Posts tagged theory
More on Shadows
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In his essay In Praise of Shadows Japanese novelist Tanizaki writes about the conflict between western and eastern aesthetics in the modern world. He says that Japanese 'find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.' He emphasizes beauty in subtlety and that which cannot be seen too clearly, leaving some of the experience to our imagination. Pallasmaa talks of something similar when he emphasizes the importance and intimacy of darkness:

The eye is the organ of distance and separation, whereas touch is the sense of nearness, intimacy and affection. The eye surveys, controls and investigates, whereas touch approaches and caresses. During overpowering emotional experiences, we tend to close off the distancing sense of vision; we close our eyes when dreaming, listening to music, or caressing our beloved ones. Deep shadows and darkness are essential, because they dim the sharpness of vision, make depth and distance ambiguous, and invite unconscious peripheral vision and tactile fantasy. (Pallasmaa, 1996, p.46).

Pallasmaa continues to say that bright lights kill our imagination whereas twilight, dimly lit spaces and foggy scenes spark our sense of mystery, the mystical and mythological. Tanizaki also mentions this sense of tranquility and calm in shadows, that which separates the inside from the outside:

Whenever I see the alcove of a tastefully built Japanese room, I marvel at our comprehension of the secrets of shadows, our sensitive use of shadow and light. For the beauty of the alcove is not the work of some clever device. An empty space is marked off with plain wood and plain walls, so that the light drawn into its forms dim shadows within emptiness. There is nothing more. And yet, when we gaze into the darkness that gathers behind the crossbeam, around the flower vase, beneath the shelves, though we know perfectly well it is mere shadow, we are overcome with the feeling that in this small corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence; that here in the darkness immutable tranquility holds sway. (Tanizaki, 1977).

In my work there is a combination of bright light that hurts the eye and multiple shadows. Parts of the space are brighter and dimmer than others. The views of the city begin with twilight, continue to sunset and then cycle back to twilight in an endless loop. Various kind of shadows are present in the work, those that are glaring and sharp and others that are subtle and noticeable only after an amount of time spent in the space. Due to a feedback loop dim mirror versions of yourself are also visible in the walls, each a mere second after the next. The overall effect is an experience which is disconcerting as you see several shadows of yourself, the other in the walls on either side. Despite bright lights the audience cannot see the entire work because the city is fragmented with shadows. The gaps and shadows leave the final interpretation up to the audience themselves. It is an experience which aims to express the inner conflict of the city, which I call Mumbai.

Reference: Pallasmaa, J. (1996). Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses. John Wiley & Sons: UK. Sowin, J. (2006). In Praise of Shadows: A Meditation. [online]. Available from:http://www.fireandknowledge.org/archives/2006/09/23/in-praise-of-shadows-a-meditation/ [Accessed 17th August 2011]. Tanizaki, J. (1977). In Praise of Shadows. Leete's Island Books: USA
Post-Traumatic Urbanism

Mumbai as a city has undergone several traumatic events in the past few years. Those in my direct memory and experience are the 26/11 attacks and the painfully recent 2011 bombings. Earlier I argued that despite these tragic events the city in essence remained the same. How does a city survive these traumatic events whether they are natural flash floods or terror attacks, and in what way does it change? Today people try to understand how cities survive and evolve through math and science. As a philosophy urbanism states that cities are vitally important to the progress of humanity. In his talk The Surprising Math of Cities and Corporations, West argues that cities are both the solution and the problem, underlining their bipolarity.

And the tsunami of problems that we feel we're facing in terms of sustainability questions, are actually a reflection of the exponential increase in urbanization across the planet... However, cities,despite having this negative aspect to them, are also the solution. Because cities are the vacuum cleaners and the magnets that have sucked up creative people, creating ideas, innovation, wealth and so on. So we have this kind of dual nature. (Geoffrey West, 2011)

West explains why cities are so successful when he says 'You could drop an atom bomb on a city, and 30 years later it's surviving. Very few cities fail.' Mumbai as a city has survived several traumatic events over the past two hundred years, though nothing on such a catastrophic level. It is an ancient place that has been ruled by a succession of invaders. There is even evidence that suggest that the islands have been colonized by humans since the Stone Age. Each event in this recorded and unrecorded past have changed the landscape and its people, but I am most interested in its recent traumas.

