Art, Ecology, Politics: A Roundtable

A new configuration of ecology and politics has emerged in the post-globalisation decades, with debates around nuclear power, forests, mining, toxicity, urbanism, and GM crops joining new ways of thinking about water, air, and land. These debates, movements and ecological emergences have also foregrounded an emerging eco-aesthetics. As artists, filmmakers and social theorists have addressed this moment in their work.

The questions of eco-aesthetics has now become a critical one in the context of a general rhetorical charge of ‘saving the environment’ by states, corporation and various financial elites. Eco-aesthetics traverses not just domain of art practice but also of social and political theory - the links between humans and non-human formations, debates on political ecology, and the possibility of alternatives beyond the present.

A recent special issue of the journal Third Text looks at many of the issues above. This roundtable brings some of the contributors from the Third Text issue as well as other speakers to open up the larger question of eco-aesthetics in the postcolonial world.

Speakers:

T.J. Demos is a Reader in the Art History Department at University College London. He writes widely on modern and contemporary art and politics, and is the author of Return to the Postcolony: Spectres of Colonialism in Contemporary Art (Sternberg Press, 2013); and The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis (Duke University Press, 2013). He also guest-edited Third Text 120 (January 2013) on“Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology.”

Ravi Agarwal is an artist, writer, curator and environmentalist. He explores issues of urban space, ecology, capital in an interrelated way, working with photographs, video, performance, on-site installations, and public art. His earlier work was as a documentary photographer was on labour and the street. Agarwal has participated in several international curated shows including Document XI (Kassel 2002), Horn Please (Berne 2007) Indian Highway (2009 -2012), Newtopia (2012) as well as several national shows and solo shows. He writes extensively on ecological issues, and is also founder director of the Indian environmental NGO, Toxics Link.

Sheba Chhachhi works with lens based images, both still and moving, investigating questions of gender, ecology, violence and visual culture. Her work often recuperates ancient iconography, myth and visual traditions to calibrate an inquiry into the contemporary moment. Chhachhi began in the 1980s, both activist and photographer, documenting the women’s movement in India. By the 1990s, Chhachhi moved to creating collaborative staged photographs, eventually turning to large photo based multimedia installations. Her photographic work retrieves marginal worlds: of women, mendicants, and forgotten forms of labour. Chhachhi creates immersive environments, bringing the contemplative into the political in both site-specific public art and independent works. She has exhibited widely in India and internationally. Chhachhi lives and works in Delhi.

The Raqs Media Collective [Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta] enjoys playing a plurality of roles, often appearing as artists, occasionally as curators, sometimes as philosophical agent provocateurs. They make contemporary art, have made films, curated exhibitions, edited books, staged events, collaborated with architects, computer programmers, writers and theatre directors. Their work, which has been exhibited widely in major international spaces and events, locates them along the intersections of contemporary art, historical enquiry, philosophical speculation research and theory. They live and work in Delhi, and co-founded the Sarai programme at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (www.sarai.net) in 2000.

Sanjay Kak is an independent documentary film-maker based in New Delhi, and his work includes Words on Water, Jashn-e-Azadi (How We Celebrate Freedom), and the forthcoming Red Ant Dream. He writes occasional commentaries and reviews books he is passionate about.