Just Give Me Some Space: Panel Discussion

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Transcript of the Panel Discussion organized at Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture, on the inauguration of 'Just Give me Some Space' authored by architect Suha Khopatkar. The discussion opens up ways of building empathies in academic practice, specially between teachers and students in an architecture school. The discussants include Vandana Ranjitsinh, Rohan Shivkumar, Nisha Nair, Suha Khopatkar, and Anuj Daga (moderator).

published in Indian Architect & Builder, November 2019.

Read full article with illustrations here.


Wednesday, November 20, 2019

This time when I visited Delhi, a friend explained me the broad structuring of Delhi and it's suburbs. Delhi has grown radiating in different suburbs, those that include Noida, Greater Noida, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Ghaziabad and Sonipat to consider the key ones. Noida, I came to know is the abbreviation of New Okhla Industrial Development Authority. When one goes to Noida, a totally new landscape, quite different from Delhi's colonies and bungalows dawns. The tyranny of apartment blocks walling one's vision are arranged into societies and townships. The other lineup is the glitzy IT complexes which I had never seen so blatantly while moving in the main city before. This is not to say that the new suburbs are bad. They have clean air, less density and lot of free space...those that the typical corporate-jib inhabitants idealize. Those whose idea of cultural engagement is largely the mall and the multiplex on a weekend. 

Yet, Delhi felt much easier to move through the metro, autos and buses. Inspite of all the deathly news of the toxic air, I saved myself without the mask. This time was also the first when I used Delhi's buses, and they were extremely convenient and cheap. I haven't really experienced choking roads in Delhi. To me, it has always been a city of wide roads, laid out concentrically, that doesn restrict movement just into a single spine like in Mumbai. The overlapping lines of Delhi metro make it quite complex and I feel it had been resolved quite well. Besides, the infrastructures seemed quite spacious as compared to Mumbai where people literally don't have space to walk on foot over bridges or train stations. Perhaps because Delhi simply has the land to spread, it felt more comfortable and convenient.

As a city of "colonies", Delhi has always fascinated me. The housing colonies are like hives with several entrances and internal gates that can bring varying degrees of control. I have always wanted to understand their layouts and how they become/merge in the public urban domain. Such a complexity of form disappeared in Gurgaon and Noida that had clear cut sectors with houses typically addressed with plot numbers. The metro in these suburbs begins to traverse larger distances between individual stations. The landscape begins to feel stretched... perhaps this is what we understand as sprawl. 

Last but not the least, I spend some really intimate moments with close friends and acquaintances in the city. This is also what made the entire trip memorable as compared to others. This time I felt a distinct warmth that the city offered to me and, at once I thought, what if I was a resident of this very City. Perhaps it is the growing familiarity with a place that coaxes us to consider such a possibility. Inspite of my continuous hopping in the city from one end to the other, glibly over public transportation or Uber/ola's, I believe I could make some worthwhile conversation with people in an otherwise intimidating place. In this view, the city allowed me to tame it. I have always believed that people in Delhi, unlike Mumbai, have had the time to sit and stare, or even talk. Mumbai is a city which perpetually keeps you vary of it's next slipping timetable. Perhaps I saved myself of it in Delhi being a visitor! Still, Delhi, for now, seemed more livable than Mumbai.

Stories in Mughal Miniatures

Monday, November 18, 2019

Notes from a lecture on Mughal Miniature Paintings by Prof. Arjun Das
at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya

A Glossary of Overused Terms in (architectural) Academia

Sunday, November 17, 2019

We all want to be critical - and the word is often used as critique, more as a lament. to remain dissatisfied fuels the need to be critical. samira offered a strong explanation in the death of architecture exhibition though, of how critical can be more of a self reflective practice and remind oneself of one's position within the large dynamics

Now, isn't this an extremely subjective term? on one hand, many people debate of how there must be space for all kinds of thought and on the other, it is curtailed by the idea of relevance. How does being relevant hold in the liberal space? And what may be relevant to one may be irrelevant to another. Do we assume a notional community in coming up to the framing of the relevant, and how much can we trust this notional constitution in the head?

15 years ago, there were conferences that used the term "emerging", and today, the term is still slapped onto many symposium titles. It has become a tautological term for the contemporary. It claims the a faux-desire for being contemporary, and rhetorically wants to define the 'relevant' for today...

If not relevant, then innovative! As if, the only way to validate your existence and worth is to produce something new. Are people who follow the past necessarily traditional? Could it be that the past could be internalized in a way that offers pleasure to the present existence? Who after all, decides the relevance of innovative, and should it be really left to find its own course of destiny?

now does this post sound very cynical?

