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Slade-Dhaka Inspire Project



Shaping the Space Between: John Aiken

By Susan Collins, on 25 February 2011

DSC_0395In February 2011 Slade Professor John Aiken came to Dhaka and delivered lectures and directed a workshop on sculpture specifically on the relationship of form and space. It was attempted to accommodate students from all the departments of the Fine Art Faculty to further the goal of interdisciplinary exchange.

The project titled Shaping the Space Between proposed a place to explore and negotiate the space that exists between three-dimensional objects and two-dimensional forms. Through a process of drawing and making, the space that exists between specific objects and forms can be better understood, made manifest and developed within the framework of the expanded field of sculpture. The project questioned how the viewer perceives space and environment, challenges preconceptions and applies a rigorous methodology that engages process, perception, personal expression and choice.

On a broader level the project looked at difference, edge and border. In an effort to understand where to locate ‘edge’ and engage with diverse contexts, the objects constructed their own identity, not only demonstrating the ‘space between’ but also becoming independent and autonomous.

The journey an object makes through juxtaposition with diverse elements and contexts can add a significant new dimension to the work, indeed it can generate a completely new work of autonomous art. Re-presentation, often mediated through the transformative power of lens- based media can express and reveal a powerful edited perception of the original object. Newly located beyond its three dimensional status and revealed as an object embedded in the context that frames it.

I found the whole project very rewarding, the students who had been selected from each of the subject areas engaged with the project in a very serious and committed manner. The work they produced was of a very high standard and each of them rose to the occasion even though in most cases the project extended and to some extent challenged their normal method of working and development of practice. Support from a wide range of faculty staff was also much appreciated and this enabled the project to be achieved in a way that was ambitious but also realizable within the time constraints of a 10 day workshop. It was clear to me that there was a strong desire amongst core staff to develop the curriculum for visual arts in the Faculty of Fine Arts and that the senior management of the University including the Vice Chancellor were in accord with the ambition to internationalize the curriculum.

I had some time to see the city and some of its surrounding rural areas during the visit and I found this experience fascinating. There is a very strong sense of a visual dynamic in Dhaka and also in a different way in the small area of rural Bangladesh that I experienced on a weekend excursion. The relative calm of the rural areas and the strong relationship between the earth and the lives of the people was particularly noticeable and interesting. This was especially true in relation to a visit to a small riverside village that specialized in the production of earthenware pottery. Here the clay bed that the village was built on was literally the source of the raw material for making the pots and there was a very strong sense of harmony with nature and a community spirit.

The noise and energy of the city is a stark contrast to the village life but I found this equally visually exciting although in a very different way.

One of the unexpected highlights of my visit was that my time in Dhaka coincided with the Hindu festival of Sarawati Puja the Goddess of Knowledge, Music and the Arts. The celebration included many sculpture installations of the Goddess located at strategic points all over the city and tailored to depict specific institutions, craft guilds, occupations etc. One particular place included a very large sculpture floating is a lake that was made by some of the students working on my project. On this same site each of the Faculties and Departments of the University of Dhaka had erected large-scale temporary constructions that represented their subject areas as a context for individually sited statues of the Goddess.

The visit to the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Dhaka was a great experience that I will not forget; I enjoyed working with the students who I found very responsive and dedicated. Their wholehearted participation at all the stages of development ensured quality outcomes and the resulting exhibition of work was strong and educationally productive. The Faculty of Fine Arts especially the Sculpture Department were very supportive and generous with their time and energy and I am also very grateful to the British Council for initiating the INSPIRE project that made everything possible.

Professor John Aiken, February 2011


I felt the whole workshop to be an exercise to see an invisible relationship in a new way. Though as a student of sculpture I always have to think about different relations, similarities, and dissimilarities, this workshop helped me to think in a different way.
Syed Tareq Rahman, Department of Sculpture, BFA (Hons.) 4th Year

An artwork expresses itself in different forms in different environments and presentations. This is what I realized through this workshop.
Mousumi Sultana, Department of Crafts, BFA (Hons.) 4th Year

I could feel many unseen forms in the space between objects. It was a wonderful experience.
Rupam Roy, Department of Sculpture, BFA (Hons.) 4th Year

It was amazing to see the sculpture made at the workshop exhibited in different spaces. The sculpture either blended in with the environment or transformed it.
Emtiwaz Ahmed, Department of Ceramic, MFA 1st Part

The relationship of objects with people and the different forms that emerge with different perspectives is what I tried to represent with my work at this workshop. This workshop has transformed my work.
Shirin Akter, Department of Graphic Design, MFA 1st part

I discovered a new dimension in geometric forms and open air, environmental sculpture by participating in the workshop conducted by John. I believe that this will enrich my future artistic endeavors.
A.B.M. Rokon-uz-zaman, Department of Crafts, MFA 2nd Part

This sculpture workshop influenced the composition of my following paintings.
Sumon Kumar Baidya, Department of Oriental Art, MFA 1st Part

I realized in John’s workshop that a particular form takes on a different kind of beauty and importance when placed in different spaces.
Ratnashwar Sutradhwar, Department of Drawing and Painting, MFA 1st Part

I combine the positive and negative sides of a form when I work in ceramics. In this workshop we learned to consider how the space between two shapes can create a new form. This has made a big impact on my ideas on art.
Bikash Kanti Karmokar, Department of Ceramic, MFA 1st Part

Working in Sculpture I have combined positive and negative shapes but I had never tried to articulate the space between two objects though I was curious about it. The workshop has inspired me to research into this new subject.
Sanad Kumar Biswas, Department of Sculpture, BFA (Hons.) 4th Year


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