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The Experience of the Collective and Collective Experiences according to me, some sort of a collector? 🙂

I bid farewell to my artist friends who have helped make a very productive two weeks in the valley here. In 14 hectic days, they became familiar to  the geography and environment of the landscape as well as people and their personalities. We, together, successfully made an extensive documentation of the waterways, the uses of water, the weather patterns, local agriculture, lifestyle changes, scientific engagements with the forests as well as artistic and emotional engagements with the forests.

I am most happy because for at least a few of us found significant elements added to, or changed, in our artistic practice, as a result of directly engaging with the natural environment. With no pressure of presenting to any audience, niche or wide, no pressure of any end presentation at all in fact, each of the works and approaches became a completely individual and personal relation with the environments of the valley. As I said to my friends here, I looked upon the end exhibition as ‘Wild’ … like a wild flower that grows in the forest, really small, hidden by larger canopies and trees, singular, momentary, seen only by the chance wanderer who may stumble upon it and give it a slight thought. And it grows undomesticated, free of any demands of society. Well, each of the works did turn out like this as much as possible by us social beings. For each work done, not only in the exhibition but throughout the period of two weeks, we found chance audience, completely unexpected, with vastly varying degree of interest in us.

A regret is that all of us who were involved in setting up this hidden exhibit, either overwhelmed by the effort, or completely absorbed in the act of setting up our works as offerings to the forests, to the Nature we all came to understand and know so well, specially me, somehow completely forgot to document this ‘temple’ or ‘ritual’ as we felt it to be, that we were momentarily setting up in the forest. I had hoped for it to be the end sequence of my entire documentation of the project subject … but true to its intention, the exhibition was a wild one, only known momentarily, completely, only by those who passed by, and when plucked, it dies quite fast.

However, a lot of work was done by each individual, and each of us carry a huge amount of new material as well as significant growth in older practices, all thanks to the valley and the rhythms it offered to each one of us.

The almost daily performances which Chimuk made in his stay here, for me, were extremely moving towards drawing out the abstract relations between our spirit and our environment. His works, without much discussion, seemed to be tapping into the collective approach of our project towards the landscape and our ideas.

All of Anirban’s works, the weathering of photographs, the various installations, for me worked at tracing invisible and visible graphics of the spaces. If weathering be a print of time/environment on the surface, then by placing new material on the weathered surface, or by placing new material to be weathered, one can trace this print of time/environment. The ‘force of nature’ applies itself to nature in the form that human beings recognize as ‘weathering’. By not only tracing it but finding in it a pattern, of self-movement, idea, emotion, or graphic, his works went beyond observing or recognizing, to actually engage the forces, both of past and present continuous, as artistic collaborators. (I think more of this will make more sense when the works are discussed elaborately, but that for now I would like to leave to Anirban to describe himself.)

Susmit, unfortunately, from the busy hive of Bombay could only escape for a little while, and was immediately thrown into the aural density of the area. We had little time to discuss, but I feel, he found an interest in the varied palette of water sounds as well as insect noises. He also remarked on the absence of any rumbles that are difficult to escape in any urban or semi urban space. In the short time he did create one track by the time we were wrapping up the exhibition, I hope to be able to upload it soon.

Navdeeps intense involvement with the miniature seemed to all of us a Zen like state, where he was pretty much quietly going about making his little landscape gardens all day long, nearly hoping they will be poured out at the end of their completion, which they were, as it would be difficult to carry back the heavy pots full of mud back from the forest exhibition site.

Harsh’s tree like appearance and regular wanderings made him a regular ghost of the forest.

Desna was co-location coordinator, guide, model for sunayana’s videos, as well as making a concise, colour pallet of any distinctive and unique elements she spotted in the two locations she ventured, the oak forest and the stream. The range of colours found to me indicated the possibility of finding pretty much any colour desired by a painter within the natural world.

