KIAF 2012: Outside of the gallery walls

As printed in The Week, December 7, 2012

At Babar Mahal in Kathmandu, someone has put up white cutouts of butterflies on a tree. Right across it, another tree had been recently uprooted. At Ekanta Kuna in Patan, locals had painted ‘Save Me’ on a big old tree, which has become a landmark on its own. Along the roads of Baluwatar leading to Maharajgunj, all the trees have long since gone, owing to the roads’ expansion.

It was therefore a stirring instance when a real butterfly came and perched itself atop Sanjeev Maharjan’s (Nepal) artwork when I visited Patan Museum this past Tuesday. His work is currently installed in the backyard of the Museum as part of the ongoing Kathmandu International Art Festival (KIAF) 2012: ‘Earth │Body │Mind’.

Maharjan’s untitled installation is made up of stacks of firewood, which the artist collected, put together to form a boxlike structure. The box encloses a tree within it, and the sound of someone sawing wood plays from inside. It is as if the artist is attempting to prevent the tree’s death, or to remind one of those that have been cut down.

Sanjeev Maharjan, Nepal

Sanjeev Maharjan, Nepal

The artist also comments on our daily dependency on various resources from wood to gas stoves, and the fact that even as we are ‘adapting to newer resources, we still remain dependent.’ There is thus the need for sustainable use and development of alternative energy sources to protect our environment.

Maharjan’s is one of the few artworks in KIAF 2012 which have been installed outdoors in nature. This not only makes them more interesting and approachable, as opposed to those with ‘Do not touch’ signs in galleries, but also relevant to the Festival’s theme, which aims to raise awareness about climate change and environmental degradation.

Next to Maharjan’s piece is Canadian duo Michael Campbell’s and Janice Rahn’s long strips of bamboo that gently wave in and out of and around trees. From far, you can recognize that it is a huge fish, and inside its mouth are plastic bags.

In another work nearby, Kirti Kaushal Joshi (Nepal) refers to our excessive use of plastic, be it in the forms polythene bags or as packaging materials. Joshi has dug out a number of cylindrical holes in the ground. Next to each hole stands a ‘Sample’ of what has been taken out – thick cylindrical pillars, with layers of garbage trapped within.

“This work is inspired by geologists and archaeologists who drill the earth to bring up core samples that reveal intimate details of the climate and fauna of the distant past,” writes Joshi about his work. With the current rate of consumption of plastic, future geologists, archaeologists or even farmers could possibly come across such ‘samples’ of the Earth’s core in many years to come.

Joshi’s cylindrical pillars have also been installed indoors, on a wooden platform at Metro Park in Uttar Dhoka. However, the installation at Patan Museum has a stronger and effective presence because it is outdoors where one can walk in between the pillars and look into the holes. The one at Metro Park only distances the viewers from the work.

Kirti Kaushal Joshi, Nepal

There are two other outdoor experiences, located in two different parts of the city, that one should not miss out in this edition of KIAF.
‘Forest Walk’ by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller (Canada) is undoubtedly my favorite work from KIAF 2012. There is really nothing to it physically, but there is so much more to it – mentally, and for some, perhaps spiritually.

The instructions about the work are clear. Each person is given an iPod and headphones. You put on the headphones, listen to the track, and walk along a path through an area of trees and bushes. You will be taken aback by the sounds you will hear – from birds and animals to trees falling and gunshots. Many times, I looked around to see if someone was following me, but it was just the sound of leaves rustling playing in my ears.

“Walk slowly,” recommended the volunteer on site. And what I enjoyed about this exercise created by Cardiff and Miller is the time I took to think over what I had seen, observed and read at the different exhibition sites. I took time to notice the sun shining through the foliage, to reflect on the shriveling vines and to simply stare into the blue sky.

The best part of it is that the space being used for ‘Forest Walk’ is the overgrown rear garden of Bal Mandir, Naxal, where Nepal Association of Fine Arts (NAFA) has its office. The area has been unkempt for years and hadn’t been used at all. With hope, NAFA will now find other creative ways to use the space in future.

