This map took me all of November to make; parts of it still needs filling in. It will complete itself in time. I gave it a rest by end November as the paper I was drawing on given the multiple folding, drawing, erasing, redrawing, colouring and handling over a month was beginning to make the whole sheet fall apart. It is currently taped panel for panel at the back along the fold lines and now stands up against my studio wall. A closer look will show a coffee cup ring from my beloved beverage holder as it accompanied my map sketching study times. This particular iteration is the 5th or 6th attempt in getting the positions and proportions right. I tossed out 3 as they were incorrect and messy. I lost 2 of the maps and close directions notes I had – one fell out of my pocket on our ride back from Marakkanam; the other was catalogued away into an unidentifiable location somewhere within the walls of my studio during one of my most recent cataloguing and reorganising bouts. I observe I go through such phases at least thrice a year. My next cataloging session will hopefully unearth Map Itrn. 2 while I hope Map Itrn.1 (if it hasn’t disintegrated into the biome it was dropped in already) offers direction to water bodies around the area to whomsoever may find it.
Note: I have not included the Vettuvankeni & Pallikarnai waterbodies in this map as I thought it best to make a separate map of them.
The 12 Waterbodies on this Map:
- The Kuyilapalayam Thamarai Kulam
- The 5 home made ponds of Adishakti
- The Ustheri Lake aka Oussudu Lake
- The Renganathapuram Thamarai Kulam
- The Renganathapuram Thazhampoo – Ambal Kulam
- Koonimedu Aiyanaar Koil Manikulai Kulam
- Koonimedu Vinayagar Koil Thamarai Kulam
- Keezhpaettai Ambal Kulam
- Keezhapaettai Manikulai Kulam
- The Kaliveli
- The Kanthadu Reserve Forest – Paddy Pond
- The Kanthadu Reserve Forest – Forest Pond
Vinobha Nathan aka Vino to friends is a travel photographer who has scoured the earth on his various photo expeditions for the Lonely Planet’s Indian edition for the last 7 years. My connection to Vino is of a partly shared creative and tumultuous past in our formative years as students of the Government College of Fine Arts. I feel a GCFA rant coming up. So here are some of Vinobha’s photographs from his Instagram page before I go on.
Vino was a year my senior studying Visual Communication (1999 – 2003) while I was at it face to face with a very dubious 4 year course so very ambitiously titled Industrial Design in Ceramics (2000 – 2004). We’ve seen a few things together like the joy of sharing and working everyday in a campus surrounded by students discovering their art and arriving at it each with their unique hand, technique and medium – it was so good watching each other work. Most of this work was initiated by students as they were rarely any classes or able teachers. We saw an institution crumbling into itself with fans dropping from the ceiling on a regular basis – no, I do not exaggerate. We were angry and agitated that we were not learning enough and not hitting the notes and peaks that were nagging to be felt. We soon found ourselves part of a core group of students gathering to voice our concerns – our talks turned to meetings, meetings to strikes and protests in hope that the institutional mental heads would hear us and give us few things like a real timetable and have teachers show up for these classes, access to the library and museum within the campus, more than 40 pages of printout as reading and learning material every year, materials to work with that wasn’t a paper and a pencil per student but at least a few sketch books and pencils in plural maybe? or a toilet for us which wasn’t flooded or clogged (most of the female students would not pee the whole day just to avoid having to walk through a week old foot deep pool of our precious pickling pee and other kinds of ageing floats, the men did not have to restrain their bladders as their pee is one of the keys reasons why the campus continues to be lush and green).
Sure enough this was flee on a blimp situation – so on to more innovative strikes and protests, running film festivals, watching more films in the name of curating film festivals, organising activities and classes within the college, organising inter college activities, having one student exhibition after another (which is where I’ve seen some of Vino’s earliest photographs), bringing people together and having conversations inside the college with artists, thinkers and creative people from the outside world, raising money, running around getting artists and alumni to sign petitions, support our cause and demands, just to get them to understand our right for a better education and feel acknowledged even though we were fighting a losing battle. It is 2018 protests continue and all is not well in the campus of GCFA. It was such a dramatic 4 years and I still feel like “What the fuck man!”.
Hah. I can never pass up a good GCFA rant – good that it is out of my system. I will get to how Vinobha came to be part of Krr Krr and how important it has been to have this experience of working together again.
