Critics’ Picks

Atul Bhalla, Contestation—I, 2013, archival pigment print, 36“ x 54”.

Atul Bhalla, Contestation—I, 2013, archival pigment print, 36“ x 54”.

New Delhi

Atul Bhalla

Vadehra Art Gallery | D-40
D-40, Defence Colony
November 15–December 20, 2014

It is more like a plunge than a slow immersion: Entering Atul Bhalla’s solo show “Ya ki kuchh aur!” (It’s Always About Something Else!), one feels immediately surrounded by water—thanks to Bhalla’s three-channel video installation Adrift (on Dvaipayana), 2014. As the Ganges’s water reflects pink-hued evening light, an unmanned boat glides across the three screens. Then suddenly, inexplicably, it bursts into flames, a burning fireball on dark waters.

In this show, Bhalla deepens his investigations into two major strands of his artistic practice: water and walking. The former fascinates Bhalla, whether as a body of water or a bodily fluid. It bears myth and memory, history and knowledge. By immersing himself in it both physically (as he did in I Was Not Waving But Drowning, 2005) and metaphorically, he invokes environmental, sociological, political, and even religious narratives that have long accompanied the life-giving substance.

While immersion forms an important part of Bhalla’s practice, walking is more often its physical manifestation. He has walked along rivers and seas, in cities ranging from Delhi to Basel. “Inundation,” 2012, a series of photos he created during perambulations in Hamburg, bears echoes of Caspar David Friedrich: Shot in the cool northern light, the river Elbe mates with the sea, as water meets sky. Bhalla, meanwhile, made “Contestation,” 2013, while striding across South Africa’s golden grasslands—the resulting images a subtle reference to the deleterious effects of colonization and the lack of land reform. In a manner more poetic than didactic, Bhalla urges his viewers to reconnect with nature’s fragile ecosystem, the focus of his lens.