Say Nothing

A poster / cd cover that I made for Mumbai's own Slow Down Clown, a wonderful band fronted by Vitek Goyel. I tried a few versions that didn't really work and then scoured my library for old political pictures and posters for inspiration. Found this one in Kajri Jain's fantastic Gods in the Bazaar, which is a book about India's mass-produced bazaar art that I had read for a class at CSCS.

The image that has been cropped and appropriated is from Indira Gandhi's notorious "Garibi Hatao" campaign, a campaign that helped her sweep into power in the 1971 election. If you look closely, and if you're one those (at times annoying) people who believes that images should always adhere to the conventions of realism, you might quickly notice that the picture falls short in terms of its verisimilitude.

Both the mic and the baby exist in a visual regime that has no intention of adhering to the codes of realism. These babies, often of ambiguous gender and race, were extremely popular in the political iconography of the time. They were projected repeatedly to symbolize the paternalistic and transcendental authority of the incipient secular state. Jain writes of the  original poster, which proclaims to us “Garibi Hatao” in both English and in Hindi, "We as viewers are invited to identify with the adoring “masses”, but at the same time, to the extent that we can read the slogan, to distance ourselves from them and identify with the infantile citizenship... made available for us within the realms of a transcendent and patriarchal yet democratic state.”

I appropriated it here, perhaps problematically, but mostly facetiously, as I felt it worked with the album's title “Say Nothing.”

P.S. The font used is Atelier Carvalho Bernau's recently released Jean-Luc typeface.



I've been researching the connections between design (aesthetics), politics and culture lately in relation to some upcoming projects planned for next year. I’m particularly interested in the ways received notions of “design” are intertwined with their cultural contingencies. I'm currently in the “death by hyperlink” phase of my research, where one realizes that there is just so much stuff out there (though not all of it critical enough) that it is time to systematically organise the intake of information or drown in the flood.

If anyone has some interesting readings and links on Indian design and design culture, please send them over either here or by email.

Watch this space. Till then, this little gem found at  imprint cracked me up a good deal.


Minimal House?

From an interview in Cluster with the always fascinating Lebbeus Woods:

"Housing meant ‘mass-housing’ for masses of workers employed on factory assembly lines, originally in the form of ‘company towns.’ Later, housing ‘projects’ were designed and built for masses of lower-income urbanites, an underclass that still exists but is much too diverse to be massed together and in effect ghetto-ized.

Today’s increasingly service-based economy, one fragmented by computers and internet niches, has created a need for an entirely new typology of living quarters and their groupings, one that has yet to be invented and tested."



"The accepted function of the designer has become one of providing a service rather than generating ideas to be communicated; this self-definition discourages explicitly political expression." 
- Maud Levin, from her book Clean New World: Culture, Politics and Graphic Design.


Long time coming...

Updates with new work and a website overhaul coming soon!

Two Suns in the Sunset

I've pulled the above images from a New York Times story on the "atomic cameramen" who filmed and photographed the test detonations of nuclear bombs in the 40s and 50s (before the ban on atmospheric testing was put into place). Many of the image makers died of cancer later in their lives. Image #2 in the above sequence pictures the "V.I.P. observers" of the detonations at one of the viewing decks that were set up by the government. It is also pertinent to note that a lot of the cameras, film stock and lenses used were later sold commercially for use by Hollywood studios; a reminder of how military R&D often trickles down and drives technological change in the entertainment industry.


PUBLIC 40: Screens

Was invited to make a contribution to the 40th issue of PUBLIC (a journal of 'Art, Culture & Idea's published by the Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts in York University, Toronto) which went by the title: Screens. They featured the auditorium image from Maratha Mandir below. Do check out the journal if you get a chance to, there are some interesting texts and images/artworks that interrogate and investigate the shifting nature of screens themselves as well as their influence in changing—and often conflating—the "public" and "private" spheres.

From the editorial note:
"PUBLIC 40: Screens features twenty artists, curators and researchers who investigate and respond to new spaces of viewing and changing patterns of consumption —from Quebec to Palestine, from streets to galleries— with a variety of aesthetic, technological and distribution tactics. From Kelly Mark’s The Kiss to Elaine Ho and Sean Smith’s project responding to the Beijing Olympics, from Bruno Lessard’s essay about Robert Lepage’s Le Moulin à images to Holly Lewis’s "Wars of Air and Electricity," Screens is dedicated to the ways screens are used, viewed, imagined, placed, and made worldwide."
I was particularly taken by an image from Canadian artist Kelly Mark's installation The Kiss, which I have taken the liberty to copy and paste below.