I knew Vino was living in the Auroville area as I had run into him a couple of times over the years and we even had a coffee and a meal at my place but I swore never to meet him again simply because he reminded me too much of the grand degree years and I wanted to have nothing to do with it. Late last year Vino, a common friend of ours and I crossed paths and we spent another tested evening in each other’s company – somehow the ice thawed and the two of us began an evening of reminiscing which the common friend very sweetly sat through. We gathered that time had gone by – we were and weren’t what we remembered ourselves to be. A bite at a time we shared one or two images of work at a time.
Late September I showed this blog to Vino and talked to him about the progress of the book, the impact of the workshops and the various water body visits I was making in and around the area. This excited him very much and he immediately got started on a long list of places he himself had visited and photographed around our land where water bodies were waxing and waning over pastures and plains. He also spoke about his process as a photographer and the ways in which he found the joy in putting together images. I brewed on this a while and wondered if it would be a good idea to ask Vino to join me on the lily pond walks and photo study sessions. Gathering some courage I asked him if he would join me in the expeditions I was taking and that I would pay him – to which he readily agreed. His eagerness was so eager and I was having knee jerk GCFA flashbacks – I promptly cancelled. After two weeks of repeatedly making plans and cancelling on a daily basis a day came when I did not feel resistance so we took off on our bikes with our cameras to the water bodies he’d seen, ponds I’d seen and a map full of new spots we discovered together in the next month and a half.
My sincere thanks to Vino for giving his energy and enthusiasm towards the building of this book.
Post the Kattaikuttu workshops my plan was to immediately recreate this workshop with another group of children; however the changes and affirmations it brought about gave me reason to pause. As I sat down with the drawings made by the KKG children laid out around me – in documenting, segregating, organising and simply going over them repeatedly and looking through for what then felt like a very long time – I realised I had arrived at something quite valuable and felt it would be a shame to let it pass without due attention. It was this feeling that gave me some courage to work alongside my panic when I kept hearing “But you made twenty other plans and you are stuck and frozen and …” in my head. I was staring at the drawings made by the children, there was something there… well ok, stare on.
I’ve got a few hunches about the workings of the world around and what I’ve come to believe as forms or representations of ideas of forms. I often get the feeling that I’m seeing/getting it all wrong – it just does not connect or make much sense – mostly forgetting to recall that “getting it” is different from “getting there” while I know neither it nor there.
In the meantime the IFA half yearly report was due. Writing it was a very good exercise towards clarity for me. It felt good to articulate progress along with doubts and challenges – I felt some confidence when the report was received with kindness. The writing also gave me a few directions to take.
The first bigs rains had just begun. It was time to head out to the lily ponds.
Olive is a young artist from UK on her fourth working visit to Kattaikkuttu. Many Krr Krr Workshop photographs at KKG are credited to her. She and the students share a connect. More on Olive and her work at KKG soon.
Olive Pascha Supple-Still thank you for the company, multiple terrace sittings, the beautiful photographs and feedback.
I met two artists from UK also working at KKG – Craig Jenkins and Olive Pascha Supple-Still. They both share a strong work history with Kattaikkuttu. These images are from a Ramayana based piece directed by Craig specifically to make room for the children to speak and perform in English. I didn’t get to spend much time with Craig as he left for a story telling tour soon after I arrived. Here is more on Craig’s schedule.
Kattaikkuttu Sangam has two water bodies on either side of it. The Aiyankarkulam on one side and the Punjarasanthankal lake on the other. August has been a rainy month here. It is refreshing to see water back up on the surface. I take many walks around here before and after my sessions with the children. I find my spots and park myself there. Some moving images from the recent sittings.
A closer look at Session 04 – The exercise: Today there was a nice afternoon breeze. They picked a spot – identified a tree, a blade of grass, a plant – rooted into the ground. Sit with it, listen. See the tree in the wind and the wind in the tree, move with it, like it. Place pencil on paper and see pencil draw it out. Repeat with same or another tree, plant.
Some responses from the students:
“A small plant told me I just grew up with the recent rains – you seeing me, drawing me makes me very happy. You are behaving like me. I drew a small plant, the peepal tree, one more small plant, coconut tree and neem tree.”
“I spotted a big tree which told me it was there for a long time and wondered who to marry and then fell in love and married the tree next to it and they make many fruits together. The tree told me I was welcome to as much fruit as I wanted but to please not waste them.”
“The tree did not say anything to me – but I spoke to it. I said if ever someone thinks poorly of you and you feel lonely that you are stuck in a corner – know that it is best for you. If you were in the middle of a thick bush they’ll cut you down when they decide to clear the bush.”