So cities are extremely successful, bipolar creatures. But how do traumas affect them? Philosopher and critical theorist Andrew Benjamin says that 'trauma involves a more complex sense of place.' He proposes that the city contains forgotten and repressed settings that are beyond memory but always present, creating an 'estrangement' and sense of the 'unaccustomed' when such events return.

The term 'post-traumatic' refers to the evidence of the aftermath - the remains of an event that are missing. The spaces around this blind spot record the impression of the event like a scar. (Lahoud, 2010. p.19).

Cities like Mumbai and Beirut have developed in unstable uncertainty and in many ways are resilient survivors. They have adapted with 'redundant networks' and 'diversity and distribution' rather than 'centralized efficiency' which makes them flexible in the face of shocks to infrastructure (Lahoud, 2010). When it comes to events like the most recent bomb attack in 2011, the city picked up the pieces and went on the next day as if nothing had happened. Local trains continued to run. The event was given its significant narrative by the media and the places that were bombed were cleared up. Memories and the gaps created by such violence will always remain an intrinsic part of the city's architecture. But it is Mumbai's impenetrable resilience in the face of such catastrophes that fascinates me. Events such as 9/11 in a first world country completely derailed the city, but in Mumbai it was in many ways business as usual. But forgetting like we do in Mumbai does not erase the hurt.

The Diversity Machine and Resilient Network, 2009. Social Transformation Studio. Martin abbot, Georgia Abbot, Clare Johnston, Joshua Lynch and Alexandra Wright.
Anthony Burke says that the reason cities are so difficult to predict is that they are very complex systems 'growing at the edge of chaos.' Even small events can lead to avalanche-like conditions because both natural and human-made catastrophes display a self-organizing criticality or the:

...tendency of large systems with many components to evolve into a poised, `critical' state, way out of balance, where minor disturbances may lead to events, called avalanches, of all sizes. Most of the changes take place through catastrophic events rather than by following a smooth gradual path. The evolution to this very delicate state occurs without design from any outside agent. The state is established solely because of the dynamical interactions among individual elements of the system: the critical state is self-organized. Self-organized criticality is so far the only known general mechanism to generate complexity. (Per Bak, 1997, p.1).

The idea that a city is on the verge of chaos is not far from many narratives in western popular culture. The accepted line is that just one push is enough to bring the whole system crumbling down. However the theory above is not as simple as that, these systems are large and therefore extremely difficult to destroy completely. Its heartening to see that even human cities are in the end, part of nature, and follow patterns similar to natural phenomenon such as weather.

Although there are no definitive answers to what post-traumatic urbanism is the term itself raises critical questions and discussion. An often quoted statistic today is that the urban world is larger than the rural world, which underlines the importance of trying to understand urban trauma and its effect on the city and its people. In my journey to capture the essence of Mumbai, to explore unexpressed feelings of conflict created by repressed events and resolve my own perceptions and experience; it is this complexity which is central to understanding my art.

Reference: Benjamin, A. (2010). Trauma within the Walls: Notes towards a philosophy of the city. Architectural Design. Vol. 80. No.5. pp.24-31. Burke, A. (2010). The Urban Complex: Scalar probabilities and Urban Computation. Architectural Design. Vol. 80. No.5. pp.87-91. Lahoud, A. (2010). Post Traumatic Urbanism. Architectural Design. Vol. 80. No.5. pp.14-23. Per Bak. (1996). How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organised Criticality. Copernicus Press: New York. West, G. (2011). The Surprising Math of Cities and Corporations. [online]. Available from http://www.ted.com/talks/geoffrey_west_the_surprising_math_of_cities_and_corporations.html [Accessed 2nd Aug. 2011].
Collaboration: The Third Hand
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[A summary of ideas from the book The Third Hand - Collaboration in Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism].

