Delhi is a city choked in climate change. Mostly unregulated by urban planning, the city has colored the Yamuna river with an untold amount of sewage, darkened its skies with the particulate matter of thousands of commuters, and expanded its borders with illegal developments. Every monsoon season scrubs the skies clean, and recent developments, such as the conversion of public buses to CNG, have improved conditions, but 40% of its residents still live in virtual slums. Facing this landscape head-on is the festival 48 degrees Celsius, an exhibition of art at the intersection of urban planning, ecological rescue and aesthetic glory, which opened yesterday. Taking place from December 12 to December 21, the event will feature a series of tours, talks, performances, conversations, and works of contemporary art.
The name 48 degrees Celsuis is derived from Dehli’s escalating summer heat, but also from a kind of cultural fever: the environmental changes, whether at the banks of the Yamuna, at the edges of the forest, or in the streets, surrounded by the sounds of thousands of cars, are stress-inducing. The following are a few examples of the works featured at the festival:
Artist Krishnarj Chonat takes ecological initiative quite literally in her piece Crash! which envisions the airdropping of re-forestry supplies. The Sandalwood tree, an endangered species, is greatly threatened by illegal logging– the wood is heavy and fetches a high price, as does sandalwood essential oil. Chonat addresses not only the literal threat of the loss of a species, but the feeling of loss and abandonment that come with the destruction of a piece of the iconic landscape.
The piece Hocus-Pocus, in contrast, does not engage directly with the city’s ecology, but instead takes notice of a monument made irrelevant by neglect. Artist Friso Witteveen looks at the Jantar Mantar, a series of 18th-century architectural structures meant to guide, outline and define the night sky. There are five such Jantar Mantar located throughout west central India, once used to predict the movement of celestial bodies. Witteveen deconstructs these forms, asking: how useful is such an observatory when it is surrounded on all sides by monolithic skyscrapers, and the night sky is blurred with smog?
Lastly, Haubitz + Zoche step forward with The Yamuna Blues, a video sculpture of a submerged car. Submerged by monsoons? By the rising levels of the Yamuna? How do you drown what is practically an organism of Delhi?
These three artists, and several others participating in the festival, are fiercely fighting the heat in Delhi, both practically and conceptually.