Impending Future Seen Through Art

An Impending Future Seen Through Art

“But the Anthropocene isn’t a novel phenomenon of the last few centuries. Already tens of thousands of years ago, when our Stone Age ancestors spread from East Africa to the four corners of the earth, they changed flora and fauna of every continent and island on which they settled. They drove to extinction all the other human species of the world, 90 percent of the large animals of Australia, 75 percent of the large mammals of America, and about 50 percent of all the large land mammals of the planet – and all before they planted the first wheat field, shaped the first metal tool, wrote the first text or struck the first coin.”

― Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow

Greenhouse emissions, extreme weather events, rise in average global temperatures, ocean acidification, degrading AQI, loss of polar ice caps, etc. – the list of environmental issues faced by us globally is as frightening and inundating as the constant influx of data and research telling us that we are in a dreadful situation and that things are about to get much worse. But where experts in international organizations who are morally obligated to sugar-coat these facts out of fear of inciting global panic, Vibha Galhotra presents the state of affairs with utter defiance.

‘Silent Seasons’ presented by Nature Morte, titled after pioneering biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson’s book of the same name, is a solo show of contemporary artist Vibha Galhotra’s recent new works. An artist whose body of works includes sculptures, photographs, videos, installations, public art intervention, etc. Through intensive research, she addresses and investigates social issues in dialogue between human activity and their ecosystem. In this short essay, I will discuss some of her works that caught my attention.

The show has been split across Nature Morte’s both gallery spaces (‘The Dhan Mill’ and ‘Vasant Vihar’). The Dhan Mill space presents the main feature of the show – a 16-minute video work entitled ‘Un(promised)’. The video (in color, with sound), shot in a panoramic aspect ratio is a combination of footage captured in India, Israel, and Jordan. With its strong apocalyptic overtone, it’s a narrative depiction of a lonesome anonymous figure traversing across vast rugged landscapes devoid of life. The gargantuan scale of the video, displayed with the help of 3 projectors working in tandem, further accentuates the dystopia the artist created and has been composed so skilfully that in the act of viewing, the spectator is also pulled into the desolate ‘future to be’. A scene that stood out to me is where the protagonist spots a human figure fallen face down in contaminated water, and in its attempt of rescue is disappointed to find out that it was a broken mannequin all along. By displaying the feeling of resentment of a faceless character without any dialogue, the artist displays her prowess in narrative storytelling once again.

Another installation in one of the adjacent rooms is a video extension of a series entitled ‘Bygone Lands’ presented at the Vasant Vihar gallery space. The series shows 17 burnt covers of famous travel magazines while the installation entitled ‘Future Fables’ is a video of 6 of them burning. The work’s simplicity by itself knocked the ball out of the park. I was immediately reminded of my mother remarking who by profession was a zoologist, “When the day comes that we can afford to visit these places, I don’t think that they will exist anymore”. 

In the second room an installation entitled ‘Conference of the Invisible’ is displayed. Entering the room 13 large panels of glass can be seen on which images of jellyfish have been etched. The etching by themselves are barely visible (a parallel to jellyfish’s imagery), but cast hard shadows on the wall behind. In my conversations with the artist, she mentioned that her reason for choosing jellyfish is that they have been here for 500 million years but will also thrive in this ‘to be’ apocalyptic future, since with the increase in ocean water temperatures they are moving into waters that had been historically too cold, causing the entire marine food cycle to be turned on its head.

In the Vasant Vihar Gallery space, the centerpiece entitled Chronotype has been made out of Vibha’s signature material – ghungroos, and the first thing that catches the viewer’s eye is that the world map is offset. But when one realizes that this work is about the seas and oceans and not about landmass, it starts to make more sense. In this work, Vibha displays the data graph recording the warming of the oceans and the resulting changes in weather patterns. The work with its individual ghungroo pieces gives it a pixelated look synonymous with viewing data on a computer screen. Additionally, I find it interesting that the artist added another layer to the work through the logic of its slow building process which is a homology to the speed and scale at which climate change takes place.

All in all, it can be very well said that present in this exhibition, her works are unbashed depiction of the Anthropocene epoch seen through a narrative meniscus without abandoning the aesthetics.

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