Curated by Jesal Thacker
Throughout history, nature has been the witness and inspiration for many artistic expressions, scientific explorations and philosophical enquiries. From a sense of amazement and beauty to becoming the means for intuitive knowledge and understanding the abstract notions that lie beneath and beyond, it is today a subject of ecological concern. It has and will always be a stimulus for creative intelligence and evolution as we survive entirely on its existence. Humans are coherent partners with this co-existence except that in recent years they have tried to become masters, leading to an unbalance and exploitation of nature.
The purpose of this curated series is to witness once again the many artistic expressions that reflect upon the influence our nature has over us; it’s aesthetic order, harmonious notations, hidden chaos, along with the discordant hues and deteriorating forms. It’s expressions as classical landscapes, abstract formations and contemporary revolutions trace the story of nature and our relation with it. From patterns that connect and soothe, it has transformed into conflicting forms and sounds that disturb and disengage, precisely representing our lost equation with nature. We may attribute this decay to overconsumption, consumerism, industrialisation, progress etc. yet the question: aren’t we all part of this process and equally responsible for this collapse?
Not all can reform and revolt the current system, enforcing solutions and programs, but we surely can become aware and grow sensitive to the expanding dichotomy. Through informed measures we can educate ourselves about the ecological urgency and work collaboratively towards its sustainability and conscious co-existence. F. David peat, a holistic physicist very aptly expresses, “What our planet requires are not violent revolutions, or vast government programs imposed from above but a new action that is sensitive and highly intelligent. This action must grow out of our sense of harmony and relationship to nature and each other. It has its source in very gentle but coordinated activity that sweeps inwards and outwards so that the whole system is able to produce its own healing. Each of us is empowered to face the problems that challenge the planet and, by developing a greater sensitivity and a more meaningful relationship to the whole of life, this ability to heal ourselves and our planet will echo around the world just like those tiny ripples in a lake that grow into a giant wave. If there is to be hope for the future then it must begin with the creativity and sensitivity of each one of us.”
Collab, is an effort towards this realisation as a collective laboratory, exploring and experimenting with forms and texts that remind us of nature's harmonic order and its looming ecological disorder. An effort to be conscious and work collaboratively towards a sustainable co-existence.
It is said that it takes three weeks to transition old memory patterns into new ones, and so this first series will last for twenty-one days, each day revealing new expressions and a renewed awareness about these creative explorations. Breaking away from the norm, the entire list of artists/art works will not be disclosed instantly, we will instead organically construct refreshing and engaging discourses every day.
Here's a glimpse through a few art works.
Anhedonic Landscape I, II, III
Archival Pigment Print, 30’’ X 45”
Edition – 3, 2018
"Anhedonia" is derived from the Greek "a-" (without) "hedone" (pleasure, delight).
The inability to gain pleasure from normally pleasurable experiences.
सामान्य रूप से आनंददायक गतिविधियों में खुशी महसूस करने में असमर्थता।
সাধারণত আনন্দদায়ক ক্রিয়াকলাপে আনন্দ অনুভব করতে অক্ষমতা।
ಸಾಮಾನ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಆಹ್ಲಾದಕರ ಚಟುವಟಿಕೆಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಆನಂದವನ್ನು ಅನುಭವಿಸಲು ಅಸಮರ್ಥತೆ.
பொதுவாக இன்பமான செயல்களில் இன்பத்தை உணர இயலாமை.
సాధారణంగా ఆహ్లాదకరమైన కార్యకలాపాలలో ఆనందాన్ని అనుభవించలేకపోవడం.
സാധാരണ ആനന്ദകരമായ പ്രവർത്തനങ്ങളിൽ ആനന്ദം അനുഭവിക്കാനുള്ള കഴിവില്ലായ്മ.
सामान्यत: आनंददायक क्रियांमध्ये आनंद वाटण्यात असमर्थता.
असमर्थता सामान्य रूपमा रमाईलो गतिविधिहरु मा खुशी महसुस गर्न को लागी।
સામાન્ય રીતે આનંદદાયક પ્રવૃત્તિઓમાં આનંદની અસમર્થતા.
ସାଧାରଣତ ple ଆନନ୍ଦଦାୟକ କାର୍ଯ୍ୟକଳାପରେ ଆନନ୍ଦ ଅନୁଭବ କରିବାରେ ଅକ୍ଷମତା |
Anhedonic Landscape's, a series of photographic prints ironically representing the sardonic progressive systems blurring the landscapes and our inability to react towards this degradation, continuing to live as numb/ed beings, mechanically progressing unable to emote. The abstraction here does not derive from an aesthetic characterisation of Nature but instead portrays the blurr/ed reality we're collectively living. A reality that has numbed us to experience any form of emotions.
Francis David Peat
Gentle Action - Bringing Creative Change in a Turbulent World. Book by F. David Peat
Courtesy : Pari Centre
Francis David Peat (April 1938 - June 2017) was a holistic physicist and author who has carried out research in solid state physics and the foundation of quantum theory. He was director of the Pari Center for New Learning, which is located in the village of Pari near Grosseto in Tuscany, Italy. Peat wrote on the subjects of science, art, and spirituality and proposed the notions of creative suspension and gentle action.
