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J a n e t  M c E w a n

Soil Bite

Where else might your path lead you?


Khoj International Artist Workshop. Bihar, India. 2009.


On Sept 19th 2009, I went along to 'Happidrome Three', an art event in Cornwall, UK, where artists Alexandra Zierle and Paul Carter were performing a new work 'In Search of the Other', which drew on Hermann Hesse's novel Siddhartha, the tale of the spiritual journey of a South Indian prince who eventually attains enlightenment though listening to the sounds of a river.

Although I could not stay for the whole performance, just before I left ,Paul and Alexandra invited me to choose a small letter from a box of envelopes. Without looking, I selected an envelope which had the words 'Where else might your path lead you? ' typed on the front.


As I had just been invited to participate in the Khoj Bihar 09 International Artists Workshop, and would be based only 90 kms from Bodh Gaya , where the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment, there seemed to be some serendipity to this gift and I decided to take the envelope with me to India, hoping that I might be able to vist the sacred site.

It transpired that our hosts had already arranged a trip for us to Bodh Gaya, where we stayed for a night and a day and I decided to take a photograph for Paul and Alexandra of this envelope at the site. I then began taking snapshots of my hand holding this  message in some of the other locations I found myself in while in India. This visual diary became a bridge : a lense to help me question what I thought I was experiencing on this journey. Capturing the image was more difficult than I expected and I continually had trouble with focus and movement. From many images only 25 seemed worth printing  and when I finally presentated them on the open day , alongside the special and now slightly tattered envelope, only 22 were appropriate - purely co-incidentally the same number as  the number of artists participating in the workshop. On the last day  of the workshops I invited everyone to choose a photograph to take home.


With thanks to Alexandra Zierle & Paul Carter.

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A Further Shore : Janet McEwan.


Article by Kunal Dutt.


Tucked away on the sideline of the route leading to the Chardin Hall, the passerby is struck by the visual brilliance of the vines of a tree, wrapped partially with colored cloths, predominantly ochre and with shades of scarlet, providing counterpoints. The hue-infused vines, at times surreal and at times eerie evoke the right aural and visual stimulus and draw the viewers in with a pronounced hypnotic appeal. While the less discerning might just connote that the vines are like giant turmeric pieces tinged with vermilion, almost like a live Dàlian painting but a closer inspection reveals a much deeper philosophical underlining and its intricate intertwining with the Indian ethos.



It is only when I inquire about the selection of the Hindu cloth with incantations of “Om” and “Rama” imprinted on it that another layer of her project is revealed to me. Janet McEwan tells me how the work evolved.


“Although I have visited India once many years ago, this was my first visit to Bihar.  Shortly after I was invited to participate in the Khoj workshop, I was given a small envelope during an art performance in England, which has the words ‘Where else might your path lead you?’ typewritten in the front.  These had been extracted from the novel ‘Siddhartha’, by Hermann Hesse, which retells the story of the Buddha’s journey to enlightenment, and it seemed more than just co-incidence that I was receiving this as I was about to travel to Bihar. As the’journey’ has been central theme of recent work, I decided to bring the envelope with me to India and used it as a motif running through a visual diary of the places I visited in Bihar, including Bodh Gaya, where Siddhartha is said to have attained enlightenment.



Janet admits she was excited about the prospect of staying at Tarumitra, as believes that the ethos of eco spirituality at Tarumita resonates with her own understanding of the world around us as not merely a collection of separate objects but a complex set of relations between the various parts of a unified whole. She adds, "Tarumitra has felt like a sanctuary : offering a space where we could discuss, distill and respond to the many impressions of Bihar absorbed on the research trips we took during the first week. I wanted to try to find a way to draw together my interest in  ‘the journey’ with Tarumitra’s philosophy, and the colours and flavours of Bihar. When I discovered that the Hindu;s believe that their dead travel to the “Further  Shore”,  I mentally revisited a work made earlier this year, and decided to wrap pieces of the dead wood from Tarumitra’s grounds with the cloths associated with Hindu cremation ceremonies." She tells me that she chose a small area of woodland which contained the ghost of a built structure, and decided to try to make the work as site specific as possible through only wrapping, but not removing, or re-arranging any of the wood I found there. She then emphasizes, "The wrapping process took a number of days, as I elected to do it all myself, partly to get to know the site more intimately, and partly as a kind of meditative act. I have tried with this intervention, to create a of map of coloured lines running through the trees, which will not only delight the eye, but illuminate the often overlooked and remind us of their importance."



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