the fluid city

In a megalopolis such as Mumbai, the role water plays is paradoxical and contradictory, it being scarce and abundant at once. It surrounds the city and is an integral part of its landscape; yet most people have limited or no access to it. And when it is plentiful during the monsoons, it either washes away or invades people’s houses. There is a constant tussle between desire, denial and rejection of it: in the city, water is both a blessing and a curse.
Our querulous relations with water are closely connected to our own associations with Mumbai. This is the fluid city, perpetually in motion, amorphous, out of control, incapable of categorization, beyond repair. Just like its ruthless self, its people turn into delirious schizophrenics, entrapped by a vicious game dictated by its policy makers, water mafia, the rich and powerful, who condition how water determines the way everyone lives, loves, works, sleeps and stays alive.

[en]counters – the fluid city emerges out of this daily struggle, in this Zindabad city that has outgrown its own natural and manmade boundaries. The project, organized by ArtO2 in partnership with the Mohile Parikh Center, invites a group of Mumbai-based artists to investigate and interrogate its spiritual, ecological and economic significance in relational, urbanistic, linguistic and historical terms. From January 6-9, 2011, Tushar Joag, Pradeep Mishra, Prajakta Potnis, Sharmila Samant, Vijay Sekhon, Uday Shanbhag and Parag Tandel will carry out artistic interventions in specific locations across Mumbai.

While each artist draws from the city’s history and geography, bringing into perspective their own memories, divulging their own identities and subjectivities, each work is deterritorialized, discursive, not belonging to just one specific place or interpretation but connected to multiple places and meanings. By permeating these frictions, the works are an interlocking of people – with specific references to communities that have become marginalized and will soon face extinction, the city – with its rapacious, cancerous, callous urbanization and lacunae in infrastructural development and water – a basic human right that is denied. In between, there is a search for some balance between man and nature amidst this constant rupturing of the fluid city.

In his personal travel back in time, Uday Shanbhag physically and spiritually goes through a rediscovery of his own identity by inserting himself in the once-familiar territory of the Koli community, themselves marginalized as a minority group of fishermen in the city.
Parag Tandel
belongs to the Koli group and, through his refuse-fishing performances and garbage sculptures, reiterates the community’s peripheral positioning and disintegration. He alludes to his own history and the withering away not only of his people’s livelihood, but also of entire species of fish and the altered natural landscape in the area.
Vijay Sekhon
treads the blurring line between denial of water and erasure of dignity where people living in less privileged sections of society are forced to use sewage water to cleanse themselves. He attempts to reclaim their dignity through his nautanki performances.
In this fractured city, Pradeep Mishra’s project finds harmony between man and nature as he hoists a series of flags on an iconic fort that overlooks a rich mangrove forest attracting exotic species of migratory birds. Each adorning white flag, embroidered with bloodshot images of birds and other creatures, plays the role of protector to the city as he interrogates the ever-changing geographic panorama locating the city’s built heritage against its natural resources.
Tushar Joag
’s human fountain plays on the dichotomy between urban development and the quality of life illustrated through the irrational construction of high-rise towers that project a new style of living, but with no access to water. By recreating a festive spirit, he deconstructs illusory notions of modernization where luxury living is the new mantra and exposes the entrapments of consumption that have today become the new paradigms for affluence.
And to further expose the political imbroglio, Sharmila Samant, in a literal site-specific survey, employs a water diviner to track existing water bodies across the city, that have now been veiled over by buildings, roads, encroachments. The rod’s divine intervention reveals how simple solutions could resolve the city’s impending crises. In a similar quest to water resources in the city, Prajakta Potnis’s Tracing a Disappearance rediscovers the original contours of an old lake now shrunk to a muddy pond by drawing its external limits with an ineffable line of sand.

The purpose for this project is to challenge artists to deal, face and interpret contemporary issues of our everyday. We wish to show how contemporary art practices can encourage people to question themselves and the society in which they live, to engage with the spaces they inhabit. What emerges are works of art experimental in nature, always open to interpretation, to conflict, to negotiation.

This project has been made possible by foundations and organizations fostering cross-disciplinary collaborations as a value to be encouraged and cultivated in their most experimental and innovative forms: the Goethe Institut-Max Mueller Bhavan, Asia Society and the Environmental Management Centre in Mumbai; the Netherlands-based Hivos, Arts Collaboratory, Doen Foundation and Mondriaan Foundation.

The pictures in this section were taken by Binaifer Bharucha, Claudio Maffioletti, Pradeep Mishra, Prajakta Potnis, Uday Shanbhag, Vijay Sekhon