Art is all about experience which grows when it starts interacting with its surroundings: walls, music, furniture, or any other artwork around it. The experience becomes even more incredible when an artist’s creation is juxtaposed with nature itself. It becomes surreal when the surrounding walls get replaced by trees and shrubs, artificial lights by the natural play of sunlight and shadows, and recorded music by the sound of birds and the wind.
One such experience can be found in a small Himalayan village Gunehar, located on a highway leading to Mandi and nestled in the Kangra valley. The village is situated between Bir and Billing which are famous as the paragliding zone of India.
A unique art residency programme titled "ShopArt ArtShop" is organised every three years in this small village. The credit for this goes to a German Indophile who has been living in the village for around a decade. The German-Indian art curator Frank Schlichtmann is the man behind this programme where artists break free from rules and restrictions of art galleries and curators.
The artists here can create art while interacting with nature as well as the villagers. According to The Wire, Frank who runs 4 Table Restaurant invited 13 emerging artists in 2013 to live there for a month and turn deserted shops into art projects. The challenges for an urban artist lie in involving villagers in their art and connecting with their rural sensibilities.
This year in June, Frank took it a notch higher with an exhibition titled ‘In the Woods’ where artwork created by various artists were displayed in the natural setting of a forest above Gunehar. He aimed with the exhibition, that concluded on June 11, to make art more accessible to common people by taking it out of restricted and elitist spaces.
While speaking to IANS, Frank said,
First, it's a different way of doing an art exhibition because these usually take place in galleries and only for city people, and that too, for a select few. We want to achieve something first for the artist. So here, the artists have a chance to work outside all the restraints put by the galleries and the curators.
Frank not only organised the exhibition this time but also displayed a few of his own artwork. He feels that the art in India is somehow limited to paintings and scriptures. Therefore, by organising this exhibition, he also wants to encourage emerging artists of various art forms.
Frank further said,
The emerging artists, who are actually the interesting ones and are taking the art scene forward, have to fight a lot to even get a spot. For instance, a famous curator whom I know actually charges the artists to curate.
The exhibition had terracotta sculptures of Mudita Bhandari, photographs by Ratika Singh, paintings by Neha Lavingia, a soundscape by Nikhil Narendra, an e-book project by Rohini Kejriwal, and a live installation by Gauri Sharma.
Mudita, who created art that seamlessly blended with the surroundings of the forest, had a different experience this time in ‘In the Woods’ from the one in ‘ShopArt ArtShop’. Mudita said,
It's very regular to have an exhibition in a city where you have a gallery, where you have a setup, and where you know everything. There you are in your comfort zone. But it is very different when you don't have a setup at all. I had nothing, not even a table to work on and was working on a flat cement space when I came for ShopArt ArtShop.
She further said,
All our traditional potters are working under these circumstances. We, as city people, have never done it and there is still something that divides their way of doing things and our way of doing things.
Mudita, an art graduate from Shantiniketan, loves working with terracotta as it is very porous and alive and therefore, evolves with each season. She added,
When you place terracotta works outdoors, you see some fungus coming in—the green thing. When the rains are gone and the sun is out, the green dries up and it's all brown. So it's very evolving and is living in that particular space which is why I relate to terracotta much more.
While describing her experience of working out in the forest, she said,
It was a fantastic thing to actually bring the work out in the open. This was my way of sharing that play of lights and shadows in real time and with people, because each light or shadow would have its own character and it creates a mood of its own.
With inputs from IANS.