Curator’s note on day 12 for our artists.

We are halfway through the residency today, with another 11 days to complete the projects.

At the half-way mark, it seems to me that a number of projects are struggling, both (still!) with the preliminary conceptual-abstract thinking process as well as the process of expressing this through the mediums of your art.  Many of you have not found your theme, and so the work so far feels confusing and inadequate to me. There is a great danger that we as a collective will fail if we don’t get it right in the next 11 days.

I have from the very beginning stressed the importance of conceptual thinking as the starting point of each project. A concept enables us to occupy a space that is in some ways fictional, i.e. outside of our normal thought patterns and mode of operation. With the theme that you have been given, to explore the topic of boundaries/borderlines, either through your own experiences, or through the exploration of outside phenomena, in itself gives you a framework to develop the conceptual backbones of your individual projects.

At this stage of the project, i.e at the half-way mark, I have a feeling that some of you feel that the concepts and mode of action we had pre-discussed was just a formality to get into the residency and that you do not actually feel need to follow up on the agreement. Or that you are having difficulties… in which case I am not seeing you coming to me with your difficulties.

The agreement states clearly that:

1) You will present SAAS-3 with a concept, in words (!), that will be the backbone of your project.

2) That you will work on the pre-discussed project, using your medium and addressing the theme of the exhibition, from ‘scratch’, and develop an independent and new piece of work/works.

3) That the work/works will be “unique” in finding some answers to the global trend of disenchantment, division and separation that seems to plague current development.

Also, importantly:

4) To document the struggle of creating a work/works within the given parameters, and every step of the process

  1. a) in your shops;

and b) online.

I have rephrased here to reemphasize the importance of what SAAS-3 is trying to achieve. I have made this very clear in all our texts, information, guidelines, and in all communications we have had before you were selected, and so I will have to insist on your taking this seriously.

It is time now, if we do not want to fail, to look into the project so far with clear eyes. So we will start with  a day-long symposium/meeting of all of us for tomorrow, 27th, from 9.30 onwards. The objective of this meeting will be to discuss, hopefully intensely and honestly, where we are right now with our individual projects. We would also be working on our individual blogs, since most of these are still either without any posts or very basic. The hope is that by formulating and presenting the projects on the blogs, some clarity will come into the individual projects, both for you, but also for those who want to see and read about your work and process.

Day 11

Although trained as a painter, with a Masters in Fine Arts, Amritah Sen has increasingly found her interest is in visual story telling. Thus her art has moved away from the two-dimensional, wall-occupied painting, to three-dimensional, hand-made art books that a) tell a story, and b) allow the viewer to hold the art in their hands.

Looking for her ‘Borderlines’ theme, Amritah chose ‘Dreams vs Reality’, picking up on the life and aspirations of the village children, and portraying these in a concertina book, in bright and appealing paintings.

 

Her ‘shop’ for the #Shopartartshop residency is a half-built house not far up the hill, which she shares with Saban Chowdhury. She and Saban are using the relatively complete downstairs as their working space, and will exhibit their work on the open and incomplete second level. Their exhibit hall is thus, in effect, a building site, forcing them to either work around or incorporate into their exhibits, large piles of broken bricks and other materials.

Like most of us visiting here, Amritah is interested in the lives and attitudes of the villagers, and whilst the exhibition isn’t about the village per se, its many elements necessarily fold themselves into the artists’ thinking and artistic expression. For the most part, the villagers seem content to be here in this small corner of the world their ancestors have occupied for generations before, living and doing things much the same way. Amritah’s ‘landlady’ here, where she is staying with Sultana and Devyani, told her she had been a few other places here in the north, but she didn’t really see the point, since she had everything here that she needed.

It is these contrasts that fascinate all of us and contribute to our projects in many and varied ways. The village is a space of contrasts and borderlines. 

 

Day 8

by Sue Fitzmaurice

At this time of year, for a few weeks, the village is harvesting its wheat. In other parts of India, they’re picking their tea leaves. Later in the year, it’ll be corn, and in some places rice.

   

The land here is all small holdings, carved out in a multitude of flat, terraced steps of winding, fish-like shapes. You can see where one terrace ends and another starts, but it’s not obvious to the visitor whose land begins and ends where, except from high on the hill you can see where some wheat is harvested and some not, so that’s probably a clue.

After breakfast this morning, several of us wound down the hill from 4Tables to a field belonging to one of the house staff, some to help and others of us to watch the continuing harvest of her wheat. The path starts at the main road and I’ve only ever walked the dozen or so steps to 4Tables before, often thinking I must carry on down and see what’s there. I’ve seen cows and goats go up and down the narrow path, and old women – often very old women – walking slowly up with enormous loads on their backs, of grass for their animals, or newly harvested wheat. Nobody walks fast here, despite their fitness and experience with the up and down of the village. We all bolted up the hill paths the first few days we were here, I suppose trying to prove our fitness and general ability to cope with heat and hills. We knocked ourselves out, until we observed the sensible villagers pacing slowly up. What’s the hurry anyway.

