Mt. Everest 8848 Project

Sometimes I think that I am being overly critical at art exhibitions and in my reviews. For instance, in the most recent exhibition (which I’ve written about below), I was really hoping to see something different and exciting. I knew most of the artists in the group and have seen their works before too. Sadly, the artworks I found, were mediocre and some even below average, given that majority of the artists have been in the field for many many years. I tried to reassess my thoughts and tried to be less critical, but then I couldn’t find better reasons for liking the kind of work that was on display. I don’t know. There were too many things missing – from concepts, execution to the presentation of works…

Or perhaps, it’s something to do with the kind of work I personally like i.e. art with less of meaningless metaphors attached to it. We Nepalis have the habit of attaching meanings to all colors, lines and motifs in our works and thus making it over-the-top and dramatic. I think, we forget where to stop or don’t know where to stop at all. But as artists we should be able to look at our own works and analyse ourselves or to listen to someone else’s opinion too. All of this, sometimes, leaves me frustrated about Nepali contemporary art and artists.

Although I didn’t mention it in my article, I was most disappointed about the supposed ‘monumental’ group work that was supposed to be a collaborative sculpture by the 15 participating artists. It is just two huge mountaineering pickaxes, made from resin and stuffed with scraps of metals – tuborg beer cans, etc. It looks like a work from an introduction to sculpture class. ‘Take an object and make it 10 times the size bigger with clay.’ That’s what we did in class. Literally, ‘monumentalize’ an ordinary object like a shoe or watch. The pickaxes looks like that and more so, a product of sheer laziness, lack of motivation and carelessness. And it’s supposed to be installed permanently at the Museum of Mountaineering in Pokhara!

Enough with my rambling and disappointments. I am looking forward to the opening of Kathmandu International Art Festival tomorrow and hoping to have a whole week full of exciting art and performances. In the meantime, here’s the article with some photos I took.

As printed in The Week, November 23, 2012.

Mt. Everest 8848 Project

Organized by Art Club Nepal, the art branch of event management and research company Da Mind Tree, the exhibition ‘Mt Everest 8848 Project I – Journey towards our future’ opened in Kathmandu on November 16, 2012. Currently on display at the Shangri-La Hotel in Lazimpat, the exhibition consists of works, mostly sculptures, by 20 artists.

The specialty of this art exhibition is that all works have been created from waste materials which were once dumped in the Mount Everest region. A total of 1.5 tons of garbage was donated to Da Mind Tree by Everest Summiteers Association (ESA) to ‘upcycle’ the materials into works of art. ESA has till date collected five tons of waste in their Save Mount Everest Clean-UP Expedition Campaign Spring 2011 and 2012.

The artists involved participated in a month long symposium in September, during which time they worked on transforming their individual ideas into artworks. Two of the artists, Bhuwan Thapa and Tara Prasad Ojha, met with an accident during the symposium when a gas cylinder exploded. Fortunately, they are recovering and despite the incident, both have their works on display at the exhibition.

Earlier, Sudarshan Bikram Rana, the Director of Art Club Nepal, had stated that ‘the project was about ‘upcycling’ as opposed to ‘recycling’ the materials. With upcycling, the materials would not only have their values upgraded but would also cause less environmental damage. Here at the exhibition, there are over 60 upcycled sculptures and installations on show, some of which are on sale with heavy price tags. However, not all of them are gripping when it comes to their concepts, artistic execution and overall presentation.

Majority of the sculptures, given the subject, refer to increasing pollution in the Everest region, to general environmental degradation and global warming. In a straightforward manner, sculptor Laya Manaili packs a pile of used beer and soda cans into a transparent box cut into the shape of Mount Everest. He titles the work ‘Is Mt. Everest a dumping site?’

In his work, ‘Roof of the world’ Lalkaji Lama also talks about the degrading environmental condition of Mount Everest. Similarly, his other sculpture called ‘Source of Origin’ refers to rapidly melting snow in the Himalaya. A triangular block of resin, indicative of mountains, sits atop a used oxygen cylinder. Three portable cooking stoves surround the cylinder at the bottom. “The stoves and cylinder represent rising temperatures,” explained Lama.

Also along the same lines, Raju Pithakote presents his series of ‘Snow Drops’ with five sculptures. ‘Snow Drops III’ is a triangular wire mesh with colorful circular objects on it. From near, one can recognize that these were once parts of portable cooking stoves, but from far, they look like colorful decorations and this is the biggest weakness of the exhibition.

Several sculptures depart from presenting critical content and instead appear to be decorative pieces.

Sunita Rana’s ‘Reflections’ is a circular mirror with floral motifs. ‘The Title’ also by Rana, looks like a huge wind chime. ‘You know who I am (candle stand)’ and ‘You know who I am (reverse S)’ by Anital Khanal (Bhattarai) are in fact artworks that the artist herself states as possible showpieces for homes.

I am not saying that art shouldn’t be pretty or that artworks shouldn’t look like decorative pieces. The problem here rather is the overuse of metaphors and the lack of critical content. For instance, ‘Reverse S’ by Khanal is literally a reverse letter S, which is supposed to be a snake trying to consume a butterfly, wherein the snake represents ‘pollution’ and butterfly ‘nature.’

The problem also lies in the way the sculptures have been set up on tables, which are clearly used for dining purposes instead of proper pedestals. The outdoor setting of the exhibition could have been properly used and managed had the artists paid attention to the placement of their works on site.

Besides environmental pollution and global warming, artists have also worked around the themes of religion (Devendra Thumkeli and Pramila Pariyar BK); the cycle of life and cosmos (Sushma Shakya, Krishna Bahadur Thing) and the patience, perseverance and achievement of mountaineers (Rajan Kaphle, Sudarshan Bikram Rana).

Here and there, there are a couple of moments in certain sculptures that are appealing. For instance, Krishna Bahadur Thing’s minute drawings of landscapes on gas cylinders in ‘Golden Radiance’ and ‘Up in the air.’ His background as a Thangka painter shows in his sculptures.

The collage of rusted metal in Devendra Thumkeli’s ‘Imbalance’ is also interesting, even though the sculpture has been applied with clear lacquer and is all shiny.

“Lacquer had to be applied for preservation and safety purposes,” outlined Kripa Rana Shahi, the Director of Da Mind Tree. However, this has given the sculptures shiny and polished looks. Most of the original materials have thus lost their natural textures and characteristics which made them intriguing. Perhaps, this is another reason why the sculptures look decorative.

Nonetheless, Prajwal Shahi’s installation ‘Blue Ambers of Everest’ makes up for the rest of the limitations of the exhibition. Simple, beautiful yet captivating, ‘Blue Ambers of Everest’ consists of several old batteries, used and discarded by mountaineers, encased in blue resin.

The resin casings have been molded out of different food cans, containers and stoves used in the mountains. When seen against the sun, one can see the details of the batteries – their rusts, dents and all the deterioration they’ve been through. The ‘blue ambers’ appear like specimens in a science laboratory, capturing history and relaying narratives we can only guess.

Shahi refers to the difficulty of properly disposing hazardous batteries while elevating them to the level of amber – a hard fossilized resin known for its beauty. Like ancient flora and fauna naturally fossilized inside amber, Shahi creates artificial fossils with manmade resin and batteries.

“’Blue ambers of Everest’ is an artwork created to upcycle batteries as artificial fossils to highlight its fragility towards the environment,” writes Shahi. His statement meaningfully summarizes the gist of the exhibition.

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