2022 art recap: reimagining the future of arts
by Vatsala SethiDec 31, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Srinivas Aditya MopideviPublished on : Feb 20, 2023
Vibha Galhotra’s exhibition Silent Seasons at Nature Morte in New Delhi, spoke about depleting biodiversity, the gas chambers we call cities, and the need to imagine an interspecies future. It also made us wonder whether the narrative of loss is the way to induce action for the impending planetary crisis that humanity faces today. The title of the art exhibition, inspired by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, reflected on the toxins in air and water damaging our present environment. Like Carson’s book which led to a grassroots movement by exposing the dangers of using pesticides in farming practices in the United States, Vibha Galhotra brought forth the scale of environmental degradation on multiple landscapes.
At the centre of Galhotra’s exhibition was the film [Un]promised, featuring an ungendered protagonist in a hazmat suit. This custom-hazmat suit designed by Galhotra in the context of a dinner performance project in New York disperses and wanders across locations. Shot in four countries and seven states of India, the film is a journey of a lone protagonist navigating coal mines, abandoned shores, dried salt pans, and polluted waters collapsing eventually in a sea of smoke and smog. [Un]promised for Galhotra is visualising the eeriness that envelops her when she thinks about the gradual deterioration of the planet. Inspired by her immediate surroundings in Delhi that resonate with the imagination of a post-apocalyptic metropolis, the artist speaks of the urgency in responding to the climate crisis.
The film is the most ambitious moving image project undertaken by Galhotra. Ideated and shot over three years and edited in the past year, the 35 feet wide video projection presents a panoramic view of the world that is not so far away from us. Its cinematography is a convergence of footage from the intimacy of handheld cameras and the expansive bird’s eye view of a moving drone lens.
Apart from the hazmat suit protagonist situated at the helm of [Un] promised, the exhibition also presented Conference of the Invisible, a series of jellyfish etched onto glass panels that create a myriad of shadows on the wall. Galhotra reminisced about the rapid rise in the global population of jellyfish. Like homo-sapiens who have overpopulated the earth, jellyfish are the sea monsters that disrupt the flow of ocean life by their sheer scale and pace of multiplication. The increase in their on-shore presence also signifies a rise in ocean temperatures aligning with the large-scale installation work Chronotope displayed at the Vasant Vihar gallery, which is a visual representation of ocean warming data from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
In Future Fables, the Indian artist presented a six-channel video work made by burning the pages from the past issues of the National Geographic magazine to map the change in the landscapes over the years. From mines in Sudan to melting glaciers, for Galhotra, each of these shifts is symptomatic of how humans impacted biodiversity.
This immersive exhibition is perhaps one of the rare occasions where a significant body of work by Galhotra has digressed from her signature material of ghungroos (metal bells). The work Chronotope is perhaps an anomaly created for the show with closely knit and sewn anklet bells resembling the data scape of the warming oceans.
While Silent Seasons situated the conceptual artist in the trajectory of artists who have been at the forefront of climate action, it also posed a challenge of imagining and articulating our planetary futures through the spectacular narratives of loss, damage, and extinction. These representations successfully create a cathartic response in the viewers by bringing to their attention the current state of things, they also bear the burden of overlooking the ongoing acts of reparation at the grassroots level. In other words, embodying a homogenous form that speaks the truth about the scale of the global impact sheds less light on the many microclimates of resistance and restoration.
This aspect also inaugurates a debate in contemporary art concerning the role of art in its action towards the climate crisis. With the press images of melting glaciers and wild forest fires taking over the public imagination, it is upon the practice of art to extend its discursive scope into more diverse methodologies concerning the environment. The need of the hour is what Galhotra refers to as Silent Seasons, a space where there is minimal human activity in areas that constitute the core of our biodiversity.
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