Imagined pasts meet distant futures in Gigi Scaria’s exhibition of paintings, graphite drawings, and video works. The Ark, currently mounted at Chemould Prescott Road is one half of a joint show, along with Anant Joshi’s sculptural installations in Trembling Hands (of the clock) at Gallery Maskara. The passage of time lies at the heart of both the shows, and even as the two eras collide and coalesce, the present continues to intervene.

The Ark is brimming with allusions to contemporary events—it’s no surprise when you learn that Scaria put together the show within the last five months. The works demonstrate the artist’s fluid expertise across mediums and visualise a post-apocalyptic future marked by cracked, barren landscapes and ziggurat-like edifices that call to mind abandoned Soviet buildings. Each of Scaria’s frames is completely devoid of human presence.

The titular ark serves as a sanctuary in this postdiluvian world, but betrays none of the life-affirming optimism that the Biblical myth has come to be endowed with. “The ark is associated with ideas of destruction, new beginnings, and a reminder of how things have to be reshaped," said Scaria in a telephonic interview from New Delhi, where the 42-year-old artist lives. “It’s a myth that has been told by every culture and civilisation… Syrians, Babylonians, Judaism. I went back to the idea that when everything else has collapsed, what will this new sanctuary be like?" On Top of Ararat engages with this thought directly, through nine small-format drawings of the ark’s structural dynamics. Viewed in conjunction, they appear to be in different stages of formation. The barge, envisioned as a protective shell, unwraps to reveal apartment blocks and houses within.

Several of the paintings and drawings are accompanied by videos: according to Scaria, the video provides a “skin" to the painting. Often, the animations include a single technological remnant of the age that has passed by. In The Ark, for instance, a composite of an acrylic diptych and an animated video, a wooden ship is in repose atop serrated earth. In the video, however, a lone conveyor belt on an endless loop provides the animation. Similarly, in Voyage where the ark is marooned atop a mountain, a dot matrix printer emits an infinite scroll of paper. “It could be a list of people who could have been forced to migrate," said Scaria, “or a reservation list on a bus or train… There are connotations of the Holocaust or the WWII."

A viewer doesn’t need to go so far back in history to discover these connections in Scaria’s works—they need only read the news. The most immediate resonance is with the Syrian migration crisis and that in other parts of the Middle East.

In the single-channel video Expanded, still photographs of refugee camps from different parts of the world are merged and sequenced to create the impression of watching live footage of a single landscape. The 3.5-minute video begins with close-ups of the camps and graduates to wide angle shots.

“The trouble in Syria directly impacted me," said Scaria. “I wanted to take an aesthetic position, but I didn’t want it to be neutral. I wanted it to have a political undercurrent."

Whether temporary or permanent, Scaria’s preoccupation with large, fantastical structures runs deep. City Unclaimed (2013), a site-specific installation for the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, confronted his pet concerns—urban spaces, the environment, and people at the periphery of those categories. At the centre of a massive black-and-white photograph of a cityscape, lay a tiered tower, the Fountain of Purification, reminiscent of brutalist buildings. The fountain had first made an appearance two years earlier in New Delhi as part of The Yamuna-Elbe: Public Art and Outreach Project, where putrid water from the capital’s river was pumped through the structure and emerged good enough to drink at the final level.

The Fountain of Purification and The Ark might be part of the same conversation, but they are separated by more than the years of their production: Where the former struck a sanguine note, the paintings and videos in the latter are characterized by a dark, ominous quality.

The Ark is on until 21 November, 11am-7pm (Sundays closed) at Chemould Prescott Road, 3rd floor, Queens Mansion, G. Talwatkar Marg, Fort, Mumbai. Trembling Hands (of the clock) is on until 21 November, 11am-7pm (Sundays and Mondays closed) at 6/7 3rd Pasta Lane, Colaba, Mumbai. The works are priced between 3.5 to 15 lakh.

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