Doing my best to fit Greywood in a suitcase, Hannah R.W. Hamalian

As soon as I settled into a routine during my time as a resident at Greywood Arts during April of 2019, I knew that part of the work I needed to do was to figure out how to bring Greywood Arts home with me. Not the building itself of course (could you put a whole house on a plane? Plus cats, dogs, and other residents?), but I wanted to find a way to bottle up the peace, tranquility, and unparalleled productivity that I was able to experience while I was there and bring it home with me.

Now, to be clear – the productivity I experienced as a resident only sometimes manifested as completed or substantial progress on work. My artistic practice is largely focused on animation and experimental filmmaking, and I have what can sometimes feel like an overwhelmingly digital process. This can lead to disillusionment when it come to the idea of ‘product’. If I’m working on editing a short film and I spend a whole day clicking around on a computer – have I really accomplished anything? Of course I have. But creative activity is not just the end product or even the mid-product. Ask any artist and they’ll tell you that the thinking and feeling around a project is equally as substantial an endeavor as the actions that create the actual piece. 

I am learning to place a higher value on allowing myself the time to make connections between the information I’m taking in as I work on a project. I want to be a person who values the productivity of reflection, of slowing down, of reading, thinking and feeling in every area of my life. I tend to use the process of making my films to ask big questions. I’m always interested in the question behind the question. The older I get the more I am interested in the why of a situation above all else, and the bolder I become to actually ask the questions of the people around me and of the society of which I am a part.

From the start of my residency I got into a habit of writing in a journal at the beginning of each day about my progress from the previous day. This daily practice proved incredibly helpful for tracking my thoughts about what I was accomplishing (success is all about a balance of objective and subjective perspective on one’s work!). About halfway through my time, feeling saturated with information from all the reading and research that I had been doing, I decided to go for a long walk in the gorgeous and mystical Glenbower Wood. As I neared the end of my walk I suddenly started thinking about the project I had been trying to escape by retreating into nature. To my surprise, big questions I had been experiencing about the project suddenly started to be answered. Ideas started flowing through my head like the River Dissour itself, and I quickly pulled out my phone to write everything down.

It was only the next day that I made the connection between having reached a creative saturation point and the decision to take a break from the work leading to incredible progress on the project. This revelation reinforced the importance of rest as something I personally need to prioritize more in my life. During the academic school year, I work full time as a professor in the USA. I love the challenge of teaching the art of film and animation production to college students, but it can overtake all the creative energy I have on a given day. It has been rare for me to be able to find a consistent rhythm of working on my creative projects while I am working as a teacher, a balance I know to be all too familiar a struggle for most artists. 

This experience of moving closer to a sustainable rhythm between work and rest is another reason that I knew I needed to find a way to bring Greywood home. Among the bags of random art supplies that I brought with me on the trip was a deck of cards. Though not originally intended as art supplies, the cards enabled me to come up with an idea to extend the life of the creative rhythms I had established. Each card has been painted and about half the deck (so far) has been assigned a creative exercise. They range from, ‘make something just for fun’ to ‘make a 12 frame looping animation’ to ‘a lament for something lost’. The intent is for each card to be pulled at random and used as a prompt for a short creative activity. There is smaller set that can be used in combination with the list of creative prompts that provide larger categories such as ‘fiction’, ‘non-fiction’, ‘writing’, ‘film’, or ‘watercolor’. The prompts for the cards were added slowly throughout my time in residency and since my return home in order to try to capture some of the questions or motivations that had while in my most optimal creative context. 

I can’t say for sure how often the cards will be used, but I look forward to seeing whether I can use them as seeds to plant the desire for creativity, and to provide the motivation for doing the work and expending the energy that is necessary to bring a project from inception to completion. I now look back on my time at Greywood as a template for the ideal circumstance within which to work creatively. I have not yet encountered an equivalent situation in my day to day life that has simulated the same productivity, but the existence of Greywood has become a crucial beacon of hope on the days when I feel tossed by the waves of my own mind. I see these cards as anchors to throw, and am so grateful to have had the opportunity to craft them.

Hannah R.W. Hamalian is an animator and filmmaker based in Northfield, Minnesota, USA. Interpreting being as a daily process of renewal rather than a static mode, her work often centers the body as a site of transformation and uses movement as a symbol for complexity. She uses animation, appropriated videos, and collaborations with dancers to ask questions and present abstract narratives. Her work has screened and shown at festivals internationally, including KLIK Amsterdam Animation Festival, Athens International Film and Video Festival (Ohio, USA), and the Squeaky Wheel Animation Fest (New York, USA). She received her BA from Carleton College and her MFA from UW-Milwaukee. Website here.