In 1887, The Illinois General Assembly reversed the Chicago River, bringing water from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi instead of the other way around. Completed in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, the process ensured that the city of Chicago could reliably access clean water, despite the immense amount of industrial activity that relied upon and the waterway for production and trade. In 1999, the same lock system that made that reversal possible was acclaimed as the “Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium” by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Both the award and the accomplishment are surreal, like something out of a China Miéville novel, perhaps especially because of the notorious pollution the same river, and it surrounding neighborhoods suffers. This industrialized approach to natural resources is not unique. It is in effect around the world, with different countries reflecting different stages and impacts of a philosophical approach in which the environment is recognized as an instrument for human affairs. Based out of New Delhi, artist, curator, writer and activist, Ravi Agarwal works to unearth the complexity of humanity’s ecological and economic imagination, drawing connections between Europe and India, while comparing the implementation and impact of industrial methods.
When visiting New Orleans, a context he was previously unfamiliar with but which through its complex relationship with a major river has parallels with his home of Delhi, artist and writer Ravi Agarwal found himself ruminating over two questions: how should I go there? How able am I to comprehend the context and what I might learn there? In this text, he reflects upon the shared experiences of those who live along the Mississippi in New Orleans and those who live by the Yamuna in Delhi, reciprocal relationships with nature, and the importance of listening in the Anthropocene.
The Art and Politics of Ecology in India: A Roundtable with Ravi Agarwal and Sanjay Kak — by TJ Demos
This roundtable discussion with artist and activist Ravi Agarwal and film-maker and photographer Sanjay Kak, moderated by T J Demos, explores the politics of ecology in the Indian context. The conversation considers, among other works, Kak’s film Words on Water (2002), which looks at the issue of big dams and their negative social-economic effects in the Narmada valley; and Agarwal’s photographic installation Extinction, which examines the disappearance of vultures on the subcontinent owing to the development of animal pharmaceuticals used to maximize milk production. The conversation critically examines the introduction of neoliberalism in the Indian economy and political context, and the anti-democratic activity of multinational corporations, in relation to the destruction of the natural environment, the growth of economic inequality, and the dispossession of tribal peoples via the governmental-corporate development of mega-dams and industrial mining projects. The discussion revolves around the aesthetic approaches artists have used in addressing such ecological emergencies.
Essay by artist, environmentalist and curator Ravi Agarwal that provided a background to the State of Nature in India conference in Mumbai, 2018—part of the Anthropocene India initiative in partnership with the Goethe-Institut. With planetary futures at stake, how might we examine notions of power and ethics in order to address the current ecological crisis?
Such is the bubble of hope in which I have survived. It is also a reminder of the fragility of life and its everyday presence, which we ignore. The birds seem to know it better. Outside, there is mayhem.
Is it possible to free the non-human (‘nature’) from the anthropogenic gaze?
Essay- Invisible Natures – Art and Covid -19
“What is its nature, and how do we look at something we cannot see?”
THE POSSIBILITY OF ACTING IN CLIMATE CHANGE: A Gandhian Perspective — by Paulina Lopez and Ravi Agarwal (IIC Quarterly 2019/20)
Despite awareness of the serious impacts of climate change, why has the consumption of natural resources remained unabated?How can awareness of these facts and a lack of action coexist? The involvement of the capitalist system in climate change has been widely recognised (Barry, 2012; Storm, 2009). An imperative of economic growth, driven by capitalism, it has pushed people to consume more and more. As a result, natural resources are depleting and the climate system has already been severely affected. This system has also created inequalities and concentrations of wealth, besides being ecologically unsustainable. Yet, it is still in force.
Ravi Agarwal’s 2008 art piece Extinct? was located at two separate sites in New Delhi—the National Museum of Natural History on Barakhamba Road, and out-doors at a nearby busy, parklike traic roundabout, a few hundred meters from the museum grounds. Agarwal’s work was part of a larger group show entitled 48 Degrees Celsius Public.Art.Ecology, for which twenty-five artists—fifteen from India and ten from other countries—were enlisted to construct art pieces on the theme of the environment in urban public spaces within Delhi.
The following are occasional notes from October 12th, 2013 to August 17th, 2015 written by Ravi Agarwal. The exhibition Ecologies of Loss, curated by Marco Scotini at PAV, is the first Italian solo exhibition of the Indian artist, as part of a series investigating into the relationship between artistic practices and ecological thought in the Asian continent.
