Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Idiot Box

Television has always been seen as an 'instrument for entertainment'. Its prime function is to amuse and entertain people in their idle time or to kill their boredom. Most of the English teachers in primary schools are obsessed with essays on 'Television: An Idiot box'. Almost every year, students give identical rhetoric speeches on same topic in elocution competitions and debates and keep on proving television as an Idiot Box. Thus, from a very small age, we solidify the notions of watching television as a trivial activity which is used to kill time or for pleasure and to get information (through 24 hours running news channels or National Geography and Discovery channels).

Is watching television only limited till the above stated notions developed in us from a young age? As a matter of fact, television industry is a highly profitable industry. It not only generates employment in creative sector, like writing, acting, directing, etc. but also, in technical and financial sectors. Qualified engineers are recruited to develop and circulate new and latest technologies such as Direct to Home (DTH) services, inventing new and better television sets for a better television watching experience, technical assistance in producing television programmes, telecasting them and so on. Thus television also plays an important role in economic development of any country.

Not only economical, but television can also cause major political repercussions. Arvind Rajgopal in his book, ‘Politics After Television’, analysis the emergence of one of the strongest political parties and the development of Hindutva movement in India. He says, “In January 1987, the Indian state-run television began broadcasting a Hindu epic in serial form, The Ramayana, to nationwide audiences, violating a decade-old taboo on religious partisanship. What resulted was the largest political campaign in post-independence times, around the symbol of Lord Ram, led by Hindu nationalists. The complexion of Indian politics was irrevocably changed thereafter.” He further adds, “While audiences may have thought they were harking back to an epic golden age, Hindu nationalist leaders were embracing the prospects of neoliberalism and globalisation. Television was the device that hinged these movements together, symbolising the new possibilities of politics, at once more inclusive and authoritarian.” Studies like these establish that watching television is after all not as trivial an activity as it seems to be. It can influence ideologies of masses which can result into great political moments.

Along with economic and political affects, television greatly influences our cultural dynamics. On one hand India is shackling out of its third world image the popular mediums (read current Indian soap operas), representing it‘s culture across the globe still depict India as a socially rigid nation.

The idiot box is not as idiot as it seems, infact on is not aware about when the viewer is converted into believing the myths floated from the same.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Today's Monuments

Mumbai got a new landmark on 30 June 2009, inaugurated by Congress President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Much later it was named Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link, a project that claims to be ‘one of the most highly recommended project of all the transport studies done for the metropolitan region.’ The Sea link has come to be a glamorous substitute for the Mahim Causeway, which was the only link connecting the western suburbs with the island city of Mumbai.

In a recent poll conducted by the Mumbai Mirror to list seven architectural wonders of the city, the Bandra Worli Sea-Link, as it is popularly called, topped the list. The some others in the list were the Gateway of India, Mount Mary Church, Gorai Vipassana Pagoda. These were monuments were chosen over places like Dhobi Ghat, Mani Bhavan, the Seven headed Shiva, Sewree fort which also contested for ‘wonder’ status. The Banganga, Docks, the Muhamad Ali Road, Chor Bazaar, Bhuleshwer, Carter Road promenade-all brimming with the various characteristics which comprise the essence of the city, were perhaps enough uncanny to be not considered for the poll. What would be the parameters to decide a monument or an ‘architectural wonder’ in this context? Is it the symbolic importance? If symbolic in terms of history, then what is the history of the city we choose to look at? When the general mass cannot identify a prominent misquote during the polls-to call the Caves of Mahakali and Jogeshwari ‘tunnels’ of Mumbai. However, this is not a deference to the idea that the Sea link is a structure of merit. 

The success of the Sea-Link is being discussed perhaps on the following parameters- It is among the most complex & advanced construction projects ever in India, a major project in Mumbai metropolitan region after Mumbai-Pune expressway, the Sea Link reduces travel time between Bandra and Worli from 45–60 minutes to 7 minutes; also the single tower supported 500 metre long cable-stayed bridge at Bandra Channel and twin tower supported 350 m cable-stayed bridge at Worli Channel for each carriageway and also an intelligent bridge system which will provide additional traffic information, surveillance, monitoring and control systems. Last but not the least; it will be the new landmark for Mumbai, a power symbol of immense pride for the nation’s economic capital. Mumbai’s new monument which every Mumbaikar is taking a great collective pride in, irrespective whether they are entitled to use it or not. Such symbols of technological progress are thus transcending from their primary functions and begin to form our new monuments as a part of nation building. Mumbai postcards have already begun replacing the Gateway with the Sea-Link.

