Art from the ordinary

As the Adelaide-based artist Jane Skeer talked about her work to a group of young visitors at the Pepper House, Fort Kochi, tears began to roll down her face.
Pic   Arun Angela
Pic  Arun Angela

KOCHI: As the Adelaide-based artist Jane Skeer talked about her work to a group of young visitors at the Pepper House, Fort Kochi, tears began to roll down her face. She quickly took a handkerchief and dabbed her tears away. “I am so sorry,” she said. “I feel so sad that I will be leaving Kochi in a couple of days and returning home.” Jane was here for a month on Kochi Biennale Foundation-Adelaide Residency Exchange. 

For Jane, this was her first visit to Fort Kochi. She was smitten. “I am taken up by the culture, history and people,” she said. “I spent three to four hours walking around every day, talking to people and taking photographs. What I am most impressed with is the people’s love for family. You’ve got it all together so much better than we have in Australia.” She said her country is devoid of colour and vibrancy. “Our construction is all cement and steel,” she said. “We make straight and massive structures. Our architecture has no personality. You come to Fort Kochi and it is so beautiful. I don’t see anything ugly.” 

Jane’s forte is installation art. In her temporary studio at Pepper House, she has stacked discarded blue cement bags in a triangle at one corner of the hall. It is in striking contrast to the red walls all around. She saw similar bags by the road while walking around. “I thought it was interesting, the way the light was falling on them,” says Jane. Then she noticed that plants were grown in them and placed on top of fences. “There are so many different uses for it,” she said. “They seemed like vessels. And when I looked out through the window at Pepper House, at the backwaters, I saw a boat, another type of vessel, carrying goods and services.” 

In the next room, she again used the discarded sacks and placed them in three different rows, of 30 sacks each, but containing the colours of saffron, white and green. “This is my version of the national flag of India,” she said, with a smile. While standing on the seashore, she noticed that small terracotta stones had floated in from the river. She quickly collected several and made a circular design on the floor of her studio giving an impression of an ancient relic unearthed. On the walls, Jane put up several photographs. Ordinary sights become extraordinary through her camera lens. So, an image of several red Indane gas cylinders stacked up with a chain going through them all, becomes, in Jane’s eyes, “An art installation. I love the way they have been stacked, the beautiful markings on them, which indicate history. Each gas cylinder stands for a person, home or business.” 

Jane is a late bloomer. It was only at age 47, that this mother of four, who are all in their twenties and thirties, went to the Adelaide Central School of Art and said, “I think I can paint.” But to gain entry, she also had to do a sculpture course. And right from the beginning, she became a natural at sculpting.  
“I found my passion and now I just can’t stop,” she said. Every year, since 2015, she has been holding several exhibitions of her installation art. And in her spare time, she writes poetry, too. 

Here are a few lines: 
‘All the answers I need 
Are inside me. 
All the love I need 
Is inside me. 
All the happiness I desire 
Is within me. 
I have it all. 
I don’t need anybody at all.’

Does that mean she does not need her husband, a businessman, whom Jane had been helping in his work? She laughed and says, “Who knows? I am growing wings. I might just fly away. Or we may become closer. Who can say what will happen?”  

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The New Indian Express