Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Story of a Tree: Ethics of Intervention by Priyanka Govil at Sandarbh

There is a deep silence in Priyanka Govil’s landscape paintings. At times she too goes into some kind of isolation. But as a person, otherwise she is fun loving. She could gather a number of people around to help her whenever she does large scale works. That’s what exactly happened in Luhari Village where Sandarbh Nature Art Workshop was held during the last ten days of October 2010. Mugdha Joshi, one of the photographer volunteers in Sandarbh steals a moment from Priyanka’s life and registers it in her camera. Here is that moment.

(Priyanka Govil)

Priyanka, after the first two days of trekking and site seeing, zeroes in on her pet idea of creating a landscape within the landscape. This time she chooses to have a tree at the bend of the village path as the central motif of her work. When she decides on ‘her’ tree, kids from the village gather around her. They all ready to help her.

(Priyanka with her local army of kids)

The idea is to convert the tree trunk itself as a landscape. And to do that she adopts the method of the village folk who plaster their floors and walls with cow dung and mud mix. This act of plastering has got both secular and religious meanings. When done with reverence within a spiritual context, the very act of plastering the floor becomes a method of worship. Otherwise, it is a part of their daily chores.

(Preparing cow dung and clay paste)

For Priyanka, the act of plastering the tree trunk with mud and cow dung mix is primarily an act of simulation; the simulation of the village life, next it carries symbolic values for her as the covering of the tree trunk virtually prevent the cattle from grazing their bodies on it. Third, the act has its own aesthetics. Plastering is a simple act but it draws you in, the way a potter gets absorbed while throwing clay at the wheel.

(Priyanka plasters the tree trunk with the cow dung and clay paste)

Priyanka has already done a drawing so that she could approach her work quite methodically. In her drawing, you see the typical landscape strokes that she creates in her studio, on the bark of the tree. Somehow, the same strokes are not repeated on the bark though initially she attempts to get the effect of it.

(Sketch for the work)

Finally what Priyanka gets is a completely plastered tree trunk. You feel like seeing an idol kept just in front of it. Seen in isolation it resembles a folk temple. Seen in connection with the nature around, it looks like an oddity. Priyanka seems to have a little bit of struggle in negotiating the result with the modalities of the intended drawing.

(Plastered tree trunk)

In the village, you see the villagers protecting their tree trunks with twigs, sticks and thorns. This is a preventive act during the harvest seasons. The trees are laden with fruits and they don’t want the kids and thieves to climb up and loot the fruits. While that could be one of the intentions of making fence like structures around the trunk, the others could of preventive in terms of keeping the cattle away, or even for hanging stacks of grass and leaves so that the baby animals could eat from it.

(The fence work starts)

Visually, these fences would catch your attention from any distance. That must be one reason for Priyanka to create a fence around her chosen tree. With the help of the kids around, she collects tender branches of some plants and tying them together she ‘fabricates’ a fence. Later she places it around the tree. This could be an act of protecting the tree and the mud plastering that she has done on it. It could be symbolic of demarcating lands. This could be symbolic of the public and private.

(Fabricating a fence/net)

This is here exactly I remember two personal experiences. In Mukteshwar (Uttaranchal) as a part of an art camp, we spent one night inside a forest. We pitched tents and cooked in the clearing. Tall trees looked at us with some feeling that we could not decode. Sumedh Rajendra said, ‘If these trees could talk, they would have chased us away right now. They have been standing here since ages. They are living beings. They don’t want people like us in their home. Do we allow strangers to camp inside our homes?’ This is what exactly Paribartana Mohanty said in Sandarbh. ‘Had these plants with sword like leaves got the capacity to move, they would have pushed it into us right from the bottom.’

Priyanka is aware of that. Hence, her interventions in the nature are subtle and tender. The fences are not menacing. The clay covering is vulnerable. The tree remains the same. Perhaps, the tree has protected her through out. But the storm that lashed out at night has not. It blew away a lot from Priyanka’s work. But in the documentation, the work remains. That’s how all nature art works remain in memory.

(Final form of Priyanka's work)

For the last few days I have been getting comments from artists and friends (who generally don’t want to commit a comment in public, so they either send emails or they come to chat with me online) regarding the ‘moral- ethical’ aspects of artists’ intervention in nature. ‘Aren’t they spoiling nature by doing art?’ they ask. If you see it fundamentally, anything done in nature by human beings is an act of vandalism. But then you cannot live in this world. What you could do is this much: choose your aesthetics which is less hurting. Fundamentalism is a sort of fanaticism even if it comes from artists.


layered said...

enjoyed Priyanka's work through your lense...and particularly liked the last para on fundamentalism / fanaticism... yes if we are so concerned we should extinct our race and be a museum piece .... not troubling nature at all!

artsubodh said...

nice work priyanka

jitumoni said...

nice work..keep it up

Akhil said...

I have seen Priyank's work....and i loved the way she deals with all material and elements present around her....she can work all Day and Night
to make project successful on which she is working......
Priyank Govil is a great artist and a great photographer (by hobby)....I have always loved her work and I hope that she keeps on doing such amazing projects