The Learned Pig

Art – Thinking – Nature – Writing

Residency Reflections

It’s been a whole year since The Learned Pig online residency began. A year of lockdowns, weeds, sunstrokes, romance, overlapping seasons, excuses, Skypes, frosts, therapy sessions, extreme weather shifts, tons of vegetables, flowers and more! It’s been, and remains, a year of open-endedness, of finding one’s bearings and of treading waters that feel so choppy and wavy.

My idea of the residency before it commenced was to make work that explored thoughts and feelings stemming from reflections of living at Laines Organic Farm, my mum’s market garden in Sussex; to work as a grower and to figure out the art/life/work balance. To address the entrenched performativity of the land-working body that moves across and within a taskscape. And to inform land working activities with criticality, and vice-versa, exploring how a horticultural realm can provide a context for my creative practice.


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Tom: When we first spoke you talked of shifting from trying to fit the farm around your art practice to a point where your art practice could grow out of the farm. Do you feel like that was able to happen? Even if just for a moment or two?

Rosa: I think my idea of what an art practice is has had to change a lot and that has been challenging. To consume, digest and reproduce an idea, image, feeling – adding something, and eventually showing it to the outside; this being a rough ‘formula’ that I feel cannot work in this context of farming, at least not for me at this time, as a level of attention is demanded, and with being a full-time grower, it’s all simply too overwhelming.

However, if I imagine a practice that grows out of the farm – it is quick, temporal, fleeting, Instagram-friendly (and dissatisfying so), one-liner – the kind of work I generally dislike. An art practice would have to fit around all the lives and relationships that exist and are in constant flow in a place like Laines, and deciding what to ‘keep in shot’ so to speak, forms an on-going discussion in my head, and remains largely unresolved. In part this is to do with the family subtleties that are intertwined with the everyday work and living dynamics. Enough space and time for ideas to be given focus and room to develop or realised has been, essentially, afforded this year.

Maybe I’m just overworked? (Anybody reading this who knows of a trained organic veggie grower looking for work – HMU!)

Would you see a complete integration of farm work and artwork as a success or is it productive to maintain some kind of distinction between the two?

Ideally a complete integration would be great – says the efficient-minded grower in me. A distinction would be beneficial for depth, process and substance in the work – says the artist. These stances are tiring to keep up – and maybe unnecessary? Room for both, veg growing and a creative practice is my aim.

Both farming and art practices require more than one individual. They both benefit from a community of practitioners or land workers. Not being in direct contact with a community of artists has affected my work this year. And equally, a persistent growers group at Laines would relieve some pressures of the job; freeing up time to focus on ‘extra’ activities. (Once again, if you hear of a grower looking for a job who might want to join us at Laines… get in touch, seriously.)

Another thing you mentioned that I was just reading in my notes was the difference between the “clarity of farm work” against the “vague muddiness” of an art practice. I like that you used ‘mud’ there, which I suppose I would associate with the farm more than the studio (unless you were working in clay I guess…). How are you currently feeling about muddiness and clarity?

Still feeling pretty muddy. I’ve felt a sense of failure and guilt around the struggle and incapacity to enact my work, to create the middle ground between my practice and my job as a grower; mostly because I imagine both to be all-consuming lifestyles and throughout the past year I’ve given myself to the growing side. Trying to do both feels incredibly full, and the season just keeps push-pulling forward: winters, wet storms. Fresh, new green springs. Summers hazy hyper daze. The imminent autumn.

Does it feel like the residency was a productive experiment or did the pressure to feel productive end up being counter-productive? (And why do I keep using this word ‘productive’ as if it is de facto A Good Thing?!)

It has been a very helpful experiment for me, because it asked me to take an honest look at how these two avenues co-exist. The second or third thing I submitted to the residency page was an email about how I couldn’t get anything together in time – an attempt to articulate the dilemma of production about the two practices meeting, combining and conflicting. The piece itself was anxious, quick and honest.

The lenses through which art activities are framed are tricky to capture in this rural, muddy taskscape.

Productivity does sound alarm bells for me both in art and farming practices – assuming there are corners cut in the chase to produce. Whereas if process or biodiversity is intentionally produced through working to grow food or ideas – I think that’s super!

Produce, production. Where did the work occur? Is it documented on my website, or in the farm’s invoice book? During this year tons and tons of food was produced, work carried out, but the lenses through which art activities are framed are tricky to capture in this rural, muddy taskscape.

This work is probably not part of my practice and I occasionally resent that. At the same time though it feels unbelievably worthwhile to grow, essentially energy, for people and oneself and to think about engagement and audiences as minds and bodies nourished through these humble vegetables, fruits and flowers…

Conversations with you and Marloe, sharing thoughts of art residing in farming provided insightful, contemplative and beneficial elements to the residency. You generously gave your thoughts on the work I was making and offered specific feedback towards the nuances.

To find a way of words to close this residency (especially when I’ve ended up applying subconscious significance to my status as an artist who no longer really making anything, or at least, anything that looks like what I made before) has been, and continues to be, an awkwardly painful process. (Maybe because it feels like I’m in the midsts of one of those lulls of my creative self).


Rosa Farber’s artist residency with The Learned Pig
Laines Organic Farm


This is part of FIELDS, a section of The Learned Pig devoted to exploring fields as natural and (agri)cultural, invisible and visible, poor and productive, created and creators. FIELDS is conceived and edited by Marloe Mens.


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