Kelly Mark, The Kiss (2007)

On her website Kelly writes: "The light source for this work was created by simply recording the cast light of a gang bang scene in a hard core porn film as it bathed my apartment wall while viewing. No image or sound was captured only the reflected light. The porn genre tends to be fairly routine and pragmatic in terms of editing, therefore the resulting glow is steady and rhythmic with few camera changes but with quickening pulses of colour...mainly pinks, oranges and red hues."

I really love it.

It's one of those images where I'm sure that you don't really need the text at all, the caption itself, being so evocative, does a lot of the work. And yet, some people would like to know this. The artist herself clearly believes that it is important to know this. It is always interesting to think about just how 'context', such as the kind Kelly has provided, changes the way you read and experience an image. Personally, I constantly battle with myself as to whether it is necessary to put contextual information beside a particular image, because sometimes context can override the subjective reaction a viewer has with the image; and yet, often it is so important to know why/where/whom/what/how.

It's also perhaps worth thinking about titles/captions that reference other titles/cations and how artists can use that to not merely reference but 'update' images to their cultural time and place. With regards to Kelly Mark's work, Gustav Klimt's The Kiss comes to mind:

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss (1908)

Ah, convergences.


“Underneath the large noisy events lie the small events of silence.” - Gilles Deleuze


What I Believe - J.G. Ballard

I believe in my own obsessions, in the beauty of the car crash, in the peace of the submerged forest, in the excitements of the deserted holiday beach, in the elegance of automobile graveyards, in the mystery of multi-storey car parks, in the poetry of abandoned hotels.

I believe in the forgotten runways of Wake Island, pointing towards the Pacifics of our imaginations.

I believe in the genital organs of great men and women, in the body postures of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Princess Di, in the sweet odors emanating from their lips as they regard the cameras of the entire world.

I believe in madness, in the truth of the inexplicable, in the common sense of stones, in the lunacy of flowers, in the disease stored up for the human race by the Apollo astronauts.

I believe in nothing.

I believe in the impossibility of existence, in the humour of mountains, in the absurdity of electromagnetism, in the farce of geometry, in the cruelty of arithmetic, in the murderous intent of logic.

I believe in the gentleness of the surgeon's knife, in the limitless geometry of the cinema screen, in the hidden universe within supermarkets, in the loneliness of the sun, in the garrulousness of planets, in the repetitiveness or ourselves, in the inexistence of the universe and the boredom of the atom.

I believe in the light cast by video-recorders in department store windows, in the messianic insights of the radiator grilles of showroom automobiles, in the elegance of the oil stains on the engine nacelles of 747s parked on airport tarmacs.

I believe in the non-existence of the past, in the death of the future, and the infinite possibilities of the present.

I believe in the derangement of the senses: in Rimbaud, William Burroughs, Huysmans, Genet, Celine, Swift, Defoe, Carroll, Coleridge, Kafka.

I believe in the designers of the Pyramids, the Empire State Building, the Berlin Fuehrerbunker, the Wake Island runways.

I believe in the next five minutes.

I believe in the history of my feet.

I believe in migraines, the boredom of afternoons, the fear of calendars, the treachery of clocks.

I believe in anxiety, psychosis and despair.

I believe in the perversions, in the infatuations with trees, princesses, prime ministers, derelict filling stations (more beautiful than the Taj Mahal), clouds and birds.

I believe in the death of the emotions and the triumph of the imagination.

I believe in alcoholism, venereal disease, fever and exhaustion.

I believe in all children.

I believe in maps, diagrams, codes, chess-games, puzzles, airline timetables, airport indicator signs.

I believe all excuses.

I believe all reasons.

I believe all hallucinations.

I believe all anger.

I believe all mythologies, memories, lies, fantasies, evasions.

I believe in the mystery and melancholy of a hand, in the kindness of trees, in the wisdom of light.

Excerpts from J.G. Ballard's prose-poem prayer 'What I Believe'. Read the entire thing here.


Shower Power

The ruse nonpareil of power is to put together a people who feel the need to believe in it.


