An interview with Shona van Dam took me to her degree show in the Academy Minerva in Groningen. A long, narrow, totally white interior filled with white scrolled pillars of card in various heights and breadths and each poised on a sketchbook. Both imposing and unusual this installation requires interactivity from the viewer to reveal its secrets.
According to Shona the installation is based on a 30-meter high dome-like building, which is the focal point of a community called Auroville in Tamil Nadu, India, her birthplace. Built in concentric circles, the design is based on the galaxy. The dome, known as the Matrimandir or ‘Soul of the city’ has an inner chamber with 12 white pillars, which serve as décor rather than the usual purpose a pillar has. In the center of the white marbled inner chamber there is a large ‘crystal’, globe measuring 70 centimeters in diameter, this is the largest optically perfect glass globe in the world. Daylight that emanates from a hole in the ceiling passes through an installation and emerges as a beam of light that passes right through the crystal from top to bottom, ending up in a pond full of lilies. In this chamber the atmosphere is one of purity and calm, and here meditation and reflection are practiced. The ethics of the community are to live in harmony whatever the race or creed, outside of the predetermined restrictions of other countries or states.
Shona recreates the calm and purity by using these white pillars in her work. By placing them on her sketchbooks one is made to look down into the ‘pillar’, to view her work, and thereby physically interact with each individual work in a different way, by stooping down low, standing on tiptoes or moving the pillar. In this way the experience becomes more intense. This is a total contrast to the feeling one gets in a museum where the observer remains disconnected from the exhibition by not being allowed to touch or move anything.
What one sees at the bottom of each tube is an image combined with a spiral of text. This is her way of releasing as she says an ‘over load of the mind’, as a result of the stimuli of life and the world around her. ‘The set up is designed to give the viewer the opportunity to peer through a ‘mini-scope’, into my thoughts, ideas and emotions’, said Shona. Some images are drawn but by burning the paper she creates others. This is done systematically and in diverse ways. One sketchbook shows the use of a very red pigment in combination with the paper. This was created using soil, a kilo of which was specially sent to her by her mother from Tamil Nadu. Shona has a fascination with the unique characteristics of the materials she uses and their reaction upon contact with paper, as well as the textures, imprints and grains that are left behind.
The daughter of a Dutch mother and English father, Shona originally left India at the age of nineteen to come to Holland to ‘learn art and to how to earn her own money’. The former she has accomplished the latter she says she is still learning. She plans to return to India in October to get back to her roots, after which she wants to travel, starting with New Zealand.