Ravi Agarwal is an artist, writer
and environmentalist who presented a collaborative event together with Camilla
Boemio and Khoj Artists WorkshopsÂ to contribute to theÂ Maldives
Pavilion priorÂ to the opening of the biennale.
Camilla Boemio:Â You are an artist, a writer and an environmentalist.
Your work includes photography, video, installation and public art. You have
also produced a successful photo book, Down and Out, labouring under
globalization (OUP, 2000). Can you tell about it and your background?
Ravi Agarwal: It all began with my first camera when I was 12 years old.
Ever since it has been a constant discovery of a personalised world. I became
an engineer, an entrepreneur, an activist along the way, and in many ways my
search was driven byÂ the world I could only see through my camera. We seem to
havelost our sense of mortality, frailness and interdependency. My camera
produced an order and a retreat which was only mine.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
I think curiosity, passion,
aesthetics find their own forms. Art brought them all together for me I tried
public art, video, and continue to attempt newÂ ways. Down and out, the
book,Â was an invitation by an academic to collaborate with him on the
project. It helped me understand both issues of power and representation in
photography, but also about the dignity and humility of those people who power
Indiaâs economy from the ground up, the poor, migrant workers. It was about the
politics of migration, but was also a personal journey in documenting âothers.â
Can you tell about your personal ecologies?
Increasingly I saw my work as being reflective of my subjectivity. For example,
it was less a photograph of something outside, a âtruthâ but rather my
subjectivity about it. My work became more self reflexive. In many of the
works, such as âExtinction?â or âEcology of Desireâ series, I try and explore
my encounter with these ideas. They are not told as larger narratives, but
personal stories and questions which could have meaning for others.
How do we know nature?
Iâm thinking ofÂ The Sewage Pondâs Memoir, your film show during the
After the Crash group show of the Orto Botanico Museum (part of the ISWA
European Project) .
video deals with the idea that all in nature as we have made it, is not what it
seems. It is being destroyed even if it seems it is still intact, and while we
thing we can preserve it, we are actually causing its destruction. New
technological projects like urban centres, cities distance us from precious
life giving resources, and numb us into a feeling of false safety.
I feel we seem to have reduced
nature to mean a few things such as a resource, a place to conquer, or even a
landscape to be appreciated.Â However, even ifÂ we do not accept it,
we live in a very complex relationship to the world outside of ourselves. We
try and analyse this in linear ways, but it always confounds us. When we think
of happiness, somewhere nature, isÂ part of it. I think it is time we
accept again that we have only scraped the surface of our relationship with the
universe, and that we live in it beyond our understanding of it.
Latour, the science philosopher challenges this divide, and calls for the
co-evolution of the idea of nature through a collective of science and society.
Can you tell me about him?
Latour is very important since he re-questions our reduced idea of nature and
brings out the complex ways we form ideas of it. Along with Tim Morrison he
also questions the category of ânatureâ itself. He brings in a new discourse
about objects and nature, which helps open up the question of ânatureâ once
We are in a dysfunctional system â offshore economies/ecological crisis â are
we witnessing the decline of Western democratic capitalism?
We have entered a new world where we have reaffirmed our faith in economic and
financial markets as the key to the future. We always have had them, but always
they have been balanced along with other ideas of equity, justice,
spirituality, humanness, collectiveness. Somehow at the moment these have been
erased, and the new economy had become central to our futures. The Western
model of development has been internalised by the new developing nations. The
promise of this can be different than what has already happened in the western
world.Â We have the ânew westâ in the east now. It is a continuation of
the past, only the terrain has shifted. We need to find new forms, a new
politics â only the artist can lead the way.
In my artistic practice I try and
think of and locate myself in these questions. For example the work Have you
seen the flowers on the river takes about local sustainability in a
How will climate change alter our life?
We cannot even understand all its dimensions. We know certain things like
changing weather, melting polar ice caps, new extinctions etc. Our human world
exists in a fine ecologicalÂ temperature niche, it defines our energy
exchanges, our species distribution, our climate, our agriculture â everything
we know, is defined in that ecological niche. Change that niche â we move the
land under our feet â everything will change!
A world in change may be an archive of global desires and perceived threats â
what do you think?
In ways these ideas also drive my work. The fear of loss, pain, death. It is
the primordial fear of being mortal. I feel the archive is a trunk full of
fear. When we overcome it â can we still live? The world changes, but fear