Welcome to the 48*C blog!
Stay posted to this page for daily updates, ramblings, observations, opinion and most importantly conversations on what promises to be a truly epochal affair: 8 sites around the city, 25 international artists (or 26, depending on whether you count Samit Basu and Sarnath Banerjee separately), bus rides and bicycle tours, an introduction to the metro system for a lot of people around here who I know have never been on it, a whole set of something called EcoTalks (there will be many such neologisms by the time this is through, like it or not), a performance by the radical Swiss dance allegorists Da Motus!, a concert by the inevitable Indian Ocean, and EcoFilms films films. The 48c blog is intended to be an open space, with room for discussion, photographs and vituperative name-calling. Just kidding about the last one.
This must be the most ambitious public art project the city has ever seen (those strangely spermatazoid stainless steel sculptures that sprouted up one dark night by the AIIMS flyover don’t count), and it addresses a key issue that affects us all: the pressing ecological crisis that looms larger with each passing smog-filled winter morning. But what can art do about it? The first issue to be resolved by deep-thinking readers of this blog: what is the “public” in the 48c subtitle: “public.art.ecology” Are we to understand that “art” is the hapless mediator, stuck between two opposing terms, caught between the human sphere of the “public” and the nonhuman sphere of “ecology”? a buffer zone between politics and nature? Or does “art” somehow have the potential to act as a solvent for the loosening of the distinction, creating space for the emergence of something different, for a politics of nature?
Pooja Sood includes, in her curatorial note on the project (available here), a quote from critic Lucy Lippard that is as good a place to start as any:
From the 1960s through most of the 1990s, the Left considered environmentalism to be ‘soft politics’. While the bold action of Greenpeace and the extremes of ‘eco-terrorism’ had to be acknowledged, for the most part those who supposedly cared more for the earth and its creatures/creations than for people’s revolutions were perceived as acting from a kind of political surburbia. Today, sparked by indisputable proof of human agency in climate change, the environment is in the centre foreground. It has become the radical edge.
And so we find that the simple distinction between human and nonhuman worlds–the very foundation for a humanist perspective, going back to Aristotle–has, like so many of the myths of modernity, started to fracture and come apart, or better yet, the two categories it once separated have started to collapse. The contempt that revolutionaries of yore felt for the “suburban” environmentalists, as described by Lippard, is one born of a sense that politics in its most important sense is a human affair, that the sphere of politics and the sphere of nature are intrinsically separate. The fact that the environment has become such a key site of political contestation, whether at the (romanticized) “radical edge” or at the boring old middle, is a sign of a significant shift–a move towards a politics that takes in nonhumans as well as humans. What accounts for this shift? Again, Pooja Sood:
While concern for Delhi‟s ecology receives fragmented attention, usually following infrastructure-related civic crises, and periodic lip service from city agencies, the meshed social issues of environmental access, control and distribution continue to be a serious and exponentially growing problem. Imbalances arising from the unthinking abuse, brutal overuse and relentless degradation of urban environmental services has almost compelled an overlap in the calibration of natural and manmade ecological disasters.
To borrow from Gayatri Spivak, we have to ask: can the nonhuman speak? And if so, how in the world are we to understand? If not, how do we prevent the nonhuman from becoming yet another ventriloquist dummy, another sorry stooge for the man behind the curtain to speak through and for? The problem here is obviously of a piece with the central problem in strictly human politics, that is to say it is a problem of representation. The modern contract holds that the world of nature consists of things, while the human world consists of agents; and that scientists speak with certainty concerning, and on behalf of, the objective facts of nonhuman nature, while politicians speak subjectively concerning, and on behalf of, the political aspirations and contestations of their human constituents. But the fragility of the distinction is apparent: the scientists’ facts are increasingly contested, disputed and rendered uncertain–politicized; the politicians’ agency and decisions increasingly find themselves pushed back upon, resisted, shifted, answered by the nonhuman world–naturalized. How do (should?) we consciously bring nonhumans into the arena of political representation? And what can public art do to intervene in that process? Who and what is included in the “public”?