Works of five artistes capture the beauty and the destructiveness of the sea

The powerful duality of the sea has been acknowledged throughout art and literature, its simultaneously magnificent and terrible force reverberating through both ancient and recent culture. Hokusai's woodblock print ‘The Great Wave Off Kanagawa' (said to have been made around 1832), which captures the eternal struggle between man and the wave, has even come to be one of the most iconic, recognised and reproduced pieces of art in the world.

Whilst the simultaneous beauty and destructiveness of the sea is recognised, the recent 2004 tsunami has perhaps made our consciousness of its duality even sharper. Both calm and wild, dangerous and alluring, the sea has formidable power as well as peace. ‘Catastrophe' curated by Koumudi Patil features four pieces of installation art that are both on the beach and about the beach. In addition, it also features Patil's own work.

Playing on the dual concept of the beauty and destructiveness of Nature, these works will fleck the sands of Marina Beach briefly (being displayed only until March 17) when they will be destroyed by the sea, the audience, or the artists themselves.

Larger powers

The works range from the political to the memorial. Sanjeev Khandekar and Vaishal Narkar's ‘I Am Angry' expresses rage felt by the individual whose presence in the world, like a drop of water in the sea, is subsumed by the larger powers around him – in this case, they point to the capitalism and finance-driven societies that frame contemporary existence. Their work, which features a large red sign, states in the simple, yet effective way: “I am so angry that I made this sign”. It may even be a wry nod in the direction of how commonplace protesting has become. The words, which are repeated in a series of many, many smaller flags, curve downwards almost to the seashore, and essentially sum up of the thrust and reach of many protests: I am so angry, I made this sign — but that's about it. I don't think it's a criticism of protestors, but more a realistic look at the short stem on which much of our anger tends to blossom. The anger is true, but the impotence often remains, and like a wave breaking on the shore, its initial burst is followed by an inevitable slump that makes you a little depressed.

There is a sense of returning that underpins the four projects. Rather than fighting a force that has repeatedly proven itself stronger than man, they accept this as a truism rather than a defeat. They do not relinquish their art to the sea, but rather accept that either the froth of the waves — or even the trampling feet of a man — will impact it. Allowing the water to claim their work is neither supplication nor an offering of the bride, but rather a symbol of accepting Nature's rhythms. Sanchayan Ghosh's ‘The Sea Returns What It Takes — The Wind Vane Memoir' and Subodh Kerkar ‘The Floats of Memory' both pay homage to lives lost in the tsunami. Ghosh's work consists of wind vanes with the words ‘return', ‘lost', ‘found' and ‘no' inscribed upon each of the revolving plates, and Kerkar's work feature slippers left behind by those swept away by the tsunami — though still marked with the imprint of their feet. Patil's sand sculptures ‘Objects of the Sea' stretch across half a km of the beach, depicting forms of creatures that will be ‘devoured by the sea'.

The installation art at Marina Beach is impressive for several reasons. Thematically, there is a cohesion that ties the art together, showing itself to be gently provocative and thoughtful. But it's also successful due to the kind of crowd it so casually draws. On speaking to a couple of the many inquisitive people clustered around the various works and signs, I discovered that the majority that had come to the beach not even aware that an art exhibition was going on, let alone with the intention of coming to see it. And yet, there they were, casual bystanders drawn to art by curiosity and comprising the majority of the crowd.

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At WorkSeptember 24, 2010