Negotiating Routes: Ecologies of the Byways II

“The planting of seven thousand oak trees is thus only a symbolic beginning. And such a symbolic beginning requires a marker…. The intention of such a tree-planting event is to point up the transformation of all of life, of society, and of the whole ecological system….” Joseph Beuys-7000 Oaks, Documenta 7, Kassel 1982.

‘7000 Oaks’ functions not just literally, in practical environmental terms, but symbolically, as “inspirational images.” It embodied, metonymically, Beuys’s utopian and poetic metaphysic of a social sculpture designed to effect a revolution in human consciousness, “the human being as a spiritual being.” By means of its permanence and longevity, it also sought to render “the world a big forest, making towns and environments forest-like.”
In 2006, the Taiwanese artist Wu Mali floated the idea of diverse artists groups planting trees across the Tropic of Cancer – a queen’s necklace adorning the earth – a project that was the outcome of individual initiative and could work as an intimate, small scale project, as well as a highly ambitious, potentially vast undertaking meant to be replicated elsewhere.

Inspired by the need to render “the world a big forest, making towns and environments forest-like”, Negotiating Routes: Ecologies of the Byways, is a two-year project inviting reflections by artists on the anxiety of ‘development’ embodied in the infrastructural development across India and its coexistence with local ecologicies. The Road Transport Ministry has chalked out an ambitious plan of the biggest public-private partnership whereby 15,000 km of roads and highways would be developed over the next three years across India resulting in the Golden Corridors which will run north to south and east to west across the country. To expedite the implementation of over 165 projects under the National Highway Development Programme (NHDP) during the year, steps have already been taken to put land acquisition on fast track, shifting of utilities, obtaining clearances and taking legal and police action against non-performing contractors and displaced villagers and tribals alike.

The Negotiating Routes project invites artists, artists groups or professionals to propose projects which are site-specific and have an inter-disciplinary approach that combines research and art creation by artists and local communities, addressing the visible and invisible transformations currently taking place in their immediate environments. The project will encourage archiving of local knowledge and mythologies about various ecologies like the flora, fauna, home remedies, stories and folklores, as also the making of an artist by a specific action or project.

Over two years, Negotiating Routes hopes to map the various project sites across the country to create an alternative road map where artists and communities have come together and have been involved in discussions on the regeneration of the local ecology of the cities or villages that they inhabit. Using the nomenclature of the National Highway or NH1, each site, ironically named NR1, NR2 will form the nodal points of this alternative mapping as they connect to each other metaphorically, a route ‘ marked’ by art where transfer and exchange of knowledge has taken place.

This project was initiated by Varsha Nair and is curated by Pooja Sood at KHOJ.

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