Beanbags [ Bombay | Mumbai ]

Words: Matthew Parker | Images: Zubin Pastakia

"Beneath the discourses that ideologize the city, the ruses and combinations of powers that have no readable identity proliferate; without points where one can take hold of them, without rational transparency, they are impossible to administer.” - Michel De Certeau

Mumbai can drive you crazy. And because (or, perhaps, despite) of this, you want to make sense of it. You want to make some kind of order out of it. And more often than not, in trying to create order, you succumb to the same thing that almost everyone succumbs to, the same trap: you fall for the idea of the “Maximum City”, the chaos, the speed, the heat, the shit, the poor, the rich, all at once, the grand narrative of 17 million people forced to live on top of one another in a city held together by ingenuity, momentum and sheer force of will. You succumb to this because it’s true, to a degree, and because it’s intoxicating, and also because it’s easy. In the overwhelming face of everything it’s easy to say, “all life is here, it’s messy, and it works!” and turn a blind eye to everything else. But it gets kind of boring. And it means that other interpretations are lost.

If you’ve lived or worked in Mumbai in the last five or ten years you’ll have seen the beanbag graffiti: Beanbags 26407383. I saw it once and then, like a new word you learn, I saw it everywhere, on walls, houses, pipelines, metal sheets, flyovers, construction sites, waste-ground. Everywhere: Beanbags 26407383. It was, it is, the work of a beanbag salesman, who had the genius to go out and spray the city with the name of his product and a phone number, at one stroke bypassing the legal, unaffordable marketing mechanisms of the ‘official’ city springing up around him. In the city of commerce, the very fabric of the city became an advertising hoarding. And this is how he made his fortune.

It’s a nice story, but we were interested in something else too. We were interested in the opportunity the repeated motif provided us to look at the city with different eyes, in a different light, away from the “Maximum” view.

We followed the graffiti from south to north, from the southern peninsular tip, the very oldest of old Bombay, up north through the manufacturing heartland, up into the new suburbs and then further, further north and east, out to where Mumbai spreads and falters into nothingness, becoming mainland India. Two stories came out of this. The first, more prosaic but no less important, is the Mumbai of specifics, of facts and dates and figures. Living behind and within the graffiti are the details: the moss covered walls of the long dead United Mills reminding us of the city’s industrial past; the Sea Link, connecting two congested pieces of land, providing us with an immense symbol of "progress" with an equally immense cost (Rs 1600 Crore). Further north, the Bandra-Kurla Complex, a riposte to the mills, with its plastic 21st century fantasy of corporate Mumbai, sitting metaphorically and literally on the shaky foundations of the river Mithi, a natural drain for the city’s rainwater, which has been dangerously filled and narrowed to construct this financial dream zone. We get other details too: the pipes, carrying water, slowly running dry; the new luxury tower blocks in the far north, half finished, painfully and proudly devoid of history; a dirt road with a blue fence on the edge of town, leading us to a ruined fort that is older than everything that comes before. These are the details that are forgotten in the big noise and this is the first story.

What of the second? The second is something entirely different, entirely personal and unexpected. It’s a Mumbai that I try to speak of to others but find I have no voice for. The city, through these images, is one that is soaked with silence and longing. It is curiously emptied of people, evoking a loneliness I feel but rarely see. I still don’t know where it comes from. Partly it comes from the photographer’s eye. Curiously, I recognise these people and things in the images, and I recognise myself in them too. The man standing on the sea wall, the girl looking out onto the train tracks, the lovers who scribble their names under the flyover… I recognise them. Not personally, not individually, but as types that I see passing through every day, locked in my own private thoughts, as they seem to be theirs.

[The project has been featured in Mumbai Boss and MISC Magazine.]

[Click on the images for larger previews]


Cinemas Project in MARG

The Cinemas Project was featured in the March edition of Marg magazine, the theme of which is Indian Cinema. Many, many thanks to Erika Balsom, who has written the perfect text given the constraints of space in such a format.

     Auditorium, Capitol Cinema, Mumbai

See if you get a chance to purchase the issue, which is titled "Being Here, Now: Insights into Indian Cinema." Shanay Jhaveri, whose new book "Outsider Films on India 1950-1990" has just been published, has done a wonderful job of guest editing this issue. Some of the other artists/practitioners/researchers/writers featured in the magazine are Ashim Ahluwalia, Shirely Abraham, Moinak Biswas, Kaushik Bhaumik, Raqs Media Collective, Rachel Dwyer, Shumona Goel and Dale Cannedy Azim, Amar Kanwar, Amit Madheshiya, Benjamin Mercer and Kaunteya Shah.  

