THE SURFACE UNDER THE SEA
By Sophie Cope
Trained as an architect, artist Nindya Bucktowar works to highlight relationships between bodies and physical or imaginative ‘space.’ Holding it open, falling through it, emptying it, paying homage to it, moving between disciplines and approaches as if moving through rooms of a house. In this house, there are many rooms. Drawings are important, henna patterns are important — also clay, leather, tiles, buildings, the city, the sea. As an early-career ceramic artist, many of these rooms (excitingly, terrifyingly?) remain open.
‘A genuine kind of empathy with the material is communicated – both as an imaginative extension of the body, and as a completely literal chunk of ‘the earth’ that is everywhere.’
Bucktowar uses clay in a way that is close to the body, and close to the ‘wild’ and urban landscapes that she knows. A genuine kind of empathy with the material is communicated – both as an imaginative extension of the body, and as a completely literal chunk of ‘the earth’ that is everywhere. Having grown up in Mauritius, representations of rapidly eroding landscapes and ecosystems (due to climate change) appear to mirror a more intimate nostalgia for child-sized loves and losses. The world is in the body and the body is in the world.
Nindya Bucktowar, Work in Progress, Photograph by Nikhil Tricam
And in this irrevocably fragmented world, there is strangeness and lightness and beauty, always. The artist pays great attention to this — and to the holding of contradictory states. A landscape can be lost forever, and its residues can somehow be luminous. The detail and the textures of things — the smallest roadmaps, tenderly marked on the clay as if on the skin — these are perhaps everything, when the repair of the world-sized landscape is not possible. And the people are everything too. Bucktowar describes the great importance of the viewer in determining what the work ‘means.’ More than any ‘one thing,’ it is perhaps about holding objects in space, and allowing the many passing bodies and and conversations to define them in waves – as if on a coastline.
‘The detail and the textures of things — the smallest roadmaps, tenderly marked on the clay as if on the skin — these are perhaps everything, when the repair of the world-sized landscape is not possible.’
Reef Fragmented, CIRCA Everard Read (RMB Talent Unlocked), 2021, 200 x 150 x 400cm , Photograph by Nikhil Tricam
Bucktowar’s hanging installation piece from 2021, Reef Fragmented, seems to evoke both a defiance of gravity and a defiance of time. Comprised of 1500 handmade clay beads hanging in strings from the ceiling, the work commemorates disappearing reefs of the Indian Ocean (perhaps specifically in the artist’s native Mauritius). Referencing both staghorn coral fragments and large sea urchin spines, the artist’s use of clay curiously speaks to underwater landscapes more often than literal ‘earth.’ In permanent suspense between the ceiling and the floor, Reef Fragmented evokes a feeling of falling forever — perhaps always about to fall, but not just yet. By holding the fragmented pieces like this, they are not repaired (the coral reef ecosystem is, in fact, irrecoverably damaged, and the artist’s childhood in Mauritius remains similarly unreachable in time) but they are granted the space to be something new. Here, and in much of Bucktowar’s other work, there is a simultaneous sense of place as something very immediate – constructed in the room right now, transforming into the next thing – and as something foregrounded by irreversible loss, dislocation and longing.
‘More than any ‘one thing,’ it is perhaps about holding objects in space, and allowing the many passing bodies and and conversations to define them in waves – as if on a coastline.’
Buckotwar’s use of space and clay allows us to question various kinds of material relatedness. We wonder, among much else – what happens when clay is used to evoke things under the sea? How does a childhood erode like coral? Is it possible to reach new depths by paying great attention to the surface? And where does the city intersect with the earth, and with the skin?
These are questions about the borders between so-called ‘art’ and ‘design’ or architecture worlds too, and Nindya Bucktowar chooses not to resolve any of them. The doors between the worlds are open, everything is a potential dwelling place, and the thing is to allow oneself to come and go at will. The garden is the studio, and the kitchen is the studio, and the whole of the city, and the sandbanks of memory, and the back of each hand. And everyone is a teacher and a source.
‘The garden is the studio, and the kitchen is the studio, and the whole of the city, and the sandbanks of memory, and the back of each hand. And everyone is a teacher and a source.’
One heart is bigger than a mountain. One human life is deeper than the ocean. Strange fishes and sea-monsters and mighty plants live in the rock-bed of our spirits. The whole of human history is an undiscovered continent deep in our souls. The sky is inside us. The earth is inside us. […] Angels and demons are amongst us; they take many forms. They can enter us and dwell there for one second or half a lifetime. Sometimes both of them dwell in us together. [but] So long as we are alive, so long as we feel, so long as we love, everything in us is an energy we can use. There is a stillness which makes you travel faster. There is a silence which makes you fly. If your heart is a friend of Time, nothing can destroy you. Death has taught me the religion of living — I am converted — I am blinded — I am beginning to see.
(Ben Okri, The Famished Road, 1991).
Trained as an architect, interdisciplinary artist Nindya Bucktowar holds and explores ideas around space, place and belonging – both very broadly, and in minute and tender detail. Topographical ceramic sculptures are paired with room-filling fragments suspended from the ceiling, evoking both the proximity and the fragility of the worlds we think we know. Bucktowar graduated with a Bachelor in Architectural Studies at the Nelson Mandela University in 2013.
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