Art in spaces, as we know it

At the end of last year, Dutch artist Peter Shräder had showcased his invention in Kathmandu – the ‘Claxophone’ comprising 16 computer-controlled car horn sounds. Sitting on a rickshaw, he played different sounds collected from the streets of Kathmandu. It was interesting – his concept of the artificial nature – but the sounds, when heard for a long time along, began to irk me. I didn’t want to sit around listening to traffic noises which I had heard many times. Here, at the Summit Hotel in Kupondole, they just had been taken out of their actual environment.

It wasn’t until a few weeks back, when I was waiting to cross the road, I took notice of the innumerous horns at different pitches and decibels, blaring in from all directions. In my mind, I tried to isolate each sound and to block out the rest of it. That’s when I thought of Shräder’s Claxophone. The instrument now made sense to me because it made me hear each individual sound in its own environment, one that is man-made.

Art and our works are personal to us artists because of the journey we undertake in creating or destroying it, because of the decisions we make along the way. These choices come from several influences and avenues of life and some subconsciously. And what is born out of it is our baby – we nourish it, and as we do, we also grow along with it. We create because of the need to do so and because it is our form of expression. However, the experience of those viewing and interpreting a work of art is also personal and what makes one work more successful than the other will always be debatable.

I visited Bhaktapur twice this past weekend to look at the works by 13 artists in one of the lanes of the Dattatraya Square. Taking a walk through the installations at ‘Re-Fuzed’ took me back to two years when I was a studio art student in college.

It made me recall my friend and classmate Nicole Alden’s work. In one of our assignments, we were asked to create something within the building, using simple materials such as paper, tape, thread, and so on. The assignment required us to observe the space around us and to react to it.

Nicole used a thin red piece of paper (or tape, I can’t remember exactly, but it was red) and lined it up on the wall along with other pipes. At first, her addition to the room would miss the eyes. However, once you saw it, you also suddenly noticed the other red items in the room that were already there in the first place.

I have seen several beautiful landscapes in galleries; but each time I see my neighbor’s washed off yellow wall with its oddly aligned pair of windows, my mind goes back to Nicole’s work and how she interacted with spaces that we were familiar with, yet never took the time to notice the beauty in its mundane nature.

It was a similar experience that I went through at Bhaktapur.

Turning into a courtyard through a lane leading away from the Dattatraya Square, I met with an empty concrete pit. Blue flickering lights lay at the bottom, and the sound of water flowing played in the background. It looked pretty at nighttime, but it wasn’t the sound or the lights that left me thinking; rather, it was the wall that caged it off from me and prevented me from accessing it.

This lack of direct interaction, however, made me notice the now obsolete tap at the bottom of the pit. When did the tap stop working? Why don’t they repair it? Or is there no water at all? Why is there no water? The wall, ironically, forged the interaction here and made one contemplate on the piece. Had it been a mere defunct waterspout without any barrier, I wouldn’t have bothered to look.

It was the same with the dome made from hay that made me notice the haystacks only a few meters away. The shape of the dome echoed the haystacks that are there all year round, but I hardly ‘saw’ them. The neon papier-mâché bells, devoid of tongues, hanging from the trees made me ponder on the sound of bells. The lokta paper pasted onto the walls of a narrow lane connecting to another courtyard forced me to notice the aging bricks and algae on the pathway. The plastic bottles and cups hanging in columns led one’s gaze to make note of the grass growing on the roof.

At Re-fuzed, I walked through the installations and the flow asked me to see what lay in between, and all around them – those added into the environment and those that were already there – making it all one large cohesive work.

The beauty of installations in spaces we live in is that, unlike in a gallery setting, you don’t hop from one painting to another, where they are confined to their respective frames and where demarcations are made clear. Out in the open, it is the viewers who get to decide where one work of art begins and ends. And it may not have a beginning, or an end.

The beauty of installations in spaces we live is that they have the power to evoke our senses and to make us see beyond what may usually seem mundane to us.

The beauty of installations in spaces we live is that they are usually temporary, yet their impact on us will resurface sometime, somewhere, and without you even realizing it.



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