Rukawat ke liye khed hai



It's sometimes funny how just one word can play sweet havoc with an image. More here.


Shootdown in Gorai

Sul (left) vs Zub (right), just off the Gorai dumping ground, one very early morning in 2009. Almost as good as this legendary stand-off.


The Archaeology of Absence

I am very, very excited to present a very brief selection from Madhuban Mitra and Manas Bhattacharya's series, The Archaeology of Absence, which is part of their Through a Lens Darkly project. If you're not already aware of the work that Madhu and Manas are collaborating on that explores and reflects on the abandoned National Instruments factory in Kolkatta, please head over to their blog Through a Lens Darkly and take a look it and read what they have to say.

All images © Madhuban Mitra & Manas Bhattacharya

As you can see, this modern ruin is an extremely generative one and Manas and Madhu's 'documentation' of the inner contours of the factory is as impressive and extensive as it is sensitive to the many possibilities and secrets that it conceals within it. So extensive, in fact, that the two have begun breaking down the project into several self-contained, though interconnected, series. There are some haunting animation loops on their blog as well. I am very interested in the different ways in which they will choose to articulate and unfold this project over the next year or so.

Also, they are currently showing the work at the Thessaloniki Photobiennale 2010 in Greece. The show opened on May 1st and will be on view for a full three months till July 31, 2010. More details here. Do go if you can make it!

ALSO, look forward to an informal conversation the three of us will be having sometime soon on Peripheral Vision/Through a Lens Darkly on the process of image-making, phenomenology, aesthetics, (con)text, ambiguity, the possibilities of ruins, nostalgia... and more.

Imprisoned by four walls
(to the North, the crystal of non-knowledge
a landscape to be invented
to the South, reflective memory
to the East, the mirror
to the West, stone and the song of silence)
I wrote messages, but received no reply.

- Octavio Paz


Dis Poetry

Dis poetry is like a riddim dat drops
De tongue fires a riddim dat shoots like shots
Dis poetry is designed fe rantin
Dance hall style, big mouth chanting,
Dis poetry nar put yu to sleep
Preaching follow me
Like yu is blind sheep,
Dis poetry is not Party Political
Not designed fe dose who are critical.
Dis poetry is wid me when I gu to me bed
It gets into me dreadlocks
It lingers around me head
Dis poetry goes wid me as I pedal me bike
I've tried Shakespeare, respect due dere
But did is de stuff I like.

Dis poetry is not afraid of going ina book
Still dis poetry need ears fe hear an eyes fe hav a look
Dis poetry is Verbal Riddim, no big words involved
An if I hav a problem de riddim gets it solved,
Iove tried to be more romantic, it does nu good for me
So I tek a Reggae Riddim an build me poetry,
I could try be more personal
But you've heard it all before,
Pages of written words not needed
Brain has many words in store,
Yu could call dis poetry Dub Ranting
De tongue plays a beat
De body starts skanking,
Dis poetry is quick an childish
Dis poetry is fe de wise an foolish,
Anybody can do it fe free,
Dis poetry is fe yu an me,
Don't stretch yu imagination
Dis poetry is fe de good of de Nation,
In de morning
I chant
In de night
I chant
In de darkness
An under de spotlight,
I pass thru University
I pass thru Sociology
An den I got a dread degree
In Dreadfull Ghettology.

Dis poetry stays wid me when I run or walk
An when I am talking to meself in poetry I talk,
Dis poetry is wid me,
Below me an above,
Dis poetry's from inside me
It goes to yu

- Benjamin Zephaniah

Thanks to my friend Judith for sending this over. Judith makes the most amazing orange cake with raisins (there is a trick to get the raisins incredibly succulent: slice them up and soak them in the orange).

Field of the Visible

"... the whole world becomes visible at the same time that it becomes appropriatable." 
- Jean-Louis Comolli 


From hence I come to here we go...


"The taste of the apple... lies in the contact of the fruit with the palate, not in the fruit itself; in a similar way... poetry lies in the meeting of poem and reader, not in the lines of symbols printed on the pages of a book. What is essential is the aesthetic act, the thrill, the almost physical emotion that comes with each reading."
 - Jorge Luis Borges



Beanbags [Bombay | Mumbai] finally sees the light of day at Mumbaiboss and at MISC Magazine. Thanks are owed to Matthew Parker for writing the text and for all the support. See the complete cut here.