The book focusses on a period of western art history during the 1960's and 1970's which the author identifies as the beginnings of artist collaboration, a conscious movement away from individual lone artists making work in a conventional studio. He describes and classifies three kinds of collaborative artist teams. What most interested me in the discussion of the meanings and motivations behind various types of collaboration, was the issue of identity.

Through collaboration the voice of the artist is muted or dispersed, it is a break away from a singular artistic identity. The author introduces the idea of a 'third hand,' or ghost artist which is an elusive other or combined identity created in collaborative works. This third independent existence is in itself 'uncanny' because such a constructed ghost identity 'blurs the distinction between the real and phantasmic.'

The author's discussion of the uncanny helped me better understand my previous collaborative project Tobari No Akari 2. Using dolls, dream-like doubles and shadow doubles the images we created are surreal and uncomfortable, bringing forth memories from childhood but in a disconcerting way. We could also say that creating ghost doubles in the installation references the joint artistic will of the collaboration and work itself.

The video shown below is an attempt to document the collaborative process where we arranged and re-arranged the installation over several hours. It highlights the importance of collaboration as a method of creating more avenues of future work; as well as the potential for it to be a work of art in terms of performance.

The author also talks about artists that use collaboration as a means to escape personal limits and language, to travel beyond conventional authorship and representations of identity, or a 'relativisation and reformation of self.' I felt this was especially relevant to the motivation behind my collaborative projects; however I hesitate to deconstruct or over-explain the experience for fear of losing sense of its meaning and to some extent, its mystery.

Site-Specific Art
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During my research into place-making in phase two I briefly discussed the rigidity of a panoramic city view and my attempts to break it by framing unfamiliar cityscapes, using shadows and through collaboration. The book is relevant to my studies because it discusses creating place, the transitive nature of site, framing and virtual and 'real' spaces. The author describes monuments as loci's of power and authority (Kaye, 2000) in his chapter on Performing the City. This underlines the rigidity of the panorama since monuments are an iconic part of them. A relevant example is Mumbai's famous Nariman Point which is named after a historical Congress party leader and contains Indian and international financial institutions and government buildings such as CBI, RBI, Mittals, Birla's, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Vidhan Sabha etc.

Monumentality […] always embodies and imposes a clearly intelligible message. It says what it wishes to say - yet it hides a good deal more: being political, military and ultimately fascist in character" (Lefebvre, 1991 cited in Kaye, 2000, p. 34).

He also discusses the relation between the body and the city or built environment and the body and the space, which in this case is the installation space in artist Wodiczko's work. A completely artificial and constructed installation is also a built environment. People interact with the architecture of the city, and similarly the audience interacts with the architecture of installation. The artist says that 'Our position in society is structured through bodily experience with architecture' (Wodiczko, 1992 cited in Kaye, 2000, p. 38).

In the installation test below, the audience directly affects an abstracted view of the city. In this constructed space people can directly change and affect an image of the architecture, making it fluid and interchangeable.

The author says 'where the site functions as a text perpetually in the process of being written and being read, then the site-specific work's very attempt to establish its place will be subject to the process of slippage, deferral and indeterminacy in which its signs are constituted' (Kaye, 2000, p. 183).

Further reading lead me to Merleau-Ponty's theories of phenomenology and perception where he discusses the essence of perception and experience. He says that we cannot separate our minds and bodies from our perception of the world, or in other words that we are 'condemned to meaning' (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, p. xxii). In his book the Phenomenology of Perception he discusses the relationship between reflective and unreflective experience, psychological and physiological aspects of perception, and consciousness as a process that includes feeling and reasoning.

We must not, therefore, wonder whether we really perceive a world, we must instead say: the world is what we perceive. (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, xviii).

