“I don’t know exactly where I’m living right now,” Tanya Davis says when we meet during her artist residency with this town is small at Upstreet Brewing. The residency is her residence for the moment, during a transition time for the Summerside-raised artist known for her performance poetry and music.
After a relationship break-up in Ottawa, she is contemplating her connections to Montreal, where she lived and worked for two-and-a-half years, and the East Coast, where she has lived in several cities. “I am coming back in to the loving arms of friends and family. It is interesting to be in Charlottetown, which has kind of been a home to me, even though I haven’t lived here much.” But, she says, the Island “always feels like home, and ‘home’ is complicated.”
The theme of Tanya’s residence is climate and change. “Two words,” she says, “I will keep them at the top of my pages.” It isn’t an entirely new theme for Tanya. For instance, she recently contributed words and narration to the lyrical film Solastalgia directed by Mille Clarkes. She says she thinks a lot about “the sadness that comes with worrying about the state of the world.”
Tanya speaks of collaboration enthusiastically. “I like anything that puts me on the ground a little bit. That’s practice,” she says. “I love to be asked to be part of something else.”
The artist, known for her open-hearted, courageous vulnerability, says, “It is always on my mind, human suffering… Life, death, how we manage it, our fear of what is happening right now, and how we still get on with it.”
She wants to shift the way she expresses these thoughts in words, and she says the words she works on in her residency “may land in different places.” After a couple of “quieter years for me,” Tanya says, “I am trying to find other ways to get words out there than performance poetry, for which I am known… I want to become a better writer.”
Tanya’s curiosity and hunger to learn and make goes in many directions, and as part of her residency, she is contemplating concrete products. “Earlier today I was ‘helping’” (she makes air quotes) “put a beer down that will be released as part of this residency. I have envy seeing people whose work and business is concrete and obvious. Being around a lot of people making something happen is kind of motivating. It is hard as an artist not having external accountability. It’s nice to be in a place where people are getting something done, meeting objectives.”
She says, “My advice to an artist just starting out would be to also cultivate another career that is mostly sustainable. I’ve dealt with burn-out, and I had to file for bankruptcy. I am not ashamed of that. Now, I not only need other work, I also want it.”
Thinking again of climate, and change, she says, “I don’t think things are going to get easier for us, moving through the world. The only way I can see my way through things is community.”
Tanya says, “My biggest success is ‘How to Be Alone,’” a poem made into a short film by Andrea Dorfman, “but I don’t feel as existentially lonely as I used to be.” Admits Tanya, “I say it as a joke, but it’s also serious that now I want to do ‘How to Be Together.’ I want to nurture connections.”
She reflects, “I’ve had a major depression. I’ve been through two major breakups. I am feeling good in my head, but ungrounded”—like you do, she says, “when you find you are not on the path you thought you were on.”
Tanya is not sad when she says, “I’m recalibrating, not reinventing myself. I’m Tanya. I’ve come from all the things I’ve done already. I’ve had a quiet couple of years, and I feel a different energy waking in me. I’m hoping anyone interested will come along for the ride, even if I don’t yet have something concrete to give them yet.” A good core philosophy for a creative residency, or for any time of new becomings.