Ars Electronica 2005
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Srishti School of Art Design and Technology

'Geetha Narayanan Geetha Narayanan

Designing Substantive Freedoms

Srishti School of Art Design and Technology is a small, private college that is located in Bangalore, South India. Founded in 1996 by the Ujwal Trust-a not-for-profit organization comprising only women professionals-Srishti is today both a vibrant community of art and design practitioners, students and academic /research professionals, and a hub of innovation and experimentation.

As the notion of the “Hybrid” is being critically examined this year at Ars Electronica 2005 it is important to note that as early as 1996 questions were asked within Srishti about the relationship between material wealth, technological expertise/infrastructure and the ability to live as we like.

While Srishti is primarily an undergraduate college offering formal programmes in both industrial and communication design, what is unique and valuable is its way of working. Abandoning conventional classrooms for the mess of the real world and using a combination of studio labs and real-life based projects, Srishti continually strives to bring the complexity of the real world into the institution.

Today, almost ten years from its inception, Srishti is proud to be recognized as an open community working at the creation of critical art and design oriented pedagogies. In addition to providing students with a strong foundation in practice & conceptual skills for successful careers in art & design, Srishti has also chosen to engage at the cutting edge of new media arts & technologies, and counterpoints this with addressing grassroots and development issues simultaneously.

The Curatorial Concept

The word freedom has developed so many new connotations in contemporary times. To many the notion of freedom is linked unambiguously to notions of national security, and this world view has seen the emergence of a vast array of unfreedom-related tools built around principles of surveillance and human distrust.
To others who build and regulate our unified and globalised financial world such as the WTO, the NASDAQ or BSE, freedom implies free trade and a free market. This mind-set has resulted in the creation of a set of parallel unfreedoms-notable amongst them is the regime of patents and quotas.

Today, we have entered an era in which free does not always mean fair, in which human identity may soon become a matter of pure biometrics, and issues of culture and context continue to be marginalized in favour of technology-created illusions of artificial human-ness. At this point in time it is critical to re-examine what it means to be human.
The Srishti exhibit for Ars Electronica this year is titled TANA-BANA which translated literally means the warp and the weft and is evocative of the ideal of “integrating communities or societies.”

The exhibition will show how the success of a society can be powerfully articulated by the freedoms enjoyed by the community-substantive freedoms that enhance their ability to help themselves and influence their world. The exhibition moves from the expressions of creative discontent of a young woman harassed on the streets of contemporary India to the constructive dissatisfaction of current students with the art and design academy; from an interactive installation highlighting the problems of living in a global IT capital to mapping understanding of one’s own micro-environment. The exhibition also presents work centered on the legacy of the 15th century Indian mystic, poet and weaver Kabir, as a path to weaving the spirit of substantive freedom into contemporary society-the TANA-BANA.

In developing the curatorial concept for this exhibition, the twin themes of creative discontent and constructive dissatisfaction were selected from Amartya Sen’s seminal work on the quality of life and the importance of the notion of substantive freedoms in the context of human development. However, during the design and development of the exhibition content it was difficult to remain fixed within these twin thematic constructs. Some critical questions that arose during the exhibition design are posed here for the audience to mull over:

  • Are dissatisfaction and discontent expressive of similar human conditions? How are they qualitatively different?

  • Is it possible to express creative discontent in a manner that is different to constructive dissatisfaction?

  • To us in Srishti these questions are vital and relevant given that we are located in the rapidly globalizing city of Bangalore—where today a memetically constructed viral identity is being created by the media and by the state and corporate sectors—that of a global IT City. These new virally created identities create huge expectations for the national and transnational communities that are gravitating here—not all of which are in sync with the creation of open societies, creative communities or indeed of substantive freedoms.
    At Srishti we do not take the view that high technology is the sole and primary driver of new media arts & design. To push this idea further the exhibition chooses to weave and create the fabric of substantive freedoms through the warps of culture and identity and the weft of journeys, experiences and human feeling. In addition the primary physical material used for the exhibition design is waste taken from advertising billboards. The graphic language of urban advertising is “remixed” through a physical cross-weave process.

    Theme 1: Constructive Dissatisfaction-Dissemination
    of Learning and Knowledge

    This theme explores issues pertaining to learning and pedagogy. In particular all the exhibits explore in different ways and in different milieus issues associated with notions of access, mobility, permeability and exchange within and without the formal academy.

