Dystopia & Memories: Babu Eshwar Prasad


“These images allow us to engage with environmental degradation and fast-paced change.”

All that is Solid Melts into Air.

Babu Eshwar Prasad
is a trained artist with an interest in sculpture, sound, photography, and film. He has also made two films—Gaalibeeja (Wind Seed) and Hariva Nadige Maiyella Kaalu (A Running River is All Legs). Prasad’s work has been showcased at Sakshi Gallery, Bodhi Art, Gallery Sumukha, MAMI, and the Mumbai Film Festival, amongst others.

All that is solid melts into air—Marx’s pronouncement on the dramatic reconstitution, an overturning of the world, so to speak, in the modern, industrial age, might have been filled with equal measures of promise and foreboding. But standing as we are, in another time, we find ourselves holding the short end of the stick. The extractive processes of brick making and mining have literally hollowed out the solid core of the earth. We are confronted with these melting sets on which the curtains have descended—the trolley of trucks and equipment are making their way through the Bellary district in Karnataka (at one point 149 mining sites were functioning here), the sprawling brickmaking units outside Guwahati in Assam—are now ghost settlements with submerged half-built structures.

These landscapes are rendered as panoramas—a format that gained currency in the 19th century. I was interested in playing with that seamless overview of nature, which when seen closely, is a composite landscape built from various fragments of different sites. The eye runs over the details, sees variations in soil colours and textures, and plays with distances and proximities.

In the photograph titled Through a Glass Darkly, the early photographic technologies like the camera obscura became an object of scrutiny. The image quotes in part a French engraving of an apparatus positioned in a landscape which was reproduced in Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie. It was the first such compilation of objective comprehensive knowledge. Here, the observation deck looks onto another landscape, this time reconstructed from Kemmanagundi in the Western Ghats, Karnataka. Some remnants are found here as well—a white shirt draped on the chair and a memento of a small scoop of earth.

Brick by Brick.

My interest lies in creating images. Coming from artistic training, where I work simultaneously with photography, painting, printmaking, video, film and sound, I am often thinking about the ways in which I can make a new photograph. There is an engagement with the mediums, with their own histories as tools and apparatuses that produce different kinds of image cultures. With experimentation, one can break their conventions and usages, and the viewers’ ways of receiving them.

I was particularly moved by the title of Chennai Photo Biennale’s exhibition—this idea of multiple maps of disquiet. The term disquiet presents itself as this unease, anxiety, worry seething under the surface, not necessarily as an all-visible crisis or emergency. It produces its own signs—it can be read to those who are perceptive, those who are keenly listening, watching, connecting. The idea of combining mapping, which is a more precise, cartographic exercise, with disquiet, seems particularly evocative to me.

I also think it is somewhat akin to what I am doing in my work. The panoramic landscapes that I am exhibiting, for example, are in the first instance seamless open spaces, but on closer look, littered with telltale signs of various activities and accumulations. I have worked with an archive of documented and found images of mining sites in Karnataka, collaged to produce a composite image that the viewer journeys on. This act of witnessing/withnessing allows us to engage with what has and is unfolding around us in terms of environmental degradation and fast-paced change. Soil surfaces, textures are available for us to read and discern the impact of these persistent and relentless exploitations.

To view his series Fast Forward to Zero, visit www.chennaiphotobiennale.com