The second decade of the 21st century finds most of us, whether scientific specialists or members of the community at large, preoccupied with the imminence of climatic and ecological catastrophe that confronts our planet. Brought about by unreflective industrialisation and a cynical attitude towards the environment, this situation faces us with the same fate that overtook the dinosaurs: species extinction. It forms an all-too-definite material counterpoint to the spectral and immaterial realities of digital media that many of us appear to inhabit today.
In the present ensemble of artistic positions, provisionally titled ‘The Elements’, we invite a group of some of India’s most salient and thoughtful artists to address this predicament. These are artists who have already, in the course of their practice, engaged with the issues of climatic change, the destruction of the landscape, the shift from a rural-oriented to an urbanised pattern of settlement, and the transformations wrought in life and on the planet by technology. The artists in ‘The Elements’ are:
Arunkumar H G
These practitioners are active across a range of media, including painting, expanded forms of sculpture, printmaking, video and digital installations, and photography. They draw both on the experience of the Indian subcontinent and on their encounters with thought, life and artmaking on the global level. Through their work, they invite us to think about the five elements that once – existentially, cosmologically, in metaphysical terms – provided human life with a framework of meaning, value and significance. What distortions have the elements suffered today? What role do the elements play in our everyday life, even if they have been overlaid by the routines and reflexes of a consumerist lifestyle? How might we invoke the elements in their true depth and intensity again, and make them relevant once again to a way of being that is oriented to its proper location in the world rather than alienated from it?
Parthan, Panda, Scaria and Arunkumar propose responses to these questions that neither lapse into an uncritical nostalgia for the past nor surrender to the fatalism of historical inevitability. The images they create are animated by a scientific curiosity, a commitment to research, the courage to phrase and formulate ethical problems, and a belief in the power of the aesthetic experience to direct us back to the world rather than to escape from it.