Text as Text – Part I & II curated by Shubhalakshmi Shukla

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Text as Text – Part I & II
curated by Shubhalakshmi Shukla

Anuj Daga

published in Art Journal, Oct 2019

‘In literary theory, a text is any object that can be “read”, whether this object is a work of literature, a street sign, an arrangement of buildings on a city block or styles of clothing. It is a coherent set of signs that transmits some kind of informative message […]’ explains Wikipedia. More specifically although, text is understood as written or printed work especially used for manuscripts and books that ought to be “read” i.e. interpreted. It took me some time to understand the invocation behind ‘Text as Text’ in both Part I & II at the ‘Art & Soul’ gallery in Worli, Mumbai, wherein curator and art historian Shubhalakshmi Shukla invites artists who work with “pure text” – those that primarily use alphabets and words in order to create works of art. In such a framework, one is pushed to think of the artist further than a writer, poet, journalist or any other professional who operates purely within the medium of words. In both the parts, the curation attempts to observe the intersection of text with gender, power, aesthetics and identity.

How do we approach text without literary training? Could an artist engage with words in a manner that could be distinguished from other literary forms? How does work of art in turn, inform textuality? These are the preliminary questions I begin to ask. Further, which words do you choose to frame so that you may keep coming back to, time and again? In such recall, the works of text become a painting. The fact that it must be read, and not simply rethought, asserts its lyrical precision, whereas, the multiplicities of meaning that its looped re-readings offer, make it possible to thread different worlds into a single thought stream. Text then is a ritual that ought to adapt to different situations and allow one to evolve in time. Artists use several techniques to work with text in different languages literally and visually within the small size format of the project. The disposition of these works in relation to text within the two exhibition cycles can be discussed through three broad relationships:

1. Text and Space

Text is scattered all around in our everyday environment, essentially encountered in motion. We are constantly reading text on signages, hoardings, bills or pamphlets on the street. These texts in floating space get framed, sliced, blurred, or animated with each other as we attempt to grasp them in the flash of movement amidst objects. Space thus gets inevitably encoded and embedded within the object of text, working itself into its reception and creation of dynamic meaning subsequently. The first cycle of ‘Text is Text’ brought together an exciting array of artists who explored the medium of text in a variety of ways. Of these, Bharati Kapadia’s film ‘L for LOVE’ expands the four letters of ‘love’ into an alliterated field of words within which its emotion gets nurtured. Using motion typography, the artist opens up a spatio-textual dialogue within the film where letters begin to dance in order to speak of the multidimensionality of love. In another work, free floating callout stickers like “Fight like a girl” or “Future is Female” mounted on a transparent partition wall by Vidya Kamat inevitably collage onto the viewers as characters of a feminist conversation within the gallery space.

In Text as Text - II, Nikhileshwar Baruah’s works from the ‘Capital’ series demonstrate some of these spatial aspects quite effectively in using receding font sizes or fading the overall text, at once creating perspective and depth within the reading. The graphical play initiates an assertive reading that turns softer and more contemplative as the letters assume normalcy. On the other hand, Prasanta Sahu’s typographic experiments in the two dimensional extents of paper, presented as diptychs situate us in the macro and micro aspects of agrarian politics through contrapositions of sliced and contained text. One is able to consider the textual grain from far and close, strategizing incomprehensibility in order to draw attention to the subject of agrarian economy. The words layout proximate fields within which several concerns around cultivation and care may be articulated. As one reads through the respective texts in these works, a certain spatial encryption strengthens their reception and offer a deeper reading into its meaning, giving them a three dimensionality. 

2. Text and Vision 

works by Hanif Kureshi

Text is an inherently visual medium; it is an extension of the eye, claimed media theorist Marshall McLuhan. Further, do we ever perceive text devoid of its visual appeal? If text is everything except the surface it appears on, then how does its visuality mould meaning? Legibility and visuality come together in unique ways to lend new readings to any given text. Much fixated like a painting, textual constructs could be quite complex. In Text as Text - I, artist Sanjeev Sonpimpare’s play of text on grains at once reminds of the rangolis that were traditionally drawn in front of house and temple entrances in grain flour, assumedly meant to feed the birds. The finger patterns drawn into food-dust create textual symmetries that suggest a leveling of caste and class in its visual syntax. In the second cycle of the exhibition too, there are several examples that play through the visual attributes of text. The hybridization of two scripts – English and Hindi, in the works of Priyanka Paul as well as Ajinkya Patil indirectly comment upon social attitudes, popular culture, cultural hegemony as well as globalization through gentle humour. Placed amidst poetry on women’s oppression, Paul accentuates class and gendered othering in social space using the lines “Tumhaare paas (maa) hai, humaare paas stig-(maa) hai”.  (तुम्हारे पास माँ  है, हमारे पास stig-मा  है)