Interestingly the Sea Link is also a new addition to the landmark destinations of the Mumbai Darshan tours. These are a day long daily tours organised by private bus owners, cashing on the huge number of domestic and international tourists who come ‘to see’ Mumbai. They have some very interesting destinations like the clichéd Girgaum Chowpatty, Hanging Gardens to some other popular landmark  like Mantralaya, ISKON temple  and interestingly the bungalows of some Bollywood stars. This bus tour, which takes the tourists across the city creating spectacles of unusual landmarks, now crosses over to the suburbs using the Sea-Link, with the tourists-especially domestic, ‘wowing’  at the play of cables and the distanced view of the city the bridge offers

Some Reflections

Vipassana Pagoda, Gorai.    Starry Nights, Vincent Van Gough.   Space of a mirror/dream.

Walking into the space of the Gorai Vipassana Pagoda is walking into recluse. Sitting in loose circular rows directed towards the centre of the grand dome are some Buddhist monks meditating. The dome- a pink stone canopy stretches in never ending volumes forming a new horizon within. There are waves of reverberation in its atmosphere. This is not just an acoustical experience. It is the geometry or the physical manifestation of the building which aspires and manages to transcend one from the physical world into a spiritual one.  Its ‘golden’ spire, it being the largest stone monument and a technological marvel –all these factual knowledge seem immaterial at the moment one is within its architecture. It is the beginning of an introverted experience. Driving towards the monumental Pagoda, circum-ambulating the enormous golden exteriors and then as one walks into the domed mediation centre, admirations of the volumes follows a reflection into oneself. This is the experience you associate with the image of the Pagoda.

Essences of experiences are often repeated. Or one derives similarities between experiences to make sense of the previous or the present. Van Gogh painted Starry Night while in an Asylum at Saint-Remy in 1889. He has painted a night sky caught in the storm of strokes which swirl across the canvas to create a turbulence over a sleepy village scene. The steeple of the church rises from the village into the sky. To the left of the painting there is a massive dark structure, compared to the scale of other objects in the painting. Its curving lines which mirror the sky create inquisitiveness. Could it be a mountain? Or a leafy bush? Or a spirit rising to the sky? Are we seeing a reflection of Van Gough mind? A mind restless within the confines of an asylum. Each star is lit up by its own curious orb. It is unlike the starry sky one has seen. We see what the artist seems to see. He wrote to his brother in a letter: "And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me."

And as we talk of dreams. There are often dreams I get of myself staring into the mirror. As I look on, at myself, I see myself going deeper and deeper into the space of a mirror and all my attempts will be to hold on to myself in that space were I do not even exist-in the mirror, in the dream. It is often a very tiring experience, one that you can call a nightmare.  After this when I encounter my dressing table mirror, the first look at my ownself sends a jolt down my spine. Somehow I am not calm to still be what I remember I am. I touch the cold surface of the mirror to only know that unfeeling reflection of mine will touch me back and the physics of the distances exist in all rationale and scientific values. I have again resorted to logic to wash out a highly emotional and evocative experience. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Some days I continue to stare at myself through all the mirrors I encounter in the day. The side mirror of my car, the glazing at a supermarket, the mirrors in the bathroom of a cinema, the glass door of my office, all which reflects me ‘me’! Logic wishes to understand the rationale of these experiences- these experiences of fear, of introspection, of obsessive analysis. Words, questions filling up in the brain-forming an introversion, a meditation. These reflections and various experiences of a mirror!

