Bengaluru’s Rivers (ಬೆಂಗಳೂರಿನ ನದಿಗಳು)
Bengaluru’s Rivers (working title) is an exploratory research project seeking to chart histories of migration, settlement and socio-casteist hierarchies along the rivers that feed Bengaluru/
Walking with rivers or tracing rivers has a strong tradition within contemporary art as well as within urban studies, environmental studies, anthropology, etc. The act of tracing rivers and river paths is understood here as a form of reconnecting with the organic world and as an attempt to observe the ever-shifting nature of boundaries reconfigured through acts of erasure and urban development. This sense of impermanence, the ever-present threat of being rewritten and being in a constant state of peril that guides our lived spaces or pre-lived/post-lived spaces highlights not only the futility of attempting to cage nature but also of controlling and governing citizens by setting limits to how, where, and why they interact with the natural world. From this emerges the persistent emphasis that the natural world is something that exists “outside the notions of what constitutes a city” and the creation and perpetuation of a standardised model of human habitation, one that always favours capital over any human desire to maintain proximity to the organic world. The myths surrounding this model allow for boundaries to replicate themselves within the grid-like system of control exerted on people within its outposts.
Among the many stories of Bangalore/Bengaluru, from its origin as a loose coalition of small villages and hamlets to a British cantonment to, in more recent times, the Silicon Valley of the East, one story is often overlooked: the story of the water flowing to the city and where it accumulates. Historically, over 100 lakes and tanks were built by Kempe Gowda (1510–1596) and his successors to feed and sustain a growing settlement. Yet little is told about the story of the migratory waters, from rainfall to springs to channels to canals, the cyclical journey from tank to river and back. But I am interested in the waters themselves as a metaphor, as a way of acknowledging the people living in proximity to these waters through tracing the confines of their travel. The rivers that flow to Bengaluru assimilate the rich histories of the communities into its waters in an attempt to feed the constantly growing metropolis.
While this project is research heavy, it primarily expresses a desire to document and create a personal archive through conversational and gestural modes of communication between subaltern and bahujan (note: umbrella term for marginalised castes in South Asia) communities like mine and those that live along these rivers. It is intended as a long-term project without any concrete outcome, without a desire to appropriate or assimilate. And I imagine through the building of these conversations, a shape may emerge. Or not.
Among the many questions I hope to find answers to, the most important one is “Can these rivers that hold our histories also liberate us from caste and capital?”
Vishal Kumaraswamy is an artist based in Bangalore. He works with text, film, sound, performance, and computational arts moving between theoretical references, news media, and caste realities. Over the last three years, Vishal has been actively engaged in the development of a critical pedagogical framework titled Subaltern Futurism, a container for artistic research, practice, and the technological education of contextualised subaltern communities.
Vishal’s works have been shown at several international exhibitions including The Venice Biennale’s Research Pavilion, Athens Digital Arts Festival, CCS Bard College, Vector Festival, The Royal College of Art & Furtherfield, and have been distributed by VIVO Media Arts, Vancouver. He has previously been an artist in residence with the US Consulate General Mumbai, Contemporary Calgary in Alberta, SAVAC Toronto, Vital Capacities videoclub UK, and Onassis AiR. Vishal is a recipient of the Australia Council for the Arts Transmitter Delhi X Darwin Grant and the Warehouse421 Artistic Research Grant (2021) and is a 2022 Research Associate at the Centre for Contemporary Art Derry~Londonderry. Vishal is currently developing works for SITE Gallery Sheffield and Contemporary Calgary, Canada.
Vishal is the founder of the international artist collective Now You Have Authority (www.nyhacollective.com), a collaborative practice through which he has curated exhibitions, residencies, and delivered workshops at the Tate Modern’s Tate Exchange Programme, Tanzfest Aarau, and The Sluice Biennial. He also develops independent curatorial projects with a focus on contemporary South-Asian artistic practices and his most recent project www.the-lack-of.com was shown as part of The Wrong Biennale in 2019-2020.Editing: Kali Thaker