Applying to live and work as an artist-in-residence on Kent Island is an unusual process. Alongside typical questions regarding major and GPA, the application asks, "Have you spent time living in 'rustic conditions' (e.g., no running water, electricity, cell phone coverage, flush toilets, TV, or internet access)?" and "What is your favorite meal to cook?"
The position requires a willingness to live on a solitary island without modern amenities in a small, communal home. The description of the living conditions almost echoes explorer Ernest Shackleton's newspaper ad recruiting for his expedition team: "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness."
However, far from deterring students to live and work on Kent Island, the environmental conditions draw them to the Bay of Fundy, inspire them artistically, and inform their practice long after their departure.
Through October 30, five former artists-in-residence will have their work on display in the exhibition "Island Bound" at Saint John Arts Centre in New Brunswick, Canada.
Students were invited by photographer Peter Cunningham to display their work, whose father once worked at the Kent Island Scientific Station. Cunningham's work is also currently on view at the St. John Arts Centre.
"Island Bound," composed of works by Elsbeth Paige-Jeffers '10, Colin Matthews '10, Carina Sandoval '10, Anne Rothacker '11, and Evan Graff '11 showcases a variety of Kent Island views, insights and perspectives.
According to Damon Gannon, current director of Bowdoin's Scientific Station (BSS) on Kent Island, the decade-old artist-in-residence program continues to be competitive.
Initially, the program was for one visual artist to live and work in the Bay of Fundy for a nine-week summer fellowship.
In recent years, the program has accepted two students per summer and expanded to include poets and authors.
On Kent Island, artists succeed when they offer their work up to be shaped by the environment and their advisors agree that it is best to approach the summer with a blank canvas (or page).
Associate Professor of Art and Chair of the Coastal Studies Advisory Committee Michael Kolster praised Graff for not "going in with too many preconceived notions."
Sandoval, having never been to the island, was drawn by her concept of the unknown. She embraced the challenge of living in an isolated community in which she would be forced to orient herself to her surroundings and form new relationships. Sandoval said this challenge was a "unique opportunity" to concentrate on the direction of her interests as an independent artist.
Sandoval, hoping that the combination of isolation and community on the island would be a formula for success, was not disappointed. She was captivated by skeletal remains that she found on the island, leading her to create an abstract body of work that launched her senior project.
Graff spent the summer on Kent Island through a McKee photography grant rather than the artist-in-residence program. Previously a nature photographer, Graff chose portraiture as means of creating a vicarious experience for the viewer. As island residents began to bond, they became more comfortable in front of Graff's lens.
According to Gannon, relationships between the scientists and artists-in-residence increase productivity, and during nightly sit-down dinners, residents share the common obstacles of independent research.
A look at the sum of Graff's work reveals the timelessness of Kent Island. Graff said, "Life on the island hasn't changed that drastically. I want my photography in [Kent Island's] own time, as a place that unites past, present and future."
Rothacker, an artist-in-residence who explored poetry and prose, touches upon this theme in her poem "Weathered": "Years of weather neatly recorded / an impulse to capture / and understand why / It comes back to fog / vapor settling us into isolation / wrapping the island / into itself." Gannon said that Rothacker was greatly influenced by both the science and the history of the island in her writing.
Graff characterized the virtues of the experience as "nothing but a few buildings and a few people," a place where you "lose track of day of the week and the news" and give yourself up to "shared experience."