The work for the exhibition was derived from another work I had done last year in a residency context at BigCi (photograph on the right). Adapting a site specific work to a gallery context was an interesting challenge.
The “Exploring BigCi" exhibition curated by Diana Robson was a special experience for me. I was honoured to be Hawkesbury Regional Gallery's first international artist-in-residence. During the course of the installation I got to know several of the wonderful people working at the gallery . I also had the opportunity to meet with some amazing artists –Nicola Moss and Kath Fries from Australia and Claudia Leuke from Germany.
In the first version of this work the plants were hung within a shed-like building that opens onto the forest and so the forest and its greenery are the context within which the work is seen . The plants were collected from the forest floor outside. So if I ran out of raw materials I just had to take a walk into the surrounding forests and collect some more. Creating the work in the gallery at Windsor however meant that the plants had to be collected from the Blue Mountains and transported to the gallery. It became important to ensure enough plants were collected before-hand. Also gallery installation time was limited and I had to react to the new space relatively quickly and build most of the installation within a few days. Luckily I had a lot of support from volunteers and staff to help me collect the plants, transport them as well as carry out the actual work of installation.
I was eager to see how I could adapt the work to respond to the gallery space. This time round I was keen to create the plant screens as though floating in space. Also instead of a single high screen, this time I layered the work by allowing the screens to be seen through each other and also by letting the plants interact with their own shadows.
I also integrated the shadows of the work on the wall with a wall drawing and collage of plants.
Starting from shadows, to pencil drawing, the wall drawings were made progressively stronger. They acquire colour as they move away from the shadows of the plant installation. The brilliant colours in the wall drawings are intended to balance the dense browns in the deadplant installation. To view the finished works click "Dead Plant's Don't Grow 2" and "Unknown, Unsung"
In the hurly burly of everyday city life I often long for that experience of connection, of deep stillness, that comes when one is in natural surroundings.
When in nature I am particularly fascinated with old trees. I often stop walking and look at them for ages. I have sketchbooks upon sketchbooks filled with sketches and writings about trees. The act of focused observation brings about a deepened awareness of nature and of the moment in time.
My imagination is tickled by the fact that old trees have been around for generations before I was born-they have eavesdropped on the secrets, heartaches and fears of those who came before and they will probably be standing tall when my own life and all its components so precious to me today are over. There is something oddly centering in this reflection.
Nature and its processes are unresting and also unhurried. The more I focus on this vein of thinking the more I am aware of a depth in the processes of the universe that makes our petty everyday concerns seem like surface ripples.
Newspaper with all of its stories is the very essence of worldliness. It also epitomizes the ephemeral as its value is over as soon as it has been read. In this work I have dissolved newspaper into organic materials-grass, henna, vegetable wastes, coffee, to contemplate upon the fleeting nature of worldly concerns in the face of the more pervasive nature of universal forces.
The very act of building up the work one layer at a time, waiting for it to dry before the next layer could be applied began to mimic the processes of the natural world. The structure took months to complete.
To view the finished work click here.
To view the finished work click here
City life today is lived largely indoors with a lot of involvement in "non-physical worlds". By non-physical worlds I mean the worlds we enter when watching television, working on the computer, browsing the internet or talking on the phone. Rebecca Solnit calls this an “excess of interiority”. By this she means that we are losing contact with the physical world outside of the worlds created by the gadgets in our homes and offices. This loss of contact in turn results in an obliteration of our relation to our material origins and even to our own bodies. We no longer experience our own body as a natural system integrated with other natural systems. For example, our morning coffee is consumed without a thought to the myriad natural processes that go into the making of each cup (where the bean was grown, the weather, the soil, where the milk, sugar, water comes from, and so forth). Our inability to see our life in connection to these processes makes the cup of coffee a potent representation of how nature is absent from our awareness.
Experiencing substance as a way of connecting with natural origins
Some artists, instead of using scenes as reminders of nature, use substance as the bearer of meaning. Celebrating the physicality of substance unravels alienation from the natural world.
One of my favourite examples is Walter de Maria’s Earth Room (1977, earth, Dia Art Foundation, New York). It is made up of 250 cubic yards of earth (197 cubic meters) 3,600 square feet of floor space (335 square meters) 22 inch depth of material (56 centimeters) Total weight of sculpture: 280,000 lbs. (127,300 kilos) . The New York Earth Room has been on long-term view to the public since 1980. This work was commissioned and is maintained by Dia Art Foundation. It is a reminder that earth is the substance that has been hidden by urbanization and washed away by modern sanitation.
For many city dwellers ideas about nature come from video footage in blockbuster movies and calendar photographs. They imagine a place that is pristine and virgin, something that will be defiled if it comes in contact with human presence. Venturing out of urban sites, some may experience disappointment that the countryside is not always the picture perfect idyll they have been led to expect.
The Earth Room, made up of a huge quantity of mud, requires constant tending and replacement to keep it moist yet not growing fungus, etc. Its power lies in the tension between the repulsion we feel for dirt and the pedestal we put art on. At a deeper level earth bears connotations of fertility and decay- aspects of life and death that technological advancement can influence only to a limited extent. It reminds us that our bodies will return to the earth when we die- to the very dirt that we shun during our lifetime. Works such as these remind us that nature is not just a pretty picture to be looked at. It is also more than a life support system. It is that from which our very existence springs and into which it will be absorbed.
Nandita Mukand is a Singapore-based artist. Her work deals with the relationship with Nature and spirituality from within the contemporary urban context. She employs materiality to question the impact urban life has on our experience of time and the meaning we give to our own existence.