer months, since retiring in 2006, Urban has been dedicated to running an artist residency on her Newfoundland farm called the Full Tilt Creative Centre — a retreat for artists of various disciplines.

What inspired your move to Newfoundland after you retired from teaching in 2006?

I had an experience teaching here 20 years ago and at that point I really enjoyed the landscape and the people so I decided that I would eventually like to do some kind of business out here. So that was one of my goals. I wanted to live in this environment and it seemed to be a really rich place for new ideas and innovative practices.

Also, Newfoundland is still very affordable.

Do you still find that it’s difficult to live off your art?

Oh yeah, it’s always a struggle. Even with my peers, that have quite established careers, they’re always dealing with day-to-day “How do you make this work?” and “How do you financially support yourself?” It was a big step for me to give up a teaching position and to end up working a farm and developing my artist residency program. So yeah, it’s constantly on my mind that this is a very challenging thing for me to be doing.

Have you been working on any new performances recently?

Yes, I’ve got one that I’m in the process of developing right now and I think it’s going to be titled Likewise. It involves a large net on my head that will have moths in it, live moths.

It’s a bit tricky in terms of trying to figure out how and where that will happen because of using the moths.

And how long have you been working on it?

I guess it would be about a couple of months now that it’s been developing. I’ve been thinking about it and trying to sort through the logistics of trying to make it work.

I’m also considering doing a residency in Tasmania, [Australia], next year. I hope to anyway — I’m just in the point of applying but we’ll see.

Full Tilt promotes sustainable living with residents, using facilities like an organic farm. Is there a connection between sustainable living and creativity?

Yeah, I think it’s always been something that has been important in my practice. I mean, I’m constantly kind of using and reusing materials for my work so it’s about recycling ingredients and quite often it’s about using things that are used for other purposes, like bicycle wheels or gears or sculptural elements that I can recycle and reclaim in the performances.

Can you speak to any differences between being an artist in an academic setting and an artist in the non-academic setting of Full Tilt?

It feels like a more natural sort of process for me at this point, being at the farm, being at the artist retreat. And I think to that it’s an interesting relationship between myself and visitors to the farm, whether they be artists that are doing a residency or Wwoofers, which are volunteer labourers that come and work on the farm.

So there’s a different kind of family relationship that develops depending on who’s there and I find that my work and my performance ideas are accelerated by the activity that’s happening.

It’s not that one is better than the other, it’s just very different.

This interview has been condensed and edited for space.

Collette Urban will be visiting Queen’s from Feb. 6 to 9. On Tuesday she will give a talk at 1 p.m. at the Ban Righ Centre and another at 3 p.m. in Dunning Auditorium. On Wednesday she will give a talk at 11: 30 a.m. at Agnes Etherington Art Centre and will give a performance of Hoot at the Screening Room at 7 p.m.

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