Environment of change


By Seema Kalra
Published: Monday 15 May 1995

THE protagonists of "art for art's sake" have been humbled in all ages by the vast majority of artists, who have responded and reacted to their immediate social, cultural and political environs. It is but natural that the artists in these days of environmental degradation should in this respect follow their predecessors.

However, their concerns have been seen to be dominated by the disruption of harmony between man and nature. "Ah! beautiful nature!" is the kind of sigh almost every exhibition on environmental themes in India lets off. Which is why the recently held international workshop on Man and Nature, sponsored by the Lalit Kala Academy, the Max Muller Bhavan and the Japan Foundation, stood out: it dispelled the stereotypical philosophy of artists towards nature, even if only to a limited extent.

The month-long workshop reflected varied manifestations of the Indian, German and Japanese artists. Their styles and mediums ranged from open-air installations to canvasses, from perishable artifacts to works in glass, stone and metal. The installations are now exhibited at the Buddha Jayanti Park and at the Ravindra Art Gallery.

According to Chisen Furukawa of Japan, "The prosperity of the earth lies in the proper circulation within this cosmos". At the centre of this circulation is the tree, and the nourishment is derived from water. Furukawa manifests in the form of a Raintree. Yards and yards of thread is woven beautifully on the tree, creating the image of rain sprinkling on it. The precise and minimal use of material made Furukawa's installation significant.

Another unadorned display was The Book of Nature, by Tim Ulrichs of Germany. He had simply chiseled a wooden frame to resemble an open book and placed grass and weeds into the bookframe.

For many of the Indian artists, open installations were a new experiment. N N Rimzon's Far Away from Hundred and Eight Feet marks a radical shift in his art, which had so far remained shy of the outdoors. The number, 108, is associated with Hindu rituals still practiced in India. Unlike his Japanese and German contemporaries, Rimzon has deliberately avoided using ecofriendly materials. Defending his choice he says, "My concerns are with the total meaning, experienced in relation between the object and the space it occupies. The metaphoric content of material is the key: here the material and the image are one and the same -- an undividable entity".

Likewise, Gogi Saroj Pal in her installation, Indian Rituals and Ecology, has used large blocks of stone and traditional temple colours. Ved Nayar uses large glass pentallelograms, reflecting the nature around it to express his optimism that "nature, in the end will pardon man...the plant, the bird will evolve again and revive the man. Man will come down from his pedestal of fake immorality and learn to live with his environment in harmony". The garlands strapped around the glass expresses man's obeisance to and reunion with nature.

Vivian Sundaram uses stone, wood, steel, ceramic, marble and glass to sculpt a linear, fragile monumental piece, a Site for a Tree Shrine. Part of a tree trunk is used to make a mountain out of handmade paper stuck one upon another. Other structures at the site include a bird house perched on a steel rod, bamboo baskets as nesting places etc.

Valsan Kolleri exposes the our ugly side, with a larger than lifesize, wired sculpture of the Buddha, which opens up into a garbage pit. Kolleri's is one of the few exhibits which tries to evoke a question among the viewers. According to the artist's concept, the ugly resides in the beautiful. What Kolleri really asks is, "Should we allow beauty to wither away?

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