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Challenging yourself as an Artist: Aengus Hackett reflects on his NAVIGATOR Residency

  • Process & creation

Guitarist and composer Aengus Hackett was Artist in Resident at The Courthouse, Tinahely as part of IMC's Navigator Residency programme in Autumn 2022.

He reflects on the experience and outcomes for him as an artist.

As an improvising musician, it is my vocation to take inspiration from my environment, such as the things I see, hear and feel, and respond to these in my music. Ideally when I sit down to create something new, I open my mind and I come up with an instantaneous response to my environment. Following this line of thought, when the environment changes, my response changes.When the environment challenges me, my response is hopefully more honest and ‘in the moment’.

Traveling to Courthouse Arts Centre, Tinahely for the Navigator residency was a great opportunity for me to put this in practice. Arriving at a place you have never been before and knowing that you have a solid block of time to explore and create, without any constraints, is liberating.It is also a challenge. Often when I create, there is an explicit end goal or output in mind. With this residency, I attempted to remove that constraint and just respond to the environment.

Tomnafinnoge Woods, Co Wicklow
PHOTO: Aengus Hackett

Working out of your comfort zone is always a challenge. But on reflection, challenging yourself is the best way to develop yourself as an artist. Sitting down to work in an unfamiliar place forces you to reevaluate your way of working. Of course this can be an uncomfortable feeling, but in my experience pushing through this leads to valuable insights.I feel that I created different work than I otherwise would have, if working at home in my familiar comfort zone. I dug a little deeper. This aspect of the residency was, I feel, the most valuable.At times, when I found that I had burrowed down a particularly esoteric creative rabbit-hole, I was asking myself what on earth I was doing! But even if that exploration didn’t lead to anything concrete or performable, that process was incredibly valuable.I also found working in the large theatre space quite stimulating. This enabled me to explore using the space and PA system in a creative way, and create electronic sounds which complimented a large space.

Aengus with local poet Bruce Copeland
Aengus with local poet Bruce Copeland

In recent times, mankind’s impact on the natural world has been inspiring my work more and more. As part of the residency, I travelled to the nearby ancient oak forest Tomnafinnoge Woods. This was a real treat, as there aren’t very many oak woods around my native Galway. Learning some of the local folklore about this forest was fascinating; how it was much larger only a few decades ago, decimated by logging and was the centre of a major campaign to save the forest in the 1970s and 80s. This inspiration was further enriched by meeting with local poet and beekeeper Bruce Copeland and recording his pieces on local flora and fauna.

Set-up at The Courthouse
Set-up at The Courthouse

I finished up the residency with a workshop on improvisation with the students of Coláiste Bhríde, Carnew. Although they were experienced brass and woodwind players in the school’s concert band, many were new to improvisation. This was highly enjoyable. As always, through working with a group I learned a lot about improvisation from how they approached it. After some initial trepidation, they dived right in! It was interesting to see how the different personalities came through, how some students were happy to experiment without worrying about making mistakes while others approached it more meticulously.

My artist residency in Courthouse Arts Centre gave me a unique opportunity to creatively respond to my own environment and indeed the larger natural environment. I feel that this experience will certainly inform and benefit my future work. As I return to my own working routine, I can reflect and see that as an artist, every now and then your comfort zone needs a little shaking up.

- Aengus Hackett, 11 December 2022

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