What I didn’t know was that the rough concrete path down lasts only about 50 metres before it disappears into a winding, stony, muddy, potentially ankle-twisting track that would challenge the occasional goat. And it was very hot. And there wasn’t really any shade.

After walking into a tree branch with my head and sinking into mud in my flip-flops, I made it with the others to Sukina’s patch. Sukina and Suman didn’t waste any time.

Sarban and Amritah got stuck in:

The theme of SAAS3 is Borderlines. Here in the wheat fields, some of the divisions and lines of the village are apparent, from geographic to gender. Mostly it’s the women doing this hot, physical work – most of the men are sitting in their shops up in the square. Or just sitting. On the weekends though, you can see some of the bigger boys (and occasionally littler ones), home from school, carrying the loads of wheat.

As the only white woman for miles around – and blonde to boot – I’m an object of, well… something, to the villagers. I frequently hear small children giggling behind my back. I’m used to it now. As I clambered awkwardly down the path (wondering how women 20 years my senior manage this with 20kg on their backs) giggling erupted from one group of women as they wildly gesticulated to an alternative and less ridiculous path than the one I was attempting. I’ve come to appreciate being a fish out of water and I laughed back, changed course and gave them a thumbs up.

Cutting and gathering the wheat is only one part of the business of harvest time. The wheat has to dry, and all over the village, terraces and yards are covered in the small, tied bunches. The downstairs terrace where one of the artists and I have our rooms was totally covered the last several days, with a narrow track – ie. a few inches – to our doors and the bathroom. One old lady came daily from about 5am to shuffle it about, talking to herself outside my open window, perhaps exclaiming how it was I was still in bed at 7am.

Once dry, it goes to the threshing machines, which run all day, every day, till midnight or even later. You’ll generally see a man standing beside the machine, but that’s mostly all they do. Stand. Several women will be loading and unloading and sweeping and clearing. It’s hot work and it’s very, very dusty.

And then without much of a break, the oxen are out, pulling wooden ploughs, turning over the soil in these small terraces, and the next crop is planted. The green shoots will be visible before we leave.

 

Day 7

Sarban Chowdhury is known as a ceramist but his art is expressed through several forms, including drawing, painting, photography, sculpture and writing, through all of which he explores – in the main – human relationships and emotions. He is intensely engaged in his art, looking often to repeat a single theme over and over in an attempt to portray its many layers and meanings.

His main ceramic work is with porcelain and the kinds of firing that require an extremely high temperature, beyond that required for simple clay ceramics. Followers of #Shopartartshop will recall in SAAS2 how Mudita Bhandari – a colleague of Sarban’s – built her own kiln in the village to fire her pieces made from local clay. The temperature produced by such a kiln is insufficient for Sarban’s usual ceramics work. However, he will build a small kiln for some clay pieces. Generally though, his work for SAAS is focusing on installations, crafted from stone, metal, wood and other raw materials found around the village. “People are very kind and generous and helpful in the village. If I see a piece of metal that just seems to be lying around, I’ll ask if I can have it, and always people are fine with that.”

This is Sarban’s tenth art residency, having traveled previously to Russia, France, and other places in Europe, as well as around India. “I don’t go to a residency to do my usual art. I can do that in my studio. These are my research opportunities. Here I am always thinking about what I can do differently. I have challenged myself here to only use what I can get for free from local sources, so that is a very different way to do art, so I’m thinking all the time about this.”

Sarban is interpreting the SAAS theme of ‘Borderlines’ in various ways. One of his pieces is a collection of bent and twisted metal strips – themselves perhaps a depiction of our modern world – pasted over with cuttings from magazines describing some element of division (borderline) in India and in the world.

 

Like many artists and writers, Sarban is a watcher of people, observing interactions and behaviours, conscious and unconscious, assessing the lay of the land and seeing how things unfold. His acute mind translates this multitude of dynamics into exquisitely fine and detailed art. Sarban is passionately active in his art. “You have to make a name for yourself. You have to be seen. You can’t play at being an artist. This is the other great value of residencies – one great value is that here I’m researching, and the other is that I’m seen by a new group of people.”

 

Did you know it costs just $20 to feed an artist for a week? And only $5 for a room for one night? Supporting art is cool – supporting an artist is even cooler! Help feed our artists at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/contemporary-art-festival-in-the-himalayas

Day 5

Saturday is pizza day at 4Tables cafe and everyone was looking forward to it! The pizza was fabulous and visitors and guests got to chat with the artists and enjoy some movies from previous ShopArt residencies and festivals. And 6,000 rupees was raised for the project!

 

 

Day 4

Sultana Zana is fascinated by networks: natural (eg. tree roots), man-made (eg. roads, digital networks), animal made (eg. sheep tracks) – and the spaces created in and between them – and our awareness (or not) of those spaces.

