Water Drops on Coral
The spectator of the show moves into the central open space to ‘soak/drown’ in Indian artist-environmentalist Roma Madan-Soni’s 3-meter-tall light-based sculptural installation, Water Drops on Coral (2019), a dialog/intervention on the marine ecosystem of the Gulf. The work is not just about “getting back to nature,” (Roth, 1973, p. 94); it voices and initiates nostalgia for the spectatorship of the real landscape that once existed, beyond this enclosed exploratory/illusory space. “It’s like a yearning for the unspoiled paradise garden, the Eden,” (Tuchman 1971, pp. 118-126). The viewer canters from the surface of the ocean to its depths through the underwater caverns and grottos interrelating with the kaleidoscopic breathing womb of the ecosystem, a ‘shared environment’ all-pervading within and with-out the reefs of the cyclical intervention. The upper cone-shaped drops irradiate the brilliant images of the underwater reefs, and the marine flora and fauna that nestle within them. They are encapsulated by the penetrating blues and greens of the Arabian Sea; safe in their mother’s womb. The darker-narrower lower drops are iconic of the pollution and damage caused by negative human intrusion, the acidified waters impregnated by oil spills, and excessive plastic. They destroy the reef in the depths of the sea and thereby, the biodiversity that resides within its folds. The wreckage at the bottom of the artwork comprises of worn-out tires, debris and ghost fishing nets, trapped within which the marine species are enmeshed and ensnared to death, similar to the aftermath of unconsented women’s penetrated bodies, war and violence. Through their journey alongside the mediation, viewers are “Seeing [them]sel[ves] Sensing” experiencing and appreciating their shared interactions with their living environment (Eliasson, 2002, pp. 124-127). The work redefines the correlation between art and reality, between the spaces of art and everyday life (Eliasson, 2007, n.33). It is the spectators who need to vigilantly observe the variegated flora and fauna active within the clean drop-shaped acrylic-descents lit with mono-frequency lamps. The staged phenomenon through the use of multiple media gives them the distinctive ability to understand, commune, and connect complex concepts and ideas. Even though the performance can be witnessed in nature in a more imposing way, here the viewer becomes part of the intervention’s environment. S-he observes it, desires it, penetrates it with consent, and comprehends the role he or she plays within the milieu that extends across the biosphere. The strength of the performance of the imagery “enables the viewer to see [him/]herself seeing, to become aware of how she perceives the world around [him/]her and in doing so participates in shaping it,” (p. 25) as a form of engagement, which involves an “attention to time, movement and changeability,” (Eliasson, 2009, pp. 18-21). The expansive size of the intervention, and its central position is accentuated by the hundreds of mono-frequency lamps circulating like water drops impregnated with flora and fauna, perched/hanging across the sprawling coral reef, the rainforests of the seas and oceans. They offer viewers novel ways of connecting with the Nonsite work of art and understanding its relationship with the larger project Site (Arabian Sea) beyond the Discovery space wall. The viewer embodies the process of aesthetic appreciation, which stimulates not only his intellectual but also his performative, while he is situated ‘within’ the work for “coming into being,” of the enactment, as it “unfolds in time” (Roth, 1969, p. 94). The engaging experience involves audience visual perception to get entrenched in complex synesthetic and kinesthetic sensations, which necessitate a consciousness of oneself and the context of one’s ‘being’ (Berleant, 1992, p. 10). Madan-Soni’s objective was to “root it to the contour of the … land, so that it’s permanently there and subject to the weathering,” so the viewers are “sort of curious to see what will happen to this” (Schmidt, p. 225) through the passage of time. The work resists the opposition of nature and social culture as well as of body and mind by accentuating the eternalness, however knotty, of human beings with the ecosphere in which they exist (Novak, 2002, p. 23). Like the Brechtian separation effect, the moment of disenchantment the intervention generates stops the viewer from submerging him/herself uncritically in the illusion shaped by the enactment. It inspires him/her to reflect on both the situations, and costs of her own experience. Since “our experiences of reality are cultural constructions,” (Eliasson 2003, p. 89) trying to rheostat the weather is the most essential principle of dwelling and therefore a necessary element of culture (Eliasson 2003, p.130). Thus, the installation’s heated bulbs interrogate earth and climate control strategies practiced by humans as it offers possibilities for assessing the cultural conditions we construct or live in. The viewer is summoned to become mindful of the multilayered tissues of arbitrations that we label as culture or society and confers her locus within it. As an in-between, between reality and its diverse depictions, Eliasson (2002, p.11) abstracts the position, “I think there’s a subliminal border, … where suddenly your representational and your real position merge, and you see where you ‘really’ are, your own position.” In Water Drops on Coral (2019), Madan-Soni uses the rhythmic pattern of her personal form to create cone-shaped water drops with variegated flora and fauna suggestive of women's multidimensional and particolored lives. Through her groupings of ocean materiality, its kaleidoscopic existence, and its squalls and instabilities, she reminds her spectators how our bodies live in “complex entanglements with water” (Neimanis 2014, 17). The culturally diverse spectators at the Discovery space unearth their ‘everyday’ as well as their 'ceremonial' within the multiple layers of meaning expressed through the forms, colors, and textures of the interwoven sea life. Women spectators align themselves with the unseen inner space of the deep ocean, and the voice provided to its social function by the Nonsite intervention. The under-ocean life triggers the idea of the private space, which involves role-play, gender norms, and the division of labor in women's lives in the Gulf. This encourages them to embrace alternative visions, to make bold and explicit statements on gender diversity, equity, and rights. Women in specific embodied the entirety of the eco-scene and its life cycle and explored it in context of their own relationships, health, sexuality, fertility, reproduction, childbirth, illness, and inescapably death. Women align their notions of motherhood with that of the nurturing coral reefs, the 'rainforests of the sea'; the oxygen, food, and shelter providers for the entire underwater ecosystem along the coastline of Kuwait. They envisage the vulnerability and demolition of the oceanic flora and fauna that depends on the reefs for sustenance, as hurt inflicted on their own children through their mother’s injury. The real images of 90% of the extensive and diverse reefs dead or dying in the Kuwaiti territorial waters past the Discovery space wall, fringing the offshore islands of Garouh, Kubbar, Oraifjan, Um Al-Maradim, Kheiran, Ras Al-Zor, Um Diera, and Teyler, trigger the notion of gendered human relationships. This is a result of negative human interventions like, the spillage of liquid petroleum hydrocarbons, marine water contamination, getting hit and broken by anchors, and from gears like fishing nets left by boats. It would take about 500 years for the destroyed reef to revive and live again. Simultaneously, it points towards similar situations in the global context. As productive ecosystems, the death of the reef can have a domino effect on other ecosystems that are linked with it (either geographically close or connected via migration routes). The intervention’s aesthetic characteristics and objectives point towards an inclusive program of action that leads to corrective measures towards restoring the biome to a healthy condition. It disrupts reductionist views on gender, reproduction, and sexuality that persist in the region and many other countries and promotes the fluidity of sexual orientations and joyful pleasure.