    Synchronisations II
    Students: Umang Bhattacharya, Nishita Kavadia, Divya Viswanathan,
    Priyanka Dilip
    Advisors: Michael Coburn, Geetha Narayanan, Amphat Varghese and
    Arvind Lodaya

    This exhibit has built on a major international research project initiated by the Austrian-born artist and curator Clementine Deliss called the Future Academy. In February 2004 over 60 young students of art, architecture and media arts met in India for a unique think-tank called Synchronisations. Some of the initial propositions made by the students from India to the visiting students covered a wide range of contexts ranging from issues of inclusion and exclusion to the politics of the academy; from the creation of cultural reservoirs to the academy as mobile and self-destructing; from contests relating to the economy and the cost of learning to notions of information as currencies of exchange.
    This current project, including the development of this exhibit, has been funded by Ford Foundation India. Displayed is the final diploma project of four students who participated in Synchronisations. Through a series of scenarios and working proto-academies of the future, they examine the issues surrounding the ownership and legitimacy of academic knowledge through mechanisms of citation and quotations.

    Rustle TV
    Students: Arathi Parthasarthy, Ishan Ghosh, Nupur Mathur, Siddharth Muthyala, Pratima Kalmadi, Navin Kumar, Arshiya Naina, Pallavi Agarwala, Nomita Khatri, Khusrav Writer
    Advisors: Shaina Anand, Qusai Kathawala, Michael Joseph, Ramesh Kalkur,
    Jasmeen Patheja

    In November 2004 as part of “FORCE!”, an international new media arts festival, students from Srishti, led by Shaina Anand, filmmaker and media artist from Mumbai (chitrakarkhana.net) and in collaboration with other artists researched, filmed, programmed and broadcast a TV channel, all within the confines of this almost 100-year-old market in three weeks. The enclosed market presented a “microcosm” of the real world. Over this was forced an idealistic “utopia”. Commerce, authorship, and ego were absent as the group performed and worked in the service of the community—who, for a short time, had a high level of participation and control over their media.
    As opposed to the customary behavior of TV networks, for example, who “shoot and run”, this project involved a constant and open interface with the “subjects”. For one, they were also the primary audience. Rustle TV used a variety of tactical techniques and technologies remixing, MP3s, Live TV- jamming, cheap analog video mixers, DV cameras-to achieve its goals. Interestingly no advertising was generated for the over 200 shops in the market even though this service was available. An innovative 3-screen in-sync documentation presents the physical and programmatic breadth of this project.

    Fifteen Days
    Students: Umang Bhattacharya, Divya Viswanathan, Smriti Chanchani, Shashwati B., Thomas Abraham, Rajesh Narasimha, Shruti Shashidhar, Archana Bellani, Shreya Cariappa
    Conceived and directed by Industrial Designer and Founding Faculty of Srishti-Poonam Bir Kasturi

    The powerful film made with a simple camcorder works at many levels and asks some very critical questions: Are artisans artists? Should they be given the same opportunities and freedoms as artists? What is the nature of the relationship between the state and the craft communities? Do crafts communities provide learning opportunities to design students or is it the other way around? Where should the academy place its teaching and learning opportunities-in the classroom or in the real world? What does a crafts person perceive as value from designers? Can design knowledge and traditional knowledge collaborating together achieve anything at all, and if so, how?
    Many unfreedoms are exposed in this film which questions learning and knowledge creation in a very fundamental manner.

    Conceived and produced by Film-maker and Faculty Michael Joseph
    with Amphat Varghese.
    As part of its first serious critique of the inclusion of, need and role for New Media Arts within its formal curricula, Srishti organized in November-December 2000 “FORCE!”, an international new media arts festival. This festival brought together New Media Arts practitioners, theorists, faculty and students in a series of collaborative workshops to explore sonic art and soundscapes, sensors and interactive installations, street TV, wireless radiophony, multimedia performance and web-based archival. The festival ended with a seminar on the prospects of New Media Arts pedagogies in the contemporary Indian scenario. Ruminations is a reflective video work on New Media practices and pedagogies in the context of the art and design institution.

    Theme 2: Creative Discontent:
    Mapping Perceptions and Problems-Past and Present

    The city of Bangalore is unique in that it is growing in a fast, unplanned and problematic manner. Set against this backdrop of continuous change are four projects that examine what this change means in a personal context. The neighbourhood, the body, the informal economy within an IT city and the past are sub-themes within this section.

