The views are great from Cove Park, the rural artists’ residency centre based on Scotland’s west coast. Any of the more than 1,500 artists who have stayed in the centre since it was founded in 1999 by Peter and Eileen Jacobs will have been able to gaze out on Loch Long and the Firth of Clyde, with Arran and Bute within sight. This will probably have been the case too for 2018 Turner Prize winner Charlotte Prodger when she was awarded a Cove Park Emerging Artist residency care of the Craignish Trust back in 2010.
Nine years on, Cove Park and curator Linsey Young have commissioned Prodger to represent Scotland at this year’s Venice Biennale. With a major new single channel video work developed over a series of research and production residencies at the centre.
“When Charlotte first came in 2010, she was here for a month,” says Cove Park’s associate director and visual arts programme producer, Alexia Holt. “It was the end of the summer season, and was a relatively solitary time for her, but it was just right for that moment for her to be able to take stock and see which way her work was going at that time. It’s been really nice since then watching Charlotte’s career snowball.”
This time out, Prodger has already “got her head down,” according to Holt. “She’s making new work, and from our part it’s a really lovely moment, and a great thing to be a part of. Charlotte works really collaboratively in a way that fits in really well with our ethos at Cove Park.”
It’s raining the day Holt says this, but the greyness of the drizzle can’t dim her enthusiasm for Cove Park, where she has worked since 2004. Nor does it take away from the sense of Cove Park’s very special essence as a place that provides space for artists to work outwith the hubbub of the city, and which makes for a less frenetic and more organic working practice.
With accommodation available for up to fourteen people on-site, Cove Park offers residencies for artists at all stages in their career across all artforms in a shared space which offers up opportunities for artists to interact in creative ways.
“This is done with a light touch,” says Holt. “We don’t force collaborations on people, but we hope artists being around each other will help their work. Some people might come here and just hunker down, and we see very little of them, but I still think of Cove Park as being somewhere that brings artists together. We’re very self-contained here. Artists can find their own rhythm here, and opt in and opt out of things. Other centres keep more regular hours, but we’re more fluid.”
For all its idyllic setting, a residency at Cove Park shouldn’t be regarded as some airy-fairy away-day or summer camp.
“It’s not a retreat,” says Holt. “It’s more about artists being engaged, so it’s more of an attack on your work than anything. When people come here they work very hard. , and can contribute to other people’s work, so they become part of a community. It’s not a holiday. We don’t expect people to produce finished work, but hope artists are able to explore whatever it is that they’re doing without any pressures of deadlines.”
In some respects, Cove Park’s holistic worldview reflects some of the interests developed through Glasgow School of Art’s quietly influential Environmental Art course. Indeed, at various points lecturers from the course have brought their students to Cove Park to soak up the atmosphere.
“From their point of view,” says Holt, “they can see lots of different things going on, and that is an amazing means of getting the students to think about all that.”
This works across the generations, as the presence of artistic visionary and elder statesman Alasdair Gray at Cove Park testifies to.
“There was such a wonderful mix of brilliant people around when Alasdair was here,” says Holt. “He was really generous to the younger artists, and he said how much he learnt from them, and how he never stopped learning.”
Next year will see Cove Park celebrate the twentieth anniversary of its first set of artists’ residencies. With Holt having been around for fifteen of them, her overview of how the centre has developed is more incisive than many.
“Cove Park is quite an inspiring place to work,” she says. “You get privileged access to how artists work in a place where people have room to make mistakes as they explore what they’re doing.
“It’s about confidence. When you’ve just left art school, and you’re looking around at what to do next, Cove Park can provide space for professional development in a really calm environment. I think there’s something here as well, where you’ve got these big open vistas that you can see, and having that in front of you, there’s a way it affects you physically.”
Holt jokes she sounds like an estate agent when she expounds on Cove Park in this way.
“It’s beautifully appointed,” she says of a place that has plenty of room for a view.
The List, April 2019