From Ilana Simons

01.06.2015 - 19.06.2015

What makes the Trelex Residency so unique is a certain special system of lawlessness and anonymity –a residency model that’s based on trust. There are no applications, no fees.

Nina calls it the Trelex Model, and is in the process of exporting this dreamscape to other locations like Peru and Pakistan.

Four years ago, Nina turned the top floor of her own home into an artists’ retreat with the desire to have likeminded makers in her space.  After art school in London, she moved with husband David (a moral philosopher) and their three kids to the Swiss town of Trelex, with the small population of about 1,400. Nina found herself in a bright studio with views of the Alps, but watching the cows and missing the productive chaos of human voices. She restructured her home off a unique ethical gamble: you might invite artists/strangers into your house and trust them, off the bold fact that they’ve traveled a long distance to show up and make things with you.

There are already many residencies available, Nina says, for artists who go to art school and build CV’s angled for a life in the art market. But there are almost no opportunities for artists without that CV— imaginative minds who work almost secretly but might find themselves especially triggered, wired, and driven by this stretch of free time in a grand space in which they are asked nothing about who they are or what they promise to produce. If someone knows herself to be invested in making art, reads through the Trelex website without much guidance from outside sources, requests an occupancy, and buys a ticket to Geneva six months in advance (which is about how quickly spots fill up), then that person is invested. And, when we arrive, we see the full gift: the huge house lined with vines, the strawberries for picking in the garden, the bikes and cars available for use, the mountainsides striped with hiking trails. The surprise of the gift is enough to set an unusual mutual generosity into motion. People generally worry about what others think of them, Nina says. If you enter someone’s house, and it’s beautiful, and she asks nothing about who you are, you have some impulse to return the spirit. Just so, her house holds the trail of past creative minds that seem to have lived there, open—pastels left behind, charcoal pencils, Japanese paper, twelve bottles of glue, chocolate in the cabinets, a bottle of wine. Nina herself offers an almost endless supply of other things for making art. Then that’s what happens: you show up and you make art.

I shared my three weeks of residency with an Indian painter named Ranadip Mukherjee. Nina met us both at the airport/train station and invited us to scour the airport supermarket for a while before driving us back to the house.

The two artists in residence at any one time sleep in the loft upstairs, which also houses the studio, made of about 700 square feet with moving walls and windows for natural light. Nina and her family live on the first two floors. There is a rather neat division: you get to know the dog, the brilliance of her kids (one has unbounded knowledge and passion for Greek myth), and some rooms in the house itself are great reading hideaways, like this veranda on the second floor where I had wine and wrote romantically.

Ranadip usually woke up earlier than I did and would quietly start his watercolors by the rising sun at the open window. I am a video artist so the trajectory of my day was more scattered: filming Nina’s daughter (an excellent actor; she has insights into American culture), or painting trees in the garden for set pieces, or doing set pieces of Freud and a collage of Nina.

I took many day trips: Geneva is a good one, for its museum of contemporary art (MAMCO), where I enjoyed the short films of one queer sexualized wonderkind whose name I’m not remembering. Another great outing is to Lausanne, for the Collection de L’Art Brut, all art done by true outsiders, most of them in mental institutions. Both places are accessible from right outside Nina’s house, via train.

I took daily bike rides into Nyon, where the food shopping is best.  I did a daily runs to Crassier, a neighboring town, for which I passed through the most beautiful white/green striped landscapes with lake far below.

I came back home to New York with little nuggets on psychology from Nina. Questions asked: How does she handle the diversity in her house--the minds that come through which annoy her with their politics, or their rudeness, or their myopia, or whatever might bug her?  Smiling wider than the rim of her coffee, Nina said, “But I love and hate everyone. There is no other way of knowing someone.” It takes balance to welcome the differences in and engage with it. Her life has taken on the task of that engagement. Then: how does she trust that she’s not opening her house to freeloaders? “I ask that anyone who comes read the website and, without much dialogue, buy a ticket across the world.  That shows someone’s commitment, doesn’t it?”



Me: I’m Ilana Simons, an artist and psychologist who lives in NYC and was delighted to share Nina’s space for three weeks while I worked on my video about heartbreak.  See some of my videos here:

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