Goa University is very generous – it opens up its visiting faculty programs to the general public and that too absolutely free of cost. Attending some of these programs have been my best blessing in Goa. This December, I signed up for a Modern Art Project program that was curiously called Utopia Dystopia Goa. It involved working with the renowned artist Orijit Sen to create a public installation using various materials – right from terracotta to waste material.
Utopia Dystopia Modern Art project
Sounds interesting – but beyond that, I had no clue. And no experience whatsoever of working with artists – forget about being one myself. It was a challenge and needed a commitment of 3 weeks of time. But I decided to go ahead and get involved. The only thing I was sure of was some learning every day. Because when you start from Zero, you can only add to it. And around the middle of the project, I can say that I am damn happy that I joined it. Here is sharing my first week learning with you.
Day 1, of course, was a day of introduction and meeting the fellow project mates who came from various walks of life. From art teachers to photographers to real estate developers to consultants to management teachers. A good mix of people from various parts of the country and the globe. We got to meet our co-mentors who are well-established artists in Goa – Kaushik Ramanathan, Sylvia Kerkar, and Thomas Louis. And we would work closely with them over the next 3 weeks.
Orijit teased our brains by triggering a discussion on the words – Utopia and Dystopia and steered it towards how we interpret it for Goa. He shared the popular artistic expressions used to depict the concept. The tree of life is one of them. That is what we would be working on too. The 4 mentors had worked on a sketch of the tree and got it made into an iron frame already. Our project would be filling it up with our representations and interpretations.
Day 2 we started brainstorming on what are ideas that we want to put on either side of the tree, sitting right at the site where the installation would finally stand. The list went up on the walls and in our minds, we started playing with those images. Sylvia gave us clay to play with, Thomas explained a few basic techniques of working with the clay and we all had our hands in clay trying to make something from it. We made all kinds of mistakes – not getting the right shape, not the right thickness, not joining the pieces together in the way they should be.
Some of us had worked with clay earlier but most of us were doing it for the first time and it was a sheer joy to be playing with the clay. At the end of the day, the box with our amateur creations was looked at with a lot of affection.
The progress of the first week
Day 3 the tree sketch was pasted on to the wall for us to have a look at and pick our areas to work on. I chose to re-create the prehistoric petroglyphs of Goa through its famous labyrinth. We trace our areas on tracing paper and start creating our designs for that area. Most people chose the flora and fauna of Goa and they started choosing the fruits, the birds, the animals, and the fishes they are going to make. I learned how to draw a labyrinth. So it was primarily a drawing day. In the end, there was a lot of inspiration when Kaushik presented a series of sculptures that renowned artists have created the work.
Day 4 we met the metal frame of the tree as it was fixed at the place. This is when we realized that our drawing and metal frames do not match perfectly and re-traced all our frames again – marking the holes on the metal frame.
Day 5 was synthesizing all that we have created so far by putting our individual pieces on the frame. This is when we got into the details of how each piece would be crafted – how should it look in three dimensions. We also thought about how our individual pieces would come together as a whole. This was a day of detailing out our initial ideas.
Day 6 had to be missed in order to attend the Goa Arts & Literary Festival, but the rest of the team worked on the ideas for the Dystopia side of the tree where the tree would have stuff made from recycled stuff.
Week 2 would be in studios of the three co-mentors.
Last week we conceptualized the tree, brainstormed, drew our ideas on paper. We thought through how we want our areas to look upon the Utopia Dystopia tree. This week we had to dirty our hands literally. We had to give shape to our ideas. I would remember this week as a patience building time. Working with new mediums required a lot of patience. As you have to allow time for things to take shape. Have to work patiently on the details and then hope & pray that your hard work does not go waste. Utopia Dystopia Goa progress week II continued to be an interesting week.
Recycled Art Project
The first three days we worked in the ceramics studio. Our group was divided into two. I worked in Thomas’s workshop – which is located in a quaint village in North Goa in an old Portuguese era house. Pottery is spread like poetry all over his studio cum home. Right from gate to his garden to Balcao and of course, the room & backyard have potteries in various stages of making. The kiln in the backyard looks like the dream hut that converts the handcrafted clay into hardened terracotta or stoneware.
We learned how to knead the clay, how to roll it into usable chunks. How to engrave it using various tools. Most importantly how to join the two parts so that they do not come apart after going into the kiln. We learned how to make clay leaves by using actual leaves and their impressions on clay. Got to see Thomas creating various creatures in a matter of minutes while we looked at his hands in amazement. We learned how to give finishing to the molded clay when it is a bit hardened and is technically called leather hard. It was immense learning.
Junk to Creative
Last three days we were back at-site to work with junk to create stuff for the Dystopia side of the tree and the backdrop with colorful clouds. The red background walls now have stripes of bright colors that would be painted to emulate a stack of clouds. Space was full of waste from our homes. Computers and their accessories entangled wires used toothbrushes to broken accessories like shoes and hair clips. Three days some of us worked on dismantling stuff. While others assembled some of the parts to create some beautiful pieces. At the end of the week, I had a stiff hand after cutting and braiding lots of wires. The work was tiring and the welcome part of the day used to be Chai and Samosa served to us – no we did not break for tea, but rather like hand workers had tea while working.
My favorite creation of the second half of the week is a fish created by putting the bottle caps on top of a base of footwear.
This week we also celebrated our mentor Orijit’s birthday.
Looking forward to putting all this on the tree next and see how the vision metamorphs into reality.
An iron frame in the shape of the Utopia Dystopia Art tree stood tall, watching all of us create things that would eventually belong to it. For the first three days, I saw junk all around as most of us struggled to create something out of it.
Utopia Dystopia Modern Art Project Installation
Having never done any such work earlier, I was totally lost till I was guided to a giant pile of wires. And asked to put them in neat braids that would act as the roots of the tree. This kept me engaged for two days. I learned a few new ways to braid. Colorful beads gave some more options to play around with. Everyone else was creating some creatures out of dismantled pieces. Finally, I found a few pieces that put together would look like the face of a cat.
Mid-week our ceramics pieces came to the site – hot from the kiln. We Ooh-aahed over them. Each of us ran to see our pieces and with a bit of sprinkling of colors, some of them looked just lovely. The whole space was filled up with red earth with some colors shining from here and there. Leaves, flowers, animals, birds, piano, and my very own pre-historic labyrinth. Ceramics brought a sense of energy in the air and everyone was recharged.
Assembling Utopia Dystopia Modern Art Project Tree
As the pieces started going up on the tree, they started becoming a part of it. A city made of computer cabins came up on one side and ceramic roots on another. Last-minute some collages were made to fit on the dystopic side. Here I partnered with Nirmala to create a crossword with broken keys of the keyboards. While others created some lovely pieces with circuit boards, colorful wires, keys, and bottle caps among many other things.
Overall, I think I contributed the least to this Modern Art project. But my learning was probably the most as I began with a big zero. I have to thank Thomas for introducing me to the world of ceramics and Orijit Sen for taking on people like me who had no understanding of this type of project. I am sure it meant a lot of patience from their side. My biggest learning from the project was a realization of the amount of patience you need to make even a seemingly simple thing. And an ability to keep looking at things till they start talking to you. Then the fun begins – when you start creating stories together.
It was my conscious effort to spend some time in a space that I am inherently uncomfortable in. A deliberate attempt to visit an alien world at an intersection – where I always say Ideas & Innovation happen.
As Utopia Dystopia Modern Art Project at Goa university comes to a finish, so does the wonderful year 2014. May 2015 bring in more adventures.