Growing up in Mangalore, the presence or absence of the Mother Mary picture at home was sometimes indicative of conflict between her Catholic mother and Protestant father. Meet Avril Stormy Unger, an inter-disciplinary artist who explores different mediums like photography, virtual reality and site-specific installations to find new means of expression. “I had a Catholic upbringing, spent a lot of time with my great grandmother. We went to church every evening as she used to sing in the choir. Mother Mary was the idol to look up to, also because she is the only female Godly figure as a Catholic. Her pureness and piousness was spoken about to us from a very tender age. She was always present in our prayers. It was imbibed in my sister and me, to pray to her as a way to get to Jesus. So she played a huge role in our childhood,” says Unger.
Chutney Mary her new art project is a series of mixed media collage works on paper that use elements from her childhood memories and Roman Catholicism in a coastal Indian context. The elements used in Chutney Mary are those that are connected to memories from her childhood. I found a way to combine stamp collecting, stitching, and other such activities we did and learnt as children to be a part of this work. It is also a play on ‘Chutney Mary’, a term that has been used to refer to women from small towns who do not fit into the urban attitudes of city dwellers, something that I have also been called when I first moved to Bangalore. For this I used symbols like bindis and glass bangles for example,” says Unger. However using Mary as a motif of her art was self admittedly pretty challenging in the beginning. “But I see more and more of it showing up in my work. These are my roots, my upbringing and religion, and Mother Mary has especially played a huge role in it. I do not shy away from sharing my stories since all my work is based on personal experiences.”
She works with the medium that she thinks does justice to the work and content of what she is trying to say. “When I worked only with movement, I realised that sound also played a vital role for me. This is when I started working with sound artists to perform live, and intricately interpret their sound using my body. I approached my work, not as a body but more as an instrument to compliment the sound. Such processes gave me the freedom to look outside of the medium and my body, and also to use my body in ways other than just movement. I have been able to mix various concepts with virtual reality and photography, using my body and combining it with food for example or using sound as a key element to some of my installation work,” says Unger. A self-taught artist, most of her learning comes from working with others and learning from different perspectives. “So when I wanted to explore virtual reality, I approached people with technical knowledge in the field and looked at possibilities and limitations of the medium.’Byond Travel’ a travel experiences company and they had the knowledge and the required equipment as they used VR. We discussed the work and they helped me bring my vision to life. I was looking at this specific work called ‘foodscape’ as a video piece and only when I found virtual reality as a medium, the concept was done justice to. Such is my process with photography too. New mediums of expression are always exciting and I do not believe that I should limit myself to only one medium.” Avril is also co-founder of PowerCut, a regular and informal art gathering aimed at fostering a sense of community and collaboration across art practices. She is inspired by people and life. “Loops and routines that nature follows is also a sense of inspiration for me. Dreams inspire me. My mother is a huge source of inspiration for me. Anything that excites or irks me always finds a way to inspire me.”
She recently received a grant called 5 million incidents by Goethe Institute and Raqs Media Collective and will be showcasing her work ‘Private Parts’ in Delhi and Kolkata Max Mueller Bhavan sometime later this year. “I am also working on a couple of my personal performance projects – a public intervention and a durational piece which will work with social media platforms as public space. Apart from this, I work with The Courtyard, Shanthi Nagar as the culture manager and plan to do so for a while. I am also studying to become a counsellor at Parivarthan, Bangalore and this will keep me busy till March 2020, after which I will be looking at specialisations in the field,” she concludes.
- What: ‘Chutney Mary’ – Art Installation
- Where: The Courtayrd, 105, KH Road (Lalbagh Double Rd Opp. Corporation Bank, Shanti Nagar, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560027
- When: The art work will be on display at The Courtyard Art Wall till August 6, 2019 between 11:00 am to 9:00 pm
This story first appeared in Deccan Chronicle Bengaluru dated 19th July 2019 here: