On the cold foggy day of 22 December, 2022, artist Atul Bhalla addressed the camera placed close to the India-Nepal border. Akin to a TV reporter, he gave an update from the ground. But rather than airing his political views, he focused on the weather and the air quality index. Bhalla’s dispatch was meant to feed into Khoj International Artists' Association's two-year long ‘weather reporting’ project, which forms part of the World Weather Network—a coalition of 28 arts organisations across the world created in response to the global climate crisis.
In April 2022, Khoj, a not-for-profit contemporary arts organization, invited artists Atul Bhalla, Mithu Sen, Raqs Media Collective, Shahana Rajani and Zahra Malkani to form its Weather Station situated along the 28th parallel north latitude. They were called upon to undertake journeys in areas adjacent to the latitude and share “weather reports” in the form of notations, images, and other ruminations about changing weather patterns. The outcome of these itinerant and durational observatories is on display in the exhibition 28° North and Parallel Weathers, which runs till 12 March at Khoj Studios. The exhibition also features projects from two other weather stations: Listening through the Dead Zones by Jana Winderen from IHME Helsinki, and Ngā Raraunga o te Mākū: the data of moisture by Ron Bull, Stefan Marks, Janine Randerson, and Rachel Shearer from Te Tuhi in New Zealand. The projects pose the question: What worlds open up to us when we think of our bodies as a site for “attuned sensing”?
Bhalla’s proposed that on the solstices and equinox, he would be present at locations along the 28th parallel north. His journey, starting June 2022, was slated to begin at Neemrana and stretch from the town of Nanapara on the Nepal border to Ranjeetpura village near Pakistan. Along with photographs, videos and sound footage, Bhalla decided to collect stones on the way, which would act as a trope for the weather. Why stones? Bhalla invokes the Russian writer and poet Osip Mandelstam, who regarded the stone as a metaphor for the weather. As the poet wrote, “A stone is a diary of the weather, like a meteorological concentrate. A stone is nothing but weather itself, excluded from atmospheric space and banished to functional space.”
In his installation False Clouds and Real Deluges, Bhalla documents the extreme weather events he experienced in Bikaner, when it rained in June, normally considered the hottest month in the year. But equally Bhalla’s project is about the political climate and the polarized times we find ourselves in. Giveaway bags emblazoned with “Truth Was”, and a cloud printed on them, will be made available at Khoj studios, along with badges bearing words such as “false”, “clouds,” “real”, “deluges".
Raqs Media Collective’s expansive journey also took them to deserts and water bodies. It extended from the banks of the river Teesta in Sikkim and the step wells in Rajasthan to a farm in Ikisé, and the Osun-Osogbo sacred grove, both in Nigeria. Ruminating on their experiences, they share, “Over the past two years we have watched, listened, learnt. We have tried to think with wells and rivers. We have returned to a farm and to a forest” adding, “Ours has been a humid meditation on the conditions that make life.”
Raqs’s preoccupation with the “paradox of a thirsty planet,” where there is both a plentitude and lack of water, is reflected in their immersive installation Na-Bam (Measure without Measure). It features video, text, spoken word, images and drawings. Elaborating on the title of their work, they note, “Fishermen speak of water in some places as na-bam, where depth has no measure.” Na-Bam traverses the following categories: ‘Land. River. Sea. Storm. Sacred. Rain. Forest. Thirst. Profane. Harvest.’ It does so as to think about thirst and flood, both of which evoke the idea of a measure without measure.
Mithu Sen agreed to be a part of the weather station because she believed it was a much-needed and timely intervention. “The added element of potential adventure in chasing a specific geographical site, possibly a river, enhances the project’s appeal,” she says. Sen plotted an arc from her studio on the Delhi-Faridabad border situated at one end of the latitude to Arunachal Pradesh at the other. She decided to follow the course of the river Brahmaputra, which traverses three countries and is known by myriad names. Articulating the reasons for her choice, she says, “The marginalization of the Brahmaputra River in the historical narrative of the North-East is apparent. Despite its significant proportions, it lacks the attention afforded to rivers like the Ganga and Yamuna. This marginalization is a consequence of its geographical location in the Northeast, often disregarded as a passive appendage to the Indian mainland.”
While Sen spent most of her time in her studio, ruminating on the 28th parallel north, she flew from Delhi to Dibrugarh at the end of last year. On her six-day expedition to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, some of the places she visited included the banks of the river Siang and the Hump WWII Museum in Pasighat, dedicated to honouring the fallen US airmen during World War II. From the many hours of video she shot, she has created a very short clip. “Set in a distant future, the narrative unfolds as a fictional journey undertaken and validates the existence of a nearly vanished river,” she explains. “The river’s impending disappearance serves as a fictional scenario, expressing the most feared anticipation for our future—the absence of a river, a narrative reshaped by human violence.”
In Hamare Siyal Rishte/Our Watery Relations, extending from June 2022 to June 2023, Pakistani artists Shahana Rajani and Zahra Malkani continued their long-term research on the aquatic landscapes of Karachi. They conducted a series of experimental, site-specific workshops in collaboration with community/activist organisations such as the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum and the Indigenous Rights Alliance. These highlighted not just the rapidly changing ecologies and oceanic terrain but also the rich traditions of resistance and ongoing protection of these regions. The artists’ dispatches were sent from the Kathore and Malir regions, where the riverine landscape has been devastated by sand-mining and luxury real estate projects. Their final report envisages a narrative sound piece drawing from indigenous folktales and storytelling traditions.
By placing their bodies at various sites and connecting with local habitats and environments, the artists attest to the changing climatic conditions caused by global warming. Their projects visually bring to the fore how clouds, rivers and the weather transcend man-made borders and boundaries. This makes it all the more imperative for us to band together collectively to avert a global climate catastrophe.
‘28° North and Parallel Weathers’, runs till 12 March at Khoj Studios, New Delhi