AboutFor many living in Delhi, the reality of water in recent years has become that of a bottled and sterilized brand, a far stretch from its sacred place in Indian tradition. Atul Bhalla's work is an attempt to understand the water within this urban environment. His practice engages with many of its physical, emotive, historical, religious and political manifestations, and participates directly in many of the worldwide politics surrounding water today. Working in a variety of media, Bhalla's work returns to light many of the meanings and associations with water that in an industrialized society have become muddied or lost.
In this, his first UK solo exhibition, Atul Bhalla will display six water tanks, each engraved with a different word, such as 'Space', 'Grief' or 'Beauty'. Always unique, Bhalla fills the aquariums with water to the same level, submerging within it a cast (or casts) of a water carrier or conduit. Composed of a mixture of cement and sand from the Yamuna river (bonded by Yamuna water), the submerged casts become, in effect, water that is both buried within, and held by, water. By so representing these usually unseen and water-filled voids, attention turns to their purpose ratherthan their appearance, giving a face to some of water's lesser-considered religious and sociological roles.
The series Wash/Water/Blood documents the artist slaughtering a goat in order to make a traditional water carrier, or mashk, from its hide. A bhishti (or 'life giver') is the name of the Islamic caste whom traditionally carried and worshipped the mashk (whose importance in India today is exemplified by Bhalla's failure to find a halal butcher willing to kill the goat on his behalf). Thus, this series not only considers the religious notion of the taking of a life in order to preserve it, but additionally, that of water spillage, transferal and preservation in doing so.