My experience with Design Abroad: India had been epic. It deepened my perspectives and made me reevaluate my position in life, including my values, goals, preferences, and the way of living. It solidified in my eyes the importance of system thinking- how each element exists and connects to the wider network, and ultimately impacts it, whether directly or indirectly. I am determined to pursue a design practice combining exploration, transformation and contribution; one that addresses real issues and aims to improve both, the habitat for humanity and for our planet.
My project development had been an epitome of my experience in India from the fuzzy end of scattered ideas to completely changing direction of my concept, to sourcing reclaimed materials and depending on other people’s timeline for it, and finding alternative options of making where facilities were inaccessible.
What touched me the most in India was the energy of the people- warmth and friendliness and that strong sense of community that had become a common theme amongst our reflections. So originally I wanted to create an experiential installation that engaged the people and invited to experience a “taste of India”- a feel for that strong sense of community.
I was trying to understand how that sense of community was being cultivated in India and perhaps how can it be invoked here in the west where alienation is predominant. Population and dense living quarters may contribute to communal bonds, however the same can’t be said about small communities with sparse population who also develop strong ties.
Some of my ideas that tied into those concepts were to come up with some game where people would be engaged to perform certain tasks through a chain of communal effort. Maybe playing with light and shadow several people at once to recreate certain shapes of Indian culture and another group drawing out the shape and guessing it. If it were interesting enough, it would distract them from thinking too much, and join in instead of being withdrawn, and have strangers inside your personal space, which is practically non existant in India! 😛 I was playing with using Indian fabrics for this, or even things like rice bags that would pile up to create thresholds and spaces. I was thinking of searching for sponsors and afterwards, donate them to the needy, so I would go back full circle to the notion of contributing to real issues. But I have some experience with requesting the donations, and the process is too timely for this project, so I abandoned that idea.
In other words, I had to reboot…
I made a mind map of my experiences and looked for things that spoke to me and made connections.
There is so much going on in India that it was difficult to filter it into a concise message. That’s when I zoomed out and began to think about the bigger picture, system scale.
>>This is when I accidentally clicked on “view post”, and I thought I deleted all 1000 words of my blood and sweat writing effort! Almost had a heart attack… :-O >>
With so much going on in India, it may suffice to say that the rule is that there are no rules! But it may just as much suffice to say that in India, there is order in chaos.
Originally I planned to make a suspended installation, but OCAD may have restrictions about it, so I couldn’t rely on it.
My final installation is a free standing structure that is an analogy for the life in India as it unpacks more meaning the more someone interacts with it. At first glance, the disarray of elements might give the impression of randomness and chaos as the pieces seem detached, and the angles create dynamism and movement. Similarly, in India things are always happening; and with one of the densest populations in the world, you’re always amidst the action! The way people drive there seems how the rest of India functions: rules are loosely followed, and it’s “whoever can get wherever”.
In the above image I was looking for a source of inspiration and ideas for potential materials.
A possibility was to work with cardboard and slot the pieces together without requiring extra materials for connections.
In the above, I was exploring interactive environments and looking to tell a story within it.
My ideal material would be plastic because of it lightness and I could paint it different colours to reflect the vibrancy in India. But it second-hand plastic couldn’t be found. I refused to buy new because it would lose the story, and painting a beautiful old lumber is just wrong.
The final installation is based upon the forces of tension and compression that speak to the existing setting in India. Although infrastructures are in place, they handle more people than they can bear. Yet, somehow it works. Still, the system is old, and it was not designed for the modern bustling India. That aspect is communicated with a 100 year old lumber used as the main structural material, while a new cable is integrated for stronger support and an aspect of modernism similar to India’s current projects of rejuvenation, such as building a new highway and an airport in Mumbai, as well as the planned city, Navi Mumbai, to accommodate the growing population.
Using reclaimed materials was intended to point not only that the system is old and has flaws, but also the opportunities within it. Although there is a lack of infrastructure for waste management, for people it serves as an incentive to make profit. Recycling industry is a giant business in Dharavi slums in Mumbai. Hence, the waste does get managed, but in a different way by people collecting and processing plastic themselves. Thus, used materials are not necessarily disposed; instead, they are put back into cycle within the system. Such was our experience when visiting a scrap yard to source materials, also reflected in my choice of reusing second- hand materials for this project.
The shape of the structure is intentional. On the outside, it appears erratic. However, upon entering and shifting the view upwards, one may notice the elements combine into a geometric shape to show that there is order in chaos. The geometry is derived from the Flower of Life in the Sacred Geometry (as religion has a strong presence in India), which is present in Indian architecture as well as in the design of the Lotus flower, that is also one of the national symbols of India.
As sporadic as Indian living may seem to a foreign eye, there are in fact systems in place, and they are working. However, to gain this perspective, you have to live amidst the elements and let them surround you; that is to say, you have to experience India for yourself as it changes the way you see the world.