February 15, 2017


By Vibha Galhotra

There is an important sense in which the only thing that does not seem to matter anymore is matter.(Barad, 2003/2008: 120)

Environmental chaos and deterioration is key to the age of Anthropocene, which we inhabit. In the wake of this ecological catastrophe, Michael Serres evokes us to rethink the intimate interconnections of humans with ecology by reflecting on the relation between nature and culture and analysing that our cleanliness is our dirt.

In these busy times of urbanization, nuclearisation, and of negotiation, we tend to forget (or ignore)our living environment, one which is rapidly disappearing as we slip, through episodes of construction, building, so called development... but in that race, deconstructing our given boon. My work, therefore, lies at the intersection of the utopian and the dystopian, employing realities based on the latter state of environment to construct a utopian counter figure through visual aesthetics.

The work Absence-Presence here in Bodhgaya explores this deeply fractured relationship of humans with ecology, and the social and political fabric of our rather dystopian environment. The absence of right (which can be further questioned) and presence of wrong in such an environment, whether thelatter is economic, social, political or ecological distress highlights the heedless race we are consciously or unconsciously part of. Wars on the basis of religion, race and colour et cetera are constantly putting our present existence under radar, while also compromising our future. The racetowards becoming technologically superior in order to increase human life and enhance human experience is, ironically, depleting the very nature which forms the basis of life altogether. This age of paradox, therefore, urges me to think of the absence of certain human behaviours and the presence of other alien thoughts.

Before coming to Bodhgaya, I was thinking of using the rubble or debris from the city which is being demolished to construct a new one, whether the reasons for doing so may be based on power play or structural change in the form of better planning and amenities, or just to prove oneself better by moving up in the social hierarchy or world order. However, when I landed here, I saw the Thailand monastery demolishing the entrance gate (considered an important aspect of any monastery) to construct a new one (reason for this deconstruction and construction yet unknown). Subsequently, I requested the contractor to give me the demolished parts of the gate to use it in my work to which he happily agreed.

Consequently, the work Absence-Presence underscores the absence of not just architecture but also aesthetics, ethics, traditions and culture, while at the same time, through the use of new material and discarding the old, it highlights the presence of political power, demand for change, death of ecology,and an overall movement towards a seeming progress which is incongruous with nature and long-termsustainable development.

The work, therefore, is an aesthetic negotiation of peace by synergizing the distress all around us, in this case represented through rubbles.

Note: This site-specific project is part of Buddha Enlightened, Art & World Peace 2017can be viewed atMaya Sarovar Park, Bodh Gaya in Bihar, India. The show is curated by Edith Rijnja.