Reflections on work of artist : Do-Ho Suh

How would it feel to walk over a glass floor pushing your weight on miniature men? As I watch the video of this art work, and see the viewers in the gallery crouching on the glass floor to get a better glimpse of these miniature men, ‘Scale’ is the first word that comes to my mind when I see Do-Ho Suh works of art. From a distance what seemed like a carpet on the gallery floor, on further zooming was replaced by these Lilliputian men who hands were up, holding the glass. Were they trying to push the weight away? Were they being trampled under the weight? Scale not only in terms of the physical sizes, but also quantitatively. Similarly another work which uses dog badges and the sculpture slowly grows from the floor into the robes of perhaps a non-existing monarch/patriarch. As the viewers walk over it creating crunching noises, they also carefully observe what is written on these badges. So is the wall filled with identity card photographs of the students! Each unit which makes all these works is small and unique. However when they come together as a mass all that one can perhaps see is the huge scale. I can sense crowd, a sense of alienation and a search for identity. Images of the crowd of commuters taking the Mumbai local train after their office hours come to my mind. What I liked was the way gallery space was used to display/make these works.

The artist shares a similar experience he felt about school uniforms. One of his works deals with this. Uniformed busts are arranged in rows- like soldiers/students standing for drill.  Interestingly the uniforms were stitched together by the sides, so that they become one big unit. We have people who are tried to be made so similar that we do not notice them mutating into one another. I found this a very deep comment on urban lives we live in. When there daily clock to rigidity follow, set of rules without which survival is impossible, man becomes a machine-a means of production. This experience is dictated by obligations- to the employer, authorities, family, etc. We are all part of that ‘anonymous everyday life’. I remember some scenes from the movie Metropolis. Another experience which fuels his work was his term of mandatory service in the South Korean military. 

The nostalgia and longing form an important theme to many of his works. "Once my fortune teller told me that I have five horses and that means that I travel a lot," says Do-Ho Suh who was born and schooled in Seoul, Korea. Being overshadowed by his father, Suh wanted to make a mark of his own and relocated to the United States to continue his higher studies. However he still travels between his life and studio in New York and a life full of memory and family ties in Seoul, South Korea. La/seoul/NY/Baltimore/ London is one of his work coming from his idea of ‘wanting to carry his home’. Using traditional Korean techniques of sewing, Suh creates an ephemeral space with very beautiful details, all from his memory. He speaks about how memories of your childhood and its association with space becoming a part of you. In many cities when we do not own a place to stay and have to keep shifting their rented apartments, our attachments associated with the place are only carried on as memories and photographs. Also with a lot of globe-trotting and migrations, the questions where do we belong and where is our home linger. Longing and search for identity fuse

A home away from home

Perhaps since my parents migrated away from ’their’ home as a young couple to make their lives, they are always nostalgic. They are nostalgic about their childhood, their culture, their festivals (ulsavams), even their language-malayalam.This nostalgia has survived 35 years though they have accepted Mumbai as a second home. The padams(fields) and the ancestral home have been left behind only physically.

The acquisition of an ‘own’ space in Mumbai was a long journey for them. Beginning with humble earnings, it took them some years before they bought their first house after living in staff quarters of my father’s company. Aesthetically this place never satisfied them owing to comparisons with their home in Kerala. There was no open space. We had to share space and rooms with each other. It was not even comfortable as the previous quarters which were considerably huge and in the middle of a forested area-it was much closer to their idea of a home. But now they owned this place. Mom began her process of conversion of space. She added a balcony garden, a little fish tank, and some openable grills with flower creepers to our two BHK flat. Dad’s collection of wooden masks, Karnatic music cassettes and mom’s Krishna and Ganesh idols soon occupied the walls and shelves of our new house in neat organised displays. It became customary for them henceforth to carry a part of Kerela- a lamp, a brass vessel, a mask- back after our annual vacation there. That was our idea of vacation- visiting home.

We as children were to speak in Malayalam compulsorily. A habit which still continues. The language forms one of the biggest connections with their home. And this was their only bridge to their belonging, which they insisted we inherited. And perhaps of all the rules set for our childhood, this was the only one we never resisted. This extended to the dictatorship of Malayalam television and movies in our home.
The only explosion that existed in this Mumbai Keralite home was the room shared by me and my sister. School books, novels, pop-magazines, paintings, posters, some interesting discards occupyied aclusterish and revolutionary existence only in our room. The room was a confusion, a mixture and exploration. Both me and my sister, had inherited the tradition of carrying back a piece of the place on a travel, thus our travels started contributing to the décor of the house-not without resistance or debate most of the time. And sometimes blantant disapproval at the nature of the souvenir.

