by Sukanya GargApr 23, 2020
The exhibition ‘Does the Blue Sky Lie?’ is the second episode in a three-part series exploring air and its resultant toxicities as part of a multiplatform programme, funded and presented by KHOJ International Artists’ Association. The exhibition is presented at their studios located in Khirki Extension, New Delhi. The first episode was presented as a public art project, an Air Expo at Select Citywalk Mall, New Delhi. Air Expo ‘22 took place as a trade fair, where ideas were being sold, along with visions of a future shaped by the increasing prevalence of air pollution, one that is increasingly hazardous to public health. The Air Expo took this one step further through the fictionalised trade fair space created, by taking into consideration the effects that air has on our futures, and how our lives will be shaped by the presence of toxicities, especially in a city like Delhi, one of the most polluted in the world.
The second episode in the series is presented in the form of an immersive and largely contemplative exhibition that delves into “meditations on air which transports one to certain spaces, geographies and politics,” as described by one of the curators at KHOJ Indranjan Banerjee. In conversation with STIR, he also points to the body as a point of access, a portal into a changing world that is defined by its relation to air and oxygen. Through the course of the exhibition, there is a critical distancing that is formed through the immersive acts, which situates air in various forms and prompts the audience to negotiate with the rapidly changing environmental climate, that affects not only air but also land, water and weather systems as a consequence.
‘Does the Blue Sky Lie?’ presents works by artists and creative practitioners Abhishek Hazra, Architects for Dialogue, Hanna Husberg, Thukral and Tagra, Pradip Saha, Saarab (Shahana Rajani, Omar Wasim), and Sharbendu De. They present works across mediums of sound art, installation, video art, board games and architectural interventions. Due to the lack of visibility that is presented by the proposition of air, the art exhibition also takes into equal measure the invisibility and a set of invisibilisation's that are associated with it. Colours are repeatedly evoked through the course of the exhibition, with neon blues, shimmering reds, unassuming magentas, and thick blackness gesturing towards the effect of colour on the mind and body, apart from its capacity to hold light.
Hanna Husberg’s audio-visual installation ‘Often People Ask How Birds Are Affected by the Air’ presents no image, but instead an ongoing monologue through translation in text, paired with a screen that changes hues, and another that pulls together found video footage. Set in Beijing that is a close comparison to New Delhi, the project becomes a contemplation on the introduction of the new word wumai into Mandarin vocabulary, which means dense fog, murky air, and so on. The word wumai is a newly introduced word that conveys a certain set of anxieties around a physical, bodily perception of changing air, through the anxieties around language. Through the introduction of the new word, there is the introduction of a new character in the language. Wumai is sustained as a life-threatening phenomenon, taking into account the resultant health effects, from breathing problems to shortened lifespans. The work is an investigation into the perception of changing air through documentation of changing patterns as well as citizen testimonials.
Saraab (artistic duo of Shahani Rajani and Omer Wasim) presented Safarnama, a sound installation paired with charcoal drawings of the mountainous region of Balochistan, the India-China economic corridor that has faced rapid urbanisation and globalisation over the last few decades. Safarnama takes its name from traditional Islamic texts, referring to an imagined travelogue of Jinns, spirits of fire and air, whose everyday myths change with the changing topographical and physiological landscape of the region. The Jinns are said to enjoy music as sound is equated with air or breath, an entanglement that gestures towards the perceived clarities we experience in relation to air. The narrated sound piece talks about the Jinns through the ages and how their lives are affected by this changing landscape, again evoking the testimonial form.
‘My House is Ill’ is an intervention in the KHOJ studio space, where a template for future homes is imagined by the architect group Architects for Dialogue. The experience of poor air is mediated through a variety of sensors that perform a mapping of pollution and particulate matter within the apartment home. In this imagined future, windows are no longer safe, so instead the bedroom presents a pay-per-view projected window screen into the city, while instead of a bathroom, each bedroom has an ensuite greenhouse. Banerjee says, “What is the future of home and architectural design in the living space, and how does it cope with toxic air? This is their proposition in relation to air toxicity.”
Through the multisensory experience that is performed in the shape of this exhibition, it forms an immersive meditation on the different layers around air toxicity, its invisibilities and our mediated experiences of it, besides governmental and global policy that affects the division of access, resources, education and so on. The exhibition becomes a way to re-examine the past, the present, and the future.
STIR was a media partner with KHOJ as they marked the 25th anniversary with a tripartite initiative titled "Does the blue sky lie: Testimonies of Air’s Toxicities".
Part I: Air expo 2022 by Khoj sensitised viewers about the common issue of air pollution
Part III: 'Café Classroom': a pursuit to relearn relationship across humans and nature
Part IV: Twenty five years of Khoj in support of expanding the idea of art in the region