The Familiar is Always a Stranger is a joint multimedia exhibition between French artist François Daireaux and Indian artist Ravi Agarwal. Both artists question the relationship between the body and the machine through the effect that globalisation has on the human being at work and on the environment.

The exhibition aims at promoting sustainable development through art and collaborations around artistic interests.

Far from tourist maps or any form of exoticism, for almost twenty-five years now Daireaux has embarked alone, travelling to countries he’s never visited before, to record his experiences there. In the process he composes the vocabulary of his oeuvre, which can be considered as an extended space of sculpture—notably through his manner of composing his photographic images and films. He works as a gleaner, or forager, harvesting forms, situations and images in a pugnacious and solitary exercise of observation. He hollows out and sculpts the layers of the real, obsessed by gesture and the transformations it creates, in physical matter as well as in social space. In the last few years, the artist’s photographic and film work has intensified, affirming a visual oeuvre in which we appreciate the contours and the investment, both in its questioning of the alienation of bodies and in its sensitized approach to the urban entropy of emerging nations.

Among the many works Daireaux has presented at the show Bhagwati which is acolur video with sound stands out. Here is featured “Devki” wh is the owner of a glass tube factory in Firozabad that he created in the year 1973. After devoting himself to the business for more than three decades, he now doesn’t visit any of the production units himself. He stays confined to his office and controls work through six surveillance cameras. Daireaux spent days in Devki’s office for days filming these images displayed on the control screen along with recording some off-screen conversations. Devki’s office constantly had visitors who were friends, business associates, workers and acquaintances. The artist as an observer sat there filming these intimate dialogues which turned the place into a veritable microcosm.

Delhi-based Agarwal’s work bridges the divide between art and activism, drawing on the semiotics of the documentary to politicize the aesthetics of contemporary India. Using photography, video, text and installations, he intervenes in the continued colonization of nature to pose questions about ecology and society, urbanity, preservation and toxicity. His work has been shown widely, including at Documenta XI (2002), the Kochi Muziris Biennale (2016), the Sharjah Biennale (2013), and Indian Highway (2009) etc. In 2011, he co-curated the “Yamuna-Elbe” an Indo-German twin city public art and ecology project in Delhi and Hamburg. He is the co-curator for the Indo-German public art event “Embrace our rivers” to be held in Chennai, India (September 2017) by the Goethe Institute. Ravi is also the founder of the Indian environmental NGO Toxics Link.

Boy in Blue Striped Shirt is a series of 20 photographic prints. Here the artist has engaged over time with waste and waste pickers in Delhi. “ I have formed relationships with waste pickers,” says Agarwal. “I see them outside of being mere victims of an unequal labour condition in the city, where one section of people (including women and children) take care of another’s discards, and have been doing so in a hierarchy of class and caste, but also as people with dignity, joy and assertions in their lives.”

He adds, “The  things they collect have a special meaning, as traces of other lives they hold, in their texture, forms, materials and functions. They are an archive of society, not discards. In that, those who collect waste also become repositories of a societies alive archive.”

The show is on view at Gallery Espace , New Delhi till 13 January, 2017


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