Liviu Mocan, a Romanian sculptor, who plans to make Chennai one of the sites for his multi-continent project ‘Following the Sun' that rests on the metaphor of the seed. Shruthi Mathews has the details

‘To see a world in a grain of sand' — or if you're Liviu Mocan, in a seed.

“Look at this seed,” says the 56-year-old Romanian sculptor, cradling a tender coconut in the palm of his hand. “Look at how much there is to learn from this perfect, natural sculpture: God, myself, this world, the reality of existence — the seed is the key to understanding it all.”

But who is Liviu Mocan, and why does he have such a strange penchant for seeds?

Mocan, one of the first of a new generation of Christian artists emerging from Eastern Europe, arrived in Chennai last week to conduct a workshop on sculpture at the Don Bosco Institute of Communication Arts (DBCIA). Although coming to Chennai with the intention of teaching at the workshop, Mocan has discovered at the DBCIA a potential site for the second stage of a five-part project he's been working on. The project, called ‘Following the Sun', aims to install a sculpture on each continent of the Earth, using the image of a seed to “symbolise hope in places where hope is needed”, according to Mocan.

Indeed, the seed features prominently in Mocan's work and seems to encapsulate his personal vision of the world and human existence — so much so that the coconut sitting on the table between us is used to illustrate almost every point he makes: “The ‘Following the Sun' project rests on the metaphor of the seed,” says Mocan, picking up the coconut and revolving it between his fingers. He taps its hard outer husk, “Beautiful. Perfect,” he murmurs, enraptured by this ungainly object that, to my unschooled eye, is spectacular only in seeming to be so very unspectacular.

But although Mocan and I are looking at the same thing, it's clear that we're seeing two very different images. Although sharing with William Blake the ability to ‘see a world' in an inanimate object, Mocan doesn't share Blake's love of the arcane; thankfully, he's more than happy to enlighten us on how exactly he manages to see the world through this extraordinarily perplexing seed: “Seeds are beautiful,” Mocan says, once again stroking his beloved prop and inspiration (the name ‘tender coconut' has surely never been more apt), “they have life inside them — a life that we can't see. Break open a seed, and you won't be able to see the ‘life' it holds within. But you know that this small seed will grow into a tree. The seed teaches me that just because we can't see something it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.”

Mocan's faith in the unseen appears to inform every aspect of his life and work. The first of his five seed sculpture project, titled ‘Illseed', was created in New Zealand in 2006. The towering structure lances into the sky from a knot of wood (supposedly the seed), the sloping curve of its spine reminiscent of a blade of grass — or the human vertebrae. This upward arc — a frequent trait of Mocan's work — seems representative of the trajectory of his own searching gaze, which looks to the heavens to make sense of his world.

“I love your country,” says Mocan, “The sculpture that I've designed for you incorporates the symbols of all the religions of India, as well as the five elements.” Mocan sculpture will interweave symbols of India's cultural and religious diversity with his vision of hope for a promising future: “The DBCIA itself is so new, and there are so many hopeful young people here with the potential for so much — the sculpture, in its encompassing of hope, would be so fitting for a place like this.” Although talks are still in progress, Mocan looks forward to collaborating with the students of the DBCIA to create the seed-inspired sculpture that will not just symbolise hope for the futures of the students of the Institute, but also be “a gift to the city” and open for the public to enjoy.

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