I am a multidisciplinary artist from Bangalore, studied in MS University. Currently practicing in Bangalore, Karnaraka. My work has developed in number of ways over the years yet from the very beginning of my art practice, I have workded in Painting, Printmaking, Installation, Video Art and Live/ Performance art. My intention is to blend these mediums into an interdisciplinary language.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Word on the street

Project 560, a Bengaluru-centric arts initiative, leverages nostalgia and local knowledge to take art to the masses.

Article by RAMYA SRINIVASAN, BusinessLine (BLink), July 29, 2016.

Just look around you. Every space seems to tell a story. From the cosy corner of the house that relaxes you to the lush green park where you love to take your kids, from the favourite restaurant that is your go-to weekend stopover to the city you were born in, places are special and have the ability to reserve a sweet spot in your memories. Every place has a unique energy, soul, character and history. In a quest to discover such spaces and celebrate them unabashedly, the ‘Found Spaces’ festival was started in 2014 by the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA).

For over 20 years, IFA has been contributing to the field of arts research, practice and education. Its Project 560 is an ode to Bengaluru, to the artistic richness of the city and the abundance of creative expressions that integrate the city’s past with the present. “Often, we do projects at a national level and miss the local advantage that we have. By focusing on Bengaluru, where IFA is based out of, we have been able to go deeper and connect better with people,” says Sumana Chandrasekhar, programme executive, IFA, who is also responsible for Project 560.

As for 560, it is the first three digits of the city’s pin code. Over two years, Project 560 has been prolific with not fewer than 12 projects. The unifying theme across these projects is to discover spaces in the city and explore them through an artist’s frame of reference.

Chandrasekhar explains how the seed for this annual tradition was sowed, “Around 2009, the theatre infrastructure cell of IFA was researching the physical infrastructure in Manipur, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. What we found was that while infrastructure was available, there were technical and cost-related challenges. This made us think about using non-proscenium spaces.” Unfortunately, IFA had to close down the Theatre Infrastructure Cell due to budget constraints, but it held on to the idea.

The concept was picked up again in 2014 and executed as the ‘Found Spaces’ festival, this time with funding from the Qualcomm Foundation (Citi India sponsored the 2015 edition). Six projects were selected each year to explore the city’s informal spaces and the artists were given grants to could execute them. The events and performances were held over three days, with the selected artists exhibiting their work.

The 12 projects offer interesting variations, exploring Bengaluru’s nooks and crannies as well as popular hangouts, paying homage to the past but also looking towards the future. The performers range from individuals to large groups, targeting an audience ranging from the elite to the layman.

Where food meets literature

Mangala N, a theatre professional for around 30 years, decided to celebrate the popular south Indian food joint Vidyarthi Bhavan, known for its delicious masala dosa and salivating filter coffee, with a multi-sensory artistic experience combining theatre, music and visual installations. The culinary landmark has been around since 1943, boasting a rich history. The story goes that Vidyarthi Bhavan declared August 15, 1947 as a holiday, and as the day fell on a Friday, the tradition of having a Friday holiday continues till date.

Mangala wanted to trace the history of the restaurant that went hand-in-hand with the Kannada literary movement. She explains, “Vidyarthi Bhavan is an important part of the city’s cultural map, frequented by artists, literary personalities, sportspeople and politicians. So we did a theatrical performance with imaginary conversations between artists from the past and the present. For example, how would it be if greats such as DV Gundappa, Rajarathnam, AN Krishna Rao and Vishnuvardhan spoke to contemporary artists such as Vasudhendra, Rangayana Raghu and PD Sathish Chandra? What would the greats think about the current blogging and social media culture? How would they perceive the shift from print to digital media?” All these questions (and more) were answered with an effective mix of improvisations and scripted performances. On the day of the performance, the restaurant was filled to more than twice its capacity. Huge projector screens placed outside the venue relayed the event live to the gathering crowd on Gandhi Bazaar road. “The audience got so engrossed in the performance that during the curtain call, they sang Kannadave satya, Kannadave nitya along with the performers. It was an unforgettable experience,” says Mangala.

