by Rahul KumarJul 17, 2021
Sandilya Theuerkauf is poised, as if paused in flight, atop the topmost branches of a tree. The branches are fragile but Theuerkauf seems weightless, holding in his hand a long stick, with which he reaches out to a treasure that only he can see. His works are imbued with the same lightness, filling the viewer, upon first glance, with joy and fascination.
Upon closer examination one finds that his medium is thorns - intricately placed close together in cascades across slabs of wood. Discarded wood, taken from local sawmills. Here, the thorns are no longer a prickly armor, they are soft, placed together so that they appear to flow like water, in total harmony with their surroundings.
A Trail of Thorns, his debut exhibition, which is on display at KYNKYNY.com, an online gallery, began taking shape five years ago. It was born, Theuerkauf says, “through the journey of looking, listening and observing the many qualities of the environment”. During this, he "came across a thorn," and seeing its "shape and character," decided he wanted to do something with it. A definite idea, however, "eluded him until one day it presented itself. The eyes see but it's finally the familiarity that the hands have in working with these that I value”.
Human beings are caught up in the trappings of our own minds, bound by the immediacy of our emotions, disconnected from the world that lives and breathes around us. Those who see, largely do so as a rational exercise of mindfulness, a momentary burst of consciousness that is forgotten soon after it is remembered. It would be very hard, for instance, not to notice the trees burst into colour in summer. But thorns? Prickly things, best avoided."It seems we need to rediscover what it means to relate to the environment and it would take something else other than knowledge," Theuerkauf remarks. "How can we bring about a sense that we are indeed part of nature or that our actions have an impact?" To him, this communion comes through working with his hands, through feeling nature's abundance in the details that grab his attention.
This is his purpose; he says, "my interest is in relating to my surroundings, being in a particular place, looking and listening with intention”. Growing up in rural Kerala, Theuerkauf’s childhood involved a lot of outdoor activities like fishing, climbing trees, or walking through the forest. "It was all about working with the hands, looking and listening and engaging with my surroundings through my body." At the time, though, it had "little to do with interest," which came later.
Theuerkauf gathers materials during the walks he takes, along the edges of fields, among boulders, or from patches of scrub forest that make up the landscape around where he lives. He doesn't go for walks to "look for thorns" per se, instead, he stumbles upon them, allowing the process to take place organically.
Each piece takes weeks to complete. "I create the challenge," Theuerkauf explains, by deciding on a particular pattern, texture or assemblage, before starting each composition. He works with each thorn, to understand what is possible. "I also set myself up for complex or dense assemblages." These take patience and attention.
Years spent at an 'alternate' school, one that encourages dialogue and exploration, has given Theuerkauf a certain skepticism towards set opinions about the world. "Perhaps also learning that we are essentially the same and consciousness expresses itself as a result of our collective thinking."
A Trail of Thorns is a manifestation of this process of finding harmony, of bridging the divide between being human and the natural world. In all fairness, human beings are part of nature too and can never be separated from it, but it can be argued that we do our best to forget this! His art, he says, is a reflection of his inquiry - "What I witness in terms of where we are as human beings, how we relate to each other and the world around us."