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From Coal to Gaz to Art: Priyanka Govil
Lilian Hasler & Gaudenzpfister

When Priyanka Govil, a Delhi and Bangalore based artist, arrived at the site of her grant at Schlieren, she might have been overwhelmed. The height of her studio was tremendous and the architecture seemed to be wonderful but difficult to use: How should this many cubic metres of air become filled with art? The studio is one of a dozen similar huge spaces which are located in the very outskirts of the greater Zürich area, called Schlieren. It is part of the former Gaswerkareal where coal was transformed to city gas, once located in a waste part just outside the limits but owned by the Zürich Corporation. Schlieren itself was a small village hosting non-prestigious industries and converting itself later into the capital of used car dealers which catered to the immigrants living in the industrial belt stretching from Zürich to Baden, birth place of the later multinational electro-company ABB. Nowadays downtown Zürich is expanding in all directions and developing the outskirts, but the Gaswerkareal has been by-passed till now. It looks like New York’s Soho before kissed to bloom by cool cafés and hip galleries and hosts of vegetable distributors, packers and movers and Switzerland’s biggest indoor climbing hall.

More than 30 years ago, the Zürich sculptors’ association (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Zürcher Bildhauer) took over part of this area for a nominal rent. It is now split up into 19 outdoor and indoor studios in which some 30 sculptors are working in stone, wood, steel and new materials. While the founding fathers have reached jubilation age, younger members have put in some new ideas. The main purpose of the sculptors’ association is to run the studios, but some collective initiatives have arisen. One of them is the guest artist studio with an attached grant. Guest artists need to come from foreign countries and some 24 artists from 7 different countries have passed until now. Priyanka Govil is the second artist to come from India.

But does it make sense to move physically across continents in an age of unlimited communication? Wouldn’t it be better to save the money for travel and maintenance and use it to support artists at home where they are most productive? The well established grants see an endless chain of artists arriving and leaving, and the memories of last year’s grant holders fade away.

Lilian Hasler who runs the guest artist’s studio has done several grants in Paris and Berlin and has lived in Bangalore and Pune for more than 5 years. Even if she knows those objections against grant hoppers and studio tourists, she has a clear idea about possible benefits. Living and working in India gave her the opportunity to realise big works and explore new options like sculpturing with inflatables.

More than 30 years ago, the Zürich sculptors’ association (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Zürcher Bildhauer) took over part of this area for a nominal rent. It is now split up into 19 outdoor and indoor studios in which some 30 sculptors are working in stone, wood, steel and new materials. While the founding fathers have reached jubilation age, younger members have put in some new ideas.

Priyanka Govil had to cope with baggage weight limits. For her final exhibition in Schlieren, she used what she found on her walks; leaves and twigs, stones that got stuck under her shoes and other small objects. Doing performances was another way to create without the necessity of bringing back too much weight. Priyanka could participate in a performance event at Basel called LEGS, where the hours of duration were split up between the total numbers of participants.

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