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DateLine Sunday, 6 May 2007





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Odyssey through space

Under Blue Skies - the great equalizer

The weather gods have been kind to Hugh Watt, the artist from Northern Ireland who came to Sri Lanka three months ago in search of...inspiration, and found it aplenty under the blue skies of Dodanduwa.

Now, safely back in Glasgow, had he delayed his stay a week or two longer, Hugh would surely have had to call his exhibition, something other than "Under Blue Skies". Blue Skies? Blue? Now that the monsoons have begun, blue is surely not the colour associated with the sky these days.

But for Hugh, it was blue all the way when he staged his video art presentation, making the best use of the out-door theater space at the Chandrasevana Creation Centre, in Dodanduwa, working in collaboration with the local community and Sri Lankan artists.

The exhibition is the culmination of his three month break from his career at the Glasgow School of Art where he conducts lecturers on the "Electronic Media".

Integrating himself into every nook and corner of the society around him, observing not only the mundane, domestic aspects of daily life, but also the rich and colurful cultural and religious traditions, Hugh says he was particularly interested in explaining how one's reactions to space can change due to an incident, whether man made or natural.

Thus in the work titled "Sunday Market, Hikkaduwa" he makes references to the recent past of the area, conscious of how the market, now a bustling area of activity, was affected by the tsunami. There are times when he lets the camera, simply observe the reconstruction of the surrounding area.

Hugh Watt from Northern Ireland

"I wanted to make a very simple honest observation about movement within a space, observing how people occupy and move through a particular space. For this exhibition I was interested in creating something that forced the audience to become more interactive by occupying the same physical space as the projection, the audience in effect move through the installation in the same way as the people featured on the film." explains Hugh.

The projection technique he uses, is unique in itself. Giving life to a symbol of death Hugh uses the white banners hung at funerals to project his images. "The installation aspect of the piece was inspired by the white pieces of cloth which I noticed almost as soon as I arrived in Dodanduwa whenever there was a funeral in the area" Says Hugh.

"As I was filming them, I realized I wanted to use the idea as a fragmented surface to project onto."

Happy with the end result Barbara Gillespie, the Development Manager, for the Chandrasevana Creation Centre says "It was particularly pleasing to be able to present a project that not only demonstrates the flexible capacity of the center's facilities, but which was also a genuine output of the residency period and the influences on Hugh during his time in Sri Lanka."

She believes Under Blue Skies is a unique exhibition that not only had captured what Hugh has observed here, but was also an event that pushes the boundaries of film presentation format, to a particularly high standard, which she hopes will go on to be presented internationally.

Everybody who was present to see "Under Blue Skies" would agree that unlike the way, TV and popular cinema present images, usually in rapid succession, manipulating and changing our concept of time, Hugh's work depicts largely unedited stretches of time, giving the viewer a more organic sense of space. His work asks the audience to take a sideways glance and encourages a psychological pause in time.

If you missed Hugh's gentle observations of the subtle nuances of popular Buddhism and day-to-day life in Sri Lanka, keep an eye open for the next event at the Chandrasevana Centre which is bound to turn out to be just as interesting as Under Blue Skies. For, regardless of time, space or people, art will continue to be the great equalizer.


Chandrasevana Creation Center

Funded by the Hikkaduwa Area Relief Fund (HARF), Chandrasevana Creation Center, officially opened in January this year, uses "art" to provide entertainment, education and above all inspiration, healing wounds, building understanding and peace.

Based in the heart of Dodanduwa, it is the latest project by the Charity which previously helped rebuild much of the Hikkaduwa community, from fishing fleets to homes, businesses, and much more.

HARF Chairman Neil Butler says, "The Creation Centre has attracted support and interest from artists and festivals across Europe, North America and Australia. The power of art to communicate, inspire and heal is now widely recognized.

We believe the center can have a significant impact on the lives of those it touches. International artists will learn a great deal from their Sri Lankan colleagues. We hope the Centre will attract the attention of the international community and as a result encourage tourists to visit this wonderful country and the Hikkaduwa region."

A pilot project funded by the Scottish Arts Council has seen five artists from Scotland working at the recently opened Chandrasevana Creation Centre. The artists work is dictated by their response to what they experience in Sri Lanka, as part of their residency, they will present it to local people as well as taking it back to the West, building understanding and in part acting as ambassadors of peace.


Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Villa Lavinia - Luxury Home for the Senior Generation

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