Critics’ Picks

View of “[In]Sanity in the Age of Reason,” 2016–17.

View of “[In]Sanity in the Age of Reason,” 2016–17.

New Delhi

Vibha Galhotra

Exhibit 320
F-320, Old Mehrauli Badarpur Road, Lado Sarai
March 18–April 17, 2017

Peering through the dark glass facade of this gallery, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s still under construction. Vibha Galhotra’s “[In]Sanity in the Age of Reason” brings the detritus of unsustainable urban development into the white cube. Galhotra’s practice has long concerned itself with the rapidly transforming ecologies of cities and rivers.

References to the artist Stanley Brouwn and climate-change expert Will Steffen are not merely theoretical here. A linoleum-based work titled Marks, 2016–17, which features footprints—as well as photos of people and vehicles leaving their imprints—harks back to Brouwn’s early experiments involving laying paper sheets on the road. In Acceleration, 2017, Galhotra represents one of Steffen’s climate-change graphs using ankle bells, or ghunghroos. A similar literalism is apparent in Breath by Breath, 2016–17, a series of photographs documenting Galhotra’s performance piece aimed at drawing attention to Delhi’s air pollution. She is shown against a variety of backdrops—fields, metro construction sites, and garbage heaps—collecting air with a large net. The most successful piece is the ten-minute film Manthan, 2015, in which four people in rubber suits are shown roiling in the slimy waters of the Yamuna River and submerging white sheets that become coated with black sludge. Set to Galhotra’s classical singing and with slow-motion, wide-angle aerial shots and close-ups of the river, the film has an elegiac quality. Its sequel, Remains, 2015–16, comprises the toxin-slathered sheets coated with resin, recording the contamination of the river. One is reminded of the environmental art of Ravi Agarwal, much of which is also centered on rivers.

The show’s real strength is in its curation. The white rubber gloves used to clean plant leaves in the video Cleansing, 2016, are mounted next to the screen on which it plays, and the rubble and building material spread throughout the gallery and around the works remind the viewer of the invisible processes, artistic and political, that led to the conception of the show.