The earth shakes just enough
to remind us.
Steve Sanfield, "The earth shakes" from The Perfect Breeze
A human figure is carved out of negative space, encircled by cracked terracotta. A piece of wood extends from its heart like a spear. In Vivek Vilasini’s work The Secret of Shadows (1996/2017), the artist laments the climate catastrophe and the demise of soil. In another work completed in the same year, City – Fifth Investigation (2017), Vilasini indexes the accumulation of pollution over 31 days in New Delhi on rice paper, forming a dusty circular gradient that approximates the color of rust.
In the midst of our environmental precarity, Earth Chronicles, a group exhibition at 1X1 Art Gallery from March 8 to May 28 brings together eight Indian contemporary artists who grapple with the materiality and the elusiveness of our planet in lyrical, ethereal, and sculptural ways. In their works, the earth is a site of containment and fluidity, a site that is in constant flux, subject to growth and decay, and never separate from our human existence. The environment is both source and subject in the exhibited works, which are largely process-driven, documenting the transformative nature of time in diverse materials such as beeswax, incense sticks, rice paper, ash, and mist - features of a residual archive.
G R Iranna uses acrylic and ash - emerging from a Shaivite ritual of using ash to mark the forehead and the cycle of life and death - to delineate a lush tree that extends from a velvet-red and yellow-hued painting to monochrome barrenness (The ash becomes a cherry blossom, 2020). In these intricate, textural works, his use of terracotta and coal powder marks a certain absence, evocative of the rings of abark or charred flowers(The Final Yield, 2019). In The Mirror (2022), a wall-mounted installation of wood and incense bricks, Iranna comments on opacity, shifting from the concept of reflection to the physicality of a barrier to sight.
For these artists, earth is as much land as it is water. A mesmerizing evaporation is depicted in Sonia Khurana’s multichannel, spectral Surreal Pond [I and II] (2013), which is divided into two parts: detritus and epiphany. The first features a silent misty pond on a massive suspended screen that reflects a verdantgarden and the second a video diptych, which maps a choreography of sound and movement of water into and out of the pond. In this cyclical activity, nothing is lost or gained. There’s a mysticism in the gesture, latency through the simultaneous emptiness and fullness, like the moment before (and after) coming into being. Rina Banerjee’s watery figures, on the other hand, are colorful, curly, and chaotic, often with unclothed women and titles that read as filmic vignettes.
A heavier fluidity pervades Chittrovanu Mazumdar’s dark, layered wax works on digital prints. They depictdisjointed geographies of the body, cropped images that refuse to be fixed in encounters of desire and obscurity. These are imprints and ruptures on skin, marking the passage of time, a waning grasp, the state between liquid and solid, or a wound that ages.
Benitha Perciyal’s figurative installation Me a Woman, My Thoughts a Thousand (2016) - formerly exhibited at the Yinchuan Biennale - uses frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon, cloves, lemongrass and cedar wood, essential oils, gourds, and sunflower seeds to create a sacred, sensory setting of labour, worship, an offering of elements from the earth. A man and woman carrying seeds face each other across an unfinished cylinder that stands like a ruin. Tallur L N’s hybrid bronze figures in floccinaucinihilipilification (2022) seem to tell a different story. Human-like, they sprout heads in the form of organs, like miniature totems to the future. His work often references the absurdities and
anxieties of the human condition, juxtaposing the handmade with the industrial, found objects with organic material, and traditional iconography with a contemporary ethos.
It’s telling that the centerpiece of the exhibition is Sudarshan Shetty’s new, dramatic sculpture of a video camera on a pedestal spewing blood. In a way, it speaks to Tallur LN’s spire-like two-legged sculpture Rumination syndrome (2022), which references the condition of regurgitating undigested food. As these artists document the earth’s turning, they take the world in and reflect it back at the viewer in the richness of sound, image, scent, and material.