A focus of Peat's work was the concept of gentle action, which emphasizes the value of small-scale, iterative actions compared to large, single-step interventions. In the book "Gentle Action", Peat points out connections of his approach to earlier concepts, emphasizing the importance of active listening and a similarity to the concept of Wu wei.
As quoted by F. David Peat, "What our planet requires are not violent revolutions, or vast government programs imposed from above but a new action that is sensitive and highly intelligent. This action must grow out of our sense of harmony and relationship to nature and each other. It has its source in very gentle but coordinated activity that sweeps inwards and outwards so that the whole system is able to produce its own healing. Each of us is empowered to face the problems that challenge the planet and, by developing a greater sensitivity and a more meaningful relationship to the whole of life, this ability to heal ourselves and our planet will echo around the world just like those tiny ripples in a lake that grow into a giant wave. If there is to be hope for the future then it must begin with the creativity and sensitivity of each one of us".
ARE WE READY FOR GENTLE ACTIONS ?
Watercolour on paper
5.25 x 7.5 inches each
Ganesh Haloi’s miniature works of 2017 resonate with the mathematical formulations attempted by scientists/physicists in order to understand the inner workings of nature and its elements. The thick and thin brush strokes try to capture the subtlest vibratory elements and formulas existing within space that are unseen and yet experienced by artist. The universe, including all its elements, is in constant motion, ever changing and evolving — a statement made by philosophers and physicists — is the very subject of enquiry for Haloi. Through these miniature drawings Haloi abstracts all sense of perspective and is attempting to orchestrate a rhythmic pattern between all elements of the landscape (seen and unseen). Abstracting its very essence of foreground/background/underground and redefining their metrical relations through the simplicity of lines bridging dimensions. His compositions that comprise of squiggles, swirls, dots and a variety of lines (dotted, straight and curved) reflect upon similar vibratory motions that resonates the unheard hum of the universe, mapping the hidden connections and the subtle links that join all creations.
Gestural brush strokes are transformed into meditative formulas of rhythm. Haloi transitions through these drawings seamlessly, glimpsing the many facets of nature from its material physical form to its metaphysical timeless cadences, thus giving the viewer a complete experience. Some compositions build upon these poetics while some leave us perplexed. Whatever the experience, it draws us into a consciousness that triggers a rhythm that we all unconsciously yearn for. A mystery left for the viewer to unveil. The dimensions fold and embed the clusters of emotions, which engulf us with an aura of creation, teasing our minds and emotions to synchronise with the poetics of his abstractions
1) Untitled, 2006
Gouache on Paper, 22.5" x 30"
2) Untitled, 2003
Watercolour on paper, 24" x 30"
These last few days, the term rhythm keeps recurring in my mind and I am reminded of my conversations with Ganeshda. In it’s most literal sense rhythm means tempo, pattern, cadence, periodicity but for Ganeshda it is the sole reason and form of our existence. Rhythm is what abides within us as prana shakti and externally it exists in all forms of Nature, both these forms of rhythms are expressed by artist Ganeshda through his many sonic lines and colour expressions. In his own words, “There is a basic form in nature and that is the rhythmic line. A wave on the surface of water is a rhythmic line. When the wind blows through trees a rhythmic line is created. When the sand dunes move in the desert, a rhythmic line is created. In fact, I will go further and say that life itself is a line. Only this line should be rhythmic. If the line of your life is rhythmic, you will definitely enjoy it, otherwise you won’t. There is no fun without rhythm.”
A very deep thought, to be contemplated in these trying times, have we lost our innate rhythm or have we become deaf to the rhythm outside. Both seems to be the case. Restoring this rhythm seems to be a promising solution but its process would involve small and yet concrete steps from all of us, collectively. Let me conclude with the words of Sri Aurobindo, “For all problems of existence are essentially problems of harmony. They arise from the perception of an unsolved discord and the instinct of an undiscovered agreement or unity.”
Gouache on Nepali handmade paper, 19.5" x 30"
“There can be no painting without rhythm. There is no life without rhythm.
We cannot hear it because it is silent, but it exists.”
Ganesh Haloi struggles to express this rhythm through his works. A rhythm which has no sound but resides in the brushes of the blades, has no space but is seen in vastness of the fields and has no colour but is felt in the textures of the land. Rhythm is experienced silently through the quest to understand nature and the artist intuitively internalises this rhythm and struggles to express it as organically as possible. There is also a different kind of struggle denoted here, a struggle for identity for himself and his land.
“I try to paint a land that is my own. My land. With my rules. It has no resemblance to nature. It is the struggle to create this land that makes the process of painting interesting. The space tension with the object has to be maintained.”
