Living, Dying and Transformation in Banaras ~ An Exposition
(+lectures and presentations over three evenings)
Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Center, New Delhi, India
November 25 - December 3, 2001
[by Amaar Abbas]
New age documentary art drawing close to a seer's vision of life, death and the in between. The artists did well to have a surreal impact and effect on the peoples' eye as soon as they entered the exhibit space. One immediately noticed a well-treated effect; lots of sounds, put together like a funky arty mish mash or maybe it was just dream like, at the least; it at least tried to be.It was refreshing to have moving "imaged" spirituality rather than, just the usual stiff stuff on walls, which you have to think and wonder about or at least pretend to.
There was a nice flow to the show, from one artists work to another. They all had a circulating string that was but obvious at a glance; God. The basic theme, ventured out into the open and encapsulated conversations of and about death from the ones who know; the bodies of man which are subtle and causal, besides the gross physicality of an in and out, taking and throwing vehicle. There was also some talk about the myths being only myths; euphemisms of the divine type of personality that has no finality but is splendid in his/her own being. An unlimited sort of creature we must all aspire to be or at least rare if we aren't already (rare or raring whichever comes or came first; I've even asked the chicken but it refuses to budge from it's verdict of - I can't say.) The team of artists; who spent a year and a lot more money, seemed to have been on a mission to wisen up the unwise. By the looks of it; it took about 40 to 50 wise people, technicians, and pretty looking girls who didn't really know what was going on but nevertheless assured me they were there, showing a helping hand. So, there's no taking away from the fact that a lot of thought and hard work was at play.There were some south Indian looking images depicting the Gods and their worship; which in terms of mathematics would be called cyclical. Sri Sri Krishna (as the iskon people enunciate,) was (on the image) worshipping shiva's lingam, and the creative/destructive personality had his hands held up in veneration to the, oh so only singular form of an otherwise multiple sort of character Vishnu; who as far as the legends go back, tell us of his taking form materially as and when he pleased and pleases as much as he pleases. (Vishnu happens to be the preserver of the universe, for the unknowing ones; so be assured, he can pop up anytime to save the world, mythically and mysteriously at least.) Around the gods worship that goes round and round there were also the rest of humanity; a humanity that seemed searching, lost and too many of them. The video images were many, and kept moving and stopping as and when the artists thought necessary. The images were sometimes on interesting objects and otherwise had some eminently interesting and mysterious people as the image.
They had it all; from the modixerox corp. through a Dr, called Dr Deepak Chopra, to a Swami, and a Lama who looked really sweet and oscillating, inspite of his stillness. The exposition tried to create an ambiance as all exhibits do; unfortunately the ambiance seemed to point to a direction where there were way too many roads to choose from. Banaras in all it's colours and manifestations in that exhibit space seemed an unending pointless and confusing place to be. No way in hell or heaven would I bother about living or dying in Banaras. All said and done it was an interesting half hour of this that and not to mention or forget - DEATH.
Here was an extraordinary exhibition. A production pieced together by a massive team working with a robust corporate R&D scale budget over more than a year towards this one goal. Full kudos first, therefore, to Xerox Corp. for funding such creative endeavour via the activities of Xerox PARC (The Palo Alto Research Center).
Over the years, PARC has earned itself a legendary reputation as "the birthplace of the personal computer" and so much else of technology today, including the first laser printer, commercial mouse and the point-and-click graphical user interface that finally made computers so user-friendly.
It was therefore sad to read in the Economic Times of December 13, 2001 that Xerox is in talks to sell off a part of PARC to raise cash it desperately needs to stay alive through slumping sales and what's now added up to five straight quarters of losses.
Having said all that, what actually was the Crossing project exhibition all about?
Well, to begin with, such a quantity of audio and video rolling all at the same time certainly could have gained from a lot more space and a little less ambient light, but we can let that pass since the exhibition moves on now to other spaces in Mumbai, and then New York.
Base content is essentially a lot of simple traditional Indian line-drawing imagery interspersed with some video, ranged from the studiedly mundane through to purpose-orientated footage of various creative, performance and knowledge masters.
The individual artifacts these various strains of information-stimuli are all built into and around is what is most striking, and that's really what it's all about in the end ~ creative new ways and means to technologically communicate (and interact with) information. In this case, information on the timeless holy Indian city of Varanasi (referred to throughout the show literature however, by the anglicized and outdated "Banaras").
On entry then, first item to the right: a data-projector atop a handsome metal rig projects a road-junction onto a floor-level screen with various sorts of traffic density moving about in synch to the notional time of day, as represented by a dial in a corner of the projection. All of the images are rendered in traditional Indian line drawing. Two bicycle rims spin horizontally atop handsome aluminum bases, varying speed to reflect levels of activity on the road-junction, which in turn is said to reflect by all this a particularly famous road-junction in Varanasi.
