By Your Side

By Your Side - Celina Baljeet Basra

If it is a human thing to do, to put something you want, because it is useful, edible or beautiful, into a bag, or a basket, or a bit of rolled bark and leaf, or a net woven of your own hair, or whatever have you, and then take it home with you, home being another, larger kind of pouch or bag, a container for people, and then later you take it out and eat it or share it or store it up for winter in a solider container and put it in the medicine bundle or the shrine or the museum, the holy place, the area that contains what is sacred, and then the next day you probably do much the same again –– if to do that is human, if that’s what it takes, then I am being human after all.
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, 2019 (1988), p.32-33

Send the sound of a hundred suns rising at once.
Yoko Ono, Mailing Piece II, 1962

Johanna Tagada Hoffbeck (b.1990, France) and Jatinder Singh Durhailay (b.1988, England) explore universal questions of cohabitation in poetic and playful gestures, opening up positive paths of perception with their artistic practices. Both artists propose to live in a shared world, exploring ways to be with each other through both aesthetic and lived experience. This comprises small gestures and everyday endeavours, such as:

Penser, manger, partager, ਪੀਣ ਵਾਲਾ ਪਾਣੀ, ਪੇਂਟਿੰਗ, ਰੰਗ, お茶を飲むこと.

Ripple, root and flow, weave, infuse and wait. 

Plant, sow and grow, embrace, breathe and feed. 

Tinge, brew, sew, care, immerse, listen, kneel and bow, simmer and let go.

Thus, the tea cup in your hands becomes a safe space. The paper you draw upon is a home. And the pigments you choose are your song.

Johanna Tagada Hoffbeck and Jatinder Singh Durhailay’s exhibition BY YOUR SIDE encompasses works from their respective oeuvres of the years 2014-2022.

The parallels in their works have been growing organically and tangibly: by sharing their lives, studio spaces and colour palettes, and by sourcing and at times making natural stone pigments, vegetable dyes and papers together in their daily and on their frequent travels through England, France, India, and Japan. Based in rural England, they move fluidly between diverse visual narratives, material cultures and practices. Their work is shaped particularly by Johanna’s childhood in rural Alsace and Jatinder’s Indian Sikh heritage. Together, their independent practices evolve a circuitous new poetry.

Blending myths and contemporary culture, Jatinder’s portrayal of the world that surrounds us is humorous, heroic and poignant. While he paints intricate and observant portraits and sceneries in the style of Indian Mughal miniature painting — spanning painterly subjects from the Sikh community to Bruce Lee — Johanna’s practice evokes a polyphonous garden. She looks at plants as models for the colours, materials and organic shapes of her works. In her collages, paintings, drawings, clay sculptures, textile works, films, and photographs, Johanna explores the poetics of space and memory, and plays with their correlations.

Johanna’s ongoing Cocooning series of collages is a constant companion of her practice, unfolding in a mindful evolution of meditative forms, evolving their very own rhythm and poetry. 

A pale pink oval, a dollop of cream.

A pastel bean kissing an egg-shape, ever so gently. 

A roundelay of lavender and apricot, encircling the sun. 

Squishy pillows of brown and ochre; enamoured, earthy and content.

The tender organic forms are floating and finding their kin, on at times hand-made or found paper, such as envelopes. For BY YOUR SIDE, they are shown in a multi-layered melody with Jatinder’s euphonious works on paper created in Auroville, India; ovals in radiant colours made from natural stone pigments, painted on found sheets of Tantric music.

In the past years, Johanna’s painterly practice ventured further into the figurative, with a tender and attentive eye for hands, the objects they hold, the things they touch and the work they do. A woman in a pale yellow dress is holding a tea bowl; you cannot see her face, but her hands welcome the viewer in to share a cup of tea. The memory of an Alsatian summer is sown in the painting of two women gardening and potting young plants, painted with a loving gaze for each detail of their simple clothes and gestures; an opening into light, into patience, softness, and generosity. 

Johanna’s paintings dwell in radiant fields of colour, evoking a sunlit garden shining through the pigments. She works in oil, gouache, watercolours and natural pigments –– including stones and plants –– on cotton, linen, handmade papers, washi and hemp papers, some found and carefully sourced. Growing, harvesting and storing pigments and memories alike are an integral part of her daily practice. Johanna believes that plants are songs and a garden is love.

Memories are planted in Jatinder’s paintings, too. In his sublime new work Bathing under the moon and stars (2022), he tells the story of a blazing hot Puranmashi (sacred full moon) in Punjab, when he went bathing in a Sarovar (pool) with his travel companions around midnight; crickets chirping, peacocks singing in the distance. In the painting’s majestic composition the pool becomes a mythical stage, each swimmer painted with such intricacy and serenity that every delicate hair and ripple of water can be traced with your finger.