    The Lowlands Project
    Alumnus: Vaibhav Bhawsar
    Advisors: Ashok Sukumaran, Ayisha Abraham, Sanjit Sethi, Shuchi Grover, Geetha Narayanan

    The Lowlands are marginalized micro-territories that often complement the order of the urban within which they are built. The Lowlands embody physical characteristics and relationships that reflect the affective, cultural, economic and political states of the people who live in them. The Lowlands Project attempts to locate and assess the presence of these “low-lying” areas. The maps and data sets presented here challenge the customary Cartesian, static order of the “base map”. They show dynamic and evolving relationships between the Lowlands and other, easier-to-see parts of the Global Map.
    The Lowlands Project developed as an investigation into alternative mapping practices by Vaibhav Bhawsar. In his diploma project in late 2004 Vaibhav continued his forays into site-specific art. He developed his own opinions about mapping and geo-located information systems and then began a series of drifts in his own neighbourhood, Yelahanka.

    Blank Noise II
    Alumni and Research Associate: Jasmeen Patheja

    Blank Noise began as Jasmeen Patheja’s personal reaction to “eve teasing” or sexual harassment in public spaces. Since then, with support from Srishti and a fellowship from Sarai, it has grown into a multi-dimensional project that proposes active and media-specific ways of confronting this issue. The first phase of Blank Noise evolved from a series of workshops exploring the public/private identities of nine young urban Indian women. In this “victimhood” phase, Jasmeen created a video work that took off from TV news and the newsreader. For this exhibition, in addition to the video, she creates a newspaper, built around ideas of newsworthiness, testimonials, and images of “perpetrators.”
    In a more recent phase, Jasmeen has been involved in performance and active confrontations in public spaces. Also documented and exhibited here are several of her approaches, the connection she builds between clothing and performance, and the way in which she uses the internet as a site for building collaborations and exchanging strategies.

    Hinges On
    Tactical Media Lab: Thomas Abraham, Umang Razdan Bhattacharya, Priyanka Dilip, Ishan Ghosh, Ramyah Gowrishankar, Pratima Kalmadi, Nishita Kavadia, Siddharth Muthyala, Hidish Singh, K.T. Thomas and Divya Viswanathan
    Led by: Manu Luksch and Mukul Patel (ambientTV.NET)

    In Bangalore, as in other places, mainstream multinational branded markets run parallel with thick networks of informal economies. This provides a large and very interesting space to explore, and to ask questions about access, distribution and regulation of products and systems. The employment and revenue generated in informal economies is significant, making the issue of regulation a particularly pertinent one. There is no one story. This installation brings together the voices, opinions, and concerns of a wide range of people in a single space, where they can be in dialogue with one another, to create a multi-layered and multi-dimensional narrative. An added layer is that of visual reinterpretation and fragmentation, which creates voids in the otherwise closed discourse, and makes room for interaction, interpretation and reflection.

    Mapping Devanahalli
    Students: Second year students of Srishti
    Led by the team from CSDMS New Delhi with faculty Arvind Lodaya, Ramesh Kalkur

    Devanahalli is known in history as the birthplace of Tipu Sultan, the “Tiger of Mysore”. However, in recent times it has become widely known as the site for the construction of Bangalore’s new international airport. The proposed airport, designed & built by a private consortium, is reportedly to be modelled on Zurich airport, and media reports state that it will be able to handle up to four times the present traffic of London's Heathrow airport. The airport has been sited on prime agricultural land, and has already triggered a frenzy of real estate activity, in anticipation of a boom.
    The students undertook a number of locative media & participatory mapping projects constructed around some evident and not-so-evident issues & concerns regarding Devanahalli’s imminent transformation-from matching new jobs to educational opportunities to a children's map of the town to the design of a tourist map highlighting the heritage embedded in the town. Their findings are presented in this exhibit.

    Straight 8
    Media Artist and Faculty: Ayisha Abraham

    Straight 8-A Portrait of Tom D’aguiar is an attempt to revisit a collection of home movies that date back to the 1940s, in and around Bangalore city. This film is neither a documentary chronicling a life, nor entirely without narrative. The home movies collected here exist as fragments. Slices of differentiated reality come to life, without a beginning or end. The protagonist in the final lap of his life remembers with precision, procedures and techniques many of which are rarely referred to in today’s digital age.
    Yet, Straight 8 is not just a nostalgic film about amateur filmmakers and their technology. It intends to explore the creative expressions of ordinary people, at a time when technology was not easily available and technological/chemical processes were often clumsy. It looks at how technology is domesticated, and improvised with, as imagination and desires evolve with the many shifts witnessed in the modern world.

    Theme 3: The Spirit of Freedom:

    This third theme for the exhibition is curated around two journeys. The first is a personal narrative of a young artist who looks at his father as his inspiration and the second is a collective journey of artists and students as they search for the meaning of substantive freedoms through the work of the 15 th century mystic poet Kabir.

