Ways of seeing: Vibha Galhotra’s exhibition says that the Apocalypse need not be an event, if you care to look differently

The Holocene has existed for 11,000 years. A period during which civilisations have grown, narratives have been set by the human form and nature has had to evolve, even at times contradict with the likes of the Plague or AIDS, most importantly coupled with expansion.

The nature of this evolution that has now come to relate more with consumption than anything else, has been so forceful, that scientists across the world in 2016, declared it the age of Anthropocene. The age of unavoidable human impact in everything that is around us. It comes as a challenge not only for those who will be daubing their cotton samples with the air and water of the age, but even those who will stand and ponder the aesthetic of it all. How does the artist react to an age, where Nature is at its weakest, where beauty is a matter of manufactured details, and humanity is so much in control it can’t help but be deprecatory. Delhi-based, Vibha Galhotra, through her exhibition [IN]SANITY IN THE AGE OF REASON, is trying to perhaps ask, and find some answers.

Galhotra has through photographs, videos, and installations mined the everyday nooks that we choose to look away from, to address a problem that is glaring back at us – our own destructive influence.

“The project came out of my continuous research around Belief and Reality centering around the very basic questions of absence and presence? Who are we? (in terms of our ownership claim on earth) and where are we going? The questions delved deep into the atmosphere including not just the natural physical world, but also the atmosphere which we create through social, economic and political interactions within it,” Galhotra says.

The exhibition is a cross-over between philosophy, science and even at times mythology. The definitive line is drawn at faith, which is perhaps what the exhibition as a whole intends to shake. Are we simply content with being the superior and thus not considering the impact of it or due to it?

A desecrated pillar with bars of iron sticking out like teeth in the middle of the curation is a stark and stately reminder of the ‘irony’ of structures. They secure our ideas of space, but at the same time, threaten our ideas of freedom. The very difficulty in navigating around an object so obscenely solid and uncompromisingly horrid makes the exhibition a tough experience. And therein lies the point itself. A resident of Delhi herself, Galhotra finds in the Yamuna both inspiration and subject.

“I have specifically focused on the Yamuna river that flows through Delhi, the city of my residence, as it offers an interesting analogy to juxtapose the religious sanctity of the river with its actual state of being a cesspool. By showcasing our ability to pollute even something we consider ‘holy’,” she says.

The most striking component of the exhibition is perhaps the performative photo series 'Breath by Breath'. In the series Galhotra poses with objects, ironically inclined to capture some of Delhi’s air, from areas that we’d rather not visit, or at least stand at for more than a second. These images borrow from dystopian themes that are somewhere between George Miller, David Lynch and Cormac Mcarthy.

Ghastly and thoroughly odd, what makes these photos stick is the commonality of its otherwise regular parlance. Is it then simply a matter of seeing as much as it might be of ignoring the physical consequences? “I wanted to talk about our present dystopian state of existence and juxtapose it with our utopian ideal of a world in which we would rather be living. 'Breath by Breath' is an allegory of the element Air or Vayu, one of the five Panchabhutas. The work is a commentary on the deteriorating air quality which goes a step further by capitalizing in creating products like air purifiers and cans of a breath of fresh air, stratifying the socio-economic structure even further,” Galhotra says. The socio-economic factor here is crucial, and it would suggest that artists may in the future find it difficult to reject considering any of these.

Is this then — also a unique age for art — where the shift from beauty to the beast, has slowly begun? Galhotra believes that though not all artists will veer this way, and remain detached, it is unlikely that art will be the same as it has been for years. “It is ironic that most people still associate art with beauty and decoration. However, if one goes revisits historical accounts of the past cultures, art had always been a medium to bring change and movement in society. In fact, history itself was coded and decoded through artistic mediums. There has to be constant change in art. The artists of any age depicted the times and space they inhabited,” she says.

In the gallery, on a couple of metallic stands rest a pair of gloves and napkins, blackened during the process of filming and photographing the elements on show, as if to say, that there is death in each waft of air that passes us by. And if you look carefully, this definitely shall not pass.

'[In]sanity in the Age of Reason' is open at Exhibit320 in Delhi, till 17 April, 2017.


Published Date: Mar 25, 2017 09:00 am | Updated Date: Mar 25, 2017 09:00 am


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