Accepted paper:

Curatorial Governmentality: Discourses on Air-Conditioning in Contemporary India

Authors:

Anirban Gupta-Nigam (Jawaharlal Nehru University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will map discourses on the idea of 'air' prevalent in India. By the term ‘curatorial governmentality’ I designate the process whereby the atmosphere has become and increasingly important on the part of the state, beginning with attempts to control rain and drought patterns and coming down to the installation of air-purifiers in Delhi during the Commonwealth Games 2010. Parallel to these developments are the more literal instances of ‘air-conditioning’ in malls which are sprouting up all around the national capital region, offering not simply a consumer-haven but also an ecosystem where ‘community life’ can blossom in isolation from the messy terrain of the actual city. In both cases, discourses of life develop around the central principle of design, where aesthetics becomes central to the comprehension of the contemporary.

Paper long abstract:

The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk suggests that in the modern world gas warfare, ecological crisis and other catastrophes have made us aware for the first time of the "envelopes" that sustain us; of how the places we inhabit are never just there but always designed, or "air-conditioned." In 'Foreword to the Theory of Spheres' he argues that the contemporary world is like a gigantic installation and curating this installation is the 'meta-profession' of all individuals today. This radical theory places aesthetics at the centre of how our lives are organised and performs through philosophy, the task that was so central to modernist avant-gardism: blurring all distinctions between art and life. I will attempt to map two parallel contemporary discourses on 'air-conditioning' that are prevalent in India. By the term 'curatorial governmentality' I designate the process whereby the atmosphere has become and increasingly important realm of (aesthetic) intervention on the part of the state, beginning with attempts to control rain and drought patterns and coming down to the installation of air-purifiers in Delhi during the Commonwealth Games 2010. Parallel to these developments are the more literal instances of 'air-conditioning' in malls which are sprouting up all around the national capital region, offering not simply a consumer-haven but also an ecosystem where 'community life' can blossom in isolation from the messy terrain of the actual city. In both cases, discourses of life develop around the central principle of design, where aesthetics becomes central to the comprehension of the contemporary.

panel P28
The aesthetics of governance