    Well Basically, this is about Thomas Jacob
    Alumnus: Anup Mathew Thomas

    Anup Mathew Thomas’ diploma project is a personal journey in which he looks at his father’s life, both personal and professional, within the framework of photo-documentary. The photographs shown in this exhibition were produced over nine months; most of them are shot in Kerala, the others in Tamil Nadu and the United Kingdom.
    “While doing these stories, I’ve come to realise that there is an element of unfamiliarity that creeps in when documenting people you know. This body of work on my father is an exercise to enter into the realm of the private, while trying to be unobtrusive. My father has been a good subject, a willing participant who wasn’t affected by my presence-he ignored me.”
    The photos are intimate and revealing portraits of family life.

    The Life of Words—Work in Progress
    Artists: Shabnam Virmani, Rumah Rasaque

    It happens sometimes that a poet disappears into his words. His words acquire a life of their own. They journey for over 600 years, through quotation and song. They enter new bodies and minds. Inhabit new dialects. Jostle with each other and their contexts, creating meanings, new and old ...
    Artist-in-residence Shabnam Virmani is working on a three-year multi-faceted project exploring the evolving expressions of the 15th century Indian mystic saint-poet Kabir: traverse diverse geographic, cultural and religious landscapes, exploring not so much the historical Kabir, but rather his appropriations into different frameworks in contemporary society. In this project, she is supported closely on research and concept by Hindustani Music exponent and artiste Tara Kini.
    At Ars Electronica, glimpses of work-in-progress are put up in The Life of Words, an immersive exhibit in which viewers are surrounded by the words of Kabir. They may respond intuitively to any poetic phrase, reach out and enter its world ... encountering, through snatches of text, image, audio and video, a few ways in which these words live their lives in our contemporary worlds.


    The Kabir Lab interdisciplinary studio lab offered to senior Srishti students investigated hybridisation of the legacy of Kabir in “local” popular culture, and the concerns & imperatives of “global” contemporary art & design. The works shown here are a sampling of some of their classroom works, as well as some projects that were developed further as their Diploma projects.

    Where is Ulat Bansi?
    Student: Amaranta Nehru
    Advisors: Arvind Lodaya, Tara Kini, Shabnam Virmani, Ashok Sukumaran

    Amaranta Nehru chose Kabir’s ulat bansi form of poetry-that approximates to “upside-down tales”-as the material for her project. She presents ulat bansi not as a scholarly explanation, but instead as a surreal tale about a girl Satli Banu who is in quest of this mysterious place. Her book is presented in this exhibition as a navigable visual story.

    The Train
    Student: Kunal Sen
    Advisors: Arvind Lodaya, Tara Kini, Shabnam
    Virmani, Ashok Sukumaran

    Kunal's film is inspired by Kabir’s Ud Jayega Hans Akela, animating imagery drawn from the experience of travelling on Indian trains. His installation pulls in images of people and places them in his film as a constantly changing “cast”, so that each screening of the film is different. This treatment is in empathy with the universal spirit of the song.

    Radio Kabir
    Student: Patience Rustomji
    Advisors: Arvind Lodaya, Tara Kini, Shabnam
    Virmani, Ashok Sukumaran, Vickram Crishna

    Patience chose FM radio as a medium to work with Kabir. She experimented with a mix of songs, phone-ins, expert panelists and lively anchoring to produce a mock-up of her proposed Kabir radio programme. Here she presents a Radio Kabir work, where she will co-investigate personal & philosophical responses to the overarching ideas of Kabir.

    Campaign: Look Inward
    Student: Narayan Gopalan
    Advisors: Arvind Lodaya, Shabnam Virmani, Tara Kini,
    Ashok Sukumaran

    Narayan wanted to “propagate” Kabir’s ideas using contemporary forms, such as viral advertising. His advertising campaign uses a mix of ambiguous and direct imagery and copy, to point people towards looking inwards.

    Body In Balance
    Student: Smriti Chanchani
    Advisors: Arvind Lodaya, Tara Kini, Shabnam Virmani,
    Ashok Sukumaran

    Choosing to investigate Kabir through artefacts rather than music or graphic arts, Smriti found herself curating a comprehensive show comprising her own pieces and installations as well as working with other people to produce their own interpretations. Her collection of exhibits ranges from the tongue-in-cheek “weighing machine” to the mystical “locked box with many keys” to the interactive “inner space” installation.

    Concept and lead designer: New Media artist Ashok Sukumaran
    Design Team: Industrial Designers Arvind Lodaya, John Mathew & Rajesh Narasimha, along with students of Srishti
    Graphic Design: Graphic Designers Kumkum Nadig, Sarita Sundar & students of Srishti