Pencil, Charcoal, Graphite, on paper
70" X 120" inches (set of four works)
Changes in the ecosystem that arises from building a township, is what concerns me the most. From my early work, I have been observing how we behave with the flora and fauna in a concrete jungle. I am from Salt Lake, Kolkata, which used to have many water bodies that have now been turned into concrete land. In the area, there were many fisheries and different types of snails and snakes. There were times when snakes used to hide under the stairs of our house. It was a different atmosphere – fresh, lively and quite unlike the present-day Kolkata, which is claustrophobic. You could see a variety of birds then, and in the evenings one could hear foxes howling. Suddenly, high-rises came up, and these natural elements started vanishing. The way we interact with nature these days – is really bothersome. We exploit the power that we have and destroy what is theirs – we cut trees, fill up water bodies and leave many people homeless. What if we were to meet the same fate? Through my work, I try to create a dialogue around these issues that bother me, predominantly the shrinkage of natural habitat. But I cannot really explain what I go through while creating this visceral.
Healing Lines, is a series of drawings that observes this deterioration and yet is expressing a universal yearning to rejuvenate and recreate a conscious eco-system that adapts and acknowledges nature as part of our environment.
The Landscape of Confronted Abstraction
Archival inkjet print on acid-free paper, 40” x 26.7”
1. Hyderabad, 2015
2. 8th Century Madapeshwar Cave, Mumbai, 2018
3. Doddaballapura, Karnataka 2018
Photo Credit Nadeem Baig
The performative intervention "Landscape of Confronted Abstraction" is the culmination of my ongoing project. It attempts to represent the socio-political issues with the proximity to the landscape in its physical and psychological aspects. The work oscillates between fact and fiction, dealing with the projection of identity onto the social and natural worlds, both of which are intertwined inextricably in the matrix of space.
In this performative intervention, the human body establishes an improvisational relationship with objects and sculptural elements in space, an act which is extended, assembled and captured. Aspects of continuity, vulnerability, duration and temporality are involved in negotiating spaces, both in a narrative sense and as sites of memory. The performance seeks to intervene in public spaces to build up a visual representation of 'the mysterious' and 'the ambiguous', to construct a mythical narrative around the characteristics of space. The narratives describe an event or a place as if in the absence of time, or as if time does not exist. The attempt is to characterize the passage of time as it is experienced, and not as it is frozen.
The Horizon, 2009
Photo print on acid-free paper.
Photo Credit Naeem Baig
The Horizon was the most ambitious project after my graduation. It was a short-lived earthwork from the year 2009, exceeding five acres of farming land, located in Hiriyur Taluk, Chitradurga district, in Karnataka, 150 km away from Bangalore.
In these outdoor works, I have documented various processes: acts of nature acts of reverence and human interventions. The work examines the threshold of human visibility, repeating but never fully revealing itself. And my work calls attention to the inconsistent and constructed nature of human memory. I was given permission to materialise the project on the condition that the part of the land which was dug would have to be restored back to its earlier form. Considering the limitation of time and to reduce labour, machines were used to aid the process.
We often say that we are trying to “capture” time. But to capture something is not the same as to understand it, because even while we are in the act of capturing, things would have changed. It is only the memory which then tries to give shape to those things. It describes an event or a place as if in the absence of time as if time does not exist. These works aim to speak about the passage of time as it is experienced, and not as it is frozen. The work’s subject matter itself indicates that its audience is the artist himself, not the public.
Ink on paper & textile, 28.5" x 48", 2017
The syncretism of darwinism and automated explosion is sensed through the symbol of birth within this painting. The repetitive patterns seen in the veined surface reflect the environmental patterns of co-existence. Transverse orientation is the phenomenon of all natural beings being drawn to light unconsciously, as seen in the painting- all natural and manmade forms are in flight going towards the light. Are they evolving or going towards their destruction like a moth to a flame?
Ink on paper & textile, 36” x 48", 2018
A looming observatory represents the existence of science. Technological interventions lie abandoned as the land is now bare. All we see is the symbol of birth, the cabbage showing us how abundant the land was before. The cabbage shelters the winged moth from the scorching surrounding. A bird peeps out of its manmade shelter much like a hermit crab, who chooses temporary homes to adapt and become a suitable part of the environment.
Where to Now?
Photograph-mixed media on magnifying glass, metal frame & handle held against different surroundings.
Diameter of glass - 4cms, 2018
The magnifying glass with the drawing of a nautilus, cabbage, moth and other natural forms with grains of fertile soil surrounding it lie as memories nestled in this manmade instrument. The magnifying glass is a metaphor that contains the memory of what has been observed and manipulated by mankind. Now it holds what once was in the landscape within it and only shows us the memory of it. A dystopic coexistence of different habitats and terrains of what once was in place of the current environment full of manmade structures.
