'Control of the Void' by Manush John at Peenya Metro Station uses humanoid sculptural pieces to play with with scale and structure
Pablo Picasso said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” The world of public art - be it interactive installations, street art, or performances, ensures that art is accessible to all. For the past two years, Bangalore has been experiencing Art In Transit (AIT) - a unique project by the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology in collaboration with Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL). The idea behind AIT is to reinvent and introduce art amidst the chaos of commuting, by flooding the city’s Metro stations with different mediums of art. With the goal of facilitating a dialogue between people and the urban spaces they inhabit, AIT creates a platform for diverse voices in contemporary public art practice to converge within the rich urban context of Bangalore.
Design Fabric spoke to Natasha Sharma, co-curator of AIT’s Festival Of Stories, about the vision, process of commissioning artworks, upcoming interventions, and more!
Who comprises the AIT team?
Arzu Mistry and Amitabh Kumar are our project leads. When it comes to work, we don’t follow a hierarchy within our team. I co-curate with Amitabh and the rest of the team. We are all also research artist; all of us have different practices, which are very definite. Yash is into sculpting, Madhav does drawings, Amitabh and Fabrice are painters, Siddhant Shetty is a film maker, I look at installations and product-related works, Arzu is a visual artist who works a lot with book making. So when we do bring our ideas to the table, it encompasses very different range of audiences.
Natasha Sharma’s ‘Library of Mats’ at Cubbon Park sparks a conversation about the use of parks and spaces by intervening using mats for public utility
We try to use previous experiences as a template and then critique that with different perspectives. Like for me, beauty isn’t as much a part of public space because it’s not necessary. When we find common points, we create a solution together rather than ranting about it. We try and experiment with different modules.
Why the urgency for the project and pushing public art in this way?
Our goal is to basically create dialogue, in every sense. In Bangalore, activism is anyway a natural response, so as art practitioners, we are trying to further that and provoke people to think and ask questions. We’re also trying to inform people about issues that matter.
In terms of the more, it’s a passive interaction since within the station itself, there aren’t too many areas to stop. But some of the artworks have become selfie points, especially on weekends when commuters have time to explore the works. For most people, it’s just refreshing to see art in the Metro stations and it makes them smile. It validates why we do this in public spaces.
Ample Technologies sponsored 'Skew', a work by Natasha Sharma at Peenya Metro Station
During our process, we’ve questioned ourselves so many times about what we’re really trying to do. In Peenya, we realised that a lot of the murals on the outskirts looked good, but people were driving by them; pedestrians weren’t engaging with them. That’s when we got a little more strict about participatory ideas, and started framing our briefs around what we were giving back to the space.
How supportive is the BMRCL in AIT’s process?
We started our project in Peenya Metro Station thanks to Arzu Mistry - our project leader and faculty member at Srishti whose focus was working with the State. At the time, she was protesting the Metro’s presence and the cutting of trees, like much of Bangalore. But then she realised that it was going to happen anyway, she decided to use that very space to provoke these thoughts and questions instead of being against it. She met with Vasanth Rao, the General Manager-Finance. Twenty years ago, he’d keep movie screenings in Bal Bhavan which Arzu would attend. Through him, we got the BMRCL on board because he’s always been someone who is interested in art and culture.
However, fundraising wasn’t a part of getting the stations, so as students, we came up with our own strategies to raise money to execute projects as it was all pedagogical with no artist organisations. That’s when Peenya Metro Station collaborated with Hermes, Adobe, 3M to encourage the practice either by support or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
'Art in Motion', an anamorphic game designed by Saksham Verma where animation and movement are incorporated to understand the space
What’s really amazing is that while each of the projects has to get a go-ahead from the State, they occasionally do their own interventions. Like when Artez’s mural was made, Vasanth installed speakers to play bird calls as a response to what we’re doing here, which was great!
Take me through the evolution of the process and the distinct projects going on in each of the three stations - Peenya, Cubbon Park and Chikpet.
