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Does The Blue Sky Lie?: Testimonies of Air’s Toxicities 2021

“Does the Blue Sky Lie?: Testimonies of Air’s Toxicities,” is a 3 year project partially funded by The Prince Claus Fund, through which it is supporting art projects that engage with the idea of air and toxicity: its composition, movement, landscapes and scales of impact; paying special attention to its social connections.

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About this edition

Can man live elsewhere than in air?” – Luce Irigray

Air is the site of “smell, breath, wind, weather, air conditioning, air pollution, science, sound, oxygen, smoking–the tactility of the atmosphere.”

It travels across all spatial scales– from the vastness of winds blowing across continents, to the regional particularities of pollutants, down to the intimate exchange it has with the human body, as each breath brings air into the body’s interior. Even as air permeates our bodies, the ways in which it enters our consciousness are limited. The panic around the smog that plagues the Northern part of the Indian subcontinent hinges on a logic of visuality– it is only when there is a visible haze that attention turns toward the air quality, when even the sunniest day registers air quality levels well above hazardous. How do we begin to think about the air and what drives it to be toxic, even when it is ephemeral, invisible, removed from our consciousness by the deceptive blueness of the sky? What are the ways in which embodied knowledge of our exchanges with air can be used as testimonies to call for collective action, or sites to understand the intertwined meanings of nature?

In the first year of Does the Blue Sky Lie?: Testimonies of Air’s Toxicities, seven projects by artists, spatial designers and creative practitioners will mobilize attention to these questions and collectively reflect on the micro-encounters we have with the atmosphere by way of testimonies of toxic air, and imagining alternate atmospheric futures. The work will culminate in a public art festival in February 2022. Additionally, there will be walkthroughs, film screenings, workshops and panels.

Fields of View will design and produce a game that will contextualize the different artist installations together, as well as serve as a tool to tie them together. The game will touch upon ideas of hyperlocal pollution, the air as commons, as well as the unequal ways in which toxicity is borne by different bodies along lines of gender, caste and class. It will allow for multiple players to play the game. The persistent artefact generated by the gameplay will allow people to observe the differences in outcomes based on their actions. The game will become a unique interactive engagement during the duration of the festival to engage audiences and can remain as a tool that can be disseminated post the festival. Additionally, we are also designing an interactive online campaign to collect Testimonies of Toxicity using social media channels and are in the process of creating a website to display these testimonies that we will collect from citizens over Delhi and India.

Meet The Artists

○ Nitin Bathla: Nitin Bathla is an urbanist and researcher whose proposed installation builds on the performativity of a fairly common scene that plays along the sides of new and upcoming highways in India. This scene is that of real estate salesmen pitching dream homes to passing cars through street side promotional kiosks. Seemingly innocuous at first, these socio-material artefacts lie at the intersection of very complex flows of transnational finance, planning and architecture expertise. Their intervention proposes to introduce an uncanny encounter through subverting the architecture and site of the promotional kiosk that the real estate salesmen employ.They will subvert the roadside site of the generic promotional kiosk, by turning the kiosk into a space facilitating critical inquiries into air pollution and how real estate ties into it. The roadside setting for the art project will flatten the hierarchies of access, as it is open to public(s) regardless of their class, gender, or physical appearance.

○ Sharbendu De: Sharbendu is a photographer based in New Delhi, Sharbendu De is a lens-based artist, academic and a writer from India with over 15 years of experience. His philosophy is influenced by deliberations on human society, gender, climate change, environmental degradation and its impact on human and non-human societies. For the project, he is proposing to create a staged photographic intervention which will be exhibited in public spaces across Delhi. The intervention will engage with the idea of climate-induced future-scapes, creating staged photographs and an immersive experience that speculatively imagines what future lives may look like in the climate crisis, with technological and natural interventions to control spaces and make them liveable.

○ Depanshu Gola and Abhimanyu Singhal co-run ‘Architecture for Dialogue — @afd.city’, a research and design practice pushing the boundaries of architecture across physical and digital mediums. Along with Salil Parekh, a design researcher, creative technologist and avid gamer-developer artist, the group will adopt a spatial lens to study air pollution. Making use of digital and physical experiments to engage audiences, the project is an attempt to ‘see’ air around us in greater detail, prompt deeper questions and inspire a sense of curiosity amidst the pollution crisis.

○ Bhagwati Prasad: Bhagwati has planned to engage a gathering of 40 young adults, including safai workers, auto drivers, young artists and students, through a series of conversations about what breath and breathing means to them in an environment such as New Delhi, especially since not everybody is exposed to bad air equally. How is air pollution and toxicity perceived in vernacular registers and understood by different people forms the crux of his inquiry, which will end in a mass drawing exercise involving some of the people he has been speaking to. They will use the word दम, meaning breath, but also having other connotations, as the entry point around which to create a large-scale drawing unpacking responses to this inquiry.

○ Aditya Garg and Visual Respiration, an immersive theater company is building a public performative work that revolves around breath and collecting different breath patterns. The team has 4-5 entry points that serve as building blocks to the performance, one part of which will try delve into the breath’s connection to physical labour & dust, creating a repository of embodied gestures, breaths and coughs that can speak to the embodied experience of breathing in toxic environments. Their performers are improv professionals, and will alter these 4-5 larger scripts based on the context of the public sites they are performing in.

○ Hues of Blue, by Analina Sanyal, in partnership with ThinkArts, is engaged in workshops with school-children across India led by youth collaborators in conversation with scientists and other experts, to ask young people what their sky looks like, and in the process, examine how there can be multiple different skies experiencing the same environmental and ecological crises. These responses are unfolding in the form of an online intervention at the moment, and will culminate in an online workshop/ with some artefacts and responses from the session exhibited publicly during the festival.

○ Achia Anzi will explore the relation between capitalism, air pollution and the gradual privatization of our commons. He will create a fictive world: Together We Breathe is a fictional NGO – inspired by real organizations – with the mission to solve Delhi’s smog. Established and run by the rather eccentric Dr Ajay Chopra, the “solutions” that the NGO proposes for air pollution, accentuate the inability of neoliberalism to cope with its own crisis. The project will include the development of a website/blog and social media account in which Dr Chopra’s neoliberal philosophy will be presented and an environmental science lab in which Dr Chopra carries out his experiments, culminating in the development of an ‘air purifier’ that will tackle Delhi’s air pollution crisis. Prof. Achia Anzi is an artist and researcher based in New Delhi. Anzi is an assistant professor of visual arts at Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, OP Jindal Global University.

*This page is available as a downloadable accessibility document.


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