The Commonwealth Games of Delhi seem in retrospect to have sliced Delhi’s contemporary history into two. There is the city before the Games – increasingly treated as a space for nostalgia, recollection and loss, and the city of the Games and after, encoded in both triumphalism and corruption, multiplying new structures, systems and surfaces. The event also serves as metaphor for the artist within a period of uncontrolled change and the experience of a sense of loss.
The artists on view in this edition of Video Wednesdays respond to issues of location – dislocation, ecology and subsistence, concentrated growth and space as a site to be consumed.
Ravi Agarwal’s interest in the city draws from an expanded investment into its history, architecture, its natural forms and its heavily politicized expansion. In terms of his photography, Agarwal’s poetic and even melancholic engagement has been with the river Yamuna as a mirror of the self, and with the ravages of construction around the Commonwealth Games. In the present work A River Runs Through Here shot over 2010-2011, Ravi Agarwal returns to his subject of the Delhi flower market, one of the temporary sites of the city that was moved out, in keeping with the city’s beautification plans. The film stands on the axis of a residual nature, the onrush of development and citizenship as subject. Although Ravi follows a documentary style his engagement is with habitation as personal and existential; erasure in one inevitably leads to depletion in the other.
Kavita Singh Kale turns our attention to the actual making of the Games and the city under duress. Real and virtual time, past and present, existing space and future structures are scrambled as the very act of ‘building’ the city appears fraught and inconclusive.
Paribartana Mohanty brings a complex set of images references and associations to his video work Apparatus, 2011. In this context the apparatus is the camera, its elaborate structure occupying the landscape like a moon landing. It’s flashing energy like the flash bulbs of the paparazzi rock the surface of the landscape like staccato gunfire. Each of these elements, the landscape, the camera and the flashing light appear like separate entities, like different sites of violation and penetration. One may think of them as archetypes that embolden and animate the environment even as they are shocked into instability.
Pooja Iranna’s work Standing Strong, 2011 bears out much of the ironic potential of a polemical work with its strong critique of urbanism. Even as Pooja in her sculptural and photographic work mimics the architect. Against the conjoined photograph of a high rise building wise saws are typed out, occupying the grid like space of its surface. Intentionality and wisdom, appear to guide the effort until after a point the words become banal, their high intentions betrayed by the passage of time and history.
If India is engaged in its most ambitions building project since Independence, Chinese video art reflects a cynicism with the very recesses of modernization. Lu Chunsheng pits a team of sailor – prospectors as confronted with an abandoned, once thriving chemical factory. In an otherwise denuded landscape, it is the only monument, to a failed vision for progress.
Yang Fudong’s An Estranged Paradise is a classic of this master’s non-linear style of film making. This work which took seven years to make opens with the making of a Chinese style landscape painting, typical of Hangzhou’s painting discipline where in fact the protagonist of the work is located. Afflicted by a sense of malaise, the protagonist plays out the realization that the everyday pursuit of happiness can be the source of the greatest dissatisfaction. The work moves between states of disquietitude, suggesting that the human condition is never stable.
Standing Strong, 2011
Duration: 6.30 min, Single channel video with sound
Single channel video
A River Runs Through Here, 2011
9.5 min Video, single channel video
Part of the series “Have you seen the flowers on the river?” (2007-2011)
Kavita Singh Kale
Arrested >>Fast Forward >>, 2010
Duration: 90 Sec Loop, Animation/Live Action
History of Chemistry 1, 2004
Duration: 29 min, single channel video
An Estranged Paradise, 2010
Duration: 76 min, 35 mm b&w film transferred to DVD