This series of home-based, creative exercises reexamines the role of art during moments of crisis in the contemporary world.
The spread of coronavirus COVID-19 has developed into a global crisis. As the pandemic causes school suspensions and city lockdowns all over the world, Asia Art Archive expands the Learning at Home series to collaborate with international artists. These exercises bring in different perspectives and approaches to encourage teachers and students to reflect upon their experience of the virus outbreak, relevant social issues, and the purpose of art in times of emergency.
Through a series of activities exploring both the interior and the outdoor environment, Indian artist Sanchayan Ghosh encourages students to think about their relationship with landscape.
Teachers are invited to share the process and result of students practising these exercises on Learning & Participation's Facebook group: Contemporary Art in Asia: Teachers’ Community.
In the present post-industrialised world, land has become part of our naturalised ownership, part of our daily routine of consumption. This tutorial is a process to reengage with the notion of landscape beyond the traditional idea of representing nature, and to foster an understanding of collective coexistence with our environment.
This exercise is meant to see beyond these days of forced isolation and confinement, as our notion of space and being grows more inert. The difference between the outside and inside merges into a “spacelessness” as we become more prone to online conversations, resulting in a strange sense of “unbelonging” that needs to be addressed for the sake of human existence and communion.
Please refer to Appendix 1 for further reading on the notion of landscape and perspective in landscape representation in art histories.
The concepts of mapping, illusion, and physical encounter of space are introduced here as an interdisciplinary interface of experiencing landscape. In this exercise, the form is a combination of direct materials collected, research documents, real sounds recorded from the location, the mapping of the location, songs recorded from people, people’s memory of the site—all merged into a spatial montage by combining a diorama and a proscenium space. The site for sharing these reference materials can be any location: one’s drawing room, kitchen, bedroom, a public space, a street corner, or someone’s garden. But each time, the reference material is shared in unison with the new location. A kitchen situation incorporates the setting of the kitchen as a landscape, the bedroom provides the metaphor of a landscape, and the setup of the drawing/dining room becomes a collective space of looking, listening, and eating materials related to a landscape. In this way, the context of the interiority, too, becomes a component of the experience of a lived landscape.
This exercise explores landscape dialogue as collective study of multiple disciplines in relation to interiors and outdoors.
Landscape at Home: Exploring What Surrounds Me
The interiors of our home and personal spaces are where we first discover how we relate to our surroundings, and to others beyond ourselves. In this respect, the diorama can be explored as a form which is a holistic space in circularity and that includes the viewer as an insider. So one can transform the specific character of an interior like the kitchen, the drawing room, the dining room, and the bedroom, and engage with the landscape outside using the elements of the interior as an extension of the outside world in a metaphorical way.
Before starting the following exercises, students can select one location or site near their residences to focus their research on, and use this as the outdoor landscape in relation to each of “interior landscape” exercises.
1. Kitchen Landscape:
A kitchen is a direct reflection of the combination of specific seasonal vegetables available in the locality and also the standardised food packaged globally. Kitchens today are meeting points of local and global use of land. A kitchen can provide multiple perspectives of looking at landscape. Kitchens are a direct reflection of the use of land, production, and labour. Elements of a kitchen can be interpreted as a metaphor of production and labour, and used as a data landscape.
Reference: Mantu Singh, Dialogue Around Site Specific Art Activity, 2015.
Research: Mapping as a Collective Conversation—Towards a Multi-sensorium Data Landscape
- Make a census report about one’s neighbouring land and gather data around land use, the labour situation, and other details. Then compile them in the form of a table chart.
- Take your mobile and try to visit the site at different times of the day to record sounds from the location.
- Make note of the different ingredients kept in the kitchen shelf and research how they are procured, processed, and packed for sale. Record how many of the ingredients are locally made and are part of the seasonal crop variety.
- Take different raw ingredients like rice, cereals, sugar, etc., and arrange them in proportion to the census report according to the chart (for example, one tablespoon of rice is equivalent to ten percent of labour. If labour is twenty-five percent according to census report, that’s 2.5 tablespoons of rice).
Material Application: Material as a Direct Reference of Landscape
Paper-making from natural fibre and interactive book art
- Collect all the residues of the vegetables with fibre, such as fruit scalps after making juice, or any green plant roots like radish, carrots, beetroots, or grass from your kitchen, or fibrous plants like sugarcane fibres or dried flowers from your neighbourhood.
- Then collect fallen petals of flowers and plant seeds from the location and place them between two layers of natural fibre paper while it is being made.
- You can share these papers with your neighbours, and invite them to write down their memories about the landscape in the neighbourhood on the paper.
- One can later compile this collective memory into a community book about landscape with natural fibre.
Generating a Kitchen Landscape
A kitchen has its own character of arrangements: cooking ingredients arranged on the shelf, a cooking table with oven, a cutting table next to an exhaust or a window. So now use these components to share your collective research. One can use the shelves as a carrier for different information of the landscape materials. The oven area is a reflection of the memory of different participants, and itself operates as a landscape components like ponds and roads. The cutting table can display the natural fibre pages. Use the interior of a refrigerator as a landscape. You can also invite your parents to teach you one recipe that is in relation to a practice of the landscape. The natural fibre papers can be used also as an edible plate where small pieces of food can be served.
