An Elemental Ode to Space: Neha Vedpathak

Weight of Dreams
Strong, elemental, and palpable, Neha Vedpathak's works derive inspiration from nature, rituals, and materials to produce thought-provoking installations; whether it's transforming handmade Japanese paper into delicate, exquisitely wrought objects or abstracting soil into soil mounds studding a wall, they invite viewers to pause and reflect by way of engagement. The interrogation, exploration, and manipulation of space also forms the central focus of Neha's work, compelling us to be more minutely aware of the dynamics and narratives of space.

Her Blueprint talked to Neha to find out more about her work.

Could you tell us about your background?

I'm from India. I was born in Pune, Maharashtra but moved around India quite a bit due to my father's job. I have been living in United States for seven years.

You were earlier working upon abstract paintings; however, you then decided to shift into installation art/three-dimensional art-work. How did you make and find this transition? Do you intend to return to abstract painting any time soon or are you now entirely focusing on installation art? 

Yes, I was primarily a painter until late 2008; for many years I prolifically worked in two-dimensional art before feeling saturated. I then decided to expand my practice by moving onto three dimensional works; this transition was slow and difficult. I experimented a lot, trying to find a medium/material that aesthetically resonated with me and gave me conceptual satisfaction. As I wasn't a trained sculptor and didn't have access to many tools and equipment, I worked with what was available in my studio: acrylic polymer, handmade paper, mirrors, and wax. It was through this process of trial and error that I discovered plucking, which is a process I developed in where I separate the fibers of Japanese handmade paper using a tiny push-pin. I remember teasing the paper in this fashion and thinking, it's such a cool technique but there is no way I can make a complete body of work using this process, which is slow, meticulous and time-consuming. However, I went and accomplished exactly that, the results being witnessed at my N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, Miami exhibition held last year. There was and is something enthralling and satisfying about this process. As for painting, I did return to it in late 2011– early 2012 making only a few works but approaching it through my new materials: soil and paper. I have also been continually making drawings throughout this period and so maintaining a link to the flat surface via that. 

Working with materials has obviously yielded many discoveries for you. Having earlier used hand-made Japanese paper in your paintings over the years, you now wrought exquisite, delicate lace-like objects through plucking. How did you end up working with Japanese paper and how would you describe your experiences? 

 My exposure to some of the most beautiful Japanese paper happened through a Japanese Canadian artist, a print-maker whom I met in India during during a residency program in 2005. She gifted me different kinds of Japanese papers. I loved them but didn't know what to do with them; after some time, I started collaging bits of paper into my paintings, still not contemplating too much about them. I nevertheless carried them with me through all the studios in India and States I worked in. It was only in 2009 that I approached paper and specifically, this Japanese handmade paper in a new light. It's interesting how this paper travelled and remained with me for 4 years before I was consumed by it. I would say my experience working with paper was gradual and organic. I knew I was attracted to it, not just in terms of its physical qualities but also its hand-made context as well as being aware of Japanese paper-making's rich history; however, it was a while before it assumed personal significance. I would like to believe that when I now approach this paper, it is laden with a deeper sense of understanding and regard, which arises from having forged an intimate history with it over the years. 

Ritual is an elemental source of inspiration for you and you also state that you found the process of plucking as akin to slow-chanting (similar to a ritual or repeating a mantra), as heard in the video above. Could you elaborate more on what the processes of creating art means to you? What does art making mean to you? 

That's a profound question. Honestly speaking, it means everything. Creating art is not just a career-choice: it's a way of life for me, my mode of questioning, learning, and understanding. I would not liken it to standardized religion. To me, it's more of a journey and exploration of myself and the world around me. As for the process of making art being ritualistic, I borrow from the practices of ''rituals'' and ''chanting'' which were a part of my upbringing in India. 
You have earlier wrought snow mounds and in your exhibition at N'Namdi Contemporary Gallery, you created a wall-installation studded with soil mounds [above]. You mention that these mounds bring together what is particularly significant to you: material, ritual, and nature. Having talked about the first two, could you elaborate on what nature means to you in context to the soil and snow mounds?

I have been in awe of nature as long as I can remember. Even as a child, flora and faunae, rocks, stars, and oceans constantly amazed me. I am intrigued by the constant duality that we find in nature: it's simplicity and complexity, strength and vulnerability, its benevolence and destruction and finally, it's essential adaptability. I have sought to mimic some of these aspects through my soil mound installation at N'Namdi Contemporary Gallery. Talking specifically about snow mounds and soil mounds, I started making them around the time that I had started missing and longing for my home country, India. The idea of physically touching the soil/snow and holding it felt valuable and meaningful; however, it was also complex and challenging working with it, snow and soil being natural elements were hard to manage.

The interrogation and exploration of space is a central motif of your work. How do you convey it through your installation art. Do you seek to make it a tangible thing or do you celebrate how significant it is despite its seeming invisibility?

I think the great thing about ''space'' is that it is present and active with or without one's intervention. But the question is: how do I address this space as an artist? ''Space'' is always a superset and I am extremely aware of this notion while creating art. I work employing a bit of both approaches which is for example, manipulation of the space and objects within it to make a viewer aware of ''that'' particular space, its expanse or limitation and sensations it creates. For the installation, "Time," I decided to build new corner walls in the gallery to create a continuity in that space in a very specific way. This installation is an example of choosing to change/modify the space to achieve a specifc effect. Other times, I allow the dynamics of space and objects to be more subtle; they are still complementing each other but in a more fluid fashion. "Marnay-sur-Seine" projection and "Snowmass" installation are good examples of that. The site of work also often dictates the approach. 
Red is a quirky installation which consists solely of red balloons, hand-cut mirror, and a chair [above]; it was developed as a site-responsive installation in a French art-center and direct response to the theme of Desire. What were your experiences that led to this site-specific installation? Was it a conscious decision to present a narrative based on so few objects? 

Creating Red was a lot of fun. It was liberating to do something completely different other than my regular studio practice – and that's what's good about residencies. Red was an honest response to a specific coordinate of time and place that I inhabited and experienced: summer of 2011 and French countryside and the Seine river. I reference the emotion of desire in this work. The background story is that I had been wanting to visit France for a very long time; by the time it happened, my simple wish had transformed into a strong desire – and this is where it began. Another facet of desire is passion and it's universally known that French exude a real passion for life, whether its for wine, food, art or architecture. In this context, I started musing upon the idea of desire/passion and its iterations and – sometimes how fleeting they could be. I feel red balloons are symbolic of those fleeting emotions and desires. Red was created in a very tiny space, no bigger than a walk-in closet. It was really interesting working in that space. I like to work with economy of means. Balloons gave meaning, color,and lightness while the mirrors grounded the space. I needed the chair to compel the viewer to pause and meditate upon the installation. I thought it worked, no? 

What are your future plans? Will you continue working with installation art and exploring the world of materials or do you wish to head in another direction? 

I will continue to work with installation and sculpture for sometime at least; I feel I still have multiple possibilities to explore within this medium. I also recently relocated from Chicago to Phoenix, Arizona; it's been a huge transition, mentally and physically. I suspect this change in geography will inevitably seep into my work. I am currently exploring new ideas, trying to create new perceptions. It's hard to say what the future holds…. 

Find out more about Neha Vedpathak's work here.