Where to Now my Beloved
Ink on paper & textile, 36 x 24" (polyptych), 2018
The artist follows repetitive natural forms-nautilus (one of the oldest living fossils), cabbage, sea turtle and many more that are always present in her work imagining them to be in different environments witnessing a change in the landscape. These sentient beings are seen in confined spaces which are all a part of the same painting, much like we are all a part of the same mother earth but divided and confined to our own spaces due to manmade demarcation. Borders, fears, progress render us into tinier and dystopic living conditions. These species are reflective of our times where each creature has his own place which it may or may not be endemic to. Yet adaptation is necessary for survival and for a temporary harmony. Transverse orientation creates a direction for the natural forms to go towards even in these times.
eLEMenT: EARTH (light/sun and movement reactive sound installation), 2012
(nominated for the NTAA award, Belgium)
Size: 40cm dia* 60cm ht
Sound Design in collaboration with Kari Rae Seekins
eLEMenT: EARTH is a diorama which visualizes a future where nature and technology are in-sync. Inspired by Biomimicry, a glass bottle contains functional and non-functional transparent PCB boards that produce sounds of the Earth. The sounds respond to light and movement. When touched it makes man-made sounds which indicates our carbon imprinting on the diorama of Earth. Larger bottles are powered by solar cells. These are self-contained biospheres which indicate biomimcry in different ways. Through merging of circuit schematics and plant based images the slides show an organic integration between nature and technology. A solar cell “tree” powers nature based sounds of birds chirping, rain, wind, the Big Bang and how Earth sounds from space. These nature-based sounds have been created artifically. The programming ensures that the sounds are random and not repeated thus conceptually resonating notions of biomimicry.
News from Nowhere Land (Light interactive sound installation), 2013
(Selected as a finalist for Wallace Art Awards 2014)
Size: 1.5ft ft height, area coverage: 3.5ft*5ft
Sound Design in collaboration with Kari Rae Seekins
“News from Nowhere Land” is an installation of five "islands” travelling from an imagined Utopia, constructed with 133 mobile speakers, sensitive to light, come alive, to resonate sounds that have been designed to transport the viewer into a state of Utopia in the space created by the artist to “day-dream”. Similar to the nature of ecology, darkness will silence all sounds. Sounds include: Love Frequency (528Hz): This is the frequency to possibly re-construct DNA. Idea that all beings have a psychic connection through unseen frequencies and that Utopia can be attained through an awareness of how we resonate with one another | Universal Consciousness (Crown-chakra frequency) | Communication (Thinned out radio waves and satellite recording) | Nature (Eco-System) Little utopias in themselves | Thought (Manipulated human voices of people talking about Utopia) Sharing thoughts over great distances. All 5 lands have a separate circuit board with the same 5 sounds but shuffling randomly to create continuously different sound-scape.
bIRTH oF bRAiNFLy (2008)
Animator: Nandita Kumar
Editors: Cara Elizabeth, Nandita Kumar
Sound Designer: Kari Rae Seekins
Music: Tabla- Robin Sukhadia, Cello- Chris Vote
bIRTH oF bRAiNFLy is a surreal narrative dealing with the process of a person’s individuation in a mental scape. A journey through and into Self, the constructed labyrinths of Ego, and the creative transcendence of the mind’s physical limitations. Birth of BrainFly charts a surreal course of a psyche’s evolution within the invisible landscape of the mind. The visual landscape is made up of a mélange of experiments in collage, live action, hand drawn, paint on film and multi plane.
A new shift in my work was created due to thought processes, which was force induced by my migration from India to New Zealand. The individuation process is a term created by the famous psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. Individuation is a self-analysis, a self-discovery, analyzing your own psyche and life, discovering what truths lie underneath the conscious egocentric personality, and life. It is only through a painful process of objective analysis can one evolve. The birth signifies the beginning of a new evoluted being who is a free creative thinker who is an aware conscious being.
To view complete video https://vimeo.com/10496163
Digital print, Variable dimensions
Primarily know for his sound and sculptural works, Thomas's main area of interest is in a broader understanding of electro-acoustic ecology and reimagining the idea of built architecture coexisting with the traditional notions of the natural world.
In this series of images that are constructed from salvaged photo negatives, titled "VISITOR" the artist examines the idea of experiencing fragments of the natural world in the form of simulated and hyper-realistic postcards that become windows to the unordinary and attempts to make a connection between MAN AND NATURE once again.
Anatomy of Clouds
Animated Video based on the Prabhakar Barwe's Sketch
Conceived by Jesal Thacker
Animation by Deepali Ghanekar and Sandeep Kulkarni
What do we know of the rhythm of nature?
A part of it is the gradual, almost imperceptible stages by which change occurs. First there is a pre-warning, then the change takes place, this state stabilizes, then returns to the normal. That is how a storm builds up, strikes, stays and fades. When the artist allows his intuition to work for him, he enables himself to draw upon the rhythm of nature which is constantly evolving.
Intuition lies at the root of the creative process, commitment to any other system of logic creates impediments in the artist’s path. This does not mean that a work of art has no connection with reason. Reason comes into play when the artist tries to understand the qualities of his work as it nears completion; when he wishes to come to grips with the new ideas it has thrown up; when he needs to make a precise and correct assessment of it. Assessment demands an objective, dispassionate view. Such a view would have to be founded on logic and reason. There is a wide difference between the logic employed in science, the rational perspective that is brought to bear in its pursuit and the logical harmony that art aspires towards. Reason can be extraordinarily useful in science because scientific explorations progress in a linear fashion. But reason plays an entirely different role in art where creation takes place in many directions simultaneously.
An artist must combine objectivity with trust in the truth of spontaneity which connects his work with the fundamental rhythm of nature.
