Take a stroll outside Phoenix Market City mall in Whitefield later this month, