In a previous blog post I mentioned my walks in the forests at the edge of the Wollemi National Park during a 2014 artist residency at BigCI. It was not all walking though. There was a lot of clambering up and down the rocks and making my way through the thick undergrowth. Often I sat on the rocks for hours; contemplating, meditating till the insects and birds drew nearer thinking I was part of the natural flora and fauna. And of course I filled pages and pages of sketchbooks with drawing and scribbling.
Over time one subject that kept showing up in my sketchbook was the fascinating plant life. I loved some of my drawings but others did not have that “feeling” that had inspired me to draw them in the first place. I had to ask myself what was this essence that I was trying to capture on my sketchbook page. And then it came to me. These plants, wild and chaotic as they were, seemed to grow in accordance with an internal order, a grace that is so obvious to see yet hard to put into words.
This astounding array of plantlife is the outcome of centuries of adapting to the environmental conditions in the region, every mutation leading to another new variety. (In my last blog post I mention that this part of the world has the largest variety of flora in the world after the Amazon Basin) Even as I walked around I saw evidence of adaptation and resilience everywhere. In many places one can still see the ground charred black by recent bush fires but a green forest had sprung up over it. I saw tall trees growing leafy and abundant at the top but with their entire trunk hollowed out by fire. I saw some trees growing on other trees that were rooted in the rock-no deep roots to sustain the enormous structures.
Resilience perhaps is the source of their wild beauty? In every moment their growth patterns are dictated by the environmental conditions that they sustain and overcome. Flexibility in adapting to their surroundings manifests itself in a grace that is visually perceptible.
Something else about these plants also left a lasting impression. As I walked around I saw how plants in the wilderness blossom and flourish in their fullest splendor. But when I walked by the same spot on the next day I would be shocked to find that what had caught my attention yesterday was often lost forever or completely changed by the forces of nature. The abundance flourishing in the face of inevitable transience gave me pause for thought.
Some of the walls of the Art Shed at BigCI are made of whiteboards –the same whiteboard that we use in our offices and schools to present our thinking to an audience. Whiteboard and whiteboard markers are a hard, cold, industrial material so different from the organic materials I gravitate towards in my work. Yet the fact that something drawn on a whiteboard is erased in seconds made this material appropriate for what I had to express about these experiences. I painstakingly recreated my sketches on the huge whiteboard wall. Seeking to recreate the intangible rhythm of the forest with whiteboard markers was a challenging experience. The process was a personal journey of attempting to reconcile my urban existence with the lessons I learnt from nature. As I gave my self over to the process, the experience changed me forever.
To view the finished work click here.
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.