The exhibition Cosmic Cows in Creativity not only served to buy two much needed cattle grids, but also created awareness about the need for a community studio and cooperation among artists.
Creativity honours its name. Unique to this community are its collective art studio and the Hall of Light. The studio atelier is open to all residents - from professional artists to those who want to explore art material for the first time. One day a week, there is a 'Drawing Experiment' offered, where those who signup, investigate their unique expression through explorations on paper. The Hall of Light, on the other hand, a much larger space, hosts exhibitions as well as serves a wide range of activities: Valeria teaches ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arrangement; there are regular classes in pilates and salsa, and the occasional musical jamborees. Their common denominator: it's all highly creative.
‘The Cosmic Cow' was the most recent art exhibition at the Hall of Light. Its highlight were the paintings of blue and white cows floating benignly in placid galaxies of the Milky Way. They were the work of Audrey, a professional artist from California who joined Auroville in October last year. Works of fellow resident artists, Adil and Marlenka, plus Ingaborg, a Drawing Experiment regular, were also on display.
The objective of the exhibition was to raise money to pay for cow-grids at the community gates. “Creativity needed to keep cows out of its flower beds, but lacked the funds. So we pooled our works and offered it for sale,” Audrey said cheerfully. The exhibition was a success. With the works made deliberately affordable by Auroville standards, almost all creations found a happy home. Now, cows and residents live in peaceful co-existence, separated by sturdy iron grids.
“Why ‘Cosmic Cow'?' I asked Audrey.
“Aerial views of the earth have affected my work for years. Here cows are such a powerful symbol. It was natural for me to want to present them from above. That led me to putting them in the cosmos. I was at that time doing large paintings of galaxies anyway. Also I found a rooftop over the barnyard at Pitchandikulam where I could draw and photograph the backs of cows. It's quite a landscape with their bone structure, massive girth, and all of it supported by those little hooves.”
She went on to say, “It's fascinating to me how the concept of the universe has changed during my lifetime. I was profoundly affected by the landing on the moon and the picture of the Earth rise from there. It was a powerful image, which made us realize that there we were on that beautiful little blue-green ball… While camping in the Sierras, I woke up before dawn one morning and spontaneously said “Here we come, Sun!” My body had realised that it was the earth which was turning around the sun, rather than the sun coming up. This experience made me think I was on the right track; the track of what I am still not sure!” Since then, Audrey has explored the view of the earth from hot-air balloons and small airplanes, making aerial photographs that became raw material for her work.
More art gyms please
Though Creativity's art studio is fulfilling its purpose, Audrey feels that it is limited in space and could serve a larger group. “Using one's hands to make images can be a healing activity, both for the mind and for the body. There is a wrong conception that one has to be an artist to enter a studio. It is for everyone. We've known for centuries that art balances the brain; it helps to articulate, and develop one's being integrally. Time and again, I've witnessed people working out some problem by just doing a drawing or a painting. When they concentrate, go inside, and create from there and not from the mind, something happens. What is expressed is not important - it's the process that matters. And whether it was intended or not, it affects the body favourably, and a balance or resolution is reached.
“Seen from this perspective, I feel Auroville needs to consider its lack of collective art studios or art gyms, as I like to call them. There are several gyms to take care of the body. But where are the spaces to explore and express oneself through images? Such art gyms should be open 24 hours of the day, so that people can come at any time they feel they want to work. It just needs a large and simple space, with plenty of light, good ventilation, ample storage space for inks and material. Anybody should be allowed to come: artists, guests, newcomers, villagers, workers, on a minimum of conditions - quiet respect for the space, the materials, and the fellow workers. Such art gym would also answer to the needs of visiting artists who would like to do creative work in Auroville. Right now, there is no place for them to work or even to meet other artists, and this needs to change.
Changing the artist's attitude
“All over the world we see artists coming together for multi-disciplinary projects. They work together, and sometimes live together forming artists' communities. Why not in Auroville? We artists can pool our resources, so that those who are well-established and sell their works can help those who are not so successful and have to buy their materials from their limited Auroville maintenance - which is almost impossible.”
Audrey is sufficiently realistic to doubt that will change fast. “Artists are very much attached to their identity. Those who have worked hard to get a reputation usually don't like to be associated with artists who don't have one.” One of the ways to promote this, she feels, could be to have group shows, something that is already beginning to happen in Auroville. “I have heard of other ideas too, like the new website AurovilleArts.com that will showcase the works of all Auroville artists. Another is the idea for an Auroville art lending library! But most of all, we need a place to work together - to support each other and to learn from one another.”