Square, a group of four artists, uses alternative spaces for its art. It could be a dense forest, atop a hill or on the seashore, the group believes art has no boundaries

Many a time the beauty of art lies not in the end product but in the process, in the concept and in its fragility. Square is a group of four artists who are stretching the boundaries of conventional art to frontiers where art has rarely been. Here is how they are invigoratingly special.

Art on a mountain side etched on tough grass, on a beach with parts of it being teased by returning waves, one that meanders through the rooms of a house and a large one on the floor and walls of a hall. These are some works by Square, a collaboration of artists Suresh Panicker, Shijo Jacob, Lal K. and A.P. Sunil. They are practitioners of art in alternative space, an uncommon practice in India.

“This is site-specific art. Landscape art or earth art is common in the West but here it is new and unconventional,” says Shijo, who did his art studies from College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram and Jamia Milia University, New Delhi.

The group of friends, who are also art teachers, connected through dialogue, meetings and a need to express differently. Sunil completed his Masters in Arts from Shantiniketan and Lal did so from Hyderabad Central University.

They knew one another through the years of learning and were evolving in their respective directions. But their separate journeys melded in 2011 when they formed Square with a desire to produce their first unconventional work L(v)ast Tree at Vagamon in Kerala.

They cast the image of a tree (330x400 ft) on a 350-ft hill. “We could not imagine how the tree would appear when we conceptualised it. The work was challenging. It was entering a forest with six-ft tall grass. We were communicating with each other through cell phones and took the help of two workers,” says Suresh Panicker, who teaches at the Rama Varma College of Arts, Mavelikkara. 

The grass clumps were difficult to uproot, the days were long and the task hard. To take a distant look, the artists had to go to the opposite hill. The girth of the tree was as wide as a lane (13-ft). When finally the work was completed, a huge tree emerged from the tall grass on the rough hill. It touched the earth and the blue sky. It burst forth a thrilling feel of elation. “The tribes were first curious and then helpful and finally when it was time to go, they asked us to return with a project in which they would participate,” recalls the group.

For the artists the work had found its target. It has raised curiosity, wonder, delight and participation. It had brought awareness about environment and nature. It had evoked thrill in the artists. They walked among its branches, the local people joined in, they laughed and had fun.

Bold experiment

For this bold experiment, the group was given the space by a well-wisher and art lover who owns Green Meadows resort where the mountain stands.

Their second work ‘Showcasing The Transition’ was done in the showcase of a common house in Kerala. A tree was constructed using fire wood. “In future, people can use the tree as a curio and keep it in the show case. It’s a funny thought, but it creates lots of meanings. It helps to travel in various areas of time and space,” say the artists explaining the concept.

The tree metaphor moves forward in ‘Shadow In Side’, where the shadow of an imaginary tree traverses on the walls and floors of the home. Crafted with black paper, the form grows to a gigantic size which induces awe-filled response.

Moving on, the group did their last work, ‘Towards The Shore’, on Mandrem beach in Goa where the tree was carved on the edge of a sandy beach. That parts of the work were washed away periodically was unimportant. “Life is ephemeral. There is no commercial value in this form of art. It is creating a visual, tactile, sensory and textual experience. And it is environment-friendly,” says the group, proud that working as a collaborative of fiercely individualistic artists requires a complete surrender of ego, which is another soulful experience.

The impermanence of such art works requires diligent documentation. Viewers may ask the need or reason for such art, but history is proof of fabulous ancient earth art, many destroyed by ravages of time and some consciously kept alive by a vigilant society.

The four works by Square are subtly instructive, the tree a symbol of eco-political issues. Their art space enfolds the sea and the summit and all that’s in between. “Alternative space for art is difficult to procure. There are limitations to this form of art. We are not interested in the result, but the process is exhilarating. It allows for participation and involves the audience in a different way.”

And different by a tree, impacting like nothing before.

Keywords: Square artists