In his book Eyes of the Skin, Pallasmaa talks at great length about the beauty of human perception and how the senses interact with each other to form experience. He emphasizes the importance of a sense experience as a whole. He says there is a bias to the eye in the architectural practice because people are focussed on how a building looks rather than how a body can move within it or how it feels. When it comes to the perception of places he discusses the importance of emotion, memory, imagination and fantasy:

We have an innate capacity for remembering and imagining places. Perception, memory and imagination are in constant interaction; the domain of presence fuses into images of memory and fantasy. We keep constructing an immense city of evocation and remembrance, and all the cities we have visited are precincts in this metropolis of the mind. (Pallasmaa, 2005, p.67).

In my attempts to create a feeling of conflict within the city, a subtle realization of the bipolarity within Mumbai, the result was a space that could not be expressed as a still image. Not could it be expressed by only video. By adding a third dimension of time and motion, where the audience themselves make the image change and break the city is read as something in constant flux.

I know myself only in my inherence in time and in the world, that is, I know myself only in ambiguity. (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, p.402).

Reference: Kaye, N. 2000. Site-Specific Art: Performance, Place and Documentation. Routledge: London Merleau-Ponty. 1962. Phenomenology of Perception. Routledge: London. Pallasmaa, J. (2005). Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses. John Wiley & Sons: UK. View Wodiczko's Bio & Work in detail.

Research Methods: Phase 1
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We've had several inputs on practice as research, however Dr. Sally Mackey's lecture helped clarify my ideas on the topic. Besides talking at length about the praxis between theory, reflection, action and practice she also mentioned creating a laboratory; an ideal set-up that would help answer and clarify the key questions of the research. The lab I have created is an installation space that allows the audience to interact with the work and each other. By continually experimenting in this interactive space I am able to clarify my key questions and focus my research topic further.

Currently I am attempting to transform a range of questions into one key point. Below is a list of possible topics of enquiry: How does the user's interaction with the space help add meaning to the work Mumbai+Bombay? How can an interactive space illustrate the conflict between the ideal elsewhere and the here in Mumbai? How does audience behavior and expectation affect the perceived meaning of the work Mumbai+Bombay? What is the perceived difference between an "insider" and "outsider" in viewing the work Mumbai+Bombay?

Dissemination and Application: Another important factor to consider is the dissemination of the final work. The web is the most easily accessible form the final work can take. Additionally, the work can be set up in a gallery or informal space as a more immersive experience of changeable dimensions.

Theoretical Framework:

Post Digital Age: As mentioned in my preliminary Study Plan the concept of a post-digital age introduced by John Maeda made a significant impact on my philosophy as a designer of interactive media. The terms clarifies the 'distinction between those that are passed their fascination with computers, and are now driven by the ideas instead of the technology (John Maeda, 2006).’

Heterotopia's and 'Other' Spaces:

Michel Foucault (1967) describes heterotopias as "places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society - which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality." Thus all cultures and civilizations contain such places. Foucault goes on to describe several different kinds of heterotopias, of which the following were most relevant to my practice.

Heterotopia of compensation: Especially relevant to colonies, these places are contrary by way of compensation and function between two extreme poles (Foucault, 1967):

"...their role is to create a space that is other, another real space, as perfect, as meticulous, as well arranged as ours is messy, ill constructed, and jumbled. This latter type would be the heterotopia, not of illusion, but of compensation, and I wonder if certain colonies have not functioned somewhat in this manner. In certain cases, they have played, on the level of the general organization of terrestrial space, the role of heterotopias."

Another example of a heterotopia is the "persian garden," where several plants and flowers from around the world co-exist in a small place which is like a microcosm of the larger world; "the garden is the smallest parcel of the world and then it is the totality of the world. The garden has been a sort of happy, universalizing heterotopia since the beginnings of antiquity..." Similarly by constructing a limited cityscape which includes as many landmarks and symbols as possible, I will attempt to explore this "other" space within Mumbai.

