Atul Bhalla's recent body of work (see lots 113 and 114) addresses the changing landscape of his native New Delhi. Industrialization, ecology and the preservation of natural resources inform his art and his work and often shed a sardonic light on the declining relationship between man and the environment. Spending time walking the banks of the Yamuna River in Delhi, Bhalla sought to understand the intimate interaction between the water, its surrounding fauna and the city's inhabitants. According to Shukla Sawant, "Bhalla has in the last decade or so of his wanderings redefined his practice by becoming an agent of change, raising questions about the environmental effects of administrative policies that seem to be driven more and more by private economic agendas rather than public good." (Shukla Sawant, P: Atul Bhalla, Anant Art Gallery, Mumbai, 2007.)
In Handpumps, Bhalla examines the contemporary relationship between humanity and the elements. Documenting broken and ramshackle hand operated public water pumps throughout Delhi, the artist depicts a visually stunning yet ominous portrait of outmoded infrastructure. Modern plumbing has long replaced lakes, rivers and streams as our source for water, yet his images of tarnished, dirty and decrepit hand pumps seem to undermine their function as a reliable and modern water supply. Our efforts at overcoming nature through modernization seem to sometimes be less successful than we would like to believe. Bhalla sheds light on the flaws in our modern systems of living: he suggests the ways we have attempted to both update, circumvent and even conquer Mother Nature do not always prove to be infallibly better.