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The large pale yellow square on the concrete floor looks delicate and sublime. It's as radiant as the sun, and soft on the edges. Made with freshly gathered pollen from pine, it's close to nature. A strong wind could blow it, but its creator, artist Wolfgang Laib, feels the impermanence makes it more precious. The German artist has re-created his famous work Pollen from Pine many times across the world. Now, he has made his first stop in Delhi, after his debut show in India in Mumbai last year.
"It took a while to exhibit here," says Laib, whose association with India goes back to his teenage years, when he first came here in the '60s. Innumerable sojourns followed, and Laib was in Madurai for his doctoral dissertation. In 2006, he built a studio in a small village near Madurai. This is where he spends two months every year. Rest of the time is divided between his exhibitions world over, and his two other studios — in New York and Biberach an der Riss (Germany).
While his next big solo is scheduled at New York's Museum of Modern Art in January, Laib was at Delhi's Vadehra Art Gallery on Thursday, at the inauguration of his exhibition "Passageway", which has 20 of his works on display. "Collecting a small jar of pine or hazenut pollen takes a month," he informed the intrigued onlookers. In the room underneath, he has his other famous works — including The Rice House that he has been building since the '80s. The house-shaped long granite stones have rice scattered around them.
In Rice Meals, the grains encircle brass cones on the floor. Based on the concept of offering food to the nine planets, Laib, 62 years of age, first conceived it in the '80s, and has created it in varied denominations since. It's like all his other series of works — ongoing. "It's closer to Indian tradition where there is a lot of emphasis on the traditional; in the West, there is more stress on new ideas," says Laib. The other binding theme in his work is nature, the use of material such as beeswax, pollen, rice and milk. "For me, it's not about nature, it's about existence," says the artist.
One of his most ambitious projects is the construction of a monumental Brahmanda sculpture on the bare granite hill of Pulimalai in Tamil Nadu. "I am waiting for the permission from the government. I had applied two years ago," says Laib, for whom the egg-shaped cosmos is an integral part of his oeuvre. It was the first work of art he created as a medical student back in the '70s. "That's when I decided to pursue art," says Laib, adding, "I don't find medicine and art different. They serve the same purpose and allow for human existence."