Bart Lodewijks Calcutta Drawings 1
21 September 1 October 2018
Bart Lodewijks Calcutta Drawings 1 21 September till 1 October 2018
It’s an art project On 21 September 2018 I started drawing in Calcutta, with the only things I need: chalk, a level and the public space. Because the air pressure in the plane was so poorly regulated, I’m half deaf when I arrive at my lodging, as if a wad of cotton had been stuffed in my head as I landed. The rooms are like a royal suite, a country house to which one might retreat to reflect on the error of his ways. It’s tempting to seek some relaxation but I am eager to get out onto the streets. The lady of the house serves me tea and recommends that I take it easy and slowly build up to things, but I simply can’t now that my feet have touched ground. I want to venture out into the city in search of places for chalk drawings. From the taxi, I saw tonnes of suitable walls and I think it best to mix in with the street life from the very outset. If I wait too long, I may become intimidated by the throngs of people and the project will be screwed. She points out hesitatingly that it is not such a good idea from me to draw on the street because the public space is so impacted and that I should exercise caution. I look
outside and am more worried about the weather. If it keeps raining like this, I won’t be able to do anything today. Should I rest and gradually soak in the environment? No way. My stay here is only two-and-ahalf months: too short for dilly-dallying. I quickly figure out how it works here; it’s dry in the morning and rains in the afternoon. I’ll have to move my writing to the afternoon and draw in the mornings, the exact opposite of what I do at home. That means my concentration will be less focused on the writing. The question is how much energy I will have left in the afternoons, since the drawing will undoubtedly take a lot out of me. The driving force behind the organization that invited me is the artist Praneet Soi. During a visit to his studio in Amsterdam, he also advised me to gradually acclimate to my new surroundings over the months ahead; to devote my time primarily to writing and only attempt to start drawing once I was familiar with the city. Still, I can always write about Calcutta later, but not draw in it. And what will I write about if I’m not drawing? ‘In any event, be very careful,’ my hostess stresses to me before I set out. A minute later I’m outside with the only things I need: chalk, a level and the public space.
I take shelter from the rain under a tree, together with the security guard for an apartment complex. He points to my level and asks what the instrument is for. ‘It’s an art project,’ I answer curtly. I suddenly realize that my yellow Stanley level is going to generate a lot of questions. I haven’t seen a single person with a measuring tool so far. The guard’s name is Raju Sinoi and he talks nonstop. I smile sheepishly; I can’t fully understand him with my cotton-stuffed ears. The advice about being careful makes me think that maybe a security guard is just the right person to ask for permission. So I ask if I can draw on the tree providing us shelter. He doesn’t seem the least bit surprised and says Yes while shaking his head No, which leads me to believe I need to draw my own conclusion. Does he understand what I’m asking? ‘The drawing will rain away after a while,’ I say, to convey that the chalk lines won’t intrude too heavily. The geometric shapes I apply to the tree trunk have a calming effect on me. By drawing the world I know so well literally on the city’s skin, I get a handle on things. It would be going too far to claim that I engage in a dialgoue with a tree as I am drawing on it or enter into discussion with a wall when I draw on a wall, but it is
nevertheless so that I draw under the city’s eyes, in view of its inhabitants, even as my back is turned toward them. While I’m drawing, I do not see what Raju Sinoi is doing, but he can see me. As soon as the weather dries up, I stop and walk towards him. It is still early in the afternoon and a watery sun breaks through the clouds. We stand side-by-side without saying anything. I try to see through his eyes and notice that the drawing has imprinted itself onto the streetscape, though it’s just a beginning. ‘The drawing is wonderful’, he says. It’s as if his words pull the cotton wads out of my head and grant my drawing access to the city. Now that I can once again hear, all my sense are suddenly sharp. The honking of the traffic and cries of the people are deafening. A mild scent of flowers, spices, and drying asphalt mixed with the stench of urine invades my nose. ‘Is it possible to touch the heart of Calcutta with a line of chalk?’ I wonder aloud. Raju Sinoi discouragingly shakes his head No but says Yes. I can draw my own conclusions.
It was security guard Raju Sinoi who granted me access to Calcutta.
The neighbourhood kids want to pull the plant out of the wall because it keeps getting in my way as I draw. ‘You should let living things live,’ I say in its defence. ‘What about the chalk powder on the leaves?’ asks a precocious lad of about nine, in perfect English.
It’s difficult to concentrate; it is oppresively hot and humid and around five kids are basically glued to me throughout the day. ‘It’s an art project,’ I keep telling them, without pausing in my efforts. ‘It’s an art project… it is an art project,’ they repeat excitedly in their shrill, boyish voices. You can press the chalk more firmly against the wall with horizontal lines than with vertical ones: you get sharper edges, which gives the drawing more solidity. I give no indication of what a hard time I’m having and the children also appear to have no idea.
When the brown rug was still wet, the washing line hung lower and the drawing appeared to be drying in the wind.
A rain shower of a mere thirty minutes washes my drawing almost completely off the wall.
I start to gather steam and spend entire days drawing. Local residents point out the many insignificant places in their neighbourhood and then give me an inquisitive look.
There are ants in the crevices of the wall that crawl over the chalk piece and the level onto my arm. The industrious workers draw back during a rain shower, giving me a chance to finish the drawing.
The drawings are all a continuation of one another. No one questions the missing corner; it is assumed to be completely natural, yet for me, it’s a new element.
Colophon Bart Lodewijks - Calcutta Drawings Drawings, text, photographs: Bart Lodewijks Editing: Danielle van Zuijlen Dutch-English translation: Nina Woodson Image processing: Huig Bartels Design: Roger Willems and Dongyoung Lee Publisher: Roma Publications This project was possible thanks to the support of CARF, Calcutta; Mondriaan Fund, Amsterdam Special thanks to Praneet Soi © Bart Lodewijks, 2018