Liliya Lifanova received her MFA from SAIC in 2010. Following that, she found herself asking a familiar question to many young artists: what next? Nurtured by the inclusive, critical and supportive, art-centered environment of graduate school, her first post-graduation initiative was a take on the practice of residencies. Called Artist in YOUR Residence, the purpose of the project was to explore concepts of modern patronage and bypass the traditional models for a direct relationship between Artist and Patron where the artist would live in the patron’s home and create work. The point was to refine and streamline the economics of art, to produce dialogue through developing a direct conduit and relation between artist and consumer. It was a well-intentioned project...
JK: Tell us a little about the intent behind your Artist in YOUR Residence project and the impetus in starting it.
LL: In grad school I created two large-scale productions that changed the nature of my art practice from solitary to collaborative. They were performances on which I worked with multiple people of various backgrounds and with a range of skills. My intent for Artist In YOUR Residence was to push myself further still to explore what it would be like to not be in my studio making art alone, but out there, engaged with the world and making work in response to what I was experiencing. I wanted to see what kind of conversations and art would emerge out of this kind of interaction between myself and patrons.
JK: How did you think having a direct relationship to the patron and the space would influence your work?
LL: At that time I was preoccupied with the idea that art needed to expand into the domestic, bypass the institutional mediation, and that it needed to exist alongside the mundane and the common of our lives. I felt that entering unregulated domains, my perception of what is art and therefore the art itself would change. I wanted to know if this vulnerable approach would fuel my work. I also wanted to see if this condition of being in constant motion and in a constant state of alertness to my condition would produce any interesting results.
JK: Did it?
LL: I became acutely aware of myself trying to make everything into art. Cooking, making my bed, packing and unpacking at each residence… I also began to notice that for me being in a ‘safe place’ was essential to producing good work. In places where I stayed alone I got a lot of work done. Writing, making my rolled series, research. And in places where the Patron was present it took a tremendous amount of effort to focus.
JK: How many places did you end up staying at?
LL: I lived/worked in twelve residences from November 2010 through March 2011.
JK: Did you leave work with each place?
LL: No, not always. Sometimes I was cat sitting, sometimes they did not want anything.
JK: Were the experiences positive for the most part? Did you feel that there was an equitable exchange going on with each of these?
LL: Absolutely. Humbling actually. I would say that for the people that I actually interacted with during my stay at their place it was equitable.
JK: Did you have protocols in place to ensure that there was a difference between this and couch surfing? If it was a performance, as you said, how did you perform 'artist'?
LL: Right, how do you perform artist... It was more like being sensitive to each situation. It was different each time. In one instance, at a scholar / curator’s residence [Mary Jane Jacob] I came up with a specific project: to catalogue their working archive. It was a great project for me which allowed me to understand her approach and source material. It brought our practices closer in a way.
JK: What were other situations like? Mostly people related to the arts already?
LL: Yes. Most people I stayed with were related to the arts or lovers of art. Out of the twelve places where I stayed, the patrons were present the whole time only twice. The other people were either away or had me stay at their second house.
JK: Any negative experiences?
LL: Disheartening, yes. But also kind of comical… when my intent was misread as a request for housing in exchange for sexual favors.
LL: When I was still in grad school, after one of the performances I received an email from some guy. He said that he enjoyed the performance and that he would like to meet in person to discuss it. We became friends on Facebook. After a few emails back and forth I noticed that he was alluding to more than just discussing my piece in person, he wanted romance and thought our meeting would be a date. I wrote back politely declining his invitation to meet. His email back was quick and nasty. He felt denied and was offended by my rejection of his advances. After a few more messages in a similar tone, which I ignored, he stopped.
A year passed. I moved back to New York and decided to launch AIYR. My email blast went out to my entire email list from which I forgot to remove the name of this stranger.
A few minutes later, this same guy emailed me. I’ll send you the transcripts...
Dear Liliya, Thank you for sending this. This sounds a little like Russian Brides.com with a creative touch. I think I can help you out. What type of services are you offering? I would love to be your patron and have you at my place at any time. A very close and personal relationship. Are you still in Chicago? Let me know.
A few hours later I received an email from another guy:
“Hello dear Liliya,
My name is ------------ and I know about "artist in your residence" through our friend -------.
I am very interested in knowing a few more things about your art project. Not too long ago, I funded an Italian art student who was doing something very similar.
She lived with me for 3 months. The experience was lovely for both of us, but specially for me. I love these new emerging alternative services.
First of all, I would have to get a complete background check from you.
Also, I would appreciate if you send me a couple of recent photographs. ------ mentioned a little bit about your looks, and I would like to confirm that.
For now, I just have a few questions I would like you to clarify.
If I get you the airplane ticket to Spain and the residency fee what type of service would I get in return? How long would the residency take?
