Sheila writes about her time spent in the labs, the UnBox festival and Bangalore.
ಕಾಣದ ಕಥೆಗಳು (Invisible Stories) is part of a body of work called Earth Tones, an ongoing attempt to map remote ecosystems, each time trying to find ways to capture the essence of a place, to abstract it down to a concentrate of itself. At times the process feels like a love letter to nature and beauty, at others like we are trying to capture an imprint of something before it disappears, a strange archive pulsing with synthesised life.
We set out to map a river, not in any meaningful way that can be measured in miles or quantity or volume, but rather in the way one sets out to solve a puzzle. Both Invisible Flock and our friends Quicksand have spent the past couple of years looking at rivers, lakes, dams, seas, glaciers. Water basically. Standing on the banks and looking deeply to try and understand something important, but perhaps not something that can be pinpointed. To talk of water is to talk about many things simultaneously. Logistics, humans, industry, agriculture, history, nature, beauty, pollution, primordial, temporary, of plenty and of scarcity.
This time we set out to talk about one body, the river Kaveri. It begins 5 hours west of Bangalore in the hills. It begins both in geographic terms and in religious ones in different places, and flows west and down, though Karnataka and onwards to the Bay of Bengal. To map it all would take months or a lifetime. Neil Gaiman writes in American Gods ‘It can take as long to cross Scotland as it does America, it all depends how closely you are looking’. Zooming in we hoped we would find something of the river of the Kaveri, the Cauveri. We drove, and as we did we collected water, sound, we measured the air, the speed of the river, we captured images from the ground, from the air and under the surface the river itself. And the more we travelled the further we got.
“Where was Kaveri, where did she melt away"
This is a work of disappearance, of slippage, of knowingly showing something that cannot be shown. As we drive I read Timothy Morton's Dark Ecology, he talks of Kant and Hiddegard and of French philosophers who feel far from home to these river banks. As we drive back to the city their words seep through me. They talk of the impossibility of seeing things whole. Of truly perceiving something completely. No matter how much we watch, listen, touch, drink, analyse and zoom in, the river eludes us. The more layers of meaning we try and bring to it the more it reveals hidden just beneath its surface.
We stop at a point of confluence where the Kaveri is joined by another river. Two temples built on either bank. We use a satellite map to find a path down to a secluded spot and do our work. We have a drone that we fly to give us a different perspective on the water and helps us map it. As we send it upon the air an old goat herder watches us. He asks Babitha what it is. She explains, and he shrugs and ‘ah, Cauvery’. And in that moment he sees more of the river than we can.
So what does it mean to map? Historically maps allowed us to sail ships to steal spices, countries and people. They allowed humans to feel like they know the world around them, to see across time. Whilst it becomes increasingly clear that we understand the world hardly at all. As artists our maps are not for plotting routes or guiding your ships by. They are maps to get lost to. In attempting to hold the Kaveri close we found it slips away. This is important. How we think of place defines how we exert ourselves upon it. To think of the river as a thing leads us to try and restrict and control this 'thing'. The river as an object. An object that does not exist in our conception of time. An object that it is impossible to see all at once. That is never twice the same. Zoomed out to the time-scale of rivers, the water that sits in out small sample jars would eat its way through a dam, like it ate through mountains.