It all started with a conversation artist Karina Fraser had last year with a Nepalese gentleman during one of the many Uk lockdowns. The idea was to transform the bandstand at the Princes gardens, Aldershot into an installation focusing on the Mandala, meaning circle, a symbol used in Hinduism and Buddhism as an aid to meditation, to focus.
The Band stand and Prices Gardens is a place where a lot of local Nepalese people gather to meet friends and chat.
It is first and foremost a collaborative and participative artwork. It is also a project of the Covid era, and about how we have all shown great resilience and adaptation in the face of the pandemic. It asks how do we create something together that is safe but shows our need for connection. We choose 8 colours of pure wool yarn in bright colours. made available 65 free packs of wool in shops and libraries around the borough, we held some public outdoor workshops at the band stand. People could either use our simple patterns and make their own. The pieces did not have to be perfect, just vaguely circular. The mandalas we got back really felt like a gift. In terms of quantity, it was a lot but also in terms of creativity displayed, so many different designs and interpretations, some beads and sequins, some ribbons.
My collaborator Gemma MacLennan and I had the mammoth task of designing with what we’d been given. The only conditions we had decided on was we would use everything, however small, however unique and it would have to fit in the space of the band stand. We decided on a large piece to be installed under the roof, 4 pieces to be installed between the pillars and 4 buntings. We then arranged the mandalas into very organic shaped mandala clouds, working very intuitively, laying the mandalas on the floor at the West End Centre and keeping diversity of colours and textures in mind as well as thinking about sturdiness at points where the pieces would be attached. We spent lots of time sitting on the floor, stitching the mandala together, our backs complaining.
The installing was nerve-wracking as it was our most ambitious project to date in terms of scale and of participation. For the first time, we had a technical manager who was able to go up into the heights of the structure and who had an understanding of the flexible nature of our materias and work. We never really know how it’s going to look once installed. Wool stretches and flops which is part of its charms. Seeing the big piece go up into the ceiling was astounding and gave it a completely different feel than flat on the ground. It completemented the structure but also collided with it, soft wool against hard metal. Stretching created some arc shapes to the edges which mirrored the metal bars in the roof.
But it was nothing compared to seeing people moving and interacting with it. A Nepalese lady came to to do prayer under it, a little girl was dancing and skipping.
It has helped transform a public space, making it about and for the people of the local community.
On our opening day, I had a conversation with our Nepalese translator about how the mandalas reminded him of handkerchiefs or Jaali Rumal given as presents by young girls to young men who are going away, maybe to join the army.
Thank you for funding and support to Rushmoor Borough Council, Arts Council England, West End Centre and Hampshire Culture Trust.
All photos below by Shaun Jackson