Would you be exclusively in my house or Would you have out-calls for other clients? What are your needs?
Do you have children? If so. What is their status?
Are you married or in a relationship? If so. Is there anything I need to worry about?
Is you family supportive of this? Arietta's family, the Italian girl, became an issue towards the end.
Do you drink or smoke? Do you have any animal allergies or conditions? I have and old German Shepard.
I am very excited to hear back from you.
I did not respond. The next day he contacted me again.
“Hello again Liliya, I did not hear back from you. ----------- just sent me a couple of pictures:
How does $3000 sound for the ticket and residence fee?
We can discuss if you want.
JK: How did you respond to that?
LL: I sent them the following email:
This is the second time in my life that someone had the audacity to allude to me being a Russian mail order bride. The other time it came from a cocked up and wasted heiress from Southampton. As this list expands, I expect there to be a significant decrease in the my accusers’ level of intelligence.
Just to play the devil’s advocate here for a moment, as a Russian female of a certain age, I find it very common to have my credibility scrutinized. It is a worldwide insecurity: the vicious Russian brides are here to rob you of your wealth, of your status, of your freedom.
I also find it interesting that your straightforward propositions are in tune with a lot of the ‘worldly advice’ that has been volunteered to me over the years. Some of my dearest friends subscribe to this widely accepted notion of a working female artist being always dependent on a male ‘sponsor,’ a provider, funding that hobby of hers in exchange for sex.
I read your propositions as a symptom of our society, and of the condition of the art world, which is always of course, a mirror to the reality.
What I find most problematic about both of your letters is the persistence and the predatory nature of your language.
I am posting your responses to my project’s webpage, excluding your last names. If you continue to initiate contact, I wont be so nice.
JK: Once you made the email thread public, what was their response?
LL: They responded by threatening me. They sent me a link to an amateur porn site where they had created a profile using my name and uploaded poorly photoshopped images of my head on naked female bodies and basically said 'take yours down and we’ll take ours down.'
JK: What was your response to his threats of making these blatantly photoshopped images public?
LL: I was not willing to remove the content from my website as I felt that it was part of my work now and also I thought that I was being respectful by removing their last names… Instead I filed a complaint with wiredsafety.org, reporting cyberstalking. I also contacted the websites where they posted their photoshopped pictures of me and asked them to remove the content. I also ended up reporting them to the police because by that time they had set up an email address using my full name and I began to receive frequent phone calls from a restricted number (which made me think that this was someone I actually knew, or that he/they were connected to someone I knew). Reporting this to the local police in NY was useless but I felt that I had to do it. That was also an experience of doubt for doubt… The first question that the police officer asked me was: What kind of an artist are you? He must have thought that I was a sex worker… Our lives, as artists, are so public these days. I have a website, it is registered on whois. Anyone with basic internet capabilities can figure out how to find my address and phone number. Public announcements of exhibition openings, open studios. Even if I blocked this person on Facebook, he can still find a way to contact me.
JK: Ultimately, what made you decide to move on from this project?
LL: I ended up moving out of the country to CeRRCA, an artist residency in Spain which was structured in a way that was interesting to me at that time. It was a live/work residency in a small village. The project coordinators also lived there with us which provided for a continuation of the conversations I wanted to have about art in alternative settings. That experience and the dialogue there was a great bridge for me between this very intimate, domestic type of residencies I had been doing to the ones that followed.
JK: Have you come across similar projects to Artist in YOUR Residence since?
LL: That summer, in 2011, I met a young writer, Karen Beilin at an artist residency in Andalusia who, as it turned out, did a similar project in the NY tri-state area called Americans Guests are Us. I believe sections of her book with the same title have already been published in various literary magazines around the country… or maybe even the entire book has been published by now. It is a treasure and I would highly recommend checking it out. We mused over some very unique dynamics of our experiences like being there while the patrons/hosts are having a fight or being a kind of a therapist for our hosts or as it was often my case being all alone for several weeks in someone’s cabin in the woods and feeling quite blissful. Last year, Jesse Bradford and Sarah Matthens reached out to me as they were getting ready to launch a similar project called Troubadour Puppies. It’s a really special project and I look forward to seeing how it develops. Josh Millis, a painter based in the Bronx ended up inheriting that domain name [www.artistinyourresidence.com]. From what I understand about his project is that he paints the interiors of people’s houses.
JK: What is the importance of residencies in your career path?
LL: My needs change over time. Different residency models are necessary so that one can choose. Right now I am in need of some space so that I can make my work and focus. Then will come a point when I am ready to rehearse or receive feedback and be introduced to the right curator. Sometimes residencies can be that bridge between an idea and its completion.
(All images: Liliya Lifanova, taken in residence. Courtesy of the artist.)