During my tutorial with Ronnie Inglis we spoke about the meaning behind the autobiographical trend in my work and further topics of study, especially in relation to place-making. We discussed my previous areas of interest such as the city and fantasy, collective versus personal urban memories, place-making in relation to site-specific art, use of the shadow, and representing extremes. He directed me towards the book History of the Shadow which greatly influenced my work in the following weeks. The topic of Genius loci is relevant because I am interested in shooting my projections in outdoor locations. According to Thompson (2003, p.67) 'the Romans believed that places, like people, had inner spirits that determined their essences,' and similarly I was interested in this essence of Mumbai. Thompson also mentions that for genius loci to be useful rather than a mere magical notion it should be a combination of 'character, local distinctiveness and ecosystem' (2003, p.69). This lead to the idea of representing the city as a fictionalized creation, in the same way a writer creates a fictional character.
And a thing's character changes and develops over time. This can happen slowly or through abrupt events. The reading made me realize that Mumbai has not developed slowly or without trauma. It has grown in bursts and starts. Several traumatic events such as the '93 bombings and the more recent 26/11 Taliban attack have affected the city. We could argue however, that despite these severe shocks the essence of the city remains the same. According to Norberg-Schulz (cited in Thompson, 2003, p.70) "places can change, sometimes rapidly, but this does not necessarily mean that the genius loci changes or gets lost."
An excellent example of the genius loci being kept intact by an architect is the above landscape park Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord by Peter Latz. The place was 'traumatized by industrialization and deindustrialization' and the architect built upon 'its existing character, creating fern gardens in ore bunkers and making their mass concrete walls into facilities for rock climbers' (Thompson, 2003, p.72). This connects to my idea of using appropriate objects, materials and sites that are relevant to the trauma and violence of the city.
^Cotton 56, Polyester 84 is a play about how the failed Mumbai Mills are getting converted into malls and entertainment complexes. Citizen's groups demand that the land should be converted into open parks and low cost housing, but slowly and surely all mill land will be sold to builders (Shanbag, 2006).
^Another abandoned Mumbai Mill.
As sites these are beautiful and tragic places that express this violent and crushing conflict between the here and the elsewhere, the undesirable and the desired. I can only pursue this direction further once I am back in India. At the same time it brings me to question my interest in these places, since my knowledge of these events is purely historical, through media reports and local people's opinions. At this point in my practice I would prefer to express issues and places that I have personally and directly experienced.
Another important aspect of place is memory, which is in turn closely related to history. Historical buildings such as the mills compounds and their replacements are part of a general history of the city. Individual memories have a completely different flavour. In the book City of Collective Memory the author underlines this difference by proposing that history and memory are bipolar attributes because history is linear and memory non-linear (Boyer, 2001, p.67). Collective memory is 'a current of continuous thought still moving in the present, still part of a group's active life, and these memories are multiple and dispersed, spectacular and ephemeral, not recollected and written down in one unified story' (Boyer, p.67).
Another fascinating point is that this urban memory is 'an antimuseum and not localizable' (Boyer, p.68). This means that my earlier work using popular landscapes and landmarks was a reference to history, a revision of a recognizable historical reality. It is also a reference to memory since I have taken various historical elements and placed them in a contemporary context. Now that I am using scenes that are not famous or instantly recognizable such as the Thane landscape I am removing "historical" elements from the work.
The next topic is framing. We frame the place or city 'by travel, in the theater, at the museum, from the cinema, through its architectural compositions' (Boyer, p.70). The panorama as a framed image is questionable - the city of the panorama is criticized for its 'rational scientific methods,' 'describable pasts' and 'predictable futures' (Boyer, p.68). The author criticizes common recycled views of the city saying 'We have learned to gaze upon the city as artifact through illustrated portfolios and architectural guidebooks that have their own procedures for characterizing place and tradition' (Boyer, p.69).
And finally I'll quote Victor Burgin (1996, p.7) who says that 'we cannot know a 'city', only those of its places we come to frequent.'
Boyer, C (2001). The City of Collective Memory, Its Historical Imagery and Architectural Entertainments. MIT Press.
Burgin, V. (1996). Some Cities. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.
Thompson, I. (2003). What use is the genius loci? In: Menin, S.(eds). Constructing Place, Mind and Matter. London: Routledge. pp.66-76.
Pile, S. and Thrift, N. (2000). City A-Z. London: Routledge
Wikipedia. (2011). Urbanism [online] Available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urbanism. [Accessed 23rd April 2011].