KOCHI: What is the essence of materials that make up our surroundings? How can we understand this materiality in terms of the spaces we inhabit and their impact on us? Berlin-based artist Juliane Tubke has been ruminating on these questions over the last few years. She was recently in Kochi for a four-week artist residency at Pepper House conducted as a collaborative programme between the Kochi Biennale Foundation and Goethe Institut, Bengaluru, to display how weather conditions have reshaped architectural structures on the island of Kumbalangi.
“As part of my artistic practice, I have been examining the agency of materials like stone, brick or concrete. The question I focus on is can these materials be wilful objects because we always consider them as passive things that need human intervention to be shaped. But what if a stone also has a reciprocal effect on us and moulds us in a certain way,” says Juliane.
Likewise, the textured sheets of paper on display on the first floor of Pepper House are the artist’s attempt to document the changing topography of Kumbalangi, she has done so by taking impressions of the surfaces she visited. “This particular paper is used by archaeologists to take imprints of inscriptions on caves which they later use to decipher the text but I decided to use it to decipher the material itself,” adds Juliane.
As part of my Kerala project, she delved into how the weather or climate affects people in general. A concept that is novel to her art.
“For the first time, I decided to include the aspect of weather to my practice of investigating materials. I thought it would be interesting to talk to fishermen living on the coast and ask them how they feel affected by the weather. I chose the island of Kumbalangi as my area of study. I spoke to a 70-year-old woman who is the wife of a fisherman who told me how last year’s floods changed the island. What was interesting was that even though my questions would always be about the climate, she would eventually talk about her life. I gathered that one can’t separate people’s life there from natural forces, they are interwoven. Then I started talking photographs led by the interview, I went to old places and structures she had mentioned and took imprints of the surface of the walls. Because the flood had also altered these buildings as it altered people’s lives,” says Juliane.
The other element of Juliane’s exhibit comprised of clay imprints of the stone floor at Pepper House accompanied by a coconut coir broomstick. She observed that every spell of rainfall was shifting not only the terrain of the floor but also the colour of the stones. “I wanted to document this transformation. I decided to include brooms in the installation because they have a constant connection with the ground or the earth,” notes the German artist.