Art News & Views

An Artistic Framework for an Alternative to Ecology

by Mansore (S Manjunath)

Bangalore: The art show Lake Tale, included videos and photos by Surekha and also was curated by her, wherein four young, freshly graduated students of art had participated. Deepak D L, Chaitra Putran, Nagannagoudar Patil and Deepak R were the participants. Lake Tale was a show that tested the representational possibility inherent within the socio-political role of water on the future of the society; and the developmental aspect inherent within it. The first thing that representational modes, as curatorial exercise, of sociological-ecological issues attempts is to escape being branded as a communist/leftist agenda. The current show's success lies in subversing such a categorization.

While considering the historicisation process of the nation, the speed with which the old Bengaluru became Bangalore was many folds faster than the reversal of the nomenclature that occurred recently. This is a notable predominance of the international tongue over the vernacular, in the nation-building process. Jakkur Lake, the specific lake that has been addressed (not documented) from past three years by Surekha, seem to enact the impossible: address the urbanizing act of the city through the metamorphosis of a natural lake.

As Bengaluru turned into a larger-Bengaluru, the 'developmental' activity around Jakkur Lake gained prominence. Earlier this was a lake 'around' the city, while, now, it is at within 'internal' periphery. Thus even while being where it is, as it is, the lake has undergone an identity shift, an aspect of internal Diaspora. It was, earlier, a lake that was a resource to the farm fields around, to the migratory birds. Today, all such activities have become history.

Artist Surekha who has been observing the lake since last two decades, had documented the 'metamorphosis' that this lake has undergone, from being a natural one to the one that has been subjected by the BBMP, a body meant to monitor the larger Bengaluru, for treatment. The innumerable videos, photographs that Surekha documented and the interviews that she conducted with experts in Ornithologists like Bhat (IISc), environmentalists, authorities, along with a curatorial project including four other artists, were shown at BAR1 (Bangalore Art Residency One), recently (June 5th to June 15th, 2011). This made the whole show an improvisation that could be seen differently, owing to the exhaustive archive material as well as the background concerns that the onlookers had.

The show tells a tale, meandering between an emotional romantic belongingness to an objective matter-of-fact tone, since the show is also argumentative, owing to the various voices for or against such urbanization of the Lake. The pathway, the artificial lights, artificially created mini-islands, boating facilities, the process of purification apparatus set within, the divergence of the sewageare all introduced as visuals or words (spoken or written) but not as an end in itself. Such a purifying activity inculcated within this age old lake of two hundred years, is an attempt to bring in development at the cost of and an insult to an emotional belongingness, and re-introducing the lake to play a universal role for its consumerist capacitance.

The show intends to unveil, deconstruct and restore it at least in its metaphoric form. What is being lost as a reality is regained metaphorically. Also the lake becomes a symbol of all those villages which remain where they are, are devoid of its village-hood, and is made to become a limb of the city. In other words, the capacity of this lake for addressing a certain 'internal Diaspora' meaning shifting in essence while physically being where it is becomes a unique element of this lake, as it is addressed uniquely through the show. It is a daring curatorial exercise, for, the show also counters the simplistic, one dimensional addressal of such issues, as mere 'protests', in this city of NGOs.

Surekha plays a dual role in this show: as an artist, as a self-curated artist and as an artist who has curated four young artists. The last time some did this was Surekha herself (Behind the Seen, a show of the artistic production of four common people who were assistants to contemporary art happenings, events and shows), after N Pushpamala had curated Sthalapuranagalu, a show of three artists, based on the history of the city. While most curatorial projects of the city is based on 'sites', Surekha bases it on 'sights' and 'policies'. In the twenty and odd minute video, photographs and an operating blog that continuously ran the website (, and that which is an 'ongoing' project, there is a certain grey area, a negotiative space punctured by the show. It is a space of unrest between various schools of environmentalism, a documentary mode and an ability to artistically articulate it, to convey certain lived/living experiences that one could appreciate beyond taking sides.

The video contains interviews by varyingly positioned experts in relation to the historicity of the lake (Ornithologist, art historians, localities, farmer leaders, contractors, authorities etc.). The photograph of the artist herself seated on one of the island within the dry lake at one point, also hints at the relation between sites, sights and locationsthree important aspects into which chosen spots of Bengaluru are modified into, for the sake of meeting representational politics (film, television shooting, and to meet various requirement of the digital media).

Deepak D L has accumulated sounds from the solitariness of the lake as well as that of the urban busy-ness, to evoke certain nostalgia. The bouts of high pitch croaks of the frog, the urban noises and a critique of the difference and divergence between the rural and urban in sound, is the intention of his sound-piece which bites and a sound-bite which is about the voice of peace around the memoir of a lake.

Chaitra Putran's readymade photos of snakes, the quick sketchy drawings on the walls and the quick notes informing the mis-'representation' of snakes through media, idea, folklore and myths is what she demystifies. The water bound snakes are held to be less poisonous, which is not a myth, and the display by Putran was inducing the idea that the lake water might purify the myth of its ability to evoke ridicule amongst the contemporary non-believers. The human encroachment of the lake in more than one way, is a colonization of the snake's area by human, both realistically as well as in theory. Chaitra's display of snakes' images on the wall is a workman's pinupsindicating that snakes, their myths and rectification, are, all in all, issues that cannot meander beyond human intervention.

Kushal Kumar's video-installation addresses the birds that migrate in general, when their safe haven is shaken, mainly due to urbanization. Sparrows vanishing from Bengaluru are a case in point, and are the subject of his video. Mobile, that shoed away sparrow, due to its emission, literally takes wings in the engaging video that commixes the academic skill of drawing and painting, a rather unusual parallel between visual representations of a vocal device that silenced the nature of a particular bird's presence.

Deepak R visited the Jakkur Lake, took stock as well as samples of the birds, flora and fauna in and around the lake, to build in a specific aquarium, which seems to be a forest or a bonsai under water. It reflects the difference between the local and the imported fishes collected as part of a novel hobby of indoor engagement, perhaps due to the overburdening experience of the city traffic, which hasn't yet affected the Jakkur Lake. The fish and the plantation began to grow in the stretch of the art show for ten days.

Altogether Surekha's works and project is about addressing a lake which is an emotional battlefield between the authority, governance and belongingness. The show is a select chapter from a longer project, to be continued. The youngsters included in the show, indicate as to how those at the margin (like the villagers around Jakkur Lake) find their own modes of visual representation, beyond the mainstream representational tactics. This is just like the villagers, who are devoid of a genealogical eligibility for farming, due to being delinked from the utilitarian access to the lake. The villagers find alternative modes of living, like these artists who work with unassumable materials. Naganagoudar Patil's works, miniature models of farming apparatus, showcased on the walls, hint at the overall essence of Surekha's curatorial attemptthe preoccupation of farming is now a visual aspect that is to be displayed like a trophy, but actively futile, around a lake called Jakkur-Sampigehalli Lake.



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