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Artists in Residence

Surekha - Learning As An Impulse For Life And Art

Surekha in the Eawag Water Research Institute, Dübendorf

The artists-in-labs programme, ail for short, is aimed at building a bridge between art and science. It offers artists the opportunity to gain an insight into research, for example about the brain, artificial intelligence or water ecology. The Indian artist Surekha came to Eawag in Dübendorf through the Swiss-Indian exchange project, while Adrien Missika is working in a bio-technology institute in India. The programme is organised by the Zürich University of the Arts, financially supported by Pro Helvetia.
Surekha (born 1965, full name Surekha Anil Kumar) says of herself that she works and reacts spontaneously: "I always go where I can learn something new." That's why she immediately applied for a place at Eawag on the artists-in-labs programme. This research institute, part of the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), is dedicated to integrated research into water and bodies of water, and maintains a transdisciplinary approach. With Lake Tales, a large-scale project about the reshaping of the Jakkur Lake in Bangalore, she was considered to be an ideal candidate. The starting point was the development strategy of the local government to change the lakes surrounding the city into recreation areas. In doing so the lakes lost their original uses (washing, bathing, drinking, agriculture), which in turn led to local residents' loss of identity.
What began as visual documentation of the changes broadened to include socialogical aspects and ecological questions. The artist summarises her experience: "The Jakkur Lake doesn't just belong to humans but also birds, fish, water-based plants and organisms. They are the real owners of the lake." A blog opened up the project to a larger audience and in the end it led to a group show with young Indian artists, who transformed their commitment to ecology into art.
Even if the project about the Jakkur Lake took this turn in the end, Surekha is not primarily an environmental activist artist. She's interested in life in her home town of Bangalore in the broadest sense, and therefore also in the numerous problems present in Indian society. In a portrait series, she showed people who have chosen their own, often unique way, to confront problems of everyday life or society. For example, an old man who founded Romeo (Retired Old Men Eating Outside), and who is now meeting with other elderly men and women in the park to eat and laugh together. Or a family that has committed themselves to burying the anonymous dead properly. Or a woman who coped with childlessness by planting four hundred trees in forty years.
This view of society and its absurdities guided her during the project in 2005 in Switzerland, when she documented the work of the tree doctor Sibyl Trüb. Thanks to a six-month stay in the Krone guest studio in Aarau in 1999, Surekha had already gained some experience of Switzerland. The project Bar1 evolved from this relationship, which offered support to the artists-in-residence in Switzerland and those also in Bangalore through local artists by local artists, and enhanced an intensive exchange. Art-wise Surekha's interests have developed since then, there are no loose threads that she feels the need to pick up. Thanks to friendly relationships she lives with the sculptor Lilian Hassler in Zürich and through this is part of the current art scene.
Surekha spends most days in the Eawag laboratories. She's enjoying the experience and the inspiration provided by this environment. Thanks to English being the research language, she can participate in all the seminars, lectures, field studies and excursions without difficulty, be they to the nearby Greifen Lake, or to the national park. She explained that the atmosphere in the laboratories was very friendly, and maybe engaging with science was easy for her because she had studied mathematics alongside art. On being interviewed about the project she wants to realise here in Switzerland she says: "Every day numerous ideas come into existence", for example how the diversity of water inspires her to think about herself and the world, and how it brings up new questions continuously: "Water inside and outside of us, tears for example, this expression of emotions par excellence, how do they differ from the other water in our bodies, for example sweat?" She's especially fascinated by the worlds that a muddy drop of water will reveal when placed under a microscope: "Beautifully structured plants, water bubbles like pearls, one sees countless landscapes." So one wouldn't be surprised if her work emerged from these microscopic pictures, but maybe the artist will tomorrow already be led in a different direction by a new experience.

This interview is published with the support of the Swiss cultural foundation Pro Helvetia Moving Words for the Swiss advancement of translation.

Translation: Paul Harper

Deutsche Version


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Ausgabe 11  2011
Autor/in Eveline Suter
Künstler/in Surekha
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