Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with Artist Nisha Keshav to talk bout her practice and her current exhibition ‘Lines in the landscape’ at Peterborough City Gallery. Nisha Keshav is an artist who specialises in photography. Her extensive commissions range between travels around the world, commercial projects, exhibitions, editorial, landscapes and portraiture.
R – Would you like to tell us about your up coming exhibition?
N – Yes, my exhibition is called ‘Lines in the Landscape’, the whole project started because of an exhibition I had at Stamford Arts Centre. The artists and myself who have studios at Stamford Art Centre worked together to create a show in their galley space.
My initial starting point for that exhibition was large skies. We are so fortunate to live where we do, we can see such big skies. I was talking to my friend about the project, and he said that I should go to Holme Fen. I had never been before.
So I went along there, it was a winter’s day, beautiful, all white, snow, and I was just mesmerized. The more time I spent there, the more I got completely seduced by the place. I find that people either hate or love the fens and I love it! I never thought I would, having studied in Manchester where it was all lovely hills etc. There is something so unique about the fens, something mysterious and still, the stillness of it is just lovely. The more time I spent there the more it revealed. Each time was different.
I photographed it originally for the exhibition at Stamford Art Centre. After the exhibition had finished I couldn’t stop thinking about the landscape at Holme Fen. Every time I saw the light or the change in season I thought ‘I wonder what it’s like over there’. I’d drive the 40 min drive to get there and often it would be different, every time revealing something I hadn’t seen before.
When you go there all you can hear is the bird songs, you wouldn’t believe it is so close to Peterborough and the A1. Its just beautiful, and I recommend anyone who hasn’t been there to go.
After my exhibition at Stamford Arts Centre my sister gave me a book, ‘Great Fen Artists’. There were lots of painters but there weren’t any photographers, they produced an amazing book about the Fens. But none of them had concentrated on the landscape; it was more focused on birds and nature.
R – So why did the landscape interest you?
N – I went to Iceland with a couple of artists back in 1995, there were very little trees, it was all about the landscape, creating something out of very minimal, this inspired me. At the time the title, ‘Lines in the Landscape’ hadn’t come to me, but I liked just working with very few elements such as lines to make a picture, it’s a challenge.
R –How to you shoot your photographs, is it digital or film?
N – Well when I first started out in my photography career it was all film because at the time we didn’t have digital! Which shows my age!
R – Were you developing and printing black and white/ color?
N – Yeah, well at university we did colour printing, I was the best colour printer on my course. I loved it!
I don’t develop film and print so much any more, as its expensive and takes up a lot of space. When I moved back to Peterborough after university I was working at the lady Lodge Art Centre, they had a dark room space that I could use. I had also converted a room in the house I was renting at the time into a dark room, but I can’t do that now. I do have a studio at the Stamford Arts Centre, but it is a bit to small for developing and printing. I am also much more aware of the environment around us and I don’t really want to put chemicals down the drain. So my up coming exhibition is all digital.
R –In my experience from seeing your work at the Open Exhibition your images are quite large.
N- Yes, this is because of the way the landscape is; so open and big, I think the pictures need to be large to portray this. In this exhibition a few of the pictures are 6 feet by 4 feet, they are going to be huge. The exhibition is based in two different locations, the City Gallery and Flag Fen Archeology Park. I like having my pictures large; I want to give the viewer the impression of what it is like to be there.
R – Do you feel like the project is finished?
N- Yes, like I said before every time I look out I will be thinking about the light, and what it would be like there at Holme Fen. I think the landscape there has still got me. Over the two years I worked on this project the landscape has changed so much, there used to be huge poplar trees which feature a lot in my exhibition and then suddenly the last time I went lots of the trees had been cut down. It’s constantly changing, I go there and its empty, and yet its is a farming landscape, these things are happening all the time. It’s a real dichotomy.
I don’t think it will be a forever project, as I have covered all the seasons, but like I said it keeps changing. When I was researching I started looking into The Great Fen project. I found out that this whole fen is 60% owned by wildlife trust and Natural England; they are currently involved in the biggest restoration project of the area, the biggest one in even Europe. They want to turn the whole land back to what it used to be; they want to restore it to its original state. Which I think will be amazing.
R – Well maybe it’s a project that you revisit in 10 years time?
N- Yeah it would be great to revisit it and photograph The Great Fen project.
R – The exhibition, is it also as a result of winning the open?
N- Yes, after the Stamford exhibition I didn’t think about the pictures, even though I carried on shooting the whole time. I saw the call out for the Peterborough Open on the last day and I thought I might as well put them in; it was such a surprise to win. It was directly as a result of that I was offered the exhibition at City Galley. Which has been an amazing journey.
The title of the exhibition came about from listening to a BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘Forum’, presented by Bridget Kendall. There was a professor on there Tim Inglod, he holds a chair at Aberdeen University in Social Anthropology, he has had a book published called ‘Brief History of Lines’ and just recently published a book in April 2015 ‘Life of Lines. On the radio show they discussed the concept of lines within the landscape with two artists. It was such a brilliant interview. I thought ‘wow’ this is exactly what my exhibition is about I had been photographing but I hadn’t seen the lines, or how it all comes together.
As I was trying to curate it, there was a definite pattern occurring. It was also a play on words with another programme on Radio 4 called ‘Lives in the landscape’, which is about people living in the land. So it was marrying the two together.
I also have a couple of talks whilst the exhibition is on.
Tessa West, award-winning author of four novels each set in East Anglia and writer-in-residence for the Port Authority in Great Yarmouth, will be reading excerpts from her novels based around the Fens including ‘The Companion to Owls’.
Kate Carver, Project Manager for the Wildlife Trust, will be talking about the Great Fen Project, the most important habitat restoration project in Europe and involves restoring the wetlands between Holme Fen and Woodwalton Fen.
Peter Irving, Poet Laureate of Peterborough in 2013, is a lifelong resident of Peterborough and his fascination with the Fens is reflected in his poetry. Peter will be reading his poetry and bespoke poetry created around the photography exhibition.
Keely Mills, Poet Laureate of Peterborough in 2009, is passionate about the people and landscape of Peterborough. Keely will be performing selected extracts from her collection, A Girl from Eye and her show, You Can’t Be Surprised By A Selfie.
I am just so excited, I never thought when I started this project that there was and is so much interest in the fens. I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity by Vivacity, City Gallery and all the team.
The exhibition is private view is on 7th May 6- 8pm. Nisha is sharing her private view with another artist Jeni Cairns, who also has her exhibition in gallery 3 of the city gallery, the exhibition starts on the 8th May until the 8th July. The exhibition at Flag Fen is open now until end of October.