Avantika Bawa at White Box UO: Aqua Mapping
While Avantika Bawa’s Aqua Mapping was installed at the University of Oregon’s White Box through the month of September, the project itself has been alive and developing for the last three years. Taking on the historical and contemporary manifestations of maritime passage and mapping, Aqua Mapping consists of a series of voyages over three disparate geographies. The three routes engaged in the project include maritime trade and commercial routes in southern India (Kochi), commercial and military routes in the Inner Harbor and Chesapeake Bay (Baltimore and Annapolis), and the coastline of Astoria, OR including the “Graveyard of the Pacific”.
These routes were traced by Bawa with a team of videographers and sound recorders, while towing or carrying an inflated orange pontoon. The images and videos produced from these voyages as well as the orange ball itself make up the exhibition at White Box, creating a multi-media and multi-form show that attempts to encapsulate a large and multifaceted project into a small, two-room exhibition.
The physical presence of Bawa and her orange buoy is felt through the documentation of the voyages— producing near-surreal and pleasingly graphic images of the orange dot floating in an ocean, or bouncing along the horizon line. Videos of the journeys were projected in the Gray Box gallery, presented in a three-channel projection spanning three walls. As the footage plays the orange figure slowly travels along its route, bringing the viewer into the real-time rhythm of maritime travel. Bobbing through this footage, the sense of the three culturally and geographically disparate spaces linked by Bawa’s travels becomes palpable through the sound of the environments, as well as the people and boats we see populating the scene.
In its visual and conceptual manifestations, Aqua Mapping presents a simplicity of form alongside a scope and complexity of implementation that is more comparable to Odysseus than a conventional durational performance. The global scope of the project, ranging from India to the eastern seaboard, to rural Oregon, is of a scale that is frequently gestured to in contemporary art practices but so rarely (and literally) explored. It is because of this that the White Box presentation of the work inescapably felt like an excerpt of the project, rather than an exhibition of the project as a whole.
Aqua Mapping’s project at large presents an extremely difficult question to the exhibitor and viewer alike: how can one convey the wholeness of the journey, the complete circuity of a route, in a single show? The video works and prints of the White Box presentation served as a fantastic inroad to the larger whole of Aqua Mapping, but the sheer scale of the project implies an even wider universe of works that have or will emerge from Bawa’s experience.
The lived experience of Bawa’s excursions serves as the gravitational center around which the works presented at White Box orbited. The images and videos of this show display an abstracted and condensed picture of a project that clearly held monumental importance in its construction. The care with which she executed rooted in the lived experience of Bawa’s excursions, the care with which she retraced these military, commercial, and historic routes and the contemplation placed on the notion of mapping itself is what constructs.
This is not to say that the scale of the project is lessened by its exhibition at the University of Oregon gallery. Bawa’s project is one that I hope to see installed in many different locations and institutions, hopefully in as diverse of places as those traveled through in the work. The form Aqua Mapping will take in future exhibitions will shift and alter with each reformulation of its documentary pieces, and this capacity for reformulation being an advantageous trait that will hopefully give both Bawa and the project an opportunity to work in many different contexts.
Images courtesy of the White Box