Jatinder’s intimate painting of Baba Buddha ji (2021) meditating underneath a cherry tree at full moon is a masterly homage to Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s Boddhidharma (1887). Emanating a rich yellow haze which draws you into its pictorial field with a huge magnetic pull, the artist worked in natural stone pigments and gouache on handmade wasli paper, expertly framing the meditating figure in soft ornamental rhythms of rocks and the guarding branches of the blossoming tree.

His musical practice is an integral aspect of Jatinder’s art and reverberates through his paintings. He plays the rare classical Indian instruments known as the Dilruba and the Taus and performs in various collaborative projects, such as in Petit Oiseau, together with Suren Seneviratne.

Picnic (2018) unfolds as a large-scale painterly depiction of a Punjabi luncheon on the grass. A group of Sikh travellers is sharing a meal amidst the roadside greenery, against the backdrop of the blazing white light of noon and their waiting vintage Ambassador cars. Embedded in the painting is the calm bliss and unity found in the concepts of community and sharing; a thought central to Sikhism, re-appearing throughout both artist’s oeuvres.

Jatinder Singh Durhailay’s sujets and narratives are multifold and alive: Pranhdeep, a hockey player in an Adidas tracksuit, waiting for the game to begin on a Sunday in an English garden. Bruce Lee, injured, licking the blood off his fingers, looking you straight in the eye. Bhagat Puran Singh Ji in a radiant red turban, transporting a blossoming cherry tree on a bike. Radha and Krishna enclosed in their respective twin frames, forever longing, never meeting. A Punjabi farmer in the rain, seeking shelter underneath a sheet of plastic tarpaulin. He is carrying a bucket filled with stories, and he will keep on walking until he meets you.

Beyond imagining possible ways to co-exist, Johanna Tagada Hoffbeck and Jatinder Singh Durhailay build poetic spaces to inhabit, calling for environmental awareness and social change. 

In Johanna’s thoughtful social installation Penser, Manger, Partager several core concepts of her work come together. Taking on the final form of an embroidered textile habitat, hand-dyed by using peels and pits of consumed fruits, it is rooted in the artist's ongoing reflection on environmental issues, highlighting matters related to our consumption patterns, calling for awareness of the depletion of resources. The donated and collected fabrics of the tent can be a vessel for our collective memory –– none of the artwork’s materials are purchased and new, and it was only made possible through participation and collaboration.

Johanna’s and Jatinder’s unique form of collaboration is exemplified perfectly by Poetic Pastel: a collaborative cultural project which spans art, publishing, gardening and textiles, founded in 2014 by Johanna, run with the participation and support of Jatinder and Juliette Riegel. Johanna’s artworks are often described as poetic and pastel; the two words create a space in which her interdisciplinary practice can flourish, in constant polylogue with her collaborators. Poetic Pastel Press creates limited-edition art publications, printed locally and at times bound entirely by hand. With its sister project Poetic Pastel Kapre, it is also an approach to positive, plant-based and sustainable clothing.

Poetic Pastel weaves a soft fabric of togetherness and positivity. It is an open conversation, believing in the power and poetry of sharing: concepts, meals, design, music and production are realised in collaboration with its growing circle of friends and peers. 

Poetic Pastel is a dance, a cup of tisane, a hug and song. It is the hope for an abundant future of connectivity, care and slowing down. As a form of activism, Deep ecology — an environmental philosophy opposed to the shallow ecology of anthropocentrism — reverberates through its curated events and artisanal products, offering a new definition of the ecological self, deeply connected with and as part of nature. Food is omnipresent in Poetic Pastel’s projects, and at its core lies the (Indian) principle of Ahimsa, a plant-based lifestyle practising compassion with all life forms. Poetic Pastel’s latest project The Gardening Drawing Club launched in spring 2022; a series of joyous, creative events bringing together gardening and drawing for children and adults, teaching and practising holistic plant-based methods. Johanna invites you to think and draw the life of the broad bean, including your possible memories –– epitomising what lies at the core of her work.

Johanna Tagada Hoffbeck and Jatinder Singh Durhailay look closely at the communities and companion species that surround them, and root themselves in their flourishing relations. Time is how you spend your love; this sentiment permeates the exhibition like a rāga.

to think, to eat, to share (French, title of a sculptural work by Johanna Tagada Hoffbeck)
to drink water (Punjabi)
to paint (Punjabi)
raga / to colour (Punjabi)
to drink tea (Japanese)
A rāga (Sanskrit for 'colouring', or 'dyeing') is a melodic framework for improvisation and a central feature in Indian classical music. Its root word, raga, means colour, mood, and delight.