Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum — e-flux

e-flux, 04.04.2018

Artists: Atul Bhalla, Jitish Kallat, Manish Nai, Mithu Sen, Prajakta Potnis, Ranbir Kaleka, Reena Kallat, Rohini Devasher, Sahej Rahal, Shilpa Gupta

Curated by Honorary Director, Tasneem Zakaria Mehta and co-curated by Curator, Himanshu Kadam

As the 21st century unfolds new discoveries in science and technology have transformed our lives, some are awe inspiring but others are scary. We live in a globally connected world, inundated daily with news of the potentially devastating consequences of human actions. How have we got to this state of being? And can artistic practice better sensitize us to emergent challenges? Art is a powerful tool to redress and reimagine our world. We felt it was time to look back and reflect. Asymmetrical Objects, at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, endeavors to articulate a visual vocabulary that addresses these issues. The certainties of the Enlightenment have long collapsed and we are struggling to make sense of an unruly world.

The exhibition title is drawn from the work of Timothy Morton who the Guardian calls “the philosopher prophet of the Anthropocene.” The Anthropocene is a concept that looks at man’s alienation from nature through deep time and the geological cataclysms it has initiated. Morton has characterized the phase we are in as the “Asymmetrical Phase” in which forces beyond our cognition that he calls “hyperobjects” take on a life of their own, much like the objects we create and house in a Museum develop a life removed from their maker.

In January 2018, the Museum completed ten years since it opened to the public in 2008, after a major restoration that took 5 years and won UNESCO’s Award of Excellence. In March 2017 the Museum completed 160 years since it was first opened to the public in 1857 by Lord Canning. Inspired by these important dates, the exhibition takes its cue from the earliest impulses, founded on the principles of nature and science, to establish the Museum. In the 19th century science represented certainty and objectivity.

George Birdwood, the first curator of the erstwhile Victoria and Albert Museum, Bombay, now the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, was a botanist. He not only designed the Museum but also the botanical garden next door. Nature and science were the tropes employed by the British administration to observe and order Indian society and culture. The Museum is one of the earliest examples of this attempt to understand the local natural history, social order and cultural and artistic production. The Museum continues to engage with these themes by questioning earlier assumptions and including contemporary art practice that can present a more nuanced and inclusive counter history.

We invited ten of our foremost artists whose practice includes an interest in nature and science, to respond to these ideas and to explore the Age of the Anthropocene, its impact on the environment and the effects on biodiversity. Each artist has explored a different theme. Jitish Kallat’s work powerfully encapsulates issues surrounding water; Manish Nai evokes notions of consumption and excess; Mithu Sen explores language as a construct that can be a barrier or a form of rejuvenation; Reena Kallat approaches nature as a holistic idea that knows no borders and investigates how man has created artificial divisions; Prajakta Potnis creates non spaces which suggest an alien world we might be heading towards, Atul Bhalla explores the idea of pollution in both the philosophical and physical realm; Rohini Devasher addresses issues of deep time and geological phenomena; Sahej Rahal builds on the idea of hybridity and mutation; Ranbir Kaleka captures nature’s fury and its profound consequences; Shilpa Gupta implicates all of us in the debris and destruction around us. Is healing and redemption possible?