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Rahul Juneja

Ancestral Knowledge, Indigenous Culture, Myth-Making, Audio-Visual Documentation, Speculative Fiction, Symbiosis, Post-Humanism


Crackle of an Undying Log

Crackle of an Undying Log, Rahul Juneja, 2024, Docu-fiction, 2 Channel Video Installation with Hologram. 32’.

The project “Crackle of an Undying Log” traces the ecological crisis we inhabit through the technological and mythological. The work builds on the critical question- “What might be the wishes of a Kalpvriksha, a mythical wish-granting tree in the contemporary, and what possible futures might this techno-ecological intersection produce?

The work is a three-channel video installation in a docu-fiction format with bilingual narration in Hindi and English, including a hologram. It combines Lidar Scans, Speculative soundscapes, google translations, performative gestures, and audio-visual documentation from various sites within my hometown, Karnal.

Building on the Mythical Khandava forest that was burnt in the Mahabharata (Indian Epic), the project posits the tree as a subject of the complex technological, sociological, and ecological intersections that terraform our world. Becoming a modem, the tree encodes and decodes signals from the physical and the meta through large fungal networks and evaporating liquid realities. Thus, it becomes a witness, a harbourer of this liquid reality beyond the frame of human perception of events. Yet, this repository denies access to its wisdom, if approached through extractive modalities.

This positioning the tree as an alternate repository of knowledge, brings to crisis our understanding of genealogies, knowledge, and the structures of information that govern our world. This way, it prompts us to think of new barters beyond language and our current understanding of currency, revealing the wisdom of possible futures based on empathetic symbiosis in a post-human turn.

Under this register, the tree undergoes a speculative transformation, where the roots become fiber optic cables, the leaves become SSDs, and the nodes become the network nodes of a trans-geographic network. The title of the works points out to this duality, where the log is both a log of a tree and a data log.

The mythological emerges in this case as a potent category- between the being and the nonbeing, which becomes the interface to interact with this knowledge repository. The project meditates on nature and human agency, archiving, myth-making, epistemic shifts, and genealogical databases, envisioning a future that operates on mutual care and sustenance rather than turning extractive.

The project proposes a fresh way of looking at ecology, combining various themes mentioned within the prompt, like art and science, and speculative design and critical futures. The project thinks of connections, systems of knowledge, and the world that are beyond our perceptions but necessary to acknowledge. The genealogical claim and the crisis of origin place the human race as beings of constant hindsight, trying to predict a calculable future. The project proposes a future that might transcend the borders of time and space; through non-human entities, it proposes to blur our notions of histories, events, and myth, indistinguishable from each other, to imagine futures that are more inclusive, self-sufficient and self-critical.

Artist Interview

Q: In this new edition of the UAAD online magazine, we're exploring the theme of "[Matrix] of the [Not-Yet]." How would you interpret these two words, and how do you see your work aligning with the concepts of [Matrix] and [Not-Yet]?

When I think of a matrix, I immediately think of the laterality that has emerged as a symptom of our contemporary time- The laterality affords making the simultaneity of this expanse apparent, while also inducing anxiety of reality being inevitably stored in vertical and horizontal stacks of rows and columns. While this infinite plenitude does not follow the linear history of time and civilization, it instead opens up the re-examination of fissures that have been left unattended.

I believe the Not-yet is a potent placeholder with a notion of arrivability; something that has almost happened yet has not entered the perceptual register. This seemingly non-contouring opens up the potential to not only be expansive and think of new rubrics of inclusivity but also to rethink the act of contouring that governs varied socio-political and even economic realities.

The “Matrix of not yet,” thus opens up a fertile space of potentialities, giving agency to rearrange reality while lying on the slaughter bench of history- to be able to dissect, and then introduce a glitch in this codex. This emerges as an essential site for expanding scales of thought, of free merging, splittings, collisions, and generations- becoming an ever-evolving assemblage that also has the possibility of reduction.