Research Methods

Qualitative Research: Systematic study of Mumbai and the ways the city is represented in popular media and art. Typical of qualitative research, this included looking at chosen media and art works in a case-based method. Each film, artwork, architectural style or documentary chosen for study was reviewed in detail. Thus the method encouraged looking into each case study in-depth rather than covering a broad overview of every possible representation of the city.

Interviews: Sudhir Patwardhan is an important artist within the Indian contemporary art movement, and his practice centers on Mumbai and it's people. Deeply influenced by his work Silent Town (2007) I contacted him by email in the beginning of Phase 1 for pointers on which artists and books I should study, since I found the lack of information of Indian contemporary art challenging. Here is an excerpt from his email which answers some of my questions:

Atul Dodiya is a major artist you may have heard off. Jitish Kallat is another. Krishnamachari Bose has done some interesting work connected to the city of Mumbai. In my generation, Gieve Patel's work - both as painter and poet is inspired by the city. You can try and see more of Nalini's work. Tushar Jog and the collective 'Open Circle' is also something to look at.
There is no book on art in Mumbai to recommend. Mostly scattered articles. Look for writings of Ranjit Hoskote and Girish Shahane, where ever you find them. Girish has a blog. 'Art India' edited by Abhay Sardesai is a quaterly magazine with lots of material.  'Art Concerns' is an on line magazine.

Reflexive Journal: Commonly used as part of qualitative research, a regularly updated reflexive journal of my thoughts, comments and ideas helped document my progress. The journal or blog is a complimentary annotation to the work.

Analysis of documents and materials: A continuous process of reviewing the cases studies, and their importance in answering the research questions. An important factor was reviewing the source itself, it's reliability and validity.

Analysis

In trying to maintain a "polyphonic conversation" between my practice and my research I have fallen into a method which is similar to a communication design process. The cyclical process-driven method of research Sally Mackey calls "praxis" is another way to describe the "design process" - a rigorous method of study and design followed by reflection, study and more design. One main difference is the stage of user-testing that most often precedes another round of reflection.

Phase 1 consisted of a similar cyclical research method. Creating a lab, or in this case an installation space where I can test the limits of my key questions, and then going back to the drawing board based on the results. This cycle of experiment, reflection and experiment helped clarify my theoretical framework as well as my practice. An important aspect of my reflection was discourse, relevant conversations with peers, faculty and artists.

Data collection and analysis of what was relevant to the project was challenging due to the significant amount of information available. Process involved choosing case-studies based on relevance to the project, and discarding information that did not fit within the required parameters such as visual style, architecture, historical significance, concept and theoretical framework. At the same time the lack of information within certain areas proved difficult. The information on the development of contemporary art in India was limited and in some cases contradictory. The history of Mumbai itself is long and complicated, a series of conflicts with contrary histories. Some of these issues resolved themselves in time through action. Others clarified when I drew on six years of personal experience, living as a Mumbaikar.

Another hurdle is my limited access to Mumbai itself. To overcome this, I will be travelling to Mumbai for ten days to collect information, visit artists, shoot films and record street sounds based on my findings in Phase 1.

Despite the above mentioned limitations, maintaining regular blog entries of my progress allowed me to pinpoint and correct events that were most influential or most detrimental to the development of my practice, and critically review the leaps I made from research to practice or vice versa.

Reference:

John Maeda. (2006). No Crackle Pop [online]. Available from: http://www.maedastudio.com/2006/burn/index.php?category=all&next=exists&prev=exists&this=burn [Accessed 21st October 2010]

Foucault, M. (1984) Des Espace Autres. Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuité. [online] Oct. 1984. Translated from French by Jay Miskowiec. Based on a lecture by Michel Foucault on March 1967. Available from: http://foucault.info/documents/heteroTopia/foucault.heteroTopia.en.html. [Accessed 5th Jan 2010]

Mackey, S (2010). Practice as Research: Performance, Place and Documentation. Arts University College at Bournemouth. 9th November.

Patwardhan, S. (patwardhansudhirATyahoo.com). 18th October 2010. Re: Questions from an art student. Email to A.Kulkarni.(aditi.aduATgmail.com)