“The poonga tree moves its edges a little from side to side. The rose plant was small. It moved up, down all around. The poonga tree shook only a few times. Then I drew a grass. It went all the way to one side and came back – many times. I checked to see if it’s stem portion was moving – it did not. Only the top part of the grass was moving. The yellow flower tree had fewer leaves – its top was moving in circles. I did not know how to draw it. I thought about it – should I draw rounds? Then I started drawing and it automatically came.”
“I went to spot and saw a tree. I moved like it moved.As soon I started it gave me a feeling. Then I didn’t move intentionally but felt I was moved. When I started moving this way my hands started shivering suddenly. I didn’t know what to do. I immediately ran, drank some water, came back sat down quietly and relaxed. I started again – once again I don’t know what happened but my hands started shivering. This time I continued with the shivering and as the hand shook the lines came. That is all Miss. I didn’t draw it. It drew itself… it did not say anything. I saw it move and I moved.”
Session Time structure – Week 01:
11:45 – I get the paper ready for their drawing.
12:00 – We meet at our spot – talk – settle down, go over the previous sessions, make note of any new observations, feelings, thoughts.
12:15 – We work on one exercise and repeat it as many times and as slowly as we can – talk about it, redraw.
1:00 – The children finish their drawings give it to me and go for lunch – the last few sessions ran into 1:15.
1:45 – I wrap up the papers, put away stationery, make a few quick notes then join them for lunch.
The Exercises – Week 01:
- Day 01 & 02: To walk the campus, look around for an object – a leaf, a stone – anything that calls out to them. Pause and notice why it is calling out to them. How do they feel when it calls out and why they pick up that one thing alone. Spend time with it and look for a few minutes – at their flower, twig, half eaten leaf, mushroom. Then they identify a small portion within it, observe it carefully and draw it enlarged to fit their exercise paper.
- Day 03: To sit quietly for just a few minutes, eyes closed. Together we listen to the sounds we hear around us. The crickets, the cicadas, different birds flying around at varying heights and distances, the rare crow at kattaikkuttu, cows and cow herds calling out to their friends and other cows, goats and the goat herds, passers by on the road by foot, on bike, with phone, vehicles, a near by pencil box, a tapping pencil, fidgeting, dogs, sound of people inside the school building, breeze, trees in the breeze and so on. Then they go away and find a spot somewhere in the campus sit and listen to the sounds. Hearing the sounds they put their pencils on paper and move as the sound guides them.
- Day 04: Today there was a nice afternoon breeze. They picked a spot – identified a tree, a blade of grass, a plant – rooted into the ground. Sat with it, listened. See the tree in the wind and the wind in the tree, move with it, like it. Place pencil on paper and see pencil draw it out. Repeated with the same or another tree, plant.
- Day 05: They picked a spot – identified a bug, an insect, a worm, a fly – a moving organism, small. Watch it. Give it time. Put pencil on paper and follow it’s path.
- Day 06 (a): Composition session. Picked a new spot, sat there and combined all of the above exercises into one single drawing.
- Day 06 (b): The Ringarotus performance.
- Day 07: Composition.
Core questions from them to me: How do I draw this? How do I shade? Why this exercise? How is my hand doing this?
The core questions from me to them: Why did they choose the tree, grass, bug, beetle or spot? What moved or brought them to it? What was the feeling? What did they notice? Why this exercise? How are their hands doing it?
It is krr krr workshop time – I’ve been looking forward to this for a few years now. The first set of workshops bring me to Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam in Kanchipuram. The taxi packed: The Ringarotus drawings, clothes, books, the guitar, a trunk with inks and pen, nicotine, 2 big stacks of cut natural evolution paper, few books I’ve illustrated, this year’s first bunch of bananas from the garden, the various gadgets for documentation, umbrella and pillow.
The gurukulam is a residential theatre school established by P.Rajagopal and Hanne de Bruinin in 2002 – it focuses on using the traditional performance form of Kattaikkuttu as the medium of education; 44 children between 6 and 16 years old study & perform here. It is based in Punjarasantankal, a small village near Kanchipuram Town, about 85 kilometres from Chennai.
