(as published in:http://www.artindiamag.com/Volume20-Issue-4/back-to-nature.html)
An art residency at Kaladham draws inspiration from spiritual and organic worlds, notes Jaideep Sen.

nature1Wheels of Life
Nausheen Bari and Marie-Claire Barsotti. Wheels of Life. Mixed media. 2016.
After garnering degrees in medicine and advanced engineering, Priya Sundaravalli Sudharsan began working with ceramics full-time in 2012. She has her works on display at locations such as the Mumbai International Airport and the Gimhae Airport in Busan, South Korea. The therapeutic prospect of exploring clay was one of the reasons she chose to pursue the medium – she revealed this while working at Rendezvous With Vijayanagar, a fortnight-long art conclave held on the theme ‘Inner Space & Outer Space’, which concluded with a three-day show from the 25th to the 27th of September.

The venue was the sprawling Kaladham in the JSW township of Vidyanagar, Ballari, a hop, skip and a jump away from the heritage site of Hampi. This art residency, organised by the JSW Foundation, marked the launch of a Skills Exchange programme between Auroville and Kaladham. It was part of the Foundation’s chairperson Sangita Jindal’s attempt at giving impetus to artists and craftspersons in and around Vijayanagar.

The experiments with ceramics by the twelve participating artists from Pondicherry had a definite spiritual side to it. A few of them used metal salvaged from the nearby scrapyrds to forge their creations. Most of the works were rooted in the cathartic, sanctifying act of working with the earth. Concepts of consciousness, matter, space, harmony, geometry and symmetry were present in most of the artists’ concept notes.

Wheels of Life by the Indian artist Nausheen Bari and the French artist Marie-Claire Barsotti, consisting of three steel rings, inner coated with gold, formed the show’s central piece installed over an artificial waterfall at the venue. The work came to life as the evening lights came on – the flowing water and the glittering metal made for a captivating sight. Alignment, another collaboration by Bari and Barsotti, positioned twelve steel-wire columns in a circle, with strings of light running through. A personal quest for the divine and the reflection of inner light were the themes of the two works. Individually, Barsotti presented From Chaos To Peace, a take on negative space and Buddha’s teachings, while Bari offered Movement of Life, a mural of moulded rings.

nature2Within & Without – Towards 108 and Beyond
Priya Sundaravalli Sudharsan. Within & Without – Towards 108 and Beyond. Mixed media. 2016.
The programme was founded in workshops with local artisans and potters from the nearby town of Sandur. Selected tableware and decorative objects from these workshops were also on display. Works by artist Ramesh Oorothumkandy and the veteran Italian artist Kratu sat neatly amidst these collections of clayware. Oorothumkandy’s Bio-Techture was a play on organic shapes, while Kratu drew inspiration from Hindu mythology for his triptych Cosmic Mother.

The Russian artist Saraswati (Renata Sidorenko), who along with her daughter Masha, conducted many of the workshops, showed The Bridge, a scaled down architectural piece, and Portrait of Joy, an arrangement of ceramic lamps and flowers. Indian Sabrina Srinivas’ The Witness, a sculpture of terracotta, glazed stoneware and scrap iron, proposed a contemporary take on traditional motifs and found pride of place in the site’s plush garden.

The show’s highlights marked a decisive shift from smaller craftworks to larger installations. The German artist Nele Martens took over an exterior wall in the township’s sports complex to set up her colourful mural, Tree of Life, while the French artist Chantal Gowa presented a sculpture The Flowing Light as well as Retired Boat, a restored paddle boat, placed on the floor of one of the venue’s many gazebos.

The metal works of Indian artists Puneet Brar and Saravanan M, meanwhile, lent some vibrancy to the proceedings. Brar’s The Nest nestled clay eggs – one of them cracked to imply hatching – in a hive of steel mesh. She also produced Wings of Steel comprising oversized butterflies moulded in metal and strewn around the venue’s lawns. Saravanan’s An Unending Beginning seemed to be a reinterpretation of the Greek symbol, the ouroboros, of a serpent eating its own tail. The work was constructed in metal grills and spread over a section of the gardens. Coated in reflective paint, Saravanan’s snake imparted a spooky glow by nightfall.

For her part, Sudharsan exhibited two works, as part of the ongoing series, Towards 108 and Beyond, conceived around ideas of abundance, harmony and duality. For Garden of Heavenly Delights, Sudharsan filled a coracle with ceramic flowers, while Within &Without re-appropriated a massive industrial metal disc. Suspended on an iron frame, with its two faces studded with ceramic odds and ends, Within &Without was easily the show’s most arresting creation.

The conclave did well to spotlight local craftsmanship and gaining recognition for Kaladham as an important cultural venue. Envisioned as a tribute to the architecture of Hampi and built as a haven of stone pillars, majestic walkways, spacious gazebos and an amphitheatre, Kaladham is well placed to become a major centre for the arts in the region. The stated focus on indigenous artisans secures its foundation while paving a path to become an influential and strategic crucible for cross-cultural collaborative work.