You are Not here
You are Not here is an ethnographic research study that seeks to represent urban spaces through a spectrum of lenses. The space chosen for this particular dissertation is Dharavi, an informal township in Mumbai, about two-thirds the size of Central Park and inhabited by over a million people. Through the everyday tactics of a postal worker who has to deliver letters in a largely unaddressed slum; through the spectacle of a slum-tour; and through the stencil-like erosive nature of redevelopment master-plans proposed for the slum, the thesis exhibit asks you to see Dharavi through the different ways in which Dharavi itself is seen - through ways in which it is lived, perceived and conceived.
What makes the phenomenon of a postal worker, a slum-tour and the proposed redevelopment plans unique and interesting in the case of Dharavi? During my field research, I accompanied a postal worker on his daily beat through the settlement and found the experience incredibly overwhelming. It clearly requires a determined soul to set out into this labyrinth everyday to deliver over a 100 letters to a largely unaddressed and densely populated slum. The postal worker I accompanied had worked in Dharavi for over a decade. While he still had no clue where any of his mail-recipients lived, he had now developed tactics to find them.The postman represents the everyday - the lived. He exemplifies the point where the formal meets the informal. He has to attach physical significance to an indecipherable address. The addresses on the envelopes he carries reveal the ways in which the inhabitants of the settlement identify themselves within its physical geography. The significance of his uniform cannot be underestimated.
While the Postal worker interacts intimately with the slum-dwellers, the slum-tour operates in the zone of the spectacle and perpetuates it. It theatricalizes the slum’s eccentricities. It thrives on the fantastical nature of the slum and the voyeuristic tendencies of the tourist. The human condition becomes the spectacle. While the tour is the physical meeting point of the perceived and the lived, the perceived space and the lived space never really meet. The slum-tour is that moment in physical reality when the already existing mediated perception in the tourist’s mind meets the perception that is now being sold to the tourist by the tour-guide; where the sold image meets the image being sold.
For over a decade now, several redevelopment plans have been proposed for Dharavi. One often finds these plans disruptive and in denial of the already existing functional networks that have been developed within the slum itself. The slum-redevelopment master plans operate in the zone of the ideological or the conceived. While the tour can still be positioned in the subjective realm in that it remains in a narrative form, the conceived re-development plans deal with the “objective” map. While the tour offers a more bottom-up perspective of a space, the top-down map reduces the space to a set of lines, numbers and boundaries. It is also the space of power where decisions are made for the collective and imposed onto this collective.
Moving on to the exhibit, for the lived, experienced through the postman, the thesis exhibit allows you to listen to interactions between the postman and the slum-dwellers through the artefact that represents their relationship, i.e. through envelopes addressed to the inhabitants. For the perceived, experienced through the tour, it asks you to peek into the lives of the inhabitants through photographs taken by tourists during the slum-tours. For the conceived, the exhibit displays stencils of different master plans superimposed over the base map of Dharavi thereby reflecting on the conflicting and disruptive nature of these plans. Through the exhibit, we graduate from the postman’s intimate interaction with the slum dweller to the tourist’s more distanced gaze toward the slum-dweller and finally, to the overarching master-plan where the slum-dweller is reduced to a mere statistic.
We move from the subjective to the fantastical to the ideological; from the intimate to the distanced; from the lived to the perceived to the conceived. Research Photographs and Exhibit Photographs by Shankari Murali, Buvana Murali and Amit Arya
You are Not here at the Cities Art Forum, Bennington
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
- Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.."
The intent of the object is to reflect on how we perceive, interpret, translate and transfer knowledge. Each time the object is vigorously shaken, the wooden dowels inside are shuffled, causing another shift in the structure and meaning of the poem. The next person reading from the object sees an entirely different poem, differently.
"Digital Sanctuaries is an urban soundwalk combining the original music of Electric Kulintang (Susie Ibarra and Roberto Rodriguez) with the visual art of Makoto Fujimura and interaction design by Shankari Murali. Built for both IOS and mobile web app, Digital Sanctuaries invites the public to embark on a virtual pilgrimage through the built environment of a cityscape, finding meditative spaces in unexpected places, marked by an ever-changing musical score. As the audience engages with the music in each place, they are encouraged to discover the hidden qualities of the world without while taking time to contemplate the world within. Digital Sanctuaries is conceived as a traveling, modular, adaptable music app to be reimagined for each city. Ibarra and Rodriguez work with local collaborators – artists, historians, architects, city planners, etc. – to develop new walking paths in each urban environment, drawing on the unique history, spaces and features of the city. Ibarra and Rodriguez compose musical scores that include featured musicians and soloists on the recordings, and field recordings interwoven as an homage to local and global communities from each topography. For the inaugural tech launch of Digital Sanctuaries, the soundwalk is set amidst twelve sites in Lower Manhattan, which can be accessed through the mobile web app. The rich historical culture of Lower Manhattan is captured through musical compositions with sounds in honor of each city space including African burial grounds, Native American Indian Museum, Irish communities, Jewish communities, Chinatown, Castle Clinton the first port of entry for immigrants in New York City."
