Held is a multi-platform, durational project developed by artist Nisha Duggal during a residency with In-Situ as part of The Gatherings.
Here, Nisha shares her participatory process, in which collaboration from local people acts as both catalyst and content.
Nisha Duggal, Held, 2022
Take the clay in your hands
Take the clay in your hands and squeeze
Take the clay in your hands and squeeze and think about the land of your ancestors
Held is a multi-platform, durational project I developed in 2022 through an artists’ residency with In Situ. It’s a participatory piece, with collaboration from local people acting as both catalyst and content.
Nisha Duggal, Held, Digital Video, 2022
Through a series of open access workshops, I guided people to make pairs of simple, clay sculptures formed from the space within the palms of their hands. The crafting was an excuse to talk and connect, to let the mind roam with busy fingers. We shared conversations about place, land and belonging. Ancestors and descendants, culture and heritage were common themes.
I filmed their hands as they rolled and shaped the clay.
I asked them to close their eyes and squeeze.
Fired and glazed one of the pair was sent to each participant, along with an invitation to bury the matching partner within a dry-stone wall on Pendle Hill. The event was marked by laying a stone within the wall, carved with the title of the work.
Nisha Duggal, Held Ceramic Sculptures, Photographs, 2022 / Please scroll
Clay, fired and glazed, takes forever to degrade. Dry-stone walls have a shelf-life. In 200 years or so our wall will come apart. I like to think of a future somebody finding the small clay sculptures, so obviously shaped by individual hands. I like to think of them thinking of us, our past and connection to this same land.
Nisha Duggal, Held, Digital Video, 2022
Watch the Film
Q+A with Nisha
What was it like working in residence in the Pendle landscape? Was this a familiar context for you?
I’ve been based in London since 2007, but was raised in the north east of England in a semi-rural area of Northumberland, now something of a commuter town to Newcastle. I’ve made lots of work inspired by the countryside, underpinned by my interest in our primal drive to access such spaces.
My process is naturally collaborative: in my short film Launched (2003) I filmed a group of people flying a kite halfway up Blencathra, a mountain in the Lake District; another short film Things to make and do (2011) followed a group of people with different hobbies, one whom volunteered in the countryside. Having previously explored landscape as a site of leisure, it was a privilege to meet and work with people who lived rurally in Pendle. We connected over a shared appreciation of the outdoors.
I feel very lucky to have been given permission by Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership to site my work within the landscape. The permenance of the place-marking stone (and hidden sculptures) gives my project a resonance I’ve not had the opportunity to explore previously. The research and development aspect of the residency gave me a million ideas that weren’t possible within the time and budget constraints. This is a normal part of my evolving practice and some of the themes will emerge in later projects.
Is there anything new that came to you during the residency?
The residency strengthened my commitment towards context-led practice, finding universality within super-local concerns. I was surprised and excited by how effortlessly the groups I worked with understood and embodied the conceptual framework behind what we were making. I believe their receptivity and openness to my ideas comes from access to the body of work In Situ has commissioned in Pendle over the years.
Nisha Duggal works within broad issues around freedom and control, aiming to uncover how ideology and bias embedded within our cultural, political and social structures filters into everyday lived experience. Her projects are frequently co-produced, highlighting the myriad strategies people adopt to counter various pressures. Working across media, with a focus on spirituality and the sensory qualities of making and doing, she elevates the commonplace and transient, using contemporary art as a progressive, expansive frame.
Projects include residencies, exhibitions and commissions for organisations including Tate, Baltic, PEER, The National Trust, Royal Overseas League, NHS, Create and South London Gallery.