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2011: A space odyssey

Indulekha Aravind 

A group of artists creates a living community space where artists, actors, designers and farmers can come together without having to spend a huge amount.

The scale of the gigantic structure on the premises makes it impossible to miss, even from the road. But one could be forgiven for thinking it’s an industrial thingummyjig that has sprung up on a garden on busy Road for reasons unknown, given that it is made up of pallet rack shelves (a bigger version of the more familiar slotted-angle racks). For the folks at Jaaga, though, this steel structure is a creative, community space where, soon, young designers will exhibit their creations at a nominal charge. They would be sharing the space with “co-workers” busy with their laptops, actors rehearsing for their performance and with farmers selling organic produce on weekends. Or at least that’s the dream for Archana Prasad, founder-director of Jaaga, which means “space” in Kannada.

came into being in 2009, when a group of artists, including Prasad, who wanted to put up an exhibition realised the lack of a venue in the city where artists or designers can exhibit their works without depending on the usual gallery route and without having to spend huge amounts. That particular lacuna led to an artists’ collective, called Samuha, and a 414-day exhibition. But Prasad, a National Institute of Design alumnus and a video jockey with city-based band in a “previous avatar,” was now obsessed with finding a more permanent solution. “I knew it would be possible but I didn’t know how. So, when I met Freeman (Murray, the co-founder) at a party he suggested pallet rack shelves for the structure, something he had worked with earlier, though not on this scale,” says Prasad. So the structure came up on land donated by city-based architect Naresh Narasimhan off Richmond Road.

The space, says Prasad, is unique for its use of pallet racks which makes it mobile — not a term that springs to mind when you crane your neck staring at the 10-metre high, orange-and-blue structure. But it has already moved once from its old spot on the land lent by Narasimhan and is currently in the process of getting back on its feet at the new address, and with many more plans to carry out.

The multi-level structure, at its previous location, has hosted exhibitions, experiments with light and sound, various kinds of performances and artists-in-residence programmes, among other things. But members of Jaaga, now registered as a charitable trust, also see the structure as an art work in itself, and as a “living building.” “We’re trying to see if the building can say things to you, how it can be sentient,” says Prasad. Some of the panels thus, form a “vertical garden” where plants are grown with hydroponic drip irrigation. The reverse of these panels depict birds created using rust by visiting artist Walker Babington. The decision to relocate within the city itself was a conscious one, to explore situations arising from an urban context.

At its new location, though, there is a more worldly challenge — that of revenue generation. now has to pay rent for its premises, unlike earlier, and a hefty Rs 50,000 at that. Operational expenses have been pegged at Rs 1.5 lakh, including the rent. Prasad is optimistic that co-working — where entrepreneurs in the art, design and tech fields who prefer not to work alone at home could instead work in which would provide space and Internet connectivity for a fee — and hosting farmers’ markets, where one could pick up organically grown produce, would bring in money.

was initially a baby but has now become an adolescent and needs to earn some money for itself,” she says, whimsically. An “experimental kitchen” will also come up, to be run by the owners of the plot on which now stands, which will look to serve healthy food made with ingredients from their organic farm on the outskirts of the city.

Whatever the challenge, there is no dearth of plans or events to be held. “After all, we had over 200 events in the two years at our old space,” says a confident Prasad.

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