- Artworks by Prajakta Potnis
- Subodh Gupta, Cooking in the World, 2017.
- Archana Hande, Victoria House, 2016.
2. Drawing / Dining Room Landscape:
Drawing and dining rooms are meant for collective sharing and consuming food together. Our furniture is directly extracted from our environment. Chairs, tables, and all the other elements carry memories of landscape inside our interiors. A dining table is always a multi-material map of different geographical, material, and cultural memories of landscape, food, and stories around nature and our daily engagement with it.
Research: Mapping as a Collective Conversation—Towards a Multi-sensorium Data Landscape
- Identify a site or a place near your place of residence that you have been visiting every day. Locate it through Google Earth.
- Make separate memory maps of details you could recollect in relation to the number of trees, houses, land elements, garden, lanes, and other local cultural buildings, and make multiple drawings. Combine these different maps together with Google map to create your own map of the site.
- One can also study separately close-ups of elements like leaf specimens, flower specimens, architectural details, drawings of people, their costumes, little details of shops, and other design elements that constitute the cultural and social experience of the site.
- Contact your friends via mobile or internet, and invite them to share their experience of these locations in handwriting or drawing. You can also have a video conversation with them via Skype or Zoom and record the sound details with permission of the participants.
Reference: “Mapping Through the Ages: The History of Cartography,” GIS Lounge, 2011.
Make scrolls with used paper like newspapers or magazines that contain information about landscape, environmental issues, or the climate, and share it with your family in the drawing room
- Join different segments of papers from newspapers or magazines with landscape information horizontally to make a long scroll.
- Draw the different references of mapping that you have researched earlier in different colours and join them with the scroll. You can also draw specimens of plants and trees as a line drawing that one would see in your neighbourhood. Also paste direct materials like soil dust or fragments of bark or dried roots or any other materials, natural or artificial, to create a collage of different kinds of references that one has collected earlier from the kitchen landscape. You can use both sides of the paper as a surface to make the drawings and paste other information.
- Now you can fold the scroll like an accordion or just join the two ends of the paper to create a circular wall. The accordion folded scroll can also operate as a book. Or you can take an umbrella and fix the circular scroll along its edges to make it an interactive landscape experience.
The drawing room/dining room is generally a place for group interactions and having meals together. One can make natural fibre plates and utilise the space to display the documents mentioned above. If there are more than two people at home, you can also play a sound game of landscape memories.
First, invite everyone to sit in a circle. Once this is done, make a list of components associated with the memory of the landscape, like morning, evening, office hours, birds, school, playground, etc. Invite participants to share words around those components. Then try to generate sounds related to individual components. Listen attentively and plan your own sound. Learn the ways other participants make sounds and improvise.
Once a basic sound map is generated, you can narrate a story around the landscape memory, using only sounds. Each participant takes turn doing so, contributing to the development of the story only through sounds and no words.
Transform the chairs and other sitting elements into landscape phenomenon. Use the table lamp or other lighting source of the room to generate shadows of elements like plants or trees. Cast shadows of objects in your drawing room to transform the blank walls into a live experience of landscape elements.
You can also use dining and cooking utensils, and arrange them on the dining table or on the floor to create a three-dimensional projection, drawing inspiration from the maps that were earlier developed in the research. Use multiple torches and mobile lights to create light and shadows on the 3D map made out of utensils.
3. Bedroom Landscape:
Bedrooms are sites of recollection and relaxation. The horizontal format of the bedroom is the closest approximation to our relationship of land, as well as the most archaic association of our experience of landscape. Bedrooms are sites of storytelling and listening.
Take a mosquito net or a piece of cloth and spread it over the bed. You can stitch or cut paper to fix old maps of the house or blueprints of the house plan onto the mosquito net (or any textile). You can also pin different documents on your bedroom walls and ceiling with different components made with natural fibre paper, maps created from the previous exercise, photographs, or other materials shared by your neighbours, friends, or family members.
- Invite your family members and elderly people from the neighbourhood to share their memory of a specific location and its transformation.
- Look at family albums or invite your neighbours to share their personal archive of memory relating to the landscape.
- Search online to see if there are any available documents about the site or location in the public domain. Download them.
- Play the sounds recorded by you (from your conversations with friends or sounds of the neighbourhood), and play them in a sound box or directly from your mobile phone, and place it below or side of the bed.
- Cut stencils of different elements from your drawings, or print out photographs and hang them from the mosquito net in the ceiling.
- Minimise the light in the room and illuminate the ceiling net with documents using a torch. Invite your family members to lie down on the bed and look at the documents hanging from the ceiling.
- Share and listen to different stories about the landscape memories of your surroundings.
Reference: Fumiko Kobayashi, Traveling・No Return, 2009.
