How to Approach a Residency in Lockdown: A Q&A with Illustrator in Residence Peony Gent

We chatted to our sixth Illustrator in Residence about doing half her residency remotely.

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  • Illustrator in Residence

Let’s start at the beginning! How did you get started? 

I came to this residency with almost a deliberately vague set of aims, not wanting to bring too much of a personal agenda to my work.

I began by trying to open-mindedly gather as much as possible. I’d take photographs, do drawings, jot things down in a sketchbook and on my phone, and even collect scraps of rubbish that I’d find around the area.

What particularly piqued your interest?

I always try to focus on easily ignored bits of ordinary life, but it was particularly interesting doing this in King’s Cross, an area I’d almost entirely seen as a through-fare or transitory place to pass through on the way to somewhere else.

How did the lockdown change things?

I obviously couldn’t quite keep making work the way I had been. Something which had been about witnessing, experiencing and recording an area would have to evolve.

After a bit of initial anxiety – after all, how do you document a place accurately when you can no longer reasonably go there? – I started to see the positive side.

Instead of changing track completely I was just being forced to sit down and look at my work and the site from a new perspective.

What was that new perspective?

Having to be physically away from the area got me thinking about how places like King’s Cross even exist. They exist partly in the present but also in the past and in the imagination, the connections we make with them and the memories we have of them.

In a way, each place exists differently for each person. For example St Pancras Old Church yard might be a through-fare, a place of respite or holy ground. For the poet Aidan Dunn, it was a site of revelation; for William Blake, it was the New Jerusalem. For most people it’s probably a place to walk your dog, smoke a cigarette or escape the noise and bustle of the train station.

That ability for a place to be so many things for so many different people, that simultaneous invisible layering, is what I began to really focus in on. Rather than responding to the site itself, I started responding the way we remember and reconstruct that site.

How is this new perspective reflected in your work?

Rather than focusing so much on the physical appearance of the place, its architecture, specific buildings and streets, I began to focus much more on individual experiences of being in those spaces.

I like the idea of ‘mapping’ a place in a different way, and in turn connecting seemingly unconnected experiences and memories. This was something I’ve always found interesting, but the restrictions of lockdown really narrowed my focus as to how I could best present that to an audience.

Peony Gent's exhibition has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic but subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter to be the first to hear when new exhibition dates are announced and to see more work in progress until then.