Her Borderlines project is about some of those spaces – especially very small ones – conceptualised within a series of networks.

One of the key outputs of her project will be a film that takes the viewer into some of these spaces, literally giving them a view from the perspective of, say, a small insect.

Using film and still photography, the hoped-for outcome is that the viewer will feel what it’s like to be part of a space that’s different from their own.

Using a small microscope, tiny living spaces were revealed within the bark and moss of the trees:

       

 

   

Sultana’s shop is at the very top of the village, but her research space is the steep hill behind her living space, still quite high above the main village. It’s marked all over with sheep tracks, and looking a little closer, all kinds of other networks the imagination might reveal.

Did you know it costs just $20 to feed an artist for a week? And only $5 for a room for one night? Supporting art is cool – supporting an artist is even cooler! Help feed our artists at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/contemporary-art-festival-in-the-himalayas

Day 3

Mumbai potter, Devyani Smith, is occupying one of the most peaceful spots high up in the village, a very old house, no longer occupied. Upstairs are two brightly-painted, mud-floored rooms that will be the painting studio of Asmita Sarkar.

Devyani brought with her from Mumbai, half a dozen huge boxes of mostly BROKEN ceramics from her studio. She has already started to place pieces around her shop space and forecourt, creating for the observer the desire to explore further, to pick pieces up, to touch, to wonder at the placement of pieces.

The effect is intriguing and irresistible.

Devyani began potting 10 years ago after a successful career in television, opening her own studio five years ago. She says her friends warned her against a full-time career in the arts – “you cannot create a living doing this”, they said – but Devyani knew she could not create a meaningful life any longer in television – her passion was her art – here, working with her hands, was where she found meaning.

She says her artistic style has developed in stages over that time, incrementally as she learns her trade and its science. All art is half technique, half creativity, and each influences and inspires the other.

  

Upstairs, Asmita has a charming place, with ancient beams, brightly painted walls, mud floors, and an interesting attic up a narrow pink stairway, variously open to the elements, begging for a light show of some kind.

 

As we sat here this afternoon, exotic birds with long tails flew closely past us. Here, for sure, visitors will stop and rest and enjoy much that fills their senses.

Myself, I’m always intrigued – and a little nervous – about Indian wiring: modern art installations themselves:

 

This afternoon we were treated to a Himalayan thunder and lightning display of epic proportions, dark and foreboding, with rifle cracks just above, and torrential rain. The landscape is only ever dramatic here.

Tomorrow, Saturday, is 4Tables cafe’s ‘pizza and movie’ night. There won’t be the usual movie – instead we’ll be showing some movies from the previous ShopArt in 2016, and visitors will be able to meet the artists and find out about their projects. And the pizza, is THE BEST I’ve ever had anywhere in the world, cooked in Frank’s own pizza oven at the front of the house. Always a treat. (The secret’s in the sauce!) See you there!

 

Did you know it costs just $20 to feed an artist for a week? And only $5 for a room for one night? Supporting art is cool – supporting an artist is even cooler! Help feed our artists at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/contemporary-art-festival-in-the-himalayas

Day 2

The weather in Gunehar isn’t quite conducive to some activities – there’s been off and on rain for a few days – but despite that, the artists have been focused and industrious. Most now have their shop sites sorted and agreed on with the owners, and today was all about cleaning and tidying, and preparing to paint.

Pramila and Yash have the fabulous, big, old building below. Yash is upstairs and Pramila is downstairs. Both have mud floors but they’re pretty uneven, so they’re actually fixing them! With mud – the whole nine yards! This will take a couple of days to complete and for the mud to dry before they can properly move in.

Sultana Zana has the last shop in the line-up, pretty much at the very top of the village, conveniently situated opposite a chai shop. She’s sharing with Sarban Chowdhury, and they spent part of the day tidying up in what is otherwise a very fresh, clean building.

Right now, there’s a cheerful, hungry group lined up for dinner, sitting on laptops, chatting about their projects, hoping for sun tomorrow.

 

Day 1

All of the artists have arrived for ShopArt 3, and today they had to find a studio. For ShopArt 3, the ‘shops’ / studios will all be in the upper village, an entirely different experience from the main village square. There are magnificent views of the Himalayan foothills rising behind the upper village, and the Kangra valley far below.

Most of the available spaces are in old stone and mud dwellings, now deserted. Their character is unmistakable.

 

Artists see art everywhere, in the texture, the materials, the light and dark, even the smells of the village.

Above: Pramila Choudhary, Yash Sahai, Gaurav Gokhale, Frank Schlichtmann, Anoop from #Foundonallfours, Devyani Smith, Jasmine from #Foundonallfours.

 

Article, The Tribune

The story of Shopart Artshop (SAAS) so far, captured thoroughly in The Tribune, Sunday 12th May 2019.