Atul Bhalla and the weight of water

By Kanika Anand | The Sunday Guardian

Atul Bhalla continues the artist's engagement with environmental issues, specifically those engaging with the eco-politics of water. Featured in his ongoing solo exhibition at Vadehra Art Gallery, "Ya Ki Kuchh Aur!", are three projects documented in three global locations — "Deliverance" in New Delhi, "Inundation" in Hamburg and "Contestation" in Johannesburg. Researched since 2012, the projects suggest the universality of environmental issues, while highlighting associated socio-cultural conventions that hinder or alleviate the problems thereof.

The show begins quite poignantly with the three-channel video titled Deliverance I, which opens with a wide-angle shot of calm open waters. An empty boat floats slowly into the frame of the second screen, and then into the third. There's a moment of blankness before the centre screen lights up again with a visual of the boat at sunset, the city in the background and birds squawking before nightfall. In the quietude, the lonely boat is suddenly ablaze and the video ends. The message is clear and most beautifully executed as one walks to an installation titled Looking for Dvaipayana (island-born), a reference to the Hindu scholar Vyasa and an entry point to Bhalla's research on the laborious boat-making craft of the Mallah community. A tank of water, a pillar standing tall, a table with remnants of rock with the words YA in Hindi laid on the ground presented in an archival manner suggest the inevitability of human usage of water resources. A series of 30 photographs documenting the making of a boat — wood, iron nails, workmen's hands, and the rituals that guide each step of the boat's making — are presented on an adjacent wall in The Wake.

13 December 2014