Alphabets of Nature
Animated Video based on the Prabhakar Barwe's Sketches
Duration: 2mins 6sec
Conceived by Jesal Thacker
Animation by Deepali Ghanekar and Sandeep Kulkarni
Exhibited at Prabhakar Barwe's retrospective 'Astitiva' at National Gallery of Modern Art-NewDelhi, June 2019
Nature is the bedrock of artistic expression. It is a limitless treasure trove of invaluable images. Trees, water, stones, birds, grass, wind, clouds, sky, stars, reflections, shadows, shifting light, each of these manifestations touches the heart. Their inter-relationship and harmony seduce the artist. They are in constant flux. They change from second to second. But each transformation is complete in itself.
Forms which are still when there is no wind, will bend and sway with the breeze. When it is a gentle breeze, the shapes bend in one direction and the colours are steady. But when the wind freshens and changes direction, they begin to dance as though possessed. Even then, they do not lose their inherent balance. Nor do they lose it when the rain begins to pound down on them. Forms are constantly recreated in Nature they float through space like clouds in the sky. And when the moon appears, a star twinkles or lightning zigzags through a cloud, then the cloud becomes space and the moon, star or lightning the forms.
I am the form and the world around me is space. Alternatively, the space inside my body is space and surrounding it is the form, that is, the shell of my body. If we go one step further we see how ideas that take shape in the space of the mind define the mind itself as form. Like the limitless space that exists around us, a limitless space exists in our subconscious in which microscopic events occur. I like to believe that our subconscious holds not only forms that exist in the space outside but also free, surreal, mysterious forms that we have never seen, experienced or imagined. The vastness of the subconscious universe reveals itself to the artist when he achieves oneness with the pictorial space.
The artist strives to reproduce nature’s variety, delicacy, and the harmony of its colours in his work. The more time he spends with nature the more he understands what he must do to achieve it.
Enamel on Canvas, 47" x 55"
Endangered Existence, 1993
Oil on Canvas, 42" x 48"
One needs to be reassured constantly of one’s existence.
It is not enough for me to look at my body to know “I exist
Through the two paintings, ‘Existence’ & ‘Endangered Existence’, Barwe is questioning the very idea of our being, which begins in the womb of a mother and is constantly changing and adapting with its surrounding, co-existing with every aspect of life - its concrete reality and harmonious environment. Nature, never seized to exist but its slow degradation is threatening our reality, leading to a hazy, disconnected and sparse way of living. Both the paintings depict this extreme paradox that we’re encountering, forcing us to rethink our relationship with Nature. Maybe Begin One.
Oil on canvas, 5ft x 7ft
Living High Hope
Oil on Paper, 11.75" x 16.5"
Living High Hope
Oil on Paper, 9.5" x 12.5"
I've known Pradeep Mishra, since my days at Sir. J.J. School of Arts, and I remember witnessing his first installation using rose petals - a touching experience of nature's beauty and gentle cry of grief. Pradeep's preoccupation has been the very essence of nature, its microscopic working, its efflorescent characteristic and the process of its decay. Animals, birds, plants - form a part of Pradeep's artistic language. Having a realistic technique combined with a conceptual composition, the subjects in his paintings clearly portray the agony as well a call for freedom, which enables us to co-exist. These canvases that are stark in their composition and colours with the use of red and white, reflect a sense of suffering and yet they carry an aspiration of empathy.
Can we see this reality and become sensitive and extend our compassion, is the question Pradeep is constantly asking his viewers through his canvases which are mute and expressive at the same time. 'Living High Hope', releasing love to make sure ones heart beats and being breathes, no matter what situation or circumstances are.
Prajakta Palav Aher
Urban Mountain, 2019
Acrylic on Canvas, 60" x 48"
My practice depicts a polarity, a conflict, a flux between the real and unreal, natural and artificial. I feel like a charged molecule between these two extreme poles. Living in a city like Mumbai, I experience this polarity everyday, in our daily existence as well as the city scape, that is known for its skyscrapers as well as its dumping yards and the Gavathanas in mumbai, that have organically grown and form a crucial part of the city landscape. My practice involves a research of both these realities focusing more on the organic Gavathanas, an attempt to understand and define the meaning of aesthetics that arises from this organic dichotomy.
The work ‘Urban Mountain’, is an attempt to represent this stark contradiction of our existence. I began this work with a strong sensation of the colour florescent green. The lush green which envelops the city during monsoons as well as the poisonous green fumes that emit from industrial laboratories. Our city is surrounded by these varying aspects of fluorescent green. It also reminds me of the animated characters like Genie, Tinker Bell and Hulk, adding an aspect of magic.
The painting began with a thin watery layer of blue and green, an attempt to capture the harmonic aspect of nature and while proceeding the green thickened forming a blot, un uneven texture and distorted form, just as a blood clot - a form of a disease on our nature-scape.
