A Scottish painter and a Czech ceramicist attempt to capture the true essence of Fort Kochi

Titled Now, this exhibition consists of over 20 installations—created in 2D and 3D formats—and is currently being showcased within a 300-year-old heritage property.  

Anoop Menon Published :  15th February 2019 06:00 AM   |   Published :   |  15th February 2019 06:00 AM

Helena's clay sculptures

Gail Sagman and Helena Giras first visited the biennale town in the ’80s. Over the years, they’ve witnessed this sleepy region transform into India’s premier contemporary art hub. The duo was so inspired by the environment, that they recently spent four weeks here to create a body of work as a response to Fork Kochi. Titled Now, this exhibition consists of over 20 installations (created in 2D and 3D formats) and is currently being showcased within a 300-year-old heritage property called Rossitta Wood Castle.

Synthetic vortex

Helena and Gail 

During her latest sojourn to Kerala, Helena, who is originally from the Czech Republic, came across a newspaper clipping about citizens who were organising a recycling meet to minimise waste in the region. “The article mentioned buzzwords like reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, redesign, and remanufacture. That concept of redesigning waste like plastic, is what spurred me on,” explains the ceramicist, who taught at the London Art Institute and Westminster College-London for over 30 years. 

Helena, who has exhibited in UK, The Netherlands, and Italy, created 3D clay sculptures and grand chandeliers by upcycling plastic bottles found in the neighbourhood—a juxtaposition of the ancient natural material with the unfortunate man-made product. “I’m trying to communicate that my sculptures use two materials: plastic which takes 1,000 years to deteriorate, while clay only takes two hours to wither away,” states the Czech artiste, who usually uses methods like slab building and an ancient Japanese firing technique called raku to create her works.   

On the surface

Gail's mixed media artwork

While Helena mostly used locally available clay, her colleague and long-time friend Gail proceeded to gather many mediums from around town—think kasavu saris, henna, ropes, printed photographs, and discarded jute sacks. “My process-driven and response-based approach to abstract art trickles down to 40 years of research on the subject. I went around Fort Kochi looking for surfaces to dabble in frottage—taking a rubbing from random uneven surfaces. The challenge was to find a harmonious and rhythmical balance within these unexpected compositions,” describes the Scottish mixed media artiste. 

Gail, who also occasionally forays into theatre, has exhibited her large-format canvas paintings in several prestigious galleries across the planet from San Francisco to Moscow. However, the St Martins School 
of Art alumni prefers to ‘paint outside the rectangle’ and engage in actual conversations about art. “Spending time in Fort Kochi during the biennale has been a fantastic, interactive, and enlightening experience. The most exciting and gratifying works were the pieces by the students,” concludes Gail.

On Rose Street.Till February 23.

 anoop.p @newindianexpress.com