Bir, Himachal Pradesh–Art is not a commodity but an experience, say connoisseurs, and this experience can take an entirely new form when it interacts with its surroundings — walls, lights, music, furniture and other artwork around it — or even moves beyond it.
What if the whole idea of art from its creation to exhibition is transformed? What if the creation of an artist is juxtaposed with the supreme creation — mother nature itself? What if the surrounding walls are replaced by trees and shrubs, artificial lights by the natural play of sunlight and shadows, and recorded music by the sounds of crickets, birds and the wind?
One such experience was showcased in Gunehar, a small village in Himachal Pradesh, which falls between Bir and Billing, famous as the paragliding zone of India.
Every three years, a unique art residency programme called “ShopArt ArtShop” is organised in Gunehar by German-Indian art curator Frank Schlichtmann, where artists break free from rules and restrictions of art galleries and curators, to create art in the foothills of Himalayas while interacting with nature as well as the villagers.
However, Schlichtmann took it a notch higher this June with an exhibition titled “In the Woods” where various artists’ works were displayed in the natural setting of a forest above Gunehar.
The idea was to make art more accessible by taking it out of the restricted and elitist space, he said.
“First, it’s a different way of doing an art exhibition because these usually take place in galleries and only for city people, and that too, for a select few.
“We want to achieve something first for the artist. So here, the artists have a chance to work outside all the restraints put by the galleries and the curators,” Schlichtmann told IANS.
Schlichtmann, who not only curated the exhibition which concluded on June 11 but also displayed a few of his own artworks, said that in India, the art scene starts and ends with painting and sculpture. “That’s all that they consider as art anyway.”
He added that the aim of the exhibition as well as the triennial art residency project is also to bring forward the emerging artists of various art forms.
“The emerging artists, who are actually the interesting ones and are taking the art scene forward, have to fight a lot to even get a spot. For instance, a famous curator whom I know actually charges the artists to curate,” Schlichtmann said.
The exhibition displayed terracotta sculptures of Mudita Bhandari, photographs by Ratika Singh, paintings by Neha Lavingia, as well as a soundscape by Nikhil Narendra, an e-book project by Rohini Kejriwal and a live installation by Gauri Sharma.
Bhandari, who displayed works which seamlessly blended with the forest surroundings, says that it was a completely different experience to first work for “ShopArt ArtShop” and then for “In the Woods”.
“It’s very regular to have an exhibition in a city where you have a gallery, where you have a setup and where you know everything. There you are in your comfort zone.”
“But it is very different when you don’t have a setup at all. I had nothing, not even a table to work on and was working on flat cement space when I came for ShopArt ArtShop,” Bhandari told IANS.
“All our traditional potters are working under these circumstances. We, as city people, have never done it and there is still something that divides their way of doing things and our way of doing things,” she said.
Bhandari, an art graduate from Shantiniketan, prefers terracotta because it’s “very porous and very alive” and it changes with every season.
“When you place terracotta works outdoors, you see some fungus coming in — the green thing. When the rains are gone and the sun is out, the green dries up and it’s all brown,” she said.
“So it’s very evolving and is living in that particular space which is why I relate to terracotta much more.”
About exhibiting her works outside in the forest, Bhandari says it created a link between her process of creating the artwork and the way it is displayed for the audience.
“When I am working, there are so many light elements that come in and go as the sun goes from one direction to another. So I watch the work play with those lights and shadows.”
“It was a fantastic thing to actually bring the work out in the open. This was my way of sharing that play of lights and shadows in real time and with people, because each light or shadow would have its own character and it creates a mood of its own,” she said.