The Rhizome

The title ‘Five Million Incidents’ evokes a numerical anxiety, and an impossibility in its rejection of conceivable time and quantity. At the same time, it points to the very real possibility of horizontal simultaneity where incidents overlap and even cause each other’s happening. This osmosis of space and time becomes a neural network of sorts, where each being feeds off and sustains another.

Dhara Mehrotra’s project, Gossamer, intends to simulate through tangible media the delicate workings of fungal networks called ‘mycelia’ that spread across the roots of trees below the ground and provide them with water and nutrients. In return, the plants sustain the mycelium networks, which expand their base through organic routes. The mycelium thus establishes a symbiotic relationship with plants that benefits the entire ecosystem. Dhara has reproduced the fungal networks in coir mesh that, in cumulative effect, has taken over the site of the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan office buildings. Dhara worked on simulating this network meticulously over days as each layer of the mesh needed to be dipped in an adhesive mixture and dried overnight on the wall before the next layer could be placed over it. Accumulative in nature, the patches and networks of coir imply a spreading parasite, as the networks travel across the length of a wall in Siddhartha Hall and the expanse of the corridor onto the façade outside; their placement in the architectural site evokes both decay and regeneration.

What interests Dhara is the form, structure and function of the mycelium network. She talks about how trees communicate with each other through this pulsating topology of mycelia. Resembling a mass of branching thread, the mycelia spread over expansive lengths underground and colonise tree roots, constantly cycling nutrients in the capacity of conduits. Her research during a residency at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore led to the fundamental understanding that everything is pre-programmed at a molecular level for designated functions; that every cellular unit has a system of self-organisation in place which acts as a blueprint for larger systems to function. Dhara recalls looking at a colony of patterns in a 5 mm drop of yeast in a Petri dish. The scientists she had collaborated with at the residency used fluorescent tinting to visually track the workings of the mycelia when seen under the microscope. She recalls being amazed by the intensity of the activity in that tiny a drop, and wondered how the entire ecosystem has a parallel system of sustenance in place- generally known as the ‘Wood Wide Web’. This led to Dhara experimenting with design possibilities through the process of yeast culturing, the present intervention being such a colony design.

Above: Gossamer, installation view | Credit: Annette Jacob

Video Credit: Annette Jacob

Dhara’s project comes across as life-affirming in an age where the prolonged burning of the Amazon rainforest and the general apathy around the calamity has heightened our anxiety around the Anthropocene and its ecological implications of death, decay and extinguishment.

In this scenario, one falls back on nostalgia where the past is imagined as a stable construct and is to be yearned for. Unable to pinpoint this interval between the ideal past and the cataclysmic present, the human sinks further into an existential mire prodded by a depleting biosphere. This calls for a rethinking of the way we function, and imagine a new future for ourselves and the posterity. Optimistic pockets have suggested that it’s possible for humans to navigate the said threats and imagine a sustainable future, where the human will evolve beyond its own understanding and transcend conceivable limitations to arrive at an inclusive, representative and plural habitus. This is not to say that the changes are irreversible, as the mark of the human on nature will be indelible. But the new world would create itself out of the debris of the old one, its previous fissures in-tact and navigated anew.

In this context, it is relevant to think of human interventions that seek to address questions around this new future. The ‘Five Million Incidents’ project comprises interventions in the direction of sustainable fashion, queer futures, surveillance, revised traditions of letter-writing and interactive public spaces, among others. The interventions are imagined as “occupations of time”, where each project can take any amount of time—from a day, part of a day to a month and beyond—to unravel and reveal itself in its entirety. The project intends to expand artistic horizons by encouraging the growth of extant art forms and experimental practices that seek to reconfigure creative possibilities and imagine new ontologies. The participants (addressed as ‘Actants’) intervene as catalysts who provoke happenings, conduct workshops, enable conversations or, on having planted the seed, just let time take its course with the intervention.

All the projects are anchored in the desire for a future that rejects binaries in favour of fluidity, co-existence, intersections, recalibration or a total dismantling of hierarchies. The body becomes central to the discussion, as the Actants navigate questions of sensorial stimuli, consent, desire, disgust, tactility, gender, memory, time, intelligence and the material cultures that envelop it. The discursive capacity of the project lies in its seeking to work through multiple temporalities, the consequent layering enabling a panoramic view of time in both its geological and mythic dimensions. The project then materialises itself through rhizomatic connections between artists and their ideas. Whether a steady de-realisation of the body or a formal exploration of an additive geography, the interventions interact with each other through a sporadic interface in space and time, akin to the mycelial impulse of sensory sustenance and thickness.

Cover Image: Gossamer, installation view | Credit: Dhara Mehrotra

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