Prajakta Palav Aher
medium-acrylic on canvas
size-72" x 60"
The work Jhoomer, derives from a 'satvin' tree found on the outskirt of Mumbai. It had a distinct feature, the form and standing alone with hanging bud like seeds that remind me of a Jhoomer in a huge shamiyana and Jhoomka (earrings). It also reminds me the hand movements (dance) of Preity Zinta in the song 'Bhoomaro Bhoomaro' from Bollywood movie Mission Kashmir. The symmetry and location of this tree makes it different for me. I see many elephant size trees on my way to the studio in Mulund, on both sides of the road, huge and yet each one having its own characteristic. Inspite of their elephant size, many trees fall during the monsoon taking the cement and paver blocks along with them. Jhoomer was conceived during monsoon. I painted it upside down and the latkans (hanging seeds) became like embedded Diyas, which I tried to glorify with chrome yellow - the same time our building went through repair work and patches of grey plaster were there on my studio wall. Grey was the resultant of this combination of experiencing cement and paver block extirpated by collapsed trees on road and grey patches of plaster in my old studio wall !
My daughter is always the first viewer of my word, who said 'this is a fallen tree, trying to swim', an apt perception by a child that is seeing through the reality of our existence.
Else all will be Still
Archival photographic print
26 x 37.5 inches
Two years ago, I had close encounters with the sea, a first for an inland urban person. It continues. The ground breaking experiences, led me to further my ongoing explorations about ideas which constitute nature. Nature, today has been reduced to an object which can only be ‘acted’ upon through it being ‘extracted,’ ‘admired,’ ‘enjoyed,’ etc. but not ‘lived’ with. Like patriarchy, ecology too is caught up in a framework of dominance. Contemporary philosophers like Timothy Morton have proposed that nature as a category should be discarded altogether and replaced by a network of relationships between animate and inanimate objects. We need to look beyond to examine if other trajectories are/were possible which co-create a more complex idea of ecology such as suggested by FELIX Guttari.
Ancient Sangam Tamil love poetry (akam) for example, reflects such subjectivities. It relates five physical landscapes (kurinji-mountains, mullai-forests, marutam-agricultural lands, neither-sea, palai-desert) to five interior ways of feeling (sexual union, yearning, sulking, pining, separation). Some tribal societies ‘inherit’ the planet for the future, not ‘own’ it as a private property. Alternate imaginations and other relationships with nature, can temper our actions, shifting us from certainty to creativity. Ideas about science, economies and futures need to be put on an equal footing alongside other ideas like mortality, fragility, vulnerability, balance, equity and democracy.
The works which resulted, besides this documentation, are an outcome of my struggle to comprehend the times I inhabit. They are BASED on encounters in a fishing village near Puducherry, where fisherman friends helped/are helping navigate new waters. The ever changing sea led me to these explorations. There is urgency in the air, Else, all will be Still.
Ecological Manifesto I,II,III
Set of 3 archival photographic prints, 21.5 x 32 inches (each), 2015
Ecological Manifesto I
Our institutions which manage our cities, our landscapes, our rural hinterland, are locked in histories of imaginations which propagate the control and use of the planet. Water is controlled, land is controlled, rivers are controlled, forests are controlled, wild life is controlled, human ideas and desires are controlled. Colonial landscapes perpetuate what were earlier colonies of the Empire, despite other cultural imageries, or new knowledges. We have to reinvent, unlock and remake our institutions which work for the betterment of humans and of other species and the planet. Those which are meant to protect us, have become problems in themselves.
Ecological Manifesto II
Ecological time is mysterious. It never reveals itself. Does ecology change in a dialectical Darwinian way, over many lifetimes, before any adaptation occurs, or has that changed with the advent of man. Are we truly in the age of the sixth extinction, which is caused by humans? Faster than mutations. This cannot be what was meant by evolution. We need to think of our histories, the chapter of human ecologies through histories of dis-empowerment and dis-possession and how it makes us in the contemporary moment, and of cosmic time at the same time.
Ecological Manifesto III
In contemporary times nature must be acted upon. It is either a ‘view,’ or an ‘adventure,’ or a ‘resource.’ Without this operative relationship, we are lost. Not the fishermen though. For them, the sea is the lived life. As ‘fish,’ ‘storm,’ ‘boat,’ ‘net,’ ‘livelihood,’ or ‘longing.’ The landscape is internal as well as external – Akam and Puram, as in ancient Sangam poetry. The divide is now complete. What is the sea in It-self? What is its sound? What does it look like? Can we see it or know it beyond our ‘eyes’ and ‘ears?’ Can we ever know something in It-self? Freedoms and isolations go together.
Hyphenated Lives, 2016
Gouache, Charcoal, Ink and electric wire on handmade paper,
Black boards, Wooden vitrines, Unfired clay, Postcard
Collection of Musee des Beaux Arts du Canada
Hyphenated Lives is a re-imagining of fantastical mutations within the natural world where new hybridised species of birds and animals, trees and flowers otherwise foregrounded as national symbols and proclaimed by nations as their own, get combined. By converging individual symbols, these imagined species symbolically seem to unify the otherwise conflicted nations they represent. The hybrids have been given hyphenated names signalling their origins: Ti-khor is the fusion of tiger and markhor, the national animals of India and Pakistan. Similarly, Sun-poe is a hybrid formed from Hoopoe, the Israeli national bird and the Palestinian sunbird.
