The end of the world: it’s here and it’s doing yoga!
While this week monitoring group Global Carbon Project announced that carbon emissions will continue to rise in 2017 after a three-year plateau, Elon Musk announced that his massive battery project for South Australia is over 80% complete, on track to be finished within 100 days. Trying to fit together these futures of environmental collapse or technological renewal animates Sydney-based artist Kalanjay Dhir and his first solo exhibition, Heavy Time/s, on now at Firstdraft Gallery.
Dhir’s works intertwine present, past and future. Productive Labour #2, which consists of a large sphere on an exercise treadmill, evokes Sisyphean ideas of perpetual movement yet in a state of stasis. The accompanying artist’s note explains that the mechanism will continue for as long as coal powers the gallery. This is part of Dhir’s practice of challenging assumptions about the inherently progressive nature of art in Australia.
“My everyday is always knocking down the high horse we all have in the art world. Being morally and ethically above people. We use the same process and awful systems as regular society.”
However, Dhir resists letting his work be seen as fatalistic. In June this year, Dhir was commissioned by the Parramatta Artist Studios, where he has a residency, to perform a work for its open house, Movers and Makers. In this work, entitled Saying Doom, Dhir took on the persona of a street preacher, attempting to fit the idea of an apocalypse into Hindu theology, which lacks any concept of the end of the world.
“The way I developed that work was just watching people in Parramatta saying ‘Repent now, repent now.’ And it was then I kind of had this lightbulb moment of trying to translate or explain Hindu beliefs in a more Western way.”
For Dhir, this work marks that occurred over this past year while residency at the Parramatta Artist Studios. Previously, Dhir had shied away from making works that explicitly referenced his identity and culturally Hindu upbringing, however Heavy Time/s includes this aspect alongside his exploration of an impending apocalypse.
In Hydroyoga (3-body) a full-length naked image of Dhir lying face-down is printed onto a red yoga mat, while next to it stands a copper pot with mango leaves. This direct reference to Hindu iconography represents the solidification of Dhir’s inclusion of South Asian cultural practices in his art, something that Dhir explored in a previous iteration of Hydroyoga, shown in May as part of the group exhibition Flat Pack at Tributary Projects in Canberra.
“I think this year, I dunno, I feel like I've just had more religious thinking as a whole as a person,” mused Dhir. “I've started to reflect a lot on my upbringing and realised that what I took as normal, I mean it is normal, but what I took as normal is not the standard and the baseline.”
Yoga, with its roots in South Asian spiritual practices but its present inextricably tied to Western appropriations of the practice, provides a way of looking at Dhir’s practice and philosophy.
“It's so funny that yoga is an ancient practice that's been going on for thousands of years and a yoga mat is such a Kmart object. And it's now become a necessity and a synonym for yoga which I think is really beautiful but also really sad.”
At the same time as Dhir has included aspects of his cultural background, he has also tried to make his work more accessible.
“I feel like the thing I learnt the most, looking at how differently I talked about my work from the start of the year to now is actually realising how much you have to simplify things and not over-intellectualise.”
This accessibility is on show in the major new work of this exhibition. Heavy Times, made in collaboration with Canberra-based 3D artist Grace Blake brings together Dhir’s exploration of the end of the world with his online-based research practice, something that he shares with Blake.
“We both live online and read similar things, so it was really like talking about accelerationism and those popular trends.”
At the same time as these theories are constantly being refined and updated in the comments and replies, Dhir sees his art as an ongoing process.
“I feel like me and Grace [Blake] might still work on it when she has time and I have time. It's kind of why it's better to be an artist than a theorist because I can put these ideas I have in my head on a plaque and then work through it later.”
Heavy Times combines theories of the future that circulate through online forums and blogs, and depicts them as the names of competing horses in an animated dystopic horse race. These theories range from Roko’s basilisk, a thought experiment that proposes that in the future an all-powerful Artificial Intelligence would retroactively punish those who did not contribute to its creation, to the entrepreneur Elon Musk, who offers a grandiose vision of technological innovation avoiding environmental catastrophe.
“I think the show hinged on two approaches to the future,” notes Dhir. “I guess one of them was alternative or more positive futures, but the other one was really seeing it as a cycle.”
The exhibition as a whole combines paraphernalia of the Western cult of exercise with South Asian spiritual objects. For Dhir this is a mixing of myths, “one ancient which is the Hindu myth that there'll be a horseman that comes and ushers in the end of the world, but then also imagining if once all the technology accelerates to a point of such exponential growth, then this breaking point of the next frontier. How would it occur and what are the politics of that?”
Dhir’s work will be on show at Firstdraft until November 24. You can catch him at the artist talks at the gallery on November 23 from 6-7 pm.