Ajinkya Patil opens up multiple interpretations of his phrases through the fusion of Marathi and English words, take for instance: “Sukhache he naam (Audi) ne gaave”. (सुखाचे हे  नाम, audiने घ्यावे) Here, the subtle pleasures of materialism fused into the spiritual produces a humorous lament on the desires triggered within global processes. Here, Audi (the locomotive brand) and aavadi (meaning ‘liking/fondness’, the vocal doppelganger in Marathi for Audi) attempt to achieve a synonymy. Such techniques are frequently used in advertising in order to connect to a diverse mass of population speaking multiple languages. The verbal phonetics however has been harnessed into the visuality of the text in order to produce the desired effect of cultural collapse and acceptance.

It is perhaps its visuality that continues to communicate off text despite its illegibility. Hanif Kureshi presents eight frames of text which do not lend an easy reading to the viewer. Stretched and sliced, the phrases in each pair of frames placed one above the other question our notion of readability and reality. Kureshi compels the viewer to piece the words together in order to make meaning out of his work, which is quite direct and poignant. On the other hand, Nikhil Purohit attempts to introduce us to what may be a kind of machine language. In his grid of ‘NFSDOTCOM’, a series of letters appear like they do, in a crossword. The viewer is forced to wander within the array of letters in order to construct a meaningful word. In his ‘List of Things I Miss’, Purohit seems to imagine a language in which machines could communicate back to humans. Over a prolonged gaze, one may be able to spot four lost letters in a vast field of signs and symbols that machines and humans confound each other in: L O V E.

3. Text and Silence 

One’s engagement with text means one’s close association with silence, for it is a movement from oral to ocular, from the ‘once said’ to the ‘now seen’. Autonomous in its disposition, text creates a range of voices - although within the mind. We orate, repeat, and intonate text in our heads in order to make it mean something for ourselves. In doing so, the body is able to communicate with the mind, and eventually reach out to the world at large. People produce text through reading or writing in order to enter a new world through silence. In a work from Text is Text - I, artist Kim Kyoung Ae from Korea, settled in Baroda for the last ten years contemplates upon the rhythms of silence in her work, through which she mediates the fluency of communication. She explains how ironically, her broken English-Hindi communication with her Gujarati-speaking studio help Kantaben, is more fluent than her English conversations with an old friend. With her Korean friend on the other hand, Kim often able to speak in silences. Wondering if language is thus a mask over muteness, she translates silent frequencies of communication into text in her poignant work ‘P for Perspective’. The viewer is able to tune into different degrees of silences painted in the void of black, white and greys of the Korean word Cheok, meaning - ‘to pretend’. In another work ‘S for Survivor’, Kim expresses her mother’s silent and successful resistance to cancer. Much like the disease, an array of illegible hewn letters assume the character of unidentifiable alien cells within the body of the book. Kim explores the silent struggle of the body to keep its integrity against physical and psychological impediments in a series of paintings that work through Korean and English letters – both languages that she feels equally distanced from, and therefore proportionately silenced today. 

work by Kim Kyoung Ae

Kim Kyoungae-_ [cheok] Auxiliary verb, You can't pretend forever

The textual articulation of emotions offers consolation to the restive mind. Several works in the two exhibitions demonstrate such tendencies. Further, there are concepts that cannot be experienced except though text. Text is a powerful medium through which another (im)possible world may be entered / opened, described or imagined. It allows collapse of unseeming ideas, surrealities that are difficult to be visualized. Words can become a useful gateway in order to challenge such silenced abstractions that may never be articulated otherwise. The textual medium is thus held in a double bind – of silence and its release thereof. It is the silencing of physical world, but a voice for the untold. Poetries, letters and other such forms of works in the exhibition in essence, speak to us silently. 

In its ensemble, the exhibitions ‘Text as Text I & II’ brings us to the various latent possibilities and expressions of text that obscure themselves in plain print. In some parts, the exhibitions allow us to engage with text in a manner different from encountering it in a book. In doing so, the works create a criticality within the space of text itself. Yet, in most cases, the setup remains extremely traditional, overlooking the contemporary modes in which text is consumed – those on mobile screens, LED marquees or tablets. Thus, the object of text remains static and unflickering, hung primarily on the wall like a painting. Most works lie within the liminalities of text and painting. However, the works installed miss interacting with the spatiality of the gallery altogether. Thus, they are unable to comment on the ways in which text gets inscribed within the body. The works within the exhibition could have been curated so as to talk to each other. In order for the invocation ‘Text as Text’ to become stronger, the curator may like to demonstrate how text can save itself from visuality, a space strongly claimed by painting. Yet, the curator keeps the promise of the textual medium and reserves it as an intimate resource for ready expression.

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