ASH (2018–2020) (ONLINE EXHIBITION)
Ash is an international (e)mail art project in which three pieces of Lokta paper are placed on the surface of the sacred Bagmati River; downstream from Pashupatinath Temple.
Considered holy by both Hindus and Buddhists, the polluted Bagmati River flows through Pashupatinath Temple, which was built for the godhead Shiva (known as ‘The Destroyer’). Pashupatinath, located on either side of the riverbank, and connected by a series of bridges, is held by many as one of the most sacred sites on the Indian subcontinent. To the East of the temple, fortune tellers in saffron, yellow, and burgundy, wearing facemasks and holding umbrellas, line the pathways ready to provide predictions and read palms. They hold rudraksha beads, surround themselves with marigolds, wool, and sandalwood paste, astrology charts and the Nepal Sambat. Distinct from the Gregorian calendar, the Nepal Sambat uses lunar months and solar years, and is 56 years and 8½ months ahead. To the West of the temple, cremation pyres and ghats can be found, with steps leading to down to the water’s edge. Here, relatives and the deceased are prepared for cremation; the water used for washing and bathing, to spiritually cleanse their bodies.
Realised between 2018–2020, Ash is an international (e)mail art project in which three pieces of Lokta paper were placed on the surface of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, Nepal. Invited to contribute to the project through email, participants performed the action of placing their paper substrate against the surface of the water. For this, I asked participants to collect their samples downstream from Pashupatinath Temple, and participants asked me if they could use handmade Nepalese paper. Once the paper had dried, each participant sent their contribution to the UK, using their closest postal service.
On their arrival into the UK, one piece was saved for exhibition, the second was reduced to ash, and the third was chemically analysed through Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), and Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) (destructive tests that quantifiably determine material composition). Over the duration of the project, contributions were received from artists Sagar Manandhar and Pratima Thakali, from the Kathmandu University School of Art and Design, and Nepali musician Anil Shahi. With thanks to participatory couriers: GPO (General Post Office), Nepal, and the Royal Mail. And to participatory scientists: Karl Heaton from the University of York (GC-MS); Simon Reid and Andrew Hobson from the University of Leeds (ICP-MS); and Andrew Smith from SGS Laboratories, Middlesbrough (GC-MS, ICP-MS & XRF).The paper’s spiritual status was also considered by Buddhist monks at Kopan Monastery; a school in the Gelug practice of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, and home to monastic community. That is, I asked them to consider the possibility that, through the process of their saturation on the sacred Bagmati River, if they had become imbued with the aura of Shiva, or if this was displaced in the process of evaporation.