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A song of eternal STONE

Sculptors from various corners of the globe are trading techniques and traditions

Sculptor Malcolm Robertson from the U.K. intent at work

THE INVISIBLE line between stardust and stone dust blurred at the International Sculpture Symposium 2004, now on (till January 14) at the Art Village of The Valley School at Thatguni. Under the sunlit, bough-shaded spaces, by the kolam-decorated cottages where computers and looms created fantastical patterns, the sound of the chisel on stone set the background score as sculptors from Shantiniketan and Colorado, the U.K., and Varanasi traded techniques and life-songs in an enchanted setting. Visually, it seemed a throwback in time to the ancient, unsung Indian sthapatis who left behind the magnificent heritage of Ellora and Mahabalipuram, Khajuraho and Konarak.

In a sense, the sthapatis were the inspiration for this unusual exchange, organised jointly by The Valley School and the Marble Institute of Colorado, set up by sculptress Madeline Wiener, 56. Dedicated to "the heritage of Indian carving traditions," perhaps it was conceived when Madeline met contemporary and traditional Indian stone sculptors at a workshop at Adichinchunagiri a few years ago. Though the traditional artists were unable to participate at the Art Village, 20-odd contemporary sculptors did, touching base with an earth-bound creative impulse.

As four generations of sculptors worked side by side at this non-hierarchical camp, including the school's art students and aspiring sculptors from the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath (CKP), dreams drifted sure-footedly towards realisation. In what way? Though Madeline's carving of her recent first foray towards Ellora and the Taj Mahal, couched in dome-like outlines on one façade, while the sculptress, her husband, and three Indian friends move in and out of cave-like spaces on the reverse. Through New Mexico-based Don Tubesing's turquoise-touched rendering of a Native American lifecycle, perhaps interfaced with the Buddhist wheel or an Om on the second surface — enriched by stone birds en route — created by a galaxy of students. Through the single tree atop a hillock in brown-veined dark stone, sculpted by Hyderabad's Shamsunder, a continuation of his Hampi-inspired `Shelter' series. Through Bangalore-based Shyamala's interpretation of the popular game of algulimané, interspersed with folk lyrics within a wooden egg form instead of the seeds traditionally used, a far cry from her water-derived installations.

How did participants respond? CKP staffer Rameshchandra, who attended a 2002 symposium at the Marble Institute, chips away at a grinding wheel-centric installation as he recalls: "The historic Boulder area was originally the second largest granite quarry in the world, second only to Carrara, from where Michelangelo chose his marble. Madeline's institute has few buildings because it's built on creating international communities of sculptors... That's why we decided to invite professional artists to work here, perhaps inspiring students. Today, stone is such a neglected area of Indian art history."

Johan Benthin, a Danish artist who was visiting CKP faculty, created seven look-alike stones supporting each other, much as the days in a week do. Mind spaces away, Swiss artist Hansraudi Steiner planes waves into a sheet of wood, breaking away from the Escher-intricate wooden forms he creates at home, explaining: "I produce food for the eyes." Close by, another sculptor smoothens a stone `pillow'.

Dusting the grit out of her eyes, Madeline says: "The sense of the symposium is that of a sharing. The school gave us food and facilities. All we brought here was energy, talent and some experience." Bangalore's Suresh Kumar, crafting a modern-day fragment of a monument that allows for participants' graffiti, seconds that. "To me, it's like a gathering of old friends, with a passion to carve in stone."

Or is it an open-ended question couched by symposium coordinator Sukant Misra of the Art Village: "One wonders whether art is only an expression of life and the environment. Or is it a process of enquiring into oneself and one's relation to eternity?" The answer glimmers faintly amidst the haze of dusky dust.

The symposium's sculptural output will be on display at Gallery Sumukha from January 23 to 27, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Ph: 2292230.


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