Making Space:Sensing Place

In October 2009, along with artist Thurle Wright, I was awarded a Making Space:Sensing Place Fellowship; part of the HAT: Here and There International Exchange Programme, managed by A Fine Line:Cultural Practice. The Fellowship includes residencies with Britto Arts in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with Arts Reverie in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, with The V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London and with The Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire. Working and collaborating with artists and craftspeople from the UK, Bangladesh and India, responding to the collections and spaces we encounter and sharing these experiences through a touring exhibition and educational workshops.

This blog, which is still developing and being added to, is a record of my experiences during the MS:SP Fellowship. Steven Follen.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Background research

As I discovered places and things of interest I placed them on a google map, hoping to have an archive of interesting things to access whilst travelling and save a few trees and a baggage excess formed of wads of paper in the process. Things that have particularly caught my attention to date are the wall paintings in Kutch, Gujarat. The temporary Kolams, Rangolis or Alpana drawings that exist across much of India often taking on regional variations and local names, tilak and tilak tools, the improvised toys of village life, the coiled jewellery from Kutch, The bronze casting in Dhamrai. Metalworking (I’ve seen some woven metal), The boat building museum in Bangladesh and boat yards at Mandivi. The textiles of both Bangladesh and Gujarat, I had seen some wonderful handkerchiefs at the V&A. The forms of the brick kiln chimneys and the tattoos of Kutch . The fretwork screens and mosaics of the mosques. The, the, the …….
Which is all probably far too much! But we’ll see what happens. I would like to see the rivers, rice, learn more of what its like for artists and craftspeople in Bangladesh and learn more of the history

MS:SP so far

The last three months have included background reading and researching about India and Bangladesh, about the countries histories, cultures and faiths and about the arts and crafts.
My interest in metal and previous visits to india had developed a love of the tin toys and domestic objects made from printed, recycled tin and objects and artefacts constructed using different materials – basketry and weave. I knew Louis Khan had designed the National Assembly Building in Bangladesh, a building on my wish list of places to visit and experience. I knew that Bangladesh was low lying and had suffered natural disasters and that global warming was having an impact on the country.

As well as all the practicalities of obtaining visas, jabs, anti-malarials, we had meetings to meet each other, a visit to the V&A Museum of Childhood to see the wonderful collections and a visit to The Harley Gallery to see the estate, workshops and gallery space.

The Journey so far.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited India on three occasions, these were over ten years ago, but the experiences have left me with images that spark my imagination constantly, and I am always referring to events and things I saw then both in my work and in discussions with colleagues and with my students.
The first was an unplanned and unexpected ‘stop off’ in Mumbai en route to Australia. After the second year of my degree I took time out and worked for a year, I undertook initial research and then spent six months travelling in Australia researching and recording Aborginal Art. I had become interested in landscape and the importance of place and wanted to explore and understand how artsist responded and were influenced by their landscapes. I travelled to many art sites and spend time researching in state libraries, museums and galleries, as well as working with young urban Aboriginal artists at a co-operative in Sydney. The project became the subject of my thesis and the starting point for my final year work.

A combination of factors - political (The Gulf War) and technical (a dodgy plane) led to me being deposited in Mumbai. It was in September in the middle of the night and during one of the main events in the Ganesh festival. I can remember being in a cramped minibus jostling its way through a mass of people to an unknown hotel surrounded by drumming, whistles, chanting and lights, red powder being thrown into the air and covering people and large plaster idols being carried to the sea. The atmosphere was intoxicating: the colours, sounds and smells the imagery was like nothing I had seen or experience before. I wondered why India had never entered my radar before. With no visas or medicine we were advised to stay in the hotel, as we would be leaving the following morning. It was from here I observed the celebrations, itching to go and immerse myself in the crowd. The overnight stop planted a seed and we have since taken two trips to the southern states, to ‘gently’ introduce India, travelling around and exploring both the coast and inland.
Things that have struck me most about India: The resourcefulness and ingenuity of people particularly the craftspeople working with limited materials and resources producing stunning work; like the boats in the south, constructed by using planks of timber ‘stitched' together with string made from coconut husks and sealed with a tar-like material made by boiling down the shells. Shelters made from the tops and bottoms of large Ghee tins stitched onto wooden structures or by weaving large palm fronds together to cover workmen whilst they repaired the road. The colours and the diversity.

Stitched Boats from Kerela.

Catch Up

Airports are strange places, constantly shifting and changing; people constantly moving through, while the winter sky outside seems calm. I didn’t think I would be typing my very first, ever, blog entry here, in the departure lounge of Heathrow. Such a daunting task it should have calm and quiet, to set a scene. I had been hoping to type an ‘introduction’ or ‘catch up’ at some point during the last two weeks, but never got there. The time since hearing I had been awarded the MSSP fellowship seems to have disappeared at an accelerating rate, the inverse of a half – life. I’m sitting here typing because I wanted to capture something now, before I arrived in Bangladesh before the project ‘started proper’
The journey to this point has been an exciting route of discovery and when I look back through my notebook there is a wealth of information already discovered. The logistics have been a challenge in themselves, which wouldn’t have been possible without the support of many friends and family, Amanda and Seth have been amazing. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to undertake a project like this. I will miss them both incredibly, and H too. THANK YOU! xxx. I am grateful to my family for shifting themselves around the country and helping us in our juggle of work and family life, again it would not have been possible without their generosity. My thanks go to friends and colleagues for their enthusiasm, comments, help and stomach remedies. Particular thanks go to: Frances for sending me the email, proposing me, and sharing her time to help me learn more of Gujarat (and donate stomach remedies). To Charlotte, David and Brian for their support in allowing me the space to pursue this project. To Judy for the maps of Kutch and information about her own trip to explore the textiles of the region. To Simone for her advice, and clear-headed comments which always put things into perspective and inspire (and more stomach remedies!).