Published in Experimenter Annual Book, 2017.

Pulvis et umbra sumus. (We are but dust and shadow).” - Horace

Prabhakar Pachpute creates an agential reading of the mined landscape by charting a multi-episodic scenography with a range of mutating characters: human, animal and mineral figures spread across the earth surface and its scarred veins. Over the past six years his artistic projects have addressed the mining industry’s disastrous production cycle in stories of displacement and land grabbing, agrarian distress and corporatization of earth resource. While commencing his examination through biographical experience - as Pachpute comes from a family of coal miners in Chandrapur in Western India - he has vastly researched mining environments around the world. From coal mines in Wales and Germany’s Ruhr Valley to iron mining in Pará state, Brazil; gold mining in Marmato, Colombia; and just last year in collaboration with Rupali Patil, he spent months in the winter landscape of Poland that is punctured with coal and salt mining in Upper Silesia.

In the exhibition Shadows on Arrival at Experimenter, Pachpute turns his focus to the hyper real aftermath of the mine and its twin recesses of exploitation as well as exhaustion. It is here that his lone protagonist in Counter Table of the Blackyard (2017) appears seated amidst a wasteland. The mine manager’s head has morphed into a collection of sledgehammers and wagons ferrying coal enter his gluttonous arm. Despite the presence of a folded map, reason remains inadequate in deciphering how to pave the way ahead. However, one may anticipate even grimmer circumstances as the artist considers the next level of prospection carried out by a figure that has partly malformed into a satellite dish.

Riding an animal, he points into a distance - where once again the grounds will be opened up for the swallowing of black gold and rare earth minerals.

In an algorithmic age, the human and the machine become interchangeable as human corporeality is re-tooled into mechanised functionality and the machine is “sensitised” into quasi-human robotic performativity. The post-industrial terrain is thus expressed as An Unending Grave (2017), within this maze of craters a robotic bug manoeuvres in isolation as though conducting a roving surveillance upon the moon’s surface.

Dead Monument (2017) becomes a veritable earth fossil inside the gallery space. All around us mineral-rich mountains morph into poisoned lakes and this monument reveals those hollow sections where corporations have eaten the land, like an army of locusts. Pachpute sculpts a call for justice - not from the view of human protagonists but more critically from the residual topography of abandoned mines. As ancestral and traditional ownership of land is repeatedly violated, resistance struggles grow ever more furious. Just some months ago, hundreds of farmers in Rajasthan initiated a hunger protest, choosing to partially bury themselves in their own land on account of forced corporate selling and lack of government support. Even during Diwali they refused to leave and instead carried out ceremonial traditions steadfastly in the same terrain - holding oil lamps while seated in mounds of soil. [1] Such modes of refusal rising against neoliberal extraction must necessarily be read alongside Pachpute’s committed art making.

In his installation and charcoal drawing Under the Crust (2017), the materiality of natural resources paradoxically perform both the hypermobility of capital and the fixed territorial claims of sovereignty. [2] A worker’s figure is frozen in place while the territory around him is rapidly shifting into a negative frontier. In such works, the terrestrial choreography of miners becomes toxically enmeshed with active casualties in the earth’s biography. We are left witnessing charred and withering bodies in an ash-blown landscape. Pachpute’s insistent use of charcoal is not only formal but also integral to his phenomenological method - marking traces that animate this planet’s gradual extinction.

The owl recurs as a leitmotif in the artist’s works, overseeing resource extraction activities as an administrative figure. While this nocturnal sentinel is rumoured to be worldly wise, he never succeeds in knowing mineral resource beyond the terms of profitability. I can’t help but revisit Hegel’s assertion: “The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk.” Pachpute’s sculpture The Enigma of Arrival (2017) is an eerie encounter between a frightened man clutching an infant and a satanic being approaching from a cliff. The mine re-imagined as a hostile blackness steadily engulfing labouring communities is an ultimate irony - as that “falling of dusk”.



2. Natasha Ginwala and Vivian Ziherl, The Negative Floats: Questions of Earth Inheritance, e-flux journal #58 (October 2014) in “quasi-events” issue (guest editor: Elizabeth A. Povinelli)

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