My work for this issue, “The Crackle of an Undying Log”, through a techno-mythical intersection rethinks nature and human agency, archiving, myth-making, epistemic shifts, and genealogical databases. The tree becomes a harborer of a liquid reality beyond the frame of human perception, becoming the subject of complex technological, sociological, and ecological intersections that terraform our world. The positioning of the tree as a beyond-human repository of knowledge brings to the crisis our notions of origins, history, culture, and the drive to extract and archive; imagining post-human futures beyond extractive modalities towards empathetic symbiosis.

Q: We are very interested in the trajectory of your creative practices and their connection to the theme. Could you provide us with a little more information about your background?

I am a Multiform Artist based between Karnal and New Delhi in India. My work spans Analog and Digital Photography, Videography, Drawings, Mixed-Media Installations, and Hybrid object-making practices. I hold a bachelor's degree in Fine Arts, majoring in Painting from the College of Art, New Delhi, and a Masters in Fine Arts from Shiv Nadar Institute of Eminence in India.

Q: The creators participating in this magazine work across various mediums, including moving images, interactive installations, music composition, etc. What factors influence your choice of medium for your works?

Within my artistic practice, I don't lean towards any specific media; rather, the density of the idea informs the mediation. It's essential to address the historical baggage of a colonial legacy when considering media influence. Many young artists in India are often torn between adhering to European notions of Naturalistic representation and seeking the "Indian" in their practice. Consequently, the choice of media can shape the scale of imagination.

In some ways, my selection of media rejects this legacy. I prefer to view media through the nearest Hindi counterpart, the "madhyam," which serves as both a carrier and a mediator. Through it, I postulate media beyond commitment to a specific artistic method, instead finding the madhyam for the particular set of concepts and ideas. Thus, within my projects, there is almost always a multi-form, trans-media situation where one medium seeps into the other. For instance, in this project, the interface required for the mythical Kalpavriksha to reveal itself becomes the hologram, while the documentary footage grounds it in a specific geographical, temporal, and cultural frame.

Q: How does your work reflect or actively engage with the cultural and social dynamics of your community or the communities you interact with? Are there elements in your art that seek to bridge, disrupt, or transform these dynamics?

Within my works, there is the recurring theme of the mythical, derived from childhood stories and the rich culture of mythological adaptations on television. I come from Karnal, Haryana, just 30 km away from the mythical land of the epic Mahabharata. Within the Indian socio-cultural landscape, there is a seamless seepage of such myths and material reality, as both histories and stories have been passed down orally for a long time.

Within the operation of the current Indian administration, an interesting deliberate image is being constructed through legitimizing the mythological via archaeological excavations. In this systematic construction of myth and thereby reality, lie genealogical claims of origin and grand schemes of death.

I create speculative shadowlands that contemplate such bright, shiny realities and the interfaces that continue to operate in the shadows. One of the key motivations to continue such works is excavating the subtle yet grand scales at which such manipulations function and how we might address these crises generatively. My projects attempt to intervene within such structures through the introduction of my own; through narrations, object-making, mapping, and further fictionalizing on mythical narratives.

Q: What real-world strategies or methodologies do you employ in your art practice to manifest your visions of the future? How do these tactics serve as forms of resistance or intervention within the current socio-political landscape?

For me, the docu-fiction format of narrative storytelling, where I combine real-world visuals with speculative landscapes, opens an exciting world. The stories and geographical contexts are relatable, yet also have speculative flights to help give the audience entry points to think through complex ideas.

This juxtaposition of the real and the mythical within my work mirrors the current socio-political context I inhabit- A religious mythical is being instrumentalised to construct and cement socio-political realities that are highly volatile. In this scenario, generating narratives that not only dissect such constructions but also put forward ideas in formats that can linger as stories become a potent intervention. 

The crackle of an Undying Log also puts forward such a proposition- It thinks of the wishes, a mythical wish granting tree might have, and the sites of futures that lie at its root. The kalpavriksha becomes a witness of the mortal history, and of whims and fancies of the cosmic lingerings, transcending all human notions of space, time, seeing and knowing. Yet, new forms of barters and language have to be invented to access this knowledge, since it cannot be accessed with our conventional extractive modalities.