An important character in our home is the telephone. The telephone forms the only tangible form of communication for my parents with their kith and kin. Investing in telephones has always been my dad’s obsession. Each room has a telephone connection, inspite of being a small and accessible home.
Often I have wondered while growing up, if this nostalgia was triggered by the anxiety of alienation they faced in a city with a very different culture. However their eclectic set of friends negate this idea.Also their tolerance of our multi-cultural value system. This city was definitely a new home-where they got opportunities to fulfil their dreams. Along with adapting a 800sq ft apartment into a home filled with archives of their memories of their home, the new city was accepted and loved for its own reasons. However the eternal nostalgia of what they left, lies etched in their lives and on the surfaces our home.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Please think of our Natural Resources!

Recently, an interesting topic- Environmental Art was being discussed on many blogs. It was intriguing to read about artists and architects engaged in shaping the future of our natural resources; and redefining Art and Architecture for people at large. Not only have they challenged themselves but have also made a paradigm shift towards generating green economy.

One of the blogs on the topic mentioned about a Canadian artist, Sean Martindale and his group of friends who had creatively designed the edges of the neglected tree planter boxes and replanted them by adding, real as well as paper flowers to it. According to the artist it turned out to be an economic project. He mentioned that the money used on the project added to the green economy. Also, directly engaging with the urban fabric, his project delivered a dynamic collective participation between the living beings and the natural resources (here trees).

With such initiatives towards building a green economy, we still face the question that how much of the Environmental art will be really advantageous to our natural resources? And, will it be beneficial to the smallest of the organism? Sadly, we think in parts and not in whole. For instance, until and unless an artist considers natural resources as one of the most important aspects of his/her works, he/she will never be able to connect with it. For example an architect creates a building that shapes the land and socially connects with the surroundings. But, it is the land that is the point of intersection of the building and the human activity. Hence, natural resources form the most important organs of any work of art.

Christopher Alexander, author of the book The Pattern Language, quotes from it that when you build a thing, you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it. In other words, any individual (whether an artist or architect) should strive to contextualize his/her project rather than showcasing it as a preposterous dog-and-pony show. Not being concupiscent will help in rejuvenating our ideas that are buried in the debris of concrete and steel.

Admissions Open

CEPT will train students to become consultants to the media and publishing industry
Art is ubiquitous. It may not be particularly dignified or newsworthy all the time, but it is there everywhere. From the arrangement of utensils in a Kutch dwelling to the art of Subodh Gupta, there is an intrinsic sense of aesthetics that transfixes an art aficionado. However, why do people use it everyday? What significance does it hold? These are questions that have gained momentum over time. This growing awareness has created a need to fill the gap between the observer and the creator.
CEPT (Centre for Environmental Protection and Technology), an educational institution based in Ahmedabad, is one of the first in the country to start a course in Arts Journalism.
The two-year Master's Programme seeks to integrate and build on CEPT's strengths in the field of architecture, interior design, environment planning, conservation and urban design, amongst others. The students will be provided with opportunities to create new paradigms in learning and presenting the arts through different mediums.
The emphasis will be on helping the students to reflect upon art, design and creativity beyond their material forms, and more as an attitude towards life as a whole.
New perspective
Dhwani Dalal, a second-year student from Arts Journalism and also a vocalist, says, “This course, apart from helping me discover myself, has been extremely engaging. Learning has never been so much fun. It has also brought in the realisation that it is imperative to provide interpretations of works of art to the common people.”
The opportunities are manifold. The Art Journalists can become writers, journalists, creative consultants to the media (electronic, visual, and the radio) and explore prospects with the publishing industry, art galleries, art and design studios and magazines.
For more details, log onto the website www.cept.ac.in.
Forms can be downloaded from the website for the coming session.