written by Shubhra Prakash
Our digital art exhibition at Triveni Kala Sangam ended in Aug. It has taken a few months to gather our thoughts and experiences and finally pen them down.
One of the videos in the exhibition had a series of images and video clips with a single soundtrack. The sound of a sculptor carving a letter on stone. To get this sound we were able to ask a sculptor friend to let us film him carving a letter on stone.
We entered the College of Art, New Delhi on the day after their student exhibition. Students presented their yearly works across disciplines of painting, woodwork, digital, mixed media, etc. Since our arrival to film was the day after the exhibition, we had missed all of this festivity and were facing the disassembly of various exhibits around the campus. Artwork hung from sides of buildings with typeface written on it. Art being dismantled all over the campus. The artefacts, sculptures, installations were part of a two day presentation. Each step a piece of stone carved or a metal art piece being disassembled. The night before, I suddenly remembered that a world away, Notre Dame was on fire just last night. Something fell, some era, some inspiration, some dreams. “Where are you?”, I rang my uncle who was suppose to meet me upon reaching the campus. “E block!” he replied. “E-block in the back where the sculpture department is”. E block was another world, each corner a stone told a story, I kept thinking, why do sculptures always look so sad to me ?
Human figures, abstract shapes out of stone, the variety was immense and the energy surrounding the area was specifically youthful. A young man was blasting music while working and in that sound he found the vein that made him look like someone in meditation. He used an electric drill to carve a piece of rock. It is an overcast day in Delhi guaranteeing me a good photograph quality for the video footage I am about to take. The sculpture court is in the green area, surrounded by trees, it is green all over. Sculptures are hidden under branches, some bark is camouflaging a multiple armed figured. We are waiting for Tutu, chacha’s friend. Sculptor artist who travels the world. We were not expecting him, we were told his student would instead carve a piece of stone for us and that would be it for our purposes. He appeared nevertheless. Not at all different from his photos. Cordial. After introductions he escorted us to the workshop area. In the back of the sculpture department, under a banyan tree, was a worktable of dusty nature that spoke of being useful and sturdy. Workshop area had all around it, finished and unfinished pieces. A woman sitting on folded knees, wearing a tunic with her hands placed on her thighs looking upward and forward. I had decided the banyan tree would be the backdrop of this clip I would be filming. It would be fifteen minutes of footage to extract ten to fifteen seconds for our use. Cyrus, a student of modest demeanor would be the artist as picked by Tutu. We introduced ourselves to Cyrus he then left us to get his equipment while Tutu and chacha began to talk about Cyrus’s work style. Specifically his inability to distinguish himself from his mentor. No matter what he does, the teacher finds his way in. “I thought of him when I saw this” chacha says while caressing a 2ft x 1ft granite sculpture with acid washed edges. “Don’t tell him that, he may cry.” replied Tutu. Meanwhile Tutu shows me photos of his work. Turkey, Russia, France, China, commissions and competitions. The peace gate in China and a port from the era of Silk Route in Oman. I am marvelled at each “Ye bhi letterform daal deta hai, har jagah. Puri duniya mein Oriya kaat chuka hai ye.” And sure enough each stone piece has in it letterforms from Oriya.
“That one! Wait, go back, that one, looks like Russian? ” I read out the carved Russian word. “You are… you know Russian ? ” “No, I speak very little and I can read some, I mean the script, I can read the script” “Dobrey utra”
“Ye dekho, Russian seekh ke baitha hai.” said chacha.
“Mai jahan bhi jaata hoon, wahan ka thoda thoda seekh leta hun.” said Tutu.
Oriya letterforms in Oman, Russia, France, China, Egypt. He talks about the ancient world as his inspiration with its Silk Route. “I don’t go to Modern Art Museum. I don’t like it, I go to National Museum, there I feel like making.”
“Ye dekho, ye daraar hai, ye destructive hai bohot, mai destructive hoon.” He leaves a cut or fissure in all his works and then very visibly patches it up. Whether via metal or paint. What is this secret? This need or better philosophy. What is it? The ancient when it starts to fall apart, we have to renovate it. Fix it. Preserve it. I remember immediately that the Notre Dame spire collapsed last night. I ask them. They talk about how upset they are. “Four times I have been, Kal raat ko news dekha toh mera muh latak gaya.” Eight hundred years of history but I had spent all morning wondering what was burned by them to erect their churches but I shouldn’t go down that path right ?
Cyrus returns. I film him carving the stone with chacha’s directions. He is consistent every time with the hammer. Once in a while, he stops and slams the hammer hard on the table to readjust the stone with the wood underneath it. There it is, stone carving stone.
Before we had entered the workspace for filming, Chacha, Tutu and I found ourselves in the hallway outside, they reminisced together about days of learning. And out of nowhere I heard “Cut sir”, cutsir a name ? Cut sir they said, a sculptor like him not known in India. Tutu describes an art installation of two heavy rocks that Cutsir worked on, Cut sir insisted on a ditch being dug under it so he could carve the structure from the bottom. Everyone warned Cutsir of the danger of digging this ditch. But Cutsir, he could not be told No. “Haan! Bhadak jaate the! Kiski himmat? ” remembers chacha. Cutsir climbs under the structure after the ditch has been dug. He does his work, climbs out and two heavy rocks collapse right after to ascertain that he would have died had he taken a second longer in the ditch. But those rocks waited to be made beautiful before collapsing. Cutsir was known to disappear for months. And later he would be found, next to some creation of his, on some mountain he had resigned to for that period.
Chacha recalls identifying a sculpture by Cutsir once when he went in for a meeting with some government official. The structure stood outside the center, and chacha noticed Cutsir’s name in incomprehensible state. In his meeting chacha took up the case with the official to have the mistake be fixed. “No one like Cutsir. Only once in a long while.” so they said. He disappeared, he was just wearing those chappals he always wore and walked out of class and we never saw him again. It has been …. Twenty years ? Where is Cutsir? We don’t know. Later Chacha tells me in the cab. He knows what might have happened. They had made him incharge of a committee and that very day he disappeared, he had warned he would reveal all their scams to the world. The money misuse, bureaucracy, all of it. And he was gone before sunset. We don’t know where, a man who would cut stone and carved beauty out of sturdy mountain stones. Where did Cutsir go? Balbir Singh, was his name, a sardar man. In Mandi house gole chakkar there is a sculpture by Cutsir that one can see.