Reena draws attention to our interdependence by turning to species other than the human race to see how we might share the planet, where the existence of one depends on the other or the disappearance of one species affects the other adversely. The images are interrupted in places by barbed wires evoking barriers formed with electric cables. As channels of transmission that connect us, these conduits of contact urge us to look beyond the borders, to reflect upon the many bonds and shared histories that lie between them.
Garden Of Forking Paths - 2017
gouache, charcoal, ink and electric wire on handmade paper
58 x 58 x 3 inches each (in four panels)
Garden of Forking Paths is the panoramic view of a landscape inhabited by hybrids of species appropriated as national emblems by various states. The creatures wander a desolate landscape located in an indeterminate point in time; the painting appearing simultaneously as a poetic provocation from the past when these species shared an ancestor or the proposition for an imagined future when they might reunite. Human presence is marked by maps, cranes and communication towers. Barbed wires woven from electrical cables snake across the landscape like boundary lines or meander along the path of rivers— the Jordan in the middle-east, the Danube in Europe— that lie at the heart of geo-political conflicts across the world. The wires are a recurring motif in the artist’s works where cables built to transmit ideas and information morph into barbed barriers denoting borders and suspicion.
The painting takes its name from a 1941 short story of the same name by Argentine writer Jorges Luis Borges. In the story Borges proposes an alternate view of time, picturing it not as a linear procession but as a dizzying network—a maze composed of infinite futures and pasts all existing as parallel worlds, where each point in life offers multiple possibilities, all of which unravel simultaneously.
From the series, 'Become the Wind’, 2013
Aluminium, cast concrete, 150 x 77 x 68 cm
The form of this work was instigated by the raw desire to face the proverbial nothingness. How do I grapple with nothingness, wrestle with air? Freeze it, hold it still in a tangible form that I can contend with. In this work, a choppy crashing wave, cast in concrete, is held still for a moment. As the stillness coagulates, it comes together to form the chair, a seat, of rest and stability that overpowers the organic movement, making everything concrete and mute.
From the series, 'Become the Wind’, 2013
Metal scrap, 201 x 75 x 49 cms
This work articulates a state of surrender. Though not representational the form suggests a large creature that from one end seems to be folding into itself, from the other side the same creature seems to be reaching out, extending itself. The surface of this form is composed of a multitude of standing pins. Seen from a distance the ‘creature’s’ pelt might appear luxuriant, a closer inspection might reveal the bristling harshness of the laboriously constructed skin. The ‘laborious’ aspect of my processes often relates physically to the labor or work involved in psycho-emotional process like that of surrendering (the ego, intentions, control).
From the series, 'I Marvel at Your Forgetfulness’,
Metal scrap, magnet, Variable dimensions
The work is a depiction of a watery shadow or is it a shadow casting itself on water. Made up of strips of metal held together by small magnets on an asymmetrical surface, it looks like it were a small patch peeled out of a large water body. It is made up of what appears to be small whirlpools of water and is a comment on our very shifting state of mind. Is this ever shifting mind then a ground that one could stand on or is it insubstantial like our shadow?
Sonia Mehra Chawla
Embryonic Plant, Hyperbloom
Triptych, 6.5 x 9 feet
Acrylic, Serigraphy, Inks and Oils on Canvas
From the series 'Embryonic plant and other worlds', 2013-2015
On returning to ‘the Embryonic Plant’ by Sonia Mehra Chawla @soniamehrachawla
The labyrinth or networks of veins in 'Embryonic plant: Hyper bloom', maps a chaos of mysterious and a compulsive order which circulates through every living being in nature's mechanics. The viewer is presented with the complex and visually exciting micro-architecture of cellular structures, of ganglia and cortices, spores, packed seed-pods and streaming plankton. Images of beauty and exuberance are infused with a sense of the macabre, both time and space are impregnated with a sense of heightened reality.
The embryonic springs to life the chaste development of a new seed, a renewal that will explode into a hyper-bloom.The details at once suggest the vulnerability of decay inherent in the realisation of the novel. An exchange of sap causes a realisation of change and transformation in the mundane and renewed outlook into the future of the world.
As I revisit this work in 2020, I feel that our ‘Becoming’ is a porous endeavour, an entangled world of (un)foreseen flows. Entanglement with our other than human kin is a fundamental aspect of all life. Yet we have more often than not been in common denial of these critical interrelations and fragile balances that constitute our worlds.
It is in the wisdom of caring, in acts of mindfulness, in recognition of these humble enmeshments, and in careful consideration of the discordance of troubled stories, that we may encounter our best optimisms for precarious and perilous survival.
Sonia Mehra Chawla
Universe in Details’- I
From the ‘Critical Membrane’ series
Limited Edition archival prints on Hahnemuhle Museum Etching paper
Dimensions: 24 x 14 inches each
Critical membrane is an artistic inquiry into the fragile and endangered coastal ecosystems and environments of India that investigates the entanglement of nature, culture, politics, economics, industry and the intertwined ecologies of human and non-human lives.