In Peenya, we used the site only to create interventions to help the Metro. There was one which was just a black board with a question of what they want in the Metro by Siddhanth Shetty, which invariably people replied to. It becomes a bulletin board about anything and everything for people to speak about. Peenya became the template for us to take forward.
Cubbon was our first underground station, so the entire place and context changed since it’s right in the centre of the city. We started doing all our festivals in Cubbon Park. With Chikpet we have started conceptualising and a lot of work has happened around the station from CKP and other artists like Apupen, Amitabh himself and more. The interior station is still waiting to be inhabited.
We’ve even tried to make the concept notes look like the kind of notices that the Metro puts around the station instead of using vinyls or museum-like feel. It’s to show that we’re in this space and we’re with you.
Fabrice Grolaire’s artwork on the walls of Chikpet Metro Station
Are there any other colleges involved apart from Srishti?
Yes, we’ve started collaborating with other colleges like Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath to encourage different student practices. We also went to Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, and we’re trying to get them on board for their writing since we want to make this more inclusive. We look at this space as a studio, not a permanent gallery or office. It’s not an entitled space for the ‘artists’ we know.
How does the commissioning process work?
It started with Srishti because it has certain labs, and AIT was one of them. As we started to grow, we wanted to take it out of Srishti. We offered a course called ‘Be The City’ which was taken by Amitabh which allowed a lot of the students to try their hand at creating something within the station. We tried to develop a sense of practice through that module. AIT was essentially a public arts project, and not institutional. That was the beginning, when we started collaborating with St+Art and Story Of Foundation. Now, we’re at a point where most of the artists we’re featuring in December’s festival aren’t from Srishti.
There’s an understanding that we’re working as a collective, not a lab, which is giving people the platform to showcase their work. At the same time, it’s allowing us as practitioners to experiment and grow. When we were giving college presentations, people started asking us to work with us on the stations that they take. So people are keen to understand what public art is about and get involved.
Trisha Mehta's artwork at Cubbon Park Metro Station for the 'Be The City' course at Srishti
We’re also trying to give students an idea of what to expect by working in a space that isn’t art school by encouraging and facilitating some interim and graduation projects. We just help them mould the work, understand their process, read the right books, and then execute. So it helps them add to their portfolio and to take their practice forward.
There’s a lot of focus on technological interventions, be it through Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR) or projection mapping. Is this a conscious choice?
When we’re curating, we look at the conceptual framework and within those frameworks, see what practices could realise the project. It gets a little easy for us to use technology because when it’s site specific. Last festival, our focus was on Erasure, and the life of a public artwork and how erasure is a part of it. An artist Sai who works with AR/VR looked at signages in the Metro and created a mobile app that allowed users to play with the signages and make them appear/disappear, thereby repurposing the site.
A lenticular art piece which depicts the urbanisation of Bangalore as part of the Srishti Interim 2016 in collaboration with Story Of Space.
Tell me about the Festival of Stories.
We’ve done six editions so far, and have learnt a lot of lessons along the way. The commuters had a chance every two months to experience the artworks in a different way and maybe even learn a new skill like zine making in a workshop. But from next year, the festival will be annual as we want to work with a different model. The festival is free to the public.
Our seventh one is from December 1 - 21, over 3 weekends. We are looking at this festival as an open studio with immersive events lined up weekly. Through workshops, performances, participatory activities both above and under ground of the Cubbon Park Metro station, we are inviting students to join emerging and established practices around the city to engage in a public space. We’re inviting 6 artists to use a room at the Cubbon Park Metro Station as their studio and after 3 days, the room will be cleared up and used by the next artist. We’re also doing an open call for entries for The 8-Minute Project for people to teach/share their knowledge. This apart, Native Place is going to create listening booths around Cubbon Park and talking about migration, nostalgia, identity etc. deadtheduck aka Madhav Nair is taking a zine making workshop while Sai is taking a workshop on how to make the AR glasses.