by Sukanya GargApr 23, 2020
Every hundred feet the world changes was this year’s exhibition that resulted from the Braunschweig PROJECTS, which awarded scholarships to eight international artists for a year-long residency in Braunschweig, Germany. One of the awardees, Indian contemporary artist Nidhi Khurana, was a resident at the Hochschule fur Bidende Kunste Braunschweig. Upon her return to India recently, Khurana spoke to STIR about her work 100 meters created during the residency year, which extends the idea of mapping as a way of archiving the ecological information of a place.
Khurana, who has been working on the theme of the metaphorical and graphical potential of maps for a few years now, extended her interest to explore the area of ecological mapping. In her new installation 100 meters she presented 'a set of coloured eco-printed habutai silks drawing exclusively on materials from her immediate surroundings, such as walnuts, goldenrod flowers or the leaves of disposed roses'. The title of the work refers to the amount of silk being dyed, using the natural resources found in Braunschweig. In addition, it also roughly references the radius around the studio as the collection point for the many plants, leaves, flowers and fruits used to dye the silk.
Describing the process of identifying, extracting and dyeing employed in her practice, Khurana explained, “To identify plants for eating/ dyeing/ medicine… I use books. I read about foraged food and books about dyes. I also try to use ayurvedic medicine as much as possible. I have a friend from school who is an ayurvedic doctor. We have found many similarities between food, dyes and medicine plants. I also use Google lens, an app for identification of local plants. Since it is not always accurate, I also try to meet and talk to botanists.” She further added, “Extraction processes are standard and ancient. Heat, water, plant and fibre create colour. Boiling, steaming, and then direct printing are used to create botanical prints or eco-printing as the process is called.”
The idea of this project was to bring to the fore the importance of the natural world and our dependence on it. Khurana brought together different aspects of the plant world around her through observation, collection and identification; studying the effect of seasons, the use of these plants, exploring their potential for colour and using this to create a map.
The project was unique in that the final silk work was a three-dimensional ecological map of a small area of Braunschweig, presenting a visual, albeit abstract travelogue of nature and in the process a geographical landscape. According to Khurana, “creating artwork using natural materials, vegetable dyes is a way of life. It is related to the choices we make in life whether it concerns food, medicine etc.”
At the root of the project, then, Khurana poses the question – ‘When the world comes to an end, what is the artist going to do? What kind of art will they create?’ In a scenario where the world we live in today is increasingly threatened by political, cultural and especially environmental chaos, Khurana says, “I think that a collective conscious is created either when we come together for the cause we believe in, like now in the case of the Citizenship Amendment Bill etc. but also, and more importantly, when it is a sustained individual belief system like when we try to grow our own organic food, use public transport, become aware of our own carbon footprint, go to the root of what we consume and try to lead a simpler life, in an effort to de-clutter as much as possible. This individual effort is what becomes a collective zeitgeist of the times.”
Khurana sees nature as an inclusive and inherent part of our being and way of life. Tending to her terrace garden in her New Delhi house on her immediate return to India, her simple action of growing button mushrooms is then reflective not just of her approach to life and the physical world around her, but also her art practice which is rooted in sustainability.
In the same vein, the exhibition, while rooted in the global dynamics of socio-politico-cultural changes, focused specifically on the ecological, exploring how the local conditions and environment collectively influenced the global context. During the residency, therefore, artists explored local forms, materials and realities, all of which were however inspired from the global backgrounds they came from.
Apart from Khurana’s work, the exhibition included a wide range of artistic practices including sculptures, photographs, installations and audio and video works.