On a beautiful sunny day last week in Water Mill, artist Natacha Mankowski rolled out of bed and went downstairs for breakfast. The large dining area was a treat: stainless-steel appliances, glass shelves holding handmade ceramic dishes, and long wooden tables.
Before long, though, she had already repaired to a studio down the hall, where she has been working on a project called “The Real Tour.” Everywhere she roams in the building, it seems, there are art objects, whether sculptures, miniature, sculpted chairs, or other beautiful artifacts. There is no conventional living room or study anywhere to be seen.
Outside are flowers starting to bloom; they are surrounded by large trees. The artist also takes note of a group of tall, standing stones—monoliths to be exact, circa 2500 B.C.
Monoliths? In a garden?
Obviously this is no ordinary abode. Yet it has been Ms. Mankowski’s home for several weeks as part of the Watermill Center’s artist-in-residence program.
While she had never previously visited the Hamptons, the artist has been taking to the area like a duck to water. “We have people here from so many countries, and I feel really comfortable,’ said Ms. Mankowski, whose residency runs from April 1 to May 2. “I know I will try to get back here as often as I can.”
According to Elise Herget, the Watermill Center’s manager of special and individual gifts, the program has been in effect since 2006, soliciting applications for projects from emerging artists living all over the world. Recent participants have traveled from Berlin, France, Spain, Korea and Indonesia; their projects are in diverse mediums including video, dance, performance art, opera and the visual arts. During the summer, there are as many as 100 artists working at the center for six weeks at a time, although generally only about 15 live at the center—in a building they share with the exhibition spaces—during that time, with others staying elsewhere in the community. To hear it described, the center in summertime resembles a communal camp environment, with people sharing chores and eating at the huge family-style tables. Ms. Herget does note that two meals a day are prepared by cooks from Indonesia.
The idea of connecting with a community extends to the neighboring villages and hamlets. The artists offer programs at the Parrish Art Museum, invite East End residents to see open rehearsals at the center, and welcome students from the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center to visit the artists’ studios.
The residency program runs throughout the year, but summer is the busiest time, and Ms. Mankowski is currently the sole live-in inhabitant. Raised in France, she studied architecture in Paris, and her residency project at the Watermill Center involves a large-scale painting that investigates the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a “real-virtual space” blurring the lines between representation and reality. When entering the space she has created, the visitor becomes a one-day archaeologist, speculating on various scenarios and entering the hypothetical past, present and future of the Navy Yard through images, objects such as colorful wall hangings and a desk by Donald Judd, and music composed by Shane Weeks, a friend of Ms. Mankowski.
Horizontal and vertical configurations intersect in one of her paintings, and its cluttered space seems to contradict the sparsely furnished studio that surrounds it.
It’s appropriate that Ms. Mankowski’s aesthetic theme is space. Her living environment at the center is all about diverse space as well: rectangular cubicles with platform beds for the residents who stay there; and long hallways with dark floors leading to exhibition rooms on the upper levels, where extraordinary artifacts such as wooden sculptures from Indonesia are displayed in an exquisite openness.
Ms. Mankowski rather likes the fact that she is often alone in this kind of sparseness. She goes about her business, working on her art, going for a run, meeting students from the Bridgehampton Child Care Center, along with their teacher, the Flanders artist Andrea Cote, and answering their questions about why she herself is an artist.
“Every day when I get up, I say to myself, ‘I can’t believe I’m so lucky to be here,’” she said. “It’s real. It’s home,”