Despite living in Delhi and roaming the streets of Lodhi - its walls a testament to the celebration of art - I was yet to discover the site of KONA, a relatively newer arts space in the city. As I stopped to enquire about the location, someone pointed me towards a door, at the entry of which, the organisers stamped ‘Art 4 All’ onto my wrist in red. It was my day to watch the city I call home being painted red or rather ‘rad’ as the generation of artists participating in the festival would better describe it.
F(r)iction, the immersive art exhibition at KONA, was a concurrent event of the St+Art Lodhi Art Festival 2019, that took place in Jor Bagh, New Delhi, from February 16 to March 17, 2019. As the name of the exhibition suggested, the works exemplified the tension juxtaposed with the hope for congruence between nature, technology and art.
The exhibition included site-specific installations, videos, interactive multimedia pieces and murals by 17 artists from nine countries. The works addressed the fundamental concern about the future of our civilisation, people, nature, as well as art in a world inundated with data, over-access to information and people and an over-reliance on the digital as opposed to the real. The exhibition, then questioned this technology-driven change and its influence on human behaviour, perception and interaction.
Curated by Giulia Ambrogi, F(r)iction saw participation from artists from across the world, including Tan Zi Xi (Singapore), Yok and Sheryo (Singapore), Hanif Kureshi (India), Marc Lee (Switzerland), Nespoon (Poland), Daan Botlek (Netherlands) and Tellas (Italy) among others.
Upon entering KONA through the back door, one arrives at a blue passageway - Spontaneous Garden - created by Italian artist Tellas. The splashes of white are an ode to the organic forms that emerge from natural landscapes. The placidity of the former is sharply contrasted by Singaporean artists Yok and Sheryo’s Temple of Self-Indulgence, inundated with memes, apps, fake news, selfies and other social media symbols. Falsely idolising the Nyan Cat, the meme-turned-enlightened social media guru, her worship at the Temple of Narcissism is a satire on the state of trivialisation in modern times, where the inconsequential is often prescribed more weightage than the real, thereby increasingly leading to social dysfunction and unrest.
The latter themes also resonate in Swiss artist Marc Lee’s work Echolocation. The interactive work allows users to choose any location in India and stream through real-time stories about the place posted on social media platforms like Youtube and Flicker. The act of choosing different places while revealing socio-political-cultural differences in absolute terms, also highlights a larger homogeneity across the geographical landscape. The increasing substitution of diversity with standardisation through the over-indulgence in data and sharing of common knowledge isn’t just a symptom of the digital sphere, but characteristic of our present ecology and social dynamic. The resulting distortion in human perception regarding the future we shall come to inhabit, possibly dystopian or riddled with ecological deterioration, is therefore the undercurrent of Singaporean artist Tan Zi Xi’s work Floating City. While a walkthrough inside the exhibit will greet you with viewers enchanted with the mirrored room, engrossed in taking the perfect selfie possibly for another social media posting, the act once again highlights how our race is so consumed by the fascination with the material in the present that they are oblivious to the distortion that plagues it and us. Redressal then is a silent cry echoing through all the works on display; an urgent need before humanity is pushed over the edge of a world where the ecology we witness is reduced to the likes of The Ficus Bengahalensis, a bonsai version of an Indian banyan, as portrayed by the Indian artist group Transhuman Collective in their installation Phantasmagoria.
Polish artist Nespoon, then, tried to provide an anchor of hope, a way through the dark web we have gotten ourselves entangled in. Weaved with lace and rubber bands, her installation Delhi also resembles the coiled electricity cables running across the city, which while seem discordant to an outsider, are symbolic of how there can be harmony even amidst chaos. She urges the viewer to tap into this natural harmony, wisdom older than humanity itself. Perhaps, the answer lies in the intricate, and the solution in weaving together action, one person at a time.