In addition, it seems that ‘Forest Walk’ has become a favorite for children at Bal Mandir and nearby schools. Over 320 people had been through ‘Forest Walk’ in the first 10 days of the Festival. It is an experience that certainly can’t be compensated by photographs or videos, and therefore, a must visit.

We may end up in the same boat
Michelle Hall-National Association of Fine Arts, Naxal

Another work that also can’t be justified through photographs is ‘Naga’. The sheer size and magnificence of ‘Naga’ by Leang Seckon (Cambodia) would be something to gape at, even if it were created on land. Mounted on scaffolds submerged in water, Seckon’s ‘Naga’ stretches up to 70 meters as it appears to glide on the pond at the Central Zoo, Jawalakhel.

“There are real snakes in the water,” jovially shared one of the young volunteers who helped to build the rattan frame for ‘Naga’. All of it, including the sheets of recycled plastic bags that make up the delicate surface of the snake, came from Cambodia.

“Naga was first made in 2008 as part of the Rubbish Project in Phnom Penh,” shared Seckon, standing in front of his work on the opening day of the Festival on Sunday, November 25.

Loss of habitat of fauna due to deforestation and climatic changes is yet another major environmental concern. Seckon’s work raises the questions of saving habitats of creatures we ironically also worship and revere as gods and mythical creatures.

Where Am I?
Saurganga Darshndhari, Nepal.

“The rattan and plastic are from the original Naga (2008) itself,” mentioned Seckon. The point made me think about two things – first, the very non-biodegradable nature of plastic and thus the ensuing pollution; and second, the cost and resources spent on bringing the entire Naga from Cambodia for this particular Festival; the resources needed to run 16 venues of the Festival.

On the evening on November 25, Jyoti Duwadi showed his work at Naag Bahal, a public community space, in Patan. He had huge blocks of ice stacked on the floor, and images of magnified snow crystals were being projected onto the melting ice. Music was playing in the background. But in all of this, the loudest noise was being made by the generator which was being used to power the sound system and projections.

Of course, it is impossible to organize an art festival or anything this big in scale without electrical and other resources, but at the same time, the theme taken up by the Festival on environmental awareness is something that ought to have been considered.

Raising awareness about climate change and the environment through art is not an easy task, especially in Kathmandu where people hardly visit galleries. Nonetheless, KIAF 2012 does make a good attempt to bridge the gap between art, artists and the public by having some of its works in public spaces. Some of these, like Naag Bahal and Boudhanath Stupa, also had public performances in the first week.

Although not without its glitches and last-minute preparations, KIAF 2012 does not disappoint when it comes to the exhibits and that probably is the most important part.

Jupiter Pradhan (Nepal)
Nameera Ahmed (Pakistan)
Ibrahim Jawabreh (Palestine)

Gary Wornell (Canada)
Hojat Amani (Iran)
Leang Seckon (Combodia)

Janet Cardiff (Canada)
Chris Dury (UK)
Michelle Hall (Australia)
Sumeet Shakya (Nepal)
Norste (China)

Maureen Bisiliat (Brazil)
Juha Rouhikoski (Finland)
Ang Tsering Sherpa (USA)
Ichi Ikeda (Japan)
Maureen Drdak (USA)
Cecilia Paredes (USA)

Jyoti Duwadi (USA/Nepal)

Christiane Peschek (Austria)

Cecelia Paredes (USA)

Saurganga Darshandhari (Nepal)
Erbossyn Meldibekov
Vibha Galhotra (India)
Shahidul Alam (Bangladesh)
David Nash (UK)

Sheba Chhachhi (India)
Kirti Kaushal Joshi (Nepal)
Sanjeev Maharjan (Nepal)
Erna Enema (Netherlands)
Michael and Janice (Canada)

Piet Warffemius (Netherlands)
Sjoerd Buisman (Netherlands)
Maria Roosen (Netherlands)
Paula Sengupta (India)
Sadish Dhakal (Nepal)
Imran Hossein Piplu (Bangladesh)
Mili Pradhan (Nepal)
Job Koelwijn (Netherlands)
Meena Kayastha (Nepal)
Takehito Shina (Japan)
Nan Su (China)
Birendra Pratap Singh (Nepal)
Elco Brand (Netherlands)
Sauzic Guezennec (France)


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