Such an imagination is beyond the extractive neoliberal capitalist tendencies, indicating something more tender and primal, one that shifts the attention from extraction to symbiotic relationships that don’t place the ‘other’ in an exclusionary framework. The work, thus starting from mythology, meanders through memory, information repositories, liquid cracklings, and genealogies, imagining future that are mutually inhabitable through prioritising empathetic symbiosis.

Q: How do you hope your work impacts its viewers or participants, particularly in terms of rethinking potential futures or alternate realities? Who do you perceive as your audience?

I think the question of who the audience is is an essential one and might be more generative if we move it from ‘who’ is the audience to ‘what’ is the audience, thus shifting it to an ontological question. I believe the audience is a cluster of potentialities, fleeting, floating, yet holding immense density, waiting to be invoked.

I have been constantly thinking of image, truth, reality and myth in my work. These are vast tropes, and it's often difficult to think of impact, let alone measure it through qualitative criteria. I here define the impact in a broader sense, where the effect, the intellectual proposition, and the world it builds all are in tandem, so the ‘audience’ has a rich nutritious plate to choose from and digest.

I hope that apart from the context-specific impact, there is an expansion of the horizon of thought and my hinting towards the importance of imagination of scale. Within such thoughts, in between lies the daily tinkering we see with images, truth, myth, and reality, all blurring, seeping, contouring, recontouring each other. A coronation of structures often masks the structure of structures. Within my projects, I wish to communicate the importance of going at these structures, rearranging them, and debunking the frame of human perception that informs our sense of space and time. 

Q: As a creator, what do you see as the threats or uncertainties we will face in the coming decade?

I think beyond the climate crisis, AI, and other uncertainties that we trace in the mainstream, some hint about a "culling" is also floating around; whether it's the conspiracy theories of population culling by billionaires, the culling of images, or the culling of intellectual and individual agency — while it mongers fear within people, there is also a silent acknowledgment and guilt at large that we have gone beyond the finitude of the resources available to us and yet cannot stop the linear torpedo of progress.

Yet, this call for culling is also slowly becoming a genealogical call, where conceptual othering is constantly happening in the configuration of the "about to be culled." I think the political climate across the globe is going to be extremely tumultuous; this is also visible in the ongoing genocide. This intensification of such contours, which were supposedly gone, is immensely going to shape our realities in the next decade.

This, paired with the complete surrender to extractive modalities that mine the real world endlessly for data to predict the future, is leading to the cementing of structures while only revealing to us the interfaces. I think more than capital and the lack of material resources to live, the biggest uncertainty for me remains the survival and adaptation of the deeper affective affinities that tie us together and of thinking beyond the crisis of origin, defining the other, and the right to survival.

Q: What motivates you to continue creating as an artist?

As an artist, I enjoy the freedom of thought and scale that contemporary art has laid down. History, philosophy, science, and all disciplines are not alien within this artistic arena; it is not merely a unidirectional draw but a possibility of simultaneous re-contouring of these various disciplines.

Q: Are there any theories, books, or artists you would like to recommend in your current areas of interest?

I have been quite enjoying reading about hyper-aesthetics by Eyal Weizmann recently. I think it really positions an exciting way of looking at ethics and aesthetics, through distance and traces, and vice versa.

Q: If you could create an art piece with unlimited resources and no constraints, how would it look like, and why?

If I get the chance to make an artwork with unlimited resources, I want to create an artistic framework that allows for the distribution of funds and other resources to artists and collectives, especially projects that are small and do not fall under the rubric of conventional aesthetics.

I think such a model is critical due to the lack of access that artists get, especially to sustain themselves and do the practice they are genuinely invested in. Often, practices that are geographically, culturally, and politically specific lose their thrust and weight due to the burden of economic, as well as social sustenance.

Thus, a model like this would be the first step to thinking of a large thinking entity, where one can consider singularities and pluralities in the same breath and invest in a free, generative model that not only supports but also inspires such rigor and diversity within artistic practices.

About the Artist

I am a Multiform artist based in New Delhi, India who works with Analog and Digital Photography, Videography, Drawings, Mixed-Media Installations, and Hybrid object-making practices. I’m interested in loosening the hard, evidential idea of the image and construct myths. I prompt gatherings, think of shared originals and creating discursive settings with lecture performances.

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