No place like the present

16 January - 09 March, 2019

We map our lives across an atlas of paradox as the second decade of the 21st century draws to a close. The hypermodernity we have embraced, or which has enveloped us, commits us to accelerated fantasies and condemns us to collapsing infrastructure. Even as we choose to inhabit deep digital space, we participate involuntarily in the annihilation of our shared planetary ecology. Runaway consumerism erodes the common good. State machines repress dissent and the aspirations of marginal populations. Urbanisation spells the despoliation of rural economies. We are increasingly preoccupied with the imminence of climatic and ecological catastrophe, often defined under the sign of the Anthropocene. With our cynical and unreflective exploitation of the environment, we risk the same fate that overtook the dinosaurs: species extinction.

No Place Like the Present brings together 12 of India’s most salient and thoughtful artists to address this predicament: Arunkumar H G, Atul Dodiya, Baiju Parthan, Bharti Kher, Charmi Gada Shah, Jagannath Panda, Jitish Kallat, Ravi Agarwal, Ryan Lobo, Sudhir Patwardhan, Sunil Padwal, and Veer Munshi. These artists have engaged with such themes as the violation of the landscape; the exponential rise of metropolitan labyrinths in which we try and craft our destinies; the conflict among species; the schisms and fissures that threaten our sense of belonging and deepen our sense of alienation. At the same time, they articulate more redemptive possibilities.
They respond to the challenges of our epoch without lapsing into an uncritical nostalgia for the past, or into the fatalism of historical inevitability. For some of them, their artistic practice is animated by a scientific curiosity, a commitment to research. For others, it assumes the form of a quest for new ways of straddling apparent binaries like poetics and technology, the utopian and the pragmatic. Working on a variety of scales ranging between the intimate and the cosmic, they demonstrate the courage to formulate and confront ethical problems. Some of them retain the prerogative to assert a joyous sense of life’s abundant capacity for surprise. All of them testify to the power of the aesthetic experience to guide us back to the world rather than away from it.
The title of this exhibition, while playing on the expression, ‘No time like the present’, makes ironic reference to the ancient dream of Utopia, an imagined land of perfection set against the messiness of actuality, its name derived from the Greek ou-topos, ‘no place’.
- By Ranjit Hoskote