In the photograph series “Breath by Breath” on display at Exhibit 320 gallery, Delhi-based artist Vibha Galhotra is wearing a mask, and collecting polluted air with the help of butterfly catchers, from many sites including Mayapuri, Lajpat Nagar and South Extension, where the Central Pollution Control Board collects its air quality data. She is at a metro construction site in the morning hours; beside a generator surrounded by the smoke it has produced; and alongside a pile of truck engines. The idea for the work struck her when she was browsing through Amazon, and was amazed at the prospect of how many companies online were offering air collected from Birmingham, Australia and even the mountains, in the form of air jars. “I saw this sale of air jars, where they collect the air with the help of these butterfly catchers and put it in jars. So I am basically buying a breath for $115? That came across as a mockery to me, because somebody somewhere is making fun of us, thinking we are puppets. My work questions the ownership of air. It has happened to our water and we cannot do anything about it.”
With her latest show “(In)Sanity in the Age of Reason”, Galhotra raises many questions, with her 12 works on display, comprising installations, sculptures, films and photographs. As construction debris line the floor of the gallery, Galhotra looks at the condition of the five elements in present day and the state of urban development in India, especially Delhi where she has been living for 14 years. The show follows the same lines of her exhibition “Absur-City-Pity-Dity” at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York in 2015, which chronicled the environmental damage done to the Yamuna river. “Concrete rubble found everywhere is becoming the new earth. On the three inches of top layer, which is very important for human beings to live, we are putting a concrete layer. So the barren land is not going to produce anything. I wanted to bring that common sense into life while sitting in the white cube space of a gallery because it comes across as a sophisticated space, and your views are going to be taken more seriously,” says the 39-year-old.
The installation Remains, comprises two encased glass boxes, where a black-and-white cloth are seen dipped in resin. It offers “before” and “after” view of a long piece of cotton fabric that was dipped into the Yamuna, before the Wazirabad nallah and one after travelling through it, to highlight and archive the contamination of the river. “The same water that turned this white cloth to black is being filtered and sent to us,” says Galhotra. In front of these sculptures, a glass box filled with broken CDs and pen drives and electronic waste sourced by the artist from Nehru Place, the well-known electronics market, rests among the concrete jungle. It highlights the effects of e-waste on the oceans, including the Pacific ocean and the Indian ocean.
Marks, a work highlighting the element of prithvi, is made of linoleum mats, and talks about the imprints we are leaving behind on the planet. One of the four mats that have been framed on the wall, were placed in front of a State Bank of India branch on the first day of demonetisation, while another was put in one of the busy streets of Greater Kailash market. They chronicle the innumerable human footprints that stepped on them, and the shoe marks thereby turn into a piece of art. The inspiration for the work and show is artist Stanley Brouwn’s manifesto 4000 AD. “His earliest works engaged passersby. Around 1969 in Amsterdam, he used to lay papers is different places on the street, and pedestrians and cyclists would tread over them. His idea was people don’t even bother, because after the war no one was bothered about something unpredictable lying somewhere. They didn’t want to waste their time looking at it and were very individualistic and self-centred. Those papers became his works and I pay him a homage through this,” says Galhotra.
Galhotra pursued a bachelor’s degree from the Government College of Arts in graphics from Chandigarh, and followed it with a master’s from Kala-Bhavan, Santiniketan, in 2001. Talking about her hopes from the show, she says, “Despite everything, I am trying to find beauty from the pain through this show.”
The exhibition is at Exhibit 320, Lado Sarai, till April 16