I am standing in the heart of the crowded city and I can hear bird call. If I am very quiet, I can also hear a soothing wind blow. Near me is a lily pond with rainbow coloured fish darting busily to and fro in crystal clear water. I can see right down to the bed where aquatic plants, stones , pebbles and sculptural driftwood create a dreamy waterscape -the perfect home for a mermaid. I wouldn’t mind living here myself actually. But I am not near a lake. I am at Bar 1, an artist residency -studio space on Mission Road, watching an interactive documentation of the historical Jakkur Lake – `Lake Tales.’
The question of lakes, habitats, livelihoods and survival is one that artist Surekha has been addressing for over three years in her project `Focusing on the Urban Rural Margins – Jakkur Lake ‘ which explores urbanisation, the effect it has on waterbodies ( Jakkur Lake in particular ) and the intricate relationship that lakes have with human beings and all connected to it. This documentation is relevant because lakes, like cities have a history, an ecosystem, local and migrant populations and ways of being.
The work is spread all around Bar 1, and the soundscape I was listening to is installed in a bathroom where I can also see a video of lake ecosystems on a TV. The dreamy waterscape is set in a bathtub. The irony of squeezing the free expanse of nature into these restricted spaces is not lost on me. The entire work is interactive, with a special room being set aside for screening Surekha’s film on the lake, as well as a series of mini-laptops arranged skilfully in a niche with headphones so you can watch more lake footage.
Jakkur Lake has special significance for Surekha not only because it is near Yelahanka, where Vijayanagar Chieftain (Palegar) Kempegowda I ( 1531-1569 ) established his Yelahanka dynasty with each successor contributing in his own way to the planning and beautification of Bangalore, but also because it is the birthplace of her husband, Anil Kumar a senior faculty member at Chitrakala Parishath. Together, they are deeply concerned about the lake and its survival. So when the BDA announced their plans to de-silt, increase storage capacity and restore the lake to its pristine condition, Surekha decided to document the lake and its transformations.
This documentation includes the farmers who lost their land around the lake to development and faced an uncertain future, those who fish in the lake for their livelihood, the birds ( both local and migratory such as egrets, herons, cranes and cormorants), fish ( who were dying due to sewage pollution from the neighbouring apartment buildings) and residents of the area. Her record of the metamorphosis of the lake’s history is done through photographic images, video-interviews, recordings of oral anecdotes from local dwellers, archiving and mapping facts obtained from the area as well as from environmentalists and ecologists.
Alongside her documentation, she also curated the work of emerging young artists who presented their interpretation of the ecological issues faced by the lake. Deepak R, who is a skilled aquarium hobbyist re-created the mini waterscapes at Bar 1 and Chaitra, who is trained in the rehabilitation of snakes, worked on snakes and their relationship with the alterations that these waterbodies are currently going through due to unplanned urbanisation. The ambient lake soundscapes by Deepak DL (who explored the concept of sound devices and their ability to simulate natural sounds in a built environment) worked their magic as I was transported into another world while the Frog Jumpers ( an aquatic plant) suddenly lunged to the surface in Deepak R’s beautiful aquariums.
But most of all, I thought Naganagowda Patil’s mini-models of traditional farming equipment were a touching tribute to the farming communities whose indigeneous practises and very livelihood is slowly being rendered obsolete in the face of rampant globalisation.
As I stood watching Kushal Kumar’s evocative film on the disappearance of our chirpy little Bangalore sparrows due to mobile telephony, set in his artistic comment, ( a large 5′ dia twig nest in which sat a gigantic mobile phone running footage of migratory birds whose nesting and migration patterns are closely connected to the lake ) miraculously, it began to rain.
Over steaming hot cups of lemon scented black tea and mini-macaroons set against ambient sounds of bird calls and falling raindrops, Surekha confessed that she was nervous when the LDA ( Lake Devpt. Authority) and BDA ( Bangalore Devpt. Authority) officials came to Bar 1`.” I wondered what they would say about my footage of all the fish lying dead due to pollution on the lake bank” she said. ” But they applauded me for this effort, asked for copies so they could screen it at other locations, and said, “this is a fact, why hide it ? “.
She also told me about the injured Kite that flew in to Bar 1 the previous day and got confused, so they put him in the massive twig nest installation till he regained equilibrium and flew away ! Talk about collaborations with the greatest artist of all – nature.
Today, as Bangalore battles issues like lake privitisation, pollution and encroachment, with waterbodies vanishing all around the city as we speak, this visual story, told lovingly and painstakingly at Bar 1 is a vivid reminder that our trees and waterbodies, seeds, birds and other species are as important as our architectural and cultural heritage. They are our natural heritage and our lifelines. I am sure the lake, garden and tank building forefather’s of our city would agree.
* `Lake Tales’ ( June 5th – 15th 2011) is supported by Khoj ( Negotiating Routes, Ecologies of the Byways. To follow the project, click here. Bar 1 is also available for artists to work and display.
Deepak R will be more than happy to create beautiful aquariums for you on order.