The Kattaikkuttu children wake up at 6am groom themselves, drink milk and show up for their 7:30am movement or vocal class. 8:30 am breakfast. Morning classes in reading, writing, maths, science, computer & social sciences with a 11am tea-milk break, classes continue. 12:00pm krr krr workshop, 1 pm lunch. 1:30 onwards music class to train in instruments and songs special to the kattaikkuttu form. 3:00pm – 5:00pm, together they learn and rehearse the repertory from their Thaatha Mr P.Rajagopal with a small snack break in between. 6:30 pm homework, play 7:30pm dinner, 9:00pm sleep.
The weekend timetable has a different mood. They wash their clothes, clean up stuff, study, attend custom fit classes, play, sit – do weekend things. They watch 2 movies together. They actively participate in taking care of their school.
Such is the work done to develop the strength to be a performer in this form – a Kattaikkuttu performance is an 8 hour long show done across the night in the open air on a square piece of ground somewhere in the middle of the village. It starts at 10pm and ends at 6am the next day.
From their website:
“Imagine how many songs and words you need to fill an entire night…”.
“A good actor knows at least two ‘big’ roles of any play. They are on stage for 4 or more hours when they play a ‘big’ role. There are more than 20 traditional Kattaikkuttu plays. That means that they know 20 x 4 x 2 = 160 hours of text by heart.”
The mountain comes to Kattaikkuttu – artists and patrons from across the world travel to this school bringing their work, exposure, thoughts and gifts; as the children keep at their arts practice.
Within this kind of set up I am filled with anticipation towards my 60 minutes a day with them. I’ve just completed 7 sessions and 1 performance at the school. The school closed for a holiday weekend and the children went home. A good break to reflect on the goings on.
The Krr Krr Residency at Cholamandal Artists’s Village:
The CCC Residency was very successful. I got started on a 1 by 1 metre accordion form that ran 38 metres long. The studio gave me room to fold out the pages and see the paper. I made large strokes on walls, tables and the floor. With this piece I was attempting to make a first draft version of a long book – which I was hoping to have ready in time for the scheduled krr krr workshops with the children. I got more than I expected.
- piece ( No.12 ) Beige Accordion 125 ft x 3.3 ft was ready in time for a workshop.
- it took 56 days to draw.
- it became the solution to * another body of work I have been invested in alongside the krr krr book.
- i now have one more accordion and a full length performance to take along.
* The Ringarotus – Process:
I realise I like to grow out an idea – catch as much of its lifetime on running paper as I can. It is the process of stalking the idea. For a few years now I have been drawing under a thought about timing, how it nests within static visuals, how I see and express movement; looking closely at what moves the hand.
Physically & emotionally this is a piece for me to realise how much space there is and how quickly, involuntarily all that room gets filled by imagination and gross connections. In terms of practice I’ve thrived on the faith it gave me that this was a meaningful expedition. I’ve had so much fun drawing through the last few years to see the light, play with ink, hold paper, make brushes – let the flow take it’s course and finally perform. Now I want to feel and share the experience of setting ones attention to recognise a phenomenon – sense it, see the closure pass by and do its thing. These moments allow for pauses long enough to feel the pulses as life exchanges itself onto other currents. The absurdity of a life blessed within animated muscular movements of matter reorganising itself along time; this ringarotus.
The Ringarotus – Timeline:
- late 2014: started drawing, studying, writing towards this. making paper models, taking photographs, small videos | core themes: movement, change, body, paper, ink, drawing, sound, feeling, light, time, abstraction.
- 2015: notating crickets and crows; making collages | attending the rhythm portion of the adishakti source of performance energy workshop | first arrangement drawings.
- 2015: drawing 4 walls by 14 nights at adishakti.
- 2016, summer: there – piece ( No.01) rice paper scroll; wooden floors, a balcony | a crossword clue | meeting a master for the first time after 12 years of correspondence || here – a white perforated continuous computer feed stack and many scrolls.
- 2017: figuring ways to use the cracks of a wall to draw, used up most of the scrolls in the process | wall still in progress.
- 2017, summer: food | rehearsals at spaces | piece ( No.12 ) beige accordion 125 ft x 3.3 ft | cholamandal artist residency | a chennai summer by the marshes | yazhini, pcs and meat.
- total drawn volume so far: 1330 feet of scrolls & accordions, 4 books across 339 pages, 30 large and medium size paintings, 30 plus sketchbooks and a few solid piles of papers; a few scroller models with paper and a decent amount of photos and videos.
- a 1 hr 45 min pilot was performed to a close community of artists and friends in 2017, on the 1st of august at spaces in chennai.
- a 1 hr 25 minute version was performed to the students and staff of kattai kuttu sangam in kanchipuram, on the 23rd of august.