- Susie Ibarra and Roberto Rodriguez
For more information, please visit www.digitalsanctuaries.com
Photographs by Cem Kocyildirim
Featured in the ReGeneration Show at the New York Hall of Science
In collaboration with Vivian Xu, Navit Keren, Mark Wilson and Wagner Nunes as part of the BioModd installation headed by Angelo Vermeulen
Using RGB Led strips and some arduino circuitry, our team designed an interactive lighting system that alters the directionality of plant growth. The lighting system itself is controlled by a virtual game developed within the larger BioModd system. The lighting system hovers above the plant. Over a period of time, the form of the plant begins to represent a visual history of the virtual gaming activity.
for Electric Kulintang
sound to see
the emergent matrix
In collaboration with Matthew Willse
Inspired by NY Mag's Approval Matrix, the emergent matrix offers a dynamic, interactive environment to collect data from the collective. Based on a grid system that currently offers four extremes, users are allowed to shift items on the board based on where they believe the items should lie. While individual users are making these decisions, the matrix itself constantly calculates the emerging average position of the item and provides a visual representation of the average, emergent item position.
The link to the live emergent matrix can be found at: http://www.ideapublic.org/matrix/
The link to the source code can be found at: https://github.com/xmatthewx/emergent-matrix
ethnicities in a megacity
global music orchestra
Cover Version using Transcription from MAX/MSP
I was touring Rajasthan, a state in north-western India, in 2010. From within the gates of the Jaisalmer palace, I noticed a music artist who had seated himself at a vantage point just outside the doorway. He was attracting a small crowd with his performance and seemed to be enjoying the much-deserved attention his music was receiving. His music was powerful as was his storytelling. When I returned from the tour, I started looking for his music online. Having no name to aid my search, I started typing in random search words such as "Rajasthani Folk Music", "Musician sitting outside the Jaisalmer Palace". After several such attempts, I finally stumbled upon a youtube video featuring him and his performance. The song's name is Moomal and Mahendra. However, where his music was concerned, this was as far as I could go. While I could now enjoy his music, I still could not learn from it or adapt it to my own musical instrument.
I went on to look for some more information and learned that he belonged to the Merasi community, a population of lower caste musicians in northern india. The way it works is that the older generations of the community pass on their musical legacy to the younger generations orally. However, the performance of this music is no longer an income generator and hence, the tradition of teaching these song systems is dying. As a result, merasi music is on the cusp of eradication. With no platform or channel by means of which their music can thrive, grow, influence or be influenced by contemporary or novel forms of music
I asked myself if there was a way to modify the future trajectories of these forms of music that have no written documentation and live only in the form of informal recordings. How could i formalize, institutionalize and immortalize these forms of music and make them available for appreciation, easy reproduction and improvisation by music enthusiasts across the globe? Is there a way to transcribe their music into a global language that can then be learned, analyzed, deconstructed, tampered with and improvised upon?
Gestural Notation using Open Frameworks
I started thinking about "the global language" and one form of representation that came to mind was sheet music. Besides being a strong form of music documentation, it also provides a visual representation or graphical form of the music we are listening to. This representation enables us to see the musical piece as a whole, to have a better understanding of the compositional style and to extract patterns in the composition. It occurred to me that transcribing Merasi music could be a novel way to represent their music and have more people engage with it.
I looked for music transcription systems online and found very few. The ones I did find, such as pitchscope and transcribe, only help in that they reduce the speed of the song while maintaining pitch, making it easier for you to transcribe the song yourself, this assuming that you have a highly developed ear for music. I decided that I would start developing a music transcription system.
In its ultimate development, I imagine this music transcription engine sitting on a server as part of an online music sharing community. So for example, you record a piece of music, say the one in Rajasthan and want to share it, you go to the website and upload your content. The content uploaded gets transcribed by this analytical engine and is available for those who visit the site. Each upload becomes part of an active and dynamically incrementing repository of found music and their transcriptions
I realized that there would be challenges in transcribing music. Local forms of music have a lot of nuances that the instruments themselves bring in that would be very difficult to script out. Nevertheless, I felt that what might be lost in transcription would be gained in the expression people themselves lend to the transcription by making it their own
The first steps towards building this system was to choose a programming platform that promised accurate pitch detection and could convert the recognized dominant pitches into a score. I chose MAX/MSP as the platform.
In the Max patch, the incoming sound signal passes through a series of filters that work towards reducing the noise and eliminating the inharmonic partials to some degree. The pitches that are retained then get converted to sheet notation.
While developing this patch, I also started imagining the web interface. As a user interested in say, Rajasthani Folk music, I would come across this website on a google search. The About page describes the site and its intention. The initial designs of the website can be found at:
Photographs by Buvana Murali and Amit Arya; Cover Photo by Satish Saklani
and the sum of all parts is...?
bombay to new york