GEÏNSPIREERD DOOR JANTAR MANTAR
Een oude foto uit India toonde Schole complex met een aantal architectonische objecten.
Op de foto kon hij niet ontdekken wat de afmetingen waren en had geen idee waarvoor ze dienden. Het was een integrerend plaatje. Maharadja Jai Singh II heeft dit complex, Jantar Mantar, in Jaipur rond 1700 laten bouwen. Oorspronkelijk luidde de naam in het Sanskriet Yantra (instrument, gereedschap) Mandir (magisch, heilig), dus Magisch Instrument.
Het diende als observatorium wordt een goed onderhouden. Net als de step-wells, de paleisachtige diepgelegen waterputten in Rajasthan, vormt het één van de hoogtepunten van de Indiareizen. Het complex diende om het tijdverloop op een dag exact te kunnen waarnemen, om wiskundige berekeningen te maken over de baan van de sterren en om zonsverduisteringen te kunnen voorspellen. Door gebruik te maken van die kennis kon men beter bepalen wanneer de moesson en de droogteperiodes eraan kwamen. De functionele en brute schoonheid troffen de kunstenaar: de zware objecten dienden om het sterrenlicht op te vangen. Het nodigde uit om ‘meer dan gewoon te kijken’, de waarnemingen dien(d)en als basis voor zowel berekeningen als toekomstvoorspellingen.
Voor de machtige koning Jai Singh II was het kijken naar sterren en zonnestelsels een verfijnd tijdverdrijf en weerspiegelde het planetarium het onmetelijke heelal. Het reusachtige complex was een symbool van zijn macht. Met de kennis over de sterren en planeten streefde hij ongetwijfeld ook naar de heerschappij over het onbereikbare.
De constructies die dat mogelijk moesten maken hebben inderdaad iets utopisch en zijn tegelijk tijdloos. Zonder uitgebreide kennis van de astronomie bewonderen vele bezoekers tegenwoordig het observatorium met zijn magische objecten, voertuigen, die zicht bieden op het oneindige…
een zacht geruis.
Gardens of Perception - A low hum
This series of works was created in all simplicity, straight from a single concept: getting energy and registering it. A total of forty different postures and views. A constant anxiety whether the message will arrive and whether it will get across alright. Is everything understandable in the perpetual stream of data, information and conversation? Is everything intelligible you understand and see? Fusion and dispersal intermingle. Data pile up, one on top of the other, and are mixed into novel types of conveyance. From the one to the other, from the many to the many. Sending, receiving, recording, filtering, coding, passing on, boosting, getting across, decoding – all in a quest for a new world.
With this series of forty small sculptures, an inexhaustible well seems to have been struck. The series was preceded by a great many prototypes. Those poor little prototypes. Right after the last concepts had been dancing around one another before my very eyes, it was goodbye to them all. The prototypes were very fragilely materialized in thin paper soaked in modelling wax, and then placed together. A row was selected; thus, the prototypes became the building blocks for the sculptures in the series Gardens of Perception. This series has been cast in bronze, covered with a layer of white gold leaf. In theory the series is finished. Yet this is just seemingly so, for the only thing you need to do in order to set free more prototypes, is to take a few sculptures and group them together. Then, in one’s imagination, many other prototypes arise, dancing around in total freedom.
We had not heard of them for a couple of months. After their return to Amsterdam, we arranged to meet in order to hear their stories. What had the journey through West India been like, and had they seen the famous stepwells? Age-old buildings with beautiful archways in Rajasthan, marking the way to water. Here, far below ground level, water is collected in basins during the rainy season. These edifices, dating back many centuries and architecturally highly diverse, sometimes burrow deep down into the ground over many levels. Corridors and galleries lead to this subterranean water by way of incredibly complicated flights of stairs and systems for not obstructing one another when descending and ascending. These are fascinating samples of semi-subterranean architecture. Water is celebrated as a precious commodity by these beautiful buildings, with their archways and carved pillars adorned with sculptures. The water was used to irrigate the fields, for bathing and for rituals. Today water is pumped up and the basins have fallen into disrepair. It would take some Unesco-like rescue plan to preserve them. I knew the Indian wells from my survey into subterranean architecture and structures. The stepwells in my friends’ photographs are by far not as beautiful as the ones I had seen in old books. It is often a downright shame how authorities and people treat their national heritage.
We poured over one photo after another and together made the journey again in our imaginations. Slowly one dreams away amidst the warm hues of an arid Rajasthan. Then suddenly I heard: ‘this is really something for you!’ The picture was of some yellow-ochre buildings and structures, obscure as to purpose and proportions. It looked like a board game, or like the contents of some strange box of building blocks abandoned in mid-play. There was a certain system to it and a certain regularity. From the picture I could not gather the size of it straight away; later on I was given larger prints. It neither resembled a scale-model, nor some loose equipment parts. However, I was mistaken as to the latter: in its totality, it constituted a giant tool for studying the stars.
What my friends’ photos showed was an observatory from the beginning of the 18th century. Maharajah Jai Singh II had this complex, known as Jantar Mantar, built in his new capital Jaipur. The original Sanskrit name was Yantra (instrument, tool) Mandir (magical, holy), thus meaning Magical Device. The observatory is a national monument and is kept up well. Just like the stepwells, it is one of the highlights when travelling in India. The purpose of this complex of buildings was to exactly determine the annual calendar and the time of day, to do mathematical calculations concerning the course of the stars, and to facilitate the prediction of solar eclipses. By using all this knowledge, one was better able to determine when monsoons and dry periods were due. I was struck by the functional and rough beauty of it all: the heavy objects served to catch the light of the stars, and from the angle at which the stars were observed one was able to tell time and position. It invited a way of looking that went far beyond the ordinary – the observations serving as a basis for both calculations and predicting the future.
In this publication, the images in the Gardens of Perception series practically correspond with their true sizes. Just like in Jantar Mantar, the fact that the object is unfamiliar is more intriguing than its size. The surface of white gold lends a warm neutrality to the series. For the mighty King Jai Singh II, observing the stars and solar systems was a sophisticated pastime, and his planetarium reflected the immeasurable universe. The complex was a symbol of his power. With his knowledge of the stars and the planets, he no doubt also aspired to supremacy over the unattainable. The constructions in aid of this indeed have a hint of something clearly utopian, and are simultaneously timeless. Also without any extensive knowledge of astronomy, visitors nowadays can admire the observatory with its magical objects, its vehicles offering a view of the infinite.