Remembering the presence
Kabir says, “Brother
I have gone crazy-
quietly, quietly, like a thief
my mind has slipped into the simple state".
How the art that I did affected and guided me.
The last installation project that I did in and around a dead and abandoned open well in 2003 compelled me to look at real life, the land and the communities. The well with which Tripura Kashyap, Azis T.M, and I engaged for over three years was dry and abandoned. It was without its soul – water. The well stood witness to the ills of unbridled urban development, bringing forth memories of a civilization gazing at our world from the depths of silence. The fear of things turning upside down and losing its meaning continue to deepen with time. Hence a compulsion and urgency began to grow within to affirm and nurture interventions that seeded care and trust. An attempt to understand the interconnectedness of everything that is, not in abstraction but through direct engagement.
The first two years after this project, was an opportunity to make sense of and care for the land around the well. It was a search for real life connections: thinking how to revitalize the earth, talking to farmers, understanding water and its flow, making percolation pits, mulching, reviving the microorganisms, planting saplings of various kinds, understanding the capacity of the land and inviting life back to it. I did involve in any art during this time. I wanted to feel in my own body how life is made possible and its interconnectedness. During this time, with the help of Mr. Vishwanath and the Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, a study was conducted on the ground water of the area and a proposal was submitted to the Ministry of Environment to recharge the wells.

After leaving Visthar in 2005, I wanted to engage with the land and community to which our home and studio is a part. A failed fight to protect three large banyan trees from felling guided me to take on a more nurturing role. With the support of people in our community we began planting trees on sides of all the roads in our layout. It continued for nine years. As the tree saplings took root and grew, I began finding my own existence here a real one. It was no more an abstract idea, but throbbing with life -- with land, trees and people. Every day was about dealing with some issue or the other affecting the community. Dealing with bureaucrats, politicians, engineers, contractors, various service sectors, unpredictable tempers, uneasy encounters, and discovering what it was to work not just with different people but with different minds, strengths, weakness, and interests. There was desperation, anger, cynicism, crisis management, as well as eagerness, anticipation, and hope. The attempt was not merely to resolve pressing concerns, but also to see how one can do it through mutual respect, not using fear or power tactics, or even influences but with a spirit of responsibility and care.
It was difficult and agonizing. Different from when we bring societal concerns into art. But within its stink, we can experience and breathe the freshness of life. Unlike art, they are mortal, momentary and short lived, but are vital springs of life. The idea of introspection as withdrawal is dissolved and existence is discovered as a form of dynamic embeddedness.

Every concern demands real resolve and I understand it is in the core of these things that we can find what we seek – the ‘song line’ that connects the immediate with everything before and after. It is to experience ‘loving connections’ within, and with everything. Here, the self and the other, multiple others, inextricably coexist – human, tree, bird, rain, animal, water, mountain, the unborn … -- in an active, present-continuous relationship.
It is only in this body, in this place, in this life, that we can make our best efforts and endow them with spiritual significance.
C.F.John
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