Join us as we follow the graffiti around the city as it bypasses the mechanisms of (and yet co-exists with) the "official" city of business complexes, large infrastructure projects and luxury high-rise complexes. Matt's text will take you elsewhere as well...

A big thank you to all my friends who accompanied me on these crazy trips. You know who you are.



Matias and Rahul push it one step further on Airoots (one of my favourite blogs), questioning the informal-formal conceptual binary when describing and thinking about spaces such as Dharavi.
"We feel that the word ‘informal’ has now become another catchword that can be affixed to all kinds of terms to give them a superficial edge: informal settlements, informal networks, informal cities, informal design. The term has not been adequately thought through and glosses over many dimensions of lived reality.

If we want to describe the cities of today, especially the parts that fall out of the grid or creep through it, we need to invent new terms that express not so much their form but rather the way they evolve. That is why we would rather describe MG Road as being constantly ‘in-formation’ rather than informal.

Saying that a habitat is ‘in-formation’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it is incomplete. Instead, the term echoes Kevin Lynch’s description of cities as “evolving learning ecologies” (1981 p.115) and seeks to capture the capacity of certain urban spaces to evolve continuously and adapt to the context. The hyphen between ‘in and ‘formation’ is there to emphasize the dynamic production of urban forms and its perpetual incremental improvement and conservation."
This is something I have been thinking about too of late. How do we think about the non "rational" / "official" city (that "grid of discipline"), without resorting to a binary opposition and yet account for difference? One way is to not think of this other city as a "lack" or somewhere prior on an imagined time-line. So, non-capitalist not pre-capitalist economies. Or a-modern medicine not "traditional" medicine. And, further, the purity of such categories is always questionable. Conceptual and everyday borders are constantly transgressed. Which is why I like Airoots' "in-formation" habitats. It doesn't foreclose different directions and possibilities.

But, I do sometimes wonder if we are beginning to privilege the economic (Dharavi is always celebrated for being economically vibrant) over the cultural and social. I wonder what the implications of that may be for cultural spaces that are not so economically/commercially as vibrant?


On Certainty...

Jim Ballard the cyborg keeps me happy as I vacillate. Can't believe it's been a year; I'm still in mourning...


Kill Descartes

"At first, it appeared simple: to gain an overview of Paris, one needs to find a suitable viewpoint. But where from? The top of the Montparnasse tower? No – the crowds there would distract. The top of Montmartre (where one would have the advantage of not seeing the Basilica Sacré Coeur)? Perhaps, but the view would be too oblique there. Maybe a satellite photograph? But then only one plan would be obtained . . . The balcony of the office of the Mayor of Paris, in the Hotel de Ville? An empty and cold place, surrounded by ugly fountains: one would see nothing of the vitality of the metropolis. So, is it impossible to comprehend the city? Not if we keep moving! Let us circulate, and then, suddenly, Paris will become gradually visible."

- Latour and Hermant


Le Monde Magazine Shoot

Some outtakes of Chor Bazaar from an editorial shoot I did for Le Monde in March. 

Certain Indian magazines really need a lesson in "how-to-treat-your-photographer-both-as-a-human-being-and-as-a-professional" from them. Also, foreign publications have this wonderful habit of actually paying their photographers on time and not six months after the shoot.


Ghosts, Futures

"...the debris of shipwrecked histories still today raise up the ruins of an unknown, strange city. They burst forward within the modernist, massive, homogenous city like slips of the tongue from an unknown, perhaps unconscious, language. They surprise."

- Michel de Certeau, from Ghosts in the City


The surface-level expressions, however, by virtue of their unconscious nature, provide unmediated access to the fundamental substance of the state of things. Conversely, knowledge of this state of things depends on the interpretation of these surface-level expressions. The fundamental substance of an epoch and its unheeded impulses illuminate each other reciprocally
- Siegfried Kracauer 



"I want to speak for the small, invisible acts of human spirit: so subtle, so small, that they die when brought out under the clean lights. I want to celebrate the small forms of cinema: the lyrical form, the poem, the watercolor, etude, sketch, portrait, arabesque, and bagatelle, and little 8mm songs. In the times when everybody wants to succeed and sell, I want to celebrate those who embrace social and daily tailor to pursue the invisible, the personal things that bring no money and no bread and make no contemporary history, art history or any other history. I am for art which we do for each other, as friends.

- Jonas Mekas