Notes to Teachers
Landscape is a collective conversation of multiple disciplines, including farming, writing, music, collecting, mapping, storytelling, rituals, and other ways of engaging through the scientific methods explored in geography, physical science, economics, anthropology, and many other fields of practice. In addition to these disciplines, landscape also survives in the collective memory of the communities that engage with it as part of daily life. Landscape study is a cross-section of an interdisciplinary practice that exists as a dynamic relationship between the individual and the collective. Landscape practice is an interface between direct material, ritual, practice, mapping, archival document, cartography, and a collective community recollection through poetry, literature, and visual representation.
According to W. J. T. Mitchell, landscape is a tradition in itself, as well as a verb. Landscape is much more than a European tradition of painting; it is also used as a tool of propagating imperialism and colonialism during the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Landscape tradition is seen as a lived tradition of the Far East, where engagement with nature is almost an ideology, a way of life, where the act of viewing takes place not from outside but from inside. European traditions derived the process of linear perspective to interpret the illusion of a viewed experience outside. As Mitchell puts it, landscape practice remained confined mostly within two traditions of representation—the contemplative, and the interpretive.
- Landscape is not a genre of art but a medium.
- Landscape is a medium of exchange between the human and the natural, the self, and the other. As such, it is like money: good for nothing in itself, but expressive of a potentially limitless reserve of value.
- Like money, landscape is a social hieroglyph that conceals the actual basis of its value. It does so by naturalising its conventions and conventionalising its nature.
- Landscape is a natural scene mediated by culture. It is both a represented and presented space, both a signifier and a signified, both a frame and what a frame contains, both a real place and its simulacrum, both a package and the commodity inside the package.
- Landscape is a medium found in all cultures.
- Landscape is a particular historical formation associated with European imperialism.
—W. J. T. Mitchell, Landscape and Power, 1994.
One disciplinary study of landscape is not enough to engage with the overall troposphere. It is important to understand that every form of practice is a cultural expression that can engage and learn from each other. In schools, the study of geography, life science, physical science, and even mathematics enriches our understanding of the landscape, and our experience of landscape as a composite form. In this way, a joint curriculum between visual art, life sciences, and geography can be designed in reference to a specific landscape, and feed off each other. Moreover, physical sciences like physics and chemistry that deal with direct materiality and its transformation, can be combined with landscape expeditions of geography, physical education, body movements, dance, theatre, and visual art to generate live performance workshops in real locations amongst nature.
- Vriksharopan Festival in Visva Bharati, Santiniketan, Birbhum, West Bengal, India: a university with a school started by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in the early twentieth century that practises tree planting as an annual secular ritual of environment building. It is a ritualistic celebration of the process with community participation of collective singing, dancing, and planting. It’s been taking place for almost one hundred years since 1925.
- Watch: O’Horizon by Otolith Group, London, 2019.
- Joseph Beuys, 700 Oak Trees, initiated in Documenta 7, Kassel , Germany, 1982.
- Tree museums: “Mark Dion in ‘Ecology’”, Art 21, 1995.
- Jeremy Deller, projects with gardeners in Münster, Germany, 2007–17
- Community dialogue with landscape: Francis Alys, When Faith Moves Mountain, 2002.
Bonus Exercise: Landscape Study in a Specific Location/Site Outdoors
Following the “Landscape at Home” exercises, teachers can refer to Appendix 2 for a bonus exercise that engages with a specific site/location outdoors. This exercise can be carried out after school reopens, when students can gather again.
About the Artist
Sanchayan Ghosh (b. 1970) was born in Kolkata and lives and works in Santiniketan, India. He is currently an Associate Professor, Department of Painting, Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan. He completed his Masters of Fine Arts at the Department of Painting, Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan, in 1997.
Through his continual exploration of site-specific interactive art practice, Ghosh has over the years explored workshop-based dialogues around collective memories of landscape transformation and labour that lead to location-based community engagement and site-specific installations and performances. He has also worked closely with different theatre forms from all over India. He was awarded the Charles Wallace Fellowship in 2004 and worked on “Merge Down and Resist” with three generations of Asian migrants in Bristol. He also took part in the Kochi Muziris Biennale, presenting the community sound project Incomplete Circles, Invisible Voices in 2012. He participated in an education project Under The Mango Tree at Documenta 14 in 2017. He has worked different pedagogy projects with the National School of Drama, The Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art, and Five Million Incidents of Max Mueller Bhavan, Kolkata. He co-curated the second session of Under The Mango Tree in Santiniketan in 2020. He was one of the curators of the 2018 Kochi-Muziris Students’ Biennale, Kochi.
Ghosh’s collaborative sound art project Short Wave’s Transit Tales is commissioned by Documenta 14 (under its Radio project) and travelled to eight countries across four continents. This piece was recently selected as one of the eighty works from around the world to be shown in three exhibitions in Basel, Berlin, and Weimar.
His selected solo exhibitions include Reversed Perspective: 3 Conjunctures, 2014, and Sisyphus Effect, Experimenter, Kolkata, 2010.
Publishing date: 8 July 2020
The AAA Learning and Participation Programme is supported by the S. H. Ho Foundation Limited and C. K. and Kay Ho Foundation.