Vijay was our handyman, local guide, and permanent amused observer and participant in our activities. He also took on enthusiastically the role of Chimuks assistant, and gave him the title of “maha pagal”. He decided to stay back in summer vacations and spend his days engaging in strange artistic endeavors with this group.

For Vandita, who is an insect-enthusiast, the oak forest, which is a place that many Entomologist have studied regularly, was like a playground. She explored with great interest the changes of the usage of the spring waters that drained into the stream from the oak forest, where its home for birds and insects, to the village, where its used in fields, to the Kempty Falls, where many summer tourists pose swimsuit calendar style in its frothy wisps.

Sunayana’s response to the Oak and Pine Forests was for me significant in its visual elements. In the colors she chose to place in the space through the costumes, as well as the lensing used to frame the landscape.

As documentators, all three of us, I felt  a bit whimsical, involved in our personal inclinations and inept in portions as a result of that, but in portions quite successful. And I think the positive aspect of our documentation approach was that we were all three of us in direct relation to the people and activities in front of us. However, I learnt that it is important to have an unbiased and to some extent objective approach towards documenting such a project. I look forward to editing the video material and seeing what we have! This itself is a huge task.

As for me, the task of a co-ordinator, I found, was at once extremely satisfying and frustrating. Satisfying because I found that all the people involved were interacting in their own ways with the very same things that moved or interested me about the subject of the project and the present conditions of the site, that everyone was actually feeling one thing, moving towards one thing. Also, that everyone, in a state of what I might call, a common imagination or collective imagination, was finding very significant movements in their personal works. At times I felt that as a director, I have to do as little as glance at a thing or actually just give physical directions to a location! What was frustrating, was that, as co-ordinator, I was so entirely engaged in guiding other peoples works that I found little time to complete my individual projects. I even barely had the time to be engaged in any on going activities fully either! So sometimes I felt I missed out on the fun … like sitting and painting on pine wood, or spending an entire day in the forest, arranging elements together. I was running from one place to other, three places a day sometimes. So I found myself the one activity I could do in between running around. And that in itself was very satisfying and in it I discovered a new practice that I am excited to refine and build on. Making natural slides. I would simply walk out into the orchard, pick a few things, small or big flowers, different leaves, insects are a plenty and they literally fall dead right into your lap sitting anywhere, so I found all kinds of insects, wings, legs, bodies, dried leaves and worked on creating slides out of juices, fibres, and translucent or opaque natural objects. I would quickly make a few, test them in the evening, and then make a few more the next day based on what I learn from the tests. In three cycles, I found, I am gaining more control and complexity on the outcomes. I look forward to using this to work with different seasons and landscapes throughout the year and throughout geographies!

I had hoped for this slide exercise to have participation of children who could join in and make their own slides. Similarly, Anirban had hoped to have involved children in recognizing patterns in weathered surfaces, tree barks or old walls or rocks, and painted what they saw. However, I had known but not foreseen the extent of the fact, that in summer vacations everyone sent their children to villages as this area is a tourist place and summer season time is hectic so either people are really busy in Kempty Falls or Mussoorie – or back home to stay out of the way of busy people. However, there is still time for the project and I hope to involve the children in these two activities in the coming month, either in their villages, or when schools open in first week of July. I also hope to have edited the documentary by then to be able to show locally.

A few Tibetan children from Happy Valley, which is just above the pine forest, happened to be picnicking near the exhibition and visited it. They were extremely interested viewers and it gave me an idea which somehow I didn’t have earlier, to visit their school with the project too. This too I hope to do in the coming month.

So this is all for now, monsoons are arriving, so forest visits will reduce,  .. physically, now its just me and the site, the local people, the videos gathered in last two weeks ad the projects initiated. But all the artists and their continuing projects that they started here run parallel and will be in touch through the networks! So in a way, the valley, in parts, both material and mental, has split into many parallel streams running through the country.

More later on the project that will continue! And also, more write-ups from participants soon! 🙂