Thursday, March 05, 2020

Seeing beauty in ordinary things

The Adelaide-based artist Jane Skeer spent a month at Fort Kochi and produced unique installation art from waste materials. She talks about her experiences

Pics: By Arun Angela   

By Shevlin Sebastian 

As the Adelaide-based artist Jane Skeer was talking about her works to a group of young visitors at the Pepper House, Fort Kochi, tears began to roll down her face. She quickly took a handkerchief and dabbed at her face. “I am so sorry,” she says. “I feel so sad that I will be leaving Kochi within a couple of days and returning home.” 

Jane had come for one month on a Kochi Biennale Foundation-Adelaide Residency Exchange. While one artist comes from there, an Indian artist will go and spend a month there. 

For Jane, this is her first visit to Fort Kochi. And she is smitten. “I am taken up by the culture, history and people,” she says. “I spent three to four hours walking around every day, talking to people and taking photographs. What I am most impressed with is the people’s love for family and country. You’ve got it all together so much better than we have in Australia.” 

She says that there is hardly any colour in Australia. “Our construction is all about cement and steel,” she says. “We make straight and massive structures. Our architecture has no personality. You come to Fort Kochi and it is colourful, vibrant and beautiful. I don’t see anything ugly.” 

Jane’s forte is in installation art. In her temporary studio at Pepper House, she has stacked discarded blue cement bags in a triangle at one side of the hall. It is in striking contrast to the red walls all around. 

She had seen the bags on the roadside while walking around. “I thought it was interesting, the way the light was falling on them,” says Jane. Then she noticed that plants were grown in them and placed on top of fences. “There are so many different uses for it,” she says. “It seemed like vessels. And when I looked out through the window at Pepper House, at the backwaters, I saw a boat, another type of vessel, carrying goods and services.” 

In the next room, she again used the discarded sacks and placed them in three different rows, of thirty sacks each, but containing the colours of saffron, white and green. “This is my version of the national flag of India,” she says, with a smile.

While standing on the seashore, she noticed that small terracotta stones had floated in from the river. She quickly collected several and made a circular design on the floor of her studio. It gave an impression of being part of an ancient culture. 

On the walls, Jane had put up several photographs. Ordinary sights became extraordinary through her camera lens. So, an image of several red Indane gas cylinders, stacked up, with a chain going through them all, becomes, in Jane’s eyes, “An art installation. I love the way they have been stacked, the beautiful markings on it, which indicates its history. Each gas cylinder stands for a person, home or business.” 

Jane is a late bloomer. It was only at the age of 47, this mother of two boys and two girls, who are all in their twenties and thirties, went to the Adelaide Central School of Art and said, “I think I can paint.” But to gain entry, she also had to do a sculpture course. And right from the beginning, she became a natural at sculpting.  

I found my passion and now I just can't stop,” she says. Every year, since 2015, she has been holding several exhibitions of her installation art. And in her spare time, she writes poetry, too. 

Here are a few lines: 

All the answers I need 
Are inside me. 

All the love I need 
Is inside me. 

All the happiness I desire 
Is within me. 

I have it all. 

I don’t need anybody at all.’

Does that mean she does not need her husband, a businessman, whom Jane had been helping in his work? She laughs and says, “Who knows? I am growing wings. I might just fly away. Or we may become closer. Who can say what will happen?” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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