First item, left: a data-projector atop a handsome rig projects a variegated line drawing scene onto a waist-high 'tilting table'. Tilt it, and the picture pans along.
Other items: revolving flat monitors that take viewers through panorama pictures of Varanasi as one revolves them upon their bases while synchronously circumambulating the devices; screens responding to 'digital documents' picked up or placed upon them; horizontally mounted bicycle rims with individual spokes wired to trigger different sounds; garments wired to respond with patterns of light to proximity, and/or control multimedia projections with simple micro-switches built into the embroidery; large and gleaming egg-shaped wireless remotes of brass, with switches for scrolling through projected multimedia (wish they'd glowed or vibrated or hummed or something when picked up though); and so on and so forth.
It was a bit of a pity that that most of the interactive multimedia material seemed uninterruptible, with chosen segments playing out entirely before one could move to others. However, since that's probably just a little software matter, perhaps it was all intended to be so.
"Spanning a rich space of expression ranging from "ritual to robotics," The Crossing Project presents new idioms of Indian Creativity, combining culture and technology, and presents a new form of interaction design for the world, termed the "Living Document."
We invite you to explore the sacred knowledge of Banaras through Living Documents: from Rickshaw wheels that you can play with to produce sitar music, to e-jackets that you can click on to experience Yogi's states of meditation, to e-pots that you hold to learn about the creation myth of the Ganges, to hi-touch interfaces integrating futuristic technology with traditional art.
The project is directed by Ranjit Makkuni, Xerox PARC Researcher and Principal Investigator, Active Learning Project, and created with the participation of Dr. Madhu Khanna, Project Scholar, together with India's top scholars, artists, craftpersons, computer researchers, videographers and designers.
The Living Document presents a new paradigm for the presentation of and interaction with digital documents. This new wave of digital document experiences examines the relationship of the human body to technology.
Brilliantly designed Living Documents bridge the physical and virtual worlds. They have been developed right here in India under the direction of Ranjit Makkuni, PARC researcher together with India's intellectual and artistic talent.
We invite you to take a glimpse of The Crossing Living Documents that bring alive Banaras, India's 2000 year old multidimensional and multifaceted center of learning.
The Gita-Govinda Multimedia Experience
Smart High Touch Wireless Information
Devices that allow multilevel access
The artistic and intellectual expressions of the sacred geography of Banaras, the city of light and knowledge inspire The Crossing Project. For over 2000 years, Banaras has been home to scholars and saints, travelers and knowledge seekers, musicians and artists, pilgrims and visitors alike. For each one, Banaras is a crossing point that provides potent, living symbols of the relationship of Man to the larger Cosmos, life and death, matter and energy. The Crossing Project integrates art, science and culture on one interactive digital document experience on the rich domain of Banaras.
Notions of Body and Awareness
The Crossing ~ Living Documents
Shiva and the Ganges
Personal Display Interfaces
Mobile Multimedia Documents
The Crossing ~ Technology
Embodies Virtuality and Telerobotics
Ranjit Makkuni is a Xerox Palo Alto Research Center multimedia researcher, designer and musician. He joined the PARC Systems Concepts Lab in 1985 and became part of the visionary group which developed SmallTalk-80 Object Oriented programming language and the world's first Graphic User Interface.
His explorations in computer-aided design and research into new paradigms for interface and presentation led to an interesting research space, Active Learning. He applied that to The Electronic Sketch book of Tibetan Thangka Painting, one of the world's first multimedia applications. In 1998 The Gita Govinda Multimedia Experience in collaboration with India's top scholars and designers at the Indira Gandhi Centre for National Arts won him acclaim.
Ranjit continues to explore non-button pushing, gesture based interfaces. His projects go beyond just demonstrating futuristic technology. In his current project, The Crossing, he brings to life the authenticity of traditional ideals on primal ecology, learning and healing which are simultaneously contemporary. Participation of diverse artists, designers and scholars preserves viewpoints of people whose skills face the threat of extinction.
Proficiency in multimedia technology as well as traditional art allow Ranjit to bridge multiple worlds - between technology and art, the techno-man and traditional man and between the developed and developing worlds.
The Crossing Winning Team (March 2001)
Robotics, Embedded Systems Research
Embedded Systems Team 1
Embedded Systems Team 2
Mobile Multimedia Documents
Video Crew 1
Video Crew 2
Accessory Design Team I
Accessory Design Team 2
Additional Design support
The Crossing Media Lab
B-15 Chirag Enclave
(opp. Nehru Place)
New Delhi 110 048 (India)
tel: (91-11) 622 8225
fax: (91-11) 618 0320