This article discusses the medium of documentary photography, looking closely at the work of Ravi Agarwal and his engagement with the changing nature of labour and environment under the impact of global capitalism. Agarwal’s photos are marked by their visceral quality, such that images cease to be static documents but give one a larger sense of the sound, smell and taste that define a person, scene or condition. Agarwal’s ability to shuffle between photography, video and installation and his research rooted in activism enables him to keep pushing the boundaries of the art world and of documentary.
Nature’s Present. Seminar 690. February 2017
1.Beyond Environmental Standards, from Techno-centric to People-centric Environmental Governance in Troubled Times. Sustainable Development and Governance in the Age of Extremes. SDPI. Pakistan 2006. Pp 240-252
2. Toxic Wastes: Growing Hazards. India Disaster Report
3. Corporate Social Responsibility: a critical perspective from India Ravi Agarwal . November 2003 (Dutch version published in Cosmetische Humanisering. Ed Tonja van den Ende, Harry Kunneman, Ireen Dubel, Humanistics University Press, Amsterdam, 2005)
4. TOXINS FROM E- WASTE ADD TO DELHIS NIGHTMARE. Ravi Agarwal. Mail Today 2008
5. Time to Tacke E Waste http://www.civilsocietyonline.com/Archive/nov09/nov0910.asp Civil Society Ravi Agarwal
6.Lets not torture the trees. Civil Society September 2009 at http://www.civilsocietyonline.com/Archive/septoct09/sept094.asp
7. Managing E Waste in India, August, 2015. Governance Now
The Work of Freedom in a World of Images- Pallavi Paul. MARG Documentary Now Issue Sep – Dec, 2018
Death by Water: Environmental Documentaries. A Brief Overview, Veena Hariharan: MARG Documentary Now Issue Sep – Dec, 2018
Else All Will be Still:Dematerialisation and Rematerialisation in the Ecological Photography of Ravi Agarwal. Maya Kovskaya. Take on Art. Issue 1. Volume 2. June 2016
The Art and Politics of Ecology in India: A Roundtable with Ravi Agarwal and Sanjay Kak, T.J Demos. Third Text, Vol 27. Issue 1, Jan 2013. 159-169
Emplacing and Excavating the City: Art Ecology and Public Space in Delhi. Christiane Brosius, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg. Transcultural Studies 2015.1.
Public Art? Activating the Agoratic Condition : Cultural theorist, art critic and independent curator, Nancy Adajania ‘s paper presented at the symposium linked to 48 C the Public Art Ecology Festival, New Delhi, December 2008
Stories from the Theatre of Aura and Decay :Maya Kovskaya. Interview with Ravi Agarwal. Art Journal 41
Fotografie – ein transkultureller Verhandlungsraum Eine Analyse der Arbeiten von Ravi Agarwal (Delhi). Cathrine Bublatzky. Pp 115-131
Landscape as Evidence: Artist as Witness: Skye Arundhati Thomas. E-Flux.com
1. Politics of a Planetary Future: Interview with Caroline Picard. Editor, Writer, Publisher
2.Interview by Camillia Boheimo, Curator
3. Interview by Jeebesh Bagchi, Artist, Raqs Media Collective
4. Interview by Kathry Myers. Prof. of Art, University of Connecticut.
5. Interview by Gayatri Sinha. Ed Critical Collective. (https://criticalcollective.in)
Fluid Landscapes. Seminar 673. Sept. 2015. Pp 34-38
Ravi Agarwal is a photographer and environmental activist living in New Delhi. Trained as an engineer, his work integrates aspects of science, ecology, urban space, the environment, and explorations of the documented self, described as personal ecologies. His early...
Published writings on the Yamuna Elbe Project, 2011 (Pl see under Curation)
1. Re-imaging the River. Seminar 657. may 2014. New Delhi Pp 27-31
2. Yamuna – Elbe. Contemporary Flows, Fluid Times. Art Fair 110
On the successful campaign to save the 8000 ha Delhi Ridge Forest, and its current status.
1. E Waste Law: New Paradigm of Business as Usual. Economic and Political Weekly. June 23, 2012. Vol XLVII. No 25
2. On Waste
3 articles as part of the Sarai Reader Series.