Mohan gets to tell his story

While Mangala explored the curious intersection of art and food, the Klatsch collective put the spotlight on the 106-year-old Mohan building in Chikpet, a crowded area that houses several commercial establishments and issimply known as ‘market area’ in city circles. “Klatsch is a German word meaning people coming together to do something,” explains Shaunak Mahbubani, a member of the group. “The Mohan building had an eerie quality to it and, through a series of 22 installations, we wanted to bring alive its story, the people who walked in it and the memories lodged inside.”

Over a period of three months, the motley group of 15 collaborated for Project 560, creating interactive installations. There was a guided tour through which people can get to know ‘Mohan’ better. “We did a lot of research on the building and, while we remained true to the characters we came across, we also fictionalised some finer details,” says Mahbubani. For example, the team visualised the building as an old man called ‘Mohan’, who narrates his emotional and physical journey over the years.

The building had originally been a family’s home and named ‘Ahmed’. It later got a different name and continued to change in its functions. It was home to Bombay Anand Bhavan, later a police station and then a bunch of shops. Klatsch published a newspaper about the building’s ‘good old days’, narrating Mohan’s life story as seen through his eyes and the eyes of five characters who lived there.

Recounting the positive response, Mahbubani says, “There was a stunning turnout from the people in that area. They had been seeing us visiting the building for three months and were curious to see our work. People would visit us one day and then, later, bring their friends and acquaintances, too. Some of them became so familiar with the installations that they began to give the tour to the guests.”

Mohan building is popular only in its immediate vicinity, but it evoked enormous interest. Using the subject of metamorphosis of a building, it tapped into the universal feeling of nostalgia and the inevitable changes that happen in a city, or in life itself.

Eclectic performances

The heterogeneity in the different projects is impressive. They cover a gamut of artistic expressions such as theatre, dance, music, poetry recitation, installations, curated walks and more. Also, they cater to a variety of audiences. The Mohan building project had a strong geographical context, attracting locals from around the Bengaluru Pete area. The Vidyarthi Bhavan project appealed to a wider cross-section of people, some of whom came in to know more about the restaurant and some to understand its influence on Kannada literature.

While S Ramanatha’s performance on theatre legend BV Karanth attracted people from Kannada theatre and literature, Archana Prasad’s ‘Malleswaram calling’ got an overwhelming reception from vegetable vendors, rickshaw-wallahs and pedestrians. Prasad installed a telephone booth-like structure under the Yeshwantpur flyover that functioned as a story-telling machine. Anyone could simply walk in, pick up the phone and hear recordings of residents sharing their stories on the transformation of Malleswaram. Curious passers-by walked in and enjoyed this opportunity to get an insight into the place.

Prathibha Nandakumar’s ‘Ondu Lessu Ondu Plussu’ was set in Coffee House, with a dramatised enactment and recitation of her avant-garde poems that explore difficult subjects such as death, lesbianism and hypocrisy.

Dimple Shah took the concept to the streets, stationing herself in six different locations over a period of three months.

She chose spots such as National College, Ramakrishna Ashram and Bull Temple, targeting diverse age groups. Shah recalls this incident, “One gentleman recited a Sanskrit shloka on the spot, urging citizens to be well-informed and make intelligent decisions. It was elections time, and it was amazing to see how he performed something so relevant, spontaneously.”

One step closer to understanding

Bengaluru has been going through a transformation. What was once called a garden city is now dominated by brick structures that challenge the skyline. What was once a land where people spoke only one language predominantly has now turned into a collage of people from different cultures, speaking different languages. The individual is trying to fit in but is unsure about what he should be fitting into. It is a city that seems to belong to everyone, and to no one.

“People really need something like Project 560, as it is a wonderful opportunity to cut across barriers and engage with the multiple Bengalurus within the city,” says Chandrasekhar. By taking art directly to people from multiple segments of life, Project 560 is bringing Bengaluru residents one step closer to understanding and cherishing it.

Link to the article - http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/watch/project-560-word-on-the-street/article8916129.ece

Dimple B Shah

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