Log / Art

Changing Spaces by British Council brings back snatches of life from the olden days in India

British Council launches Changing Spaces, a project that creates augmented reality filters that let you slip back in time to 19th Century India.

By Ritupriya Basu on 14 August

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As a reflection of the last 70 years that the British Council (BC) has had a presence in India, BC recently launched a project called Changing Spaces, which allows moments from the past to pop up on your phone screen through filters on Facebook Stories. Through the augmented reality filters, you can see men in dhotis and turbans, fruitsellers and trams whiz past you.

Missy Mills, a digital innovation specialist, was brought in as Creative Producer of the project that would allow us to travel back in time to India in the 1800s. She walks us through the intensive research that led to the project, which helps us reflect on the things that have changed in the last century, and the things haven’t changed at all.

Design Fabric (DF): You're a digital strategist working across art, design and technology. How did you find yourself at this unique intersection?

Missy Mills (MM): I grew up in Africa in a very artistic home, where there was a lot of music, writing and active discussion. This made me care passionately about finding ways to give people the opportunity for creative expressionism, however small. I trained to be a musician, following my career through South Africa, Italy and finally settling down in Britain. It was there that I realised how deep an impact technology was going to have on our lives, and that if we applied learnings from the digital economy into that of the arts, we could enable a myriad new ways to meet people and bring creativity into their lives. I definitely don’t believe that art is for everyone. But I feel that everyone should have the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether it’s for them or not.

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DF: Changing Spaces takes us back to 19th Century India through Augmented Reality filters on Facebook Stories. What inspired this project?

MM: I responded to a call for digital projects to celebrate the 70 years that the British Council has been in India. I found the topic hugely inspirational. In our busy, chaotic, digital lives, we don’t often have a moment to stop and look at that the stations we travel through each day, the buildings we work in or the homes we retire to, which have all been there for hundreds of years. We don’t notice how they have changed in the last 70 years and how much they are going to change in the next 70. I wanted to build something that would help people visualise the contrast of how the country looked then and how it looks now.

I have endeavoured to find work in India any opportunity I could, because the creative electricity, the assault of the senses and the generosity of her people here is hugely infectious and inspirational. As a Zimbabwean, there is much I recognise from home in the colour and energy of India. But there’s something about how there is always beauty in the strangest places that keeps me coming back for more.

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DF: What went into the research for Changing Spaces? Were you looking at architecture, attire and other cultural signifiers?

MM: There was a huge amount of research necessary for the project, especially as the seed for this project came from my love affair with Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), Mumbai! I initially pitched the project around CST because I think it is one of the most beautiful, vibrant buildings in the world. So the research began around the building specifically, and then stemming from there, moved on to the tram system that existed around it for 90 years.

I was moved by the idea that something that must have felt like an integral part of the lifeblood of the city - so permanent at the time, the thrum and chime of trams through the city - could suddenly disappear without a trace. The project grew from this idea that we exist in a time and place in a city, and even though it feels so ordinary and so much ours, ultimately, the place continues on without us.

DF: How do you hope Changing Spaces affects the people who engage with the project? Is there a vision to expand it?

MM: The project has already expanded in scope hugely – from just being in Mumbai to pan-India!

I think there is potential to learn from how people engage with the central ideas and themes of the project and opportunities to develop these into an unfolding project. The technology platform we are using is also nascent, with updates happening every week and a constantly changing landscape. We’re in such an exponential growth spurt in tech that it’s exciting to think about how things we didn’t think were possible today will be in our lives tomorrow. This presents thrilling possibilities, where the challenge is to keep the technology as the delivery mechanism for a meaningful human experience – and never losing that balance.

The future awaits, let’s create it together!

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