The Crossing Project
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.

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Overview

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.

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Here's the text from the show-flyers, beginning with text off the invitation card:

"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.

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From Static to Living Documents ~ A New Wave of Digital Document Experiences

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
Based on Jayadeva's 12th century lyrical poem, the Gita Govinda multimedia exhibit represented 40 GB of authored digital content. 13 multimedia kiosks brought alive the poem through diverse media of paintings, music and dance.

Smart High Touch Wireless Information Devices that allow multilevel access
Living Documents come alive through smart, high touch wireless information devices which are aesthetically more beautiful and a much richer alternative to the button pushing, disembodied computer interfaces being used presently. What's more, they engage people at different levels - artists, technologists, designers and research scholars to design interface tools to bring alive myriad facets of the living culture of Banaras.

The Crossing ~ Learning and Transformation in Banaras

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 allows users to access the knowledge representations of a site of sacred geography and learning, Banaras. The content of The Crossing is invaluable as it presents fundamental notions of the body and awareness that have been developed in Indian thought.

The Crossing ~ Living Documents
Live Connection to Cultural Practice
Touch the Feet of the Gurus with Interactive Physical Icons
For over 2000 years, the Buddha, Adi Sankara, Mahavira pondered life's fundamental questions in Banaras. It is also the home of classical music, dance and textile traditionThe gurus here continue to transmit to students the living experience of self-realisation. By using the interactive wireless physical icons people can access the knowledge of the gurus.

Shiva and the Ganges
It is believed that Lord Shiva lives in Banaras through his invisible forms to liberate human kind from ignorance. In Banaras the Ganga takes on a special meaning cosmologically, physically and metaphysically. The Ganga is the river of healing, pure, life giving, yet faced with environmental deterioration. The Crossing documents provide content access to the representations of Shiva and the Ganges.

Personal Display Interfaces
Personal display interfaces in the shape of hundreds of lings of knowledge connect users to the multiple forms of Shiva, the presiding deity of Banaras ­ through well researched documents on Shiva Paintings, music, dance and scholarship.

Mobile Multimedia Documents
The Crossing mobile documents allow users to access knowledge on diverse levels ­ on the sacred geography of Banaras, on the Ganga, on ecology, ob Shiva legends and discourses on death.

The Crossing ~ Technology
A Physical and Virtual Learning Experience.
The Crossing Project creates a physical / virtual multimedia exhibit in which the learner is physically engulfed in the knowledge space. Body responsive kinaesthetic interfaces allow a beautiful, expressive vision of the Living Document experience.

Embodies Virtuality and Telerobotics
A new wave of digital document experiences emerges as The Crossing Project re-examines the relationship of the human body to technology. A rich suite of knowledge portals reflects embodied virtuality to bridge the physical and virtual worlds. These new high touch portals include the knowledge egg, the paper-multimedia, wearable computing as also portals with embodied user interfaces like tilt-based browsing, gestural interfaces, and interactive physical/virtual interfaces that allow multilevel access for responsive and animated physical environments.

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RANJIT MAKKUNI
Principal Investigator - Active Learning Project, Xerox PARC
Project Director - The Crossing

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.

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The Crossing Winning Team (March 2001)

Project Director
Ranjit Makkuni

Project Scholar
Dr. Madhu Khanna

Technology Team

Robotics, Embedded Systems Research
Mark Yim, Kimon Roufas, David Duff
Scott Minneman - PARC

Embedded Systems Team 1
Mustafa Siddiqui, Muralidhar Swarangi, Jagmeet Kwatra

Embedded Systems Team 2
Dr. Sudipto Mukherjee - IIT Delhi, Dinesh Sharma

Mobile Multimedia Documents
Sumit Bhardwaj, Deepak Gupta
Santosh Sahoo - Xerox Delhi Software Center

Graphic Design
Tarun Jung Rawat, Puneet Monga, Paschim Tiwari - VIA

Web Design
Sudhir Horro

Content Team

Banaras Scholars
Shri Ram Shankar Tripathi, Prof. Anand Krishna, Prof.Rana P.B. Singh, Rinpoche, Pt. G N Mishra

Artists
Late Chandrakala Devi, Venugopal, Jaya Chandran, Nandan Lal, Deepthi Bhall, Ashok Dilwali

Video Crew 1
Kalpana Subramanian

Video Crew 2
Pallavi Arora, Ruchi Bakshi

Graphic Design
Kavita Saha

Design Team

Product Design
Sumit Singh, Hemant Kumar

Accessory Design Team I
Tanveen Ratti, Abha Gupta, Deepa Verma, Amardeep E

Accessory Design Team 2
Pankaj Maskara, Shweta

Textile Design
Shivanee Dutt

Installation Design
Design Habit

Management
Xerox DMO/ PARC: Carlos Pascual, Michael Paige, Mark Stefik, Pedro Fabrega, Ranjit Makkuni

Administration

New Delhi
Kanchan Sharma, K R Bala, Indrajeit Borkakoty

Xerox PARC
Patricia Sheehan, Mali Sarpangal

Acknowledgments

Institutions
Xerox Delhi Software Center,
IIT-Delhi, Bharat Kala Bhawan T.K. Biswas,
Archaeological Survey of India
Dr. Komal Anand, Kala Kammune Varanasi,
National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi
Prof. Arrhana Shastri, IGNCA, New Delhi

Additional Design support
Ritu Jain, Rajesh Gupta, Kamaskhi Kaul, Vishesh Verma, George Thomas, Shailan Parker, Raja Thomas, Saumitri Choudhary, Tania Sen Gupta, Arun Kullu,
Kashinath, Giriraj

Content support

Music
Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Mithilesh jha

Banaras
Dr. Kalyan Krishna, Jyoti Shankar, Rati Shankar

Video
Apal Singh, Subash Day, Rohan Hatkar, Pankaj Bhakuni, Vinod Kumar, Supavitra Babul

Technology
Roy Want, Beverly Harrison, Anuj Gujar

Management support
John Seely Brown, Per-Kristian Halvorsen, S Venkatraman, Mike Festa, Rajiv Batra, Prakash Nanani

Well Wishers
Marthand Singh, Melanie Beene, Peter Gabriel

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Ranjit Makkuni
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

www.crossingproject.net