Stacks in Balance. A Story of it’s making.
The plan was to utilise traditional pottery techniques used to create forms that we and others would decorate to create a series of related forms that would be threaded onto a vertical steel rod. Ann and I along with Manohar Lal ( Manori) Dharmveer and others had completed Tallarook Stacks in Australia early 2011, structurally we were confident we could readily do something similar here.
Who was to be involved? The intention was to include Indian artists and artisans that had participated in other Crosshatched projects where the financial assistance had came from the AIC.
Gathering the artists. Although the activity was centred in Kumhaargram ( formally known as Hastal Village) on the outskirts of New Delhi some of us had travelled long distances to participate including Mantu who travelled from West Bengal . He, Pradyumna, Pushpa ( Crosshatched 2009) Ann and myself met at Uttam Nagar Metro station to travel by rickshaw to the Prasad’s workshop for the first official day of the project. A few days earlier Bhuvnesh Prasad ( Australia 2005) had made several large forms we were to ‘decorate’ by carving and impressing into the burnished surface. They were beautiful objects in themselves, how could we enhance them? We approached the task in different ways. Mantu Pradyumna and Pushpa transposing their lyrical graphic images onto the vessels, including the meeting at the metro station that morning and some imagery that grew from experiences in Australia, Ann the motifs responding to the round forms and myself, relishing the opportunity to reflect on, the ground from the air, in particular the mark of water on our dry continents on a large form. We found ourselves readily settling to working quietly and comfortably in the light filled small courtyard at the Prasad workshop. Our weeks together in Australia during Crosshatched 2009 paving the way for this level of familiarity.
Deciding who would participate in a potters colony of approximately 700 families was not so easy. Manori was the only potter that fitted the stated criteria and we wanted to extend the reach of the project to include a manageable ‘few others’. It took a few days to negotiate our way to a workable team. The other form makers, Kajor Ram, thrown forms, and Kalu Ram and family, die makers were all in close proximity to where we had established a workspace on Manori’s rooftop which made the logistics of moving pots around easier. Over two days Manori had built a roof structure whereby we could have a shaded workspace, this was most appreciated.
Most of the forms used were derivations of the waterpot.
After much discussion and some misunderstandings we established what we wanted to do with Kalu Ram ( see his story) we enjoyed the process of creating the two parts for a waterpot made by moulds. The process was, he threw thick forms that at the nearly dry stage we caved our designs. There is a top and bottom mould. These are then fired. The family then, deftly, by hand, beat clay into the bottom mould, the top mould and then join the two together. Usually a large lip is then thrown onto this form, however we required the top just to have an opening. The size being determined by the usual dimension of a thrown waterpot so when stacked they sat neatly. Time was against Kalu Ram, as the process was lengthy as the thick clay for the moulds had to dry, and they were the first of a two stage process, we were anxious that all would be achieved in the short time available. However, despite regular power outages, a wedding and a baby boy celebration we had a series of ‘our waterpots’ to work on in the nick of time. We also got the family to make some waterpots using there own moulded designs to include in the stacks.
Kajor Ram threw a series of shapes not achievable by usual waterpot making techniques, i.e larger elongated forms.
Manori made thrown and beaten waterpots on demand and from the women of the family Anju, Puja and Karlo Devi some forms using the moulds they have for making big round money boxes.
It was exciting for Ann and I to have many large forms to work on. We painted, pressed, carved, , rubbed and sponged back, repainted and all possibilities in between. Ann had bought some earth colours from Australia however because of time constraints results from test firing these came late in the time available so we generally stayed with local colours. As informal opportunities arose others were engaged in this decorative process.
We then had to consider how to make the structure that would support the pieces. Ann had used plough discs in the past. Hindi name for plough disc? Opportunistically I had taken a photo of a plough on a trip out of Delhi. Plough discs were not locally available. We then played with a few available props to construct a likely model and a local metal smith was called in to appraise our efforts, not possible with his equipment. Manori then suggested he could caste bases out of concrete, easy idea.
It was then to the plumbing supply shop for pipe. Long lengths were pulled from their storage into the roadway, the proprietor used to making sure the frequent traffic wasn’t ‘inconvenienced’ by the pipe in the road airspace. We then had our pipes and larger metal sleeves that would be cast in the concrete. A few days later carrying all the materials up to our workspace the 3 bases were made.
The next anxiety was the fire, would the pieces survive this trial? Generally yes, some pieces show evidence of the tumble stacked kiln and a few cracks. We were most excited and a bit surprised to see such a collection of wonderful pieces gathered in our workspace, we had more than enough pieces to comfortably make our choices for the 3 Stacks, in fact we would have liked to include more pieces than would ‘fit’.
We had a rooftop trial setup, firstly selecting and sorting the pieces on the ground, as it was a precarious undertaking, threading the pieces, some very heavy on the pipe with the aid of a rickety bamboo ladder we wanted to minimize time up the ladder.
Jugdish and several other helpers made this task run smoothly. Once again we were surprised and delighted with the stacks, the disparate works coming together as a whole, it was a huge relief to arrive at this stage. All travelling pieces were then bubble wrapped ready to go in the tempo ( small 3 wheel carrier) for the trip to the Visual Art Gallery at the India Habitat Centre (IHC).
The installation with the help once again of Jugdish and tempo drive Mahavir, with the aid of the galleries steel ladder, when smoothly. The work defined in the gallery space took on a new vibrant life, the range of colours from velvety blacks, earthy browns to reds and stark whites, the embossed motives and carved images contributing to an impressive work.
There had been much discussion in Kumhaargram about attending the opening and invitations extended to all who had been involved with a special effort to get the women there. Two cars were to be used and the plan was for these to leave at 4 to insure arrival at 6 for the one hour drive, one car had a flat tyre they arrived after 7, conveniently all the in English speeches were over and the music had started. Their entrancedidn’t go unnoticed with the women in their very colourful saris and general settling in sounds, I could now relax happy that they had arrived. We all proudly gathered around the Stacks for a group shot and then, for them it was time for the trip home.