Bastion Bungalow hosts a granite sculptor’s camp in its new role as a heritage museum

Bastion Bungalow, now a heritage museum, opens with a debut show of public sculptures by 10 artists on April 11. A granite sculptor’s camp is on in the open at the 450 year old historic venue with artists busy working on “the most ancient medium- stone.” The site is akin to a construction site with a raised whirring of angle cutters breaking open hard granite. Noise from the relentless beating of hammer and chisel on stone also form the background score. Dust rises like smoke from the work area driven inwards by a gentle breeze blowing from the sea. A hard sun filtering through the leafy canopy completes the rough picture.

Layered narrative

Artist Nivedita Mishra from Odisha is working diligently towards the brief provided to the artists by the State Archaeological Department and the Lalitakala Akademi who are hosting the camp. Kochi and its history is one of the main tenets the artists have to work around. Nivedita strikes on the term excavation. The layers of history that lie buried in stone inspire her and she wishes for the stone to speak. She has worked earlier with the medium and finds it direct in response. Her thrill at working here and in stone is apparent as she points to a huge chunk and says, “I seem to have formed a good relationship. This particular piece has stared responding.”

Johns Mathew participating in his second sculptor’s camp, too seems mesmerised by the setting and the subject. “Monsoon winds brought the traders to our coast,” he reasons and conceptualises his installation. He is currently giving shape to a cloud. An interesting feature that Johns speaks about is providing a resting place, a seat perhaps, for the viewer amidst his sculpture. “I believe public art work should have a resting place, to sit, watch and enjoy the work.” His final work will have five pieces of interlocked granite. The fisherman and his life have been a favourite subject of artist Anila Jacob. Here too she romanticises with the fisher folk, the sea shore and crabs! She is working for the first time with a combination of stone, bronze and copper.

Moon stone

“The moon is common to everybody. It was the tide, controlled by the moon, that brought the foreigners to the shore,” says Wanjari, who teaches sculpture at J.J. School of Art, Mumbai. The moon has been his pet topic for the last ten years. To him granite is the king of stones. It can capture the shades of sorrow and of joy. And here he is expressing the dimensions of the moon, the chandrakala, the change in tides, in granite. A self-taught artist, Joseph M. Varghese learnt sculpturing under Nandan at Cholamandalam. Having worked in clay, terracotta and wax earlier he is working on the concept of depth. His work called ‘Deep’ combines fluidity and form. He speaks poetically about the stone taking shape as flowing tresses or as seaweed. K.A. Benny, originally from Idukki and now based in Wayanad has made a drawing of his final work. He is exploring the ubiquitous fisherman that dots the coast of Kerala.

Senior artist T. Kaladharan is doing a public sculpture for the first time. He has the credit of organising Kerala’s first international sculpture symposium in 1990. Today as a participant he is elated. His concept is of a compass pointing North, a cue for all who arrived on this coast.

The director of the camp and renowned artist V.K. Rajan is busy procuring the essentials required by all artists. He has encouraging words for some of the young participants, whom he has selected for the camp, like Hochimin P.H, K.Sudheesh Kumar and Benny. Hochimin is working on the fable of Kaprimuthappan, a local story of a friendly spirit. Sudheesh’s ‘Ship of Dreams’ too is taking shape, which will have a nebulous figure of the Queen of the Arabian Sea.

But it is V.K. Rajan who wishes to sing a song in stone. His work called ‘Piece of Sea Song’ will express the iconography of sounds in stone.

So stone gets poetic, it sings and dances in the hands of the artists who in the camp look like actors in a sci-fi film, with dark goggles, headgear, ear muffs, gloves and protective footwear, shrouded in a dusty miasma that rises from their ongoing work.

The camp ends on April 11 and the works will be open to the public at the venue.

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