“We are in an era of the simultaneous, of juxtaposition, of the near and the far, of the side-by-side, of the scattered.”
Virtual spaces, such as cloud storages, of course, are infinite and the internet is a world of its own. But actual spaces, where humans tangibly exist, the boundaries that we draw around us, are increasingly shrinking in an era of high-speed saturation. It would be rather appropriate to say that the present age that we exist in is perhaps the age of space. In a world where human population is increasing exponentially, aided by improved health-care, we are pushed against the wall that has forced us to confront the paradox of space. Architects Rupali Gupte and Prasad Shetty bring us to understand the various ideas and properties of space through their show Transactional Objects at Project 88.
A neon orange briefcase rests, almost with a playfully contemplative mood as though it has been taken from a technicolor movie set. With a little tinkering, Treasure Trunk becomes a sturdy little bench, taking on an air that is similar to the modern-lifestyle furniture giant, IKEA. This is no coincidence. Mumbai, a city known for its trains, has numerous passengers who wait, sitting on their briefcases and pieces of luggage. In a world where cities are fast morphing from one form to the other, adaptability takes precedence over everything else.
The idea of adaptability takes on another dimension in their artwork titled Staircase Under the Shop. Reminiscent of Harry Potter’s cupboard under the staircase that was the eponymous hero’s humble abode, this sculpture reveals to us a delicate foldable chair precariously attached to the underbelly of a flight of stairs. We are once again reminded of the urgency to survive in an environment that is increasingly becoming spatially inhospitable.
But what comprises this Staircase Under the Shop? This is tangibly shown to us through yet another artwork titled One Foot Shop. A bright red chest of drawers opens up from the hinges to reveal numerous cabinets with neat little divisions in all sizes, pointing to its own preparedness for the unforeseeable objects that may find a place there.
If objects cannot be predicted, can the future be? Alluding to a city known to have astrologers sitting along with street-hawkers, Gupte and Shetty create an interesting artwork titled Astrologer’s Chair. What is really intriguing is how they were able to cater to astrologer’s impression about the querent and vice-versa. An extremely elevated chair that perhaps could be seen as a bar stool is where the astrologer sits close to the heavens, qua a prophecy-decoder. He may or may not get it all right for his querent, for the height may make him myopic to the signs that are imprinted on a mortal’s canvas. The querent too may not be able to understand, due to vertiginous distance, what the astrologer predicts. Space now takes on a topographical nature.
Where does one find the perfect utilization of such a topography? It is ubiquitous. We design our kitchens in a modular way for maximum space optimization. We also design high-rise apartments, and of course, since the very beginning of the written word, we have designed libraries to keep a record of all that we have come to know. The bright green Caterpillar Library takes after the ideas of optimization and mobility. The little lime green wheels and the lattices holding the origami-like book-holders narrativize the nomadic journey of knowledge. The color is a deliberate choice, almost an emblem of the vitality of life that surges through the planet like a giant baobab sinking its roots deep and wide. And while knowledge travels along with the wind of time through changing scenario of space, we also travel in the train of history.
Basket Bed conjures up memories of the times when all that we need and work tirelessly for is a place to live and call it home. While we all work to realize this aspiration, not all of us make it to this point. A poignant symbol of those who do not have a place to return to, the life-size basket complete with a pillow and a piece of cloth exposes human vulnerability in a concrete world that constantly shifts.
Gupte and Shetty, who are not just architects but also planners have, in this show, depicted how these seemingly even and simple spaces become overlapping zones of various meanings and actions. These are hybrid spaces where people converge and diverge continually, unconsciously remaking the city bit by bit, through their interactions with both humans and objects alike. The public and the private blur, as depicted in Basket Bed. Expeditions into various areas are made, for livelihood, recreation, to save lives, and to rest and prepare for the new day. New and old spaces, spaces in transition because of sedimentation and selective erosion of material elements, all create a sense of the strange, of unease. It is only with time and familiarization that this sense can be shaken off.
Through this show, the architect-cum-planner duo show us how there is a certain planning to all the chaos that unplanned cities usually have and how the city constantly interacts with its inhabitants. Like everything else in this era of speed and saturation, cities too have been forced to confront their limits and ways of transcending themselves. I believe Gupte and Shetty have been very successful in ingeniously indicating just how the changing form of the city and human adaptability alter the lexicon by adding new nuanced meanings of words like “blurring”, “tripping”, and “settling”. The city thus becomes, quite literally, a larger than life sentient being in Transactional Objects.
Transactional Objects is on view from March 8th, 2018 to April 30th, 2018 in Project 88, BMP Building, Ground Floor, N.A. Sawant Marg, Colaba, Mumbai – 400005.
All images are used with permission.