Art in itself is a balancing act. But art that attempts to contribute something of worth to the contemporary dialogue, whether politically, socially, or in other forms of commentary, runs an exponentially bigger risk of falling flat. The artist that tries to do this is either consciously or unconsciously going against the very idea of timeless creation; they run the risk of dating themselves, tying their works down to an all-too-specific place and time. The ideal, as so often it is, is a hard-fought middle ground- a happy medium, between what speaks for itself now, and what can speak for itself later.
This middle ground was what impressed itself upon me while first looking at Supriya Pava’s new hibiscus sculpture at Solar Kitchen gardens. There was none of the self-conscious, gimmicky feel that accompanies much environmental art, where the process and the proclaimed ‘meaning’ behind the work is responsible for most of its emotional resonance, leaving the structure itself as a sort of Christmas tree of ideas. This was an integral work, a whole.
Sitting down with Supriya, my questions reflected my curiosity regarding all areas of her work. I was struck by her openness, as well as her well-deserved confidence in her own ideas.
D: Your forms seem to take inspiration from both nature and a more surrealist, unconscious space. Would you say they’re based on a direct dialogue with the subject, or more of an abstract conception?
S.P: Well, my initial inspiration was a hibiscus flower, an orange and pink one. As I was sketching it, it started to move away from the actual form of a flower, toward a more general organic matter. I think I just took the essence of the flower as I felt it… It was done subconsciously. The images, ideas, forms, tones, and compositions that I am daily surrounded with also took shape, took refuge in that sketch. So calling it an abstract conception would be accurate, or perhaps expressionistic art would be most fitting; more based off emotions
that are awoken, as in when looking at a particular object– living or inanimate.
D: How would you envisage your art in relation to its environment? Would you say the setting has more of an impact on your expression, or is it your work that projects itself onto its surroundings?
S.P: Well actually, a good example to use here would be the decision for the colours! In the original design the colour chosen was orange with a hint of pink, much like the flower. But we decided not to go in that direction. The colour of the soil influenced me, and so did the walls of Solar Kitchen … we felt red was a more powerful and correct representation of this form. We wanted to embody the spirit of the environment and the structures around the piece. We wanted it to integrate and not be a foreign body. So, the final plaster was made of that colour… And now we can see how it is, blending in, being accepted in its habitat. The birds rest on it, cobwebs are developing, and plants are shooting up from it. There is no resistance. A toxic material like thermocol has been given a new life. It has been resurrected in nature, as a part of nature.
D: So which would you consider more important in your work, the form or the material? Which has a bigger impact on the final work?
S.P: The shapes, the forms came first. I had the idea of the material I wanted to use, the choice was between plastics and thermocol bricks. The blocks were considered, because it was easier to carve into the forms.
D: And would you consider your art more as recycling or upcycling? That is, is it more a matter of finding discarded magic in waste and using it as raw material? Or more a matter of finding an aesthetically pleasing way of dealing with trash, and making that in itself the focal point of your art?
S.P: I am an artist whose main area of interest is upcycling art. That’s what I like to dedicate
my time to. I have briefly studied sculpture, and used traditional methods, but it’s not really for me. When I look at pieces of trash, on the streets or in junk yards… I am not repulsed, and I don’t ignore it. I get excited by the discarded items. The possibilities are endless. If I had enough space, it’d all be filled with junk that I collect! Also, I can’t afford to work in the traditional way. The things I find are free, but I don’t like to show the raw materials that are
at the core of it all- I don’t want them visible. So this sculpture could be made of clay or brass for all you know. Knowing that I have taken some trash off of the environment, makes this piece, this process more meaningful for me. As long as I don’t limit my imagination, I have plenty of raw materials to work with.
D: The construction of this work is really unique in that respect; the raw materials aren’t meant to appear ‘raw’, which gives it a completely different feel than so much environmental art these days. Can you walk us through the physical process of creating it?
S.P: Well, we’d contacted a company in Auroville that manufactures thermocol bricks- they use them for making housing structures. We commissioned them to make a large sized block, then drew the shapes on it and then carved it out with the entire sculpture. Honestly, it’s been an experiment, lots of trial and error! The final carve looked very 2d, rigid, very square, not curvaceous as I had envisioned. So we decided to carve out each individual piece to give it autonomy and flexibility. In the process of moving it to Solar Kitchen though, we encountered breaks in the forms. It was really beautiful to witness the carving, with little pieces of thermocol like flakes of snow falling to the ground in the middle of summer.
The thermocol balls mixed with cement gives it durability but it’s still brittle; the sides break, cracks come up. It was raining too, and sometimes that was affecting its composition. I had a welder build the structure around these thermocol shapes from the ground up. Once erect, we added waste pieces to it- green net, some fabrics, and a little plastics to give it the shape I
D: So, all in all, did the piece accomplish what you wanted it to accomplish?
S.P: Well, the practical process was successful… and as for the flower, it is just not a flower anymore, it has taken on a life of its own. That’s what I was after. It is soft, while the look of it is hard. It lives in this dichotomy, in this interplay of contradictions; hard and soft, intimidating
yet vulnerable, good nature and toxic nature, beauty and ugliness etc, all together, to be discovered.
Sometimes though, when I look at it, I forget about all that. It towers over me, providing me with shade. It becomes a place of calm reflection; I see the figure of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, or sometimes a flower as painted by Georgia O’Keefe, or the bright colors of Matisse. Other times it ceases to exist, it blends in with its environment, camouflaged. This piece is open to subjective perspective. It’s open, it’s limitless.
Much like nature.
– Dhani Muniz
‘A New Beginning’, an upcycled art sculpture, is installed in the garden near the outdoor eating area of Solar Kitchen. Made by Supriya Pava, it was funded by AVI USA and organized by AV Art Service with the help of Chandresh, thanks to the support of Angelika and Suhasini.