The artist explores the enigmatic inner world of mangrove plants and their associate plant species: Sections of leaf petiole & lamina, stem, and roots (including pneumatophores or breathing roots) of mangrove tree species Avicennia Officinalis, halophyte marshes or mangrove associate species Sensuvium Portulacastrum, and associate grass species, Porteresia Coartata come together to form ‘Universe-In-Details’.
What are the multi-species mixes that make up our worlds? What is the association between capitalist devastation and annihilation, and collaborative survival within multi-species landscape? What does cohabitation mean in an era of many urgencies with accelerating rates of species extinctions?
Sonia Mehra Chawla
Scapelands I,II & III
15 x 22 inches
Limited Edition, original hand pulled Etchings
Printed on Somerset Velvet archival paper, 300 gsm
In collaboration with London Print Studio, UK
Sonia Mehra Chawla’s ‘Scapelands’ series comprises etchings, films, and paintings in mixed media. Fluidly combining the phases of expedition, research, documentation and meditation in Scapelands, the artist’s works act both as entries in a journal, shaped within time, and as a cycle of archetypes standing outside the flux of time. Through its various phases, the works explore mangrove forests and coastal ecosystems in a time of crisis to create awareness about conserving these vast laboratories of nature. These forests provide a preview of the challenges ahead for ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots across the planet. The decaying ecosystems speak volumes about troubled histories and a living viscous cycle of depredation that is a tale of 21st century globalization.
As the current outbreak is being conceivably linked to the wildlife trade and humanity’s devastation of biodiversity, scientists and researchers predict that deforestation is triggering conditions for the eruption of future pandemics. One in three outbreaks of novel and emerging diseases is linked to changes in land use, like deforestation and environmental ruin. To recognize these world-building capacities offers diverse models from which to think what environmentalism might mean in the 21st century, where humans and mangroves might engage in mutual care, a turning toward that involves daily and rhythmic recognition of our inevitable and humbling enmeshment, much like the roots of the mangroves. Sustaining life requires sustaining symbioses. We begin by noticing.
Who Owns the Earth
Installation Mixed Media
3 mts x 30 mts at the 4th Land Art Biennial LAM 360° Mongolia, 2016
Digital print on paper, 40 x 60 inches, 2017
Who Owns the Water
Installation Mixed Media
Digital print on paper, 40 x 60 inches, 2018
My work deals with human’s relationship with the environment - their interdependence and antagonism. I explore the irony of human behaviour which destroys the very source which sustains it in the first place, raising the fundamental questions, WHERE DO WE COME FROM? WHO WE ARE? WHERE ARE WE GOING? Believing art to be a catalyst for social and behavioural change, not only in disseminating awareness about contemporary issues, both on a local and global level, but also towards helping communities develop solidarity and resilience, my work echoes my concern for the ecological.
WHO OWNS THE EARTH?, was an intervention project I pursued in the sacred mountain of Dariganga Altan Ovoo in Northern Mongolia where I was invited for the Land Art Biennial. While the land is rich in minerals and metals, illegal mining activities by other countries have changed the pristine nature of the place which was once predominantly nomadic with few human sightings. The deterioration of the land and ecological bounty and the loss of native cultural practices and traditions made me question the free-riding behaviour that has fuelled the blatant commoditisation and abuse of resources. Through my work “WHO OWNS THE EARTH?”, I wanted to question the ownership of natural resources and their subsequent future which is falling prey to the increasing capitalist forces.
The project subsequently led to another work in which I floated the words “WHO OWNS THE WATER?” on the Yamuna river in Delhi questioning its present state of having being turned into a cesspool in spite of its sacred stature.
Breath by Breath
Staged Photograph, digital print on archival paper, 30" x 60", 2017
The work “Breath by Breath” allegorizes the element Air or Vayu. While air pollution levels in most urban areas have been a matter of serious concern, the data generated through the National Ambient Air Monitoring Network does not cater well to understanding the air quality a common person breathes. The present system of air quality information, therefore, does not facilitate people's participation in air quality improvement efforts. The work questions the increasing consumerism which not only led us to such a state of the environment, but which further capitalizes on our lack by creating products like air purifiers and cans of a breath of fresh air, stratifying the socio-economic structure even further.
The work resonates with Vibha Galhotra’s persistent enquiry, “Who owns the Earth” and “Who owns the Water”, forcing us to introspect the extremes to which we will go before we decide to take ownership of our actions.
Too many fables on the rails, Cancer Express
Digital Print, 57" x112", 2018
The Cancer Express is actually a train put up by the railways that takes passengers from Bhatinda in Punjab to Bikaner in Rajasthan extended to Jodhpur. The so called green revolution that happened in Punjab was heavily depended on pesticides, ground water and fertilisers. Now because of that Punjab has the maximum number of cancer patients in the country. Our enthusiasm for food security has gone haywire and the present generation is facing the brunt of it. Cancer treatment is expensive in Punjab, but in the neighbouring state of Rajasthan, Bikaner has subsidised cancer treatment facility. Now the government has put this train and the cancer patients do not have to pay only the bystander has to pay a fourth of the amount. A glaring reality of our green revolution.
Tune in from Thursday 14th May until Wednesday 3rd June while we take you through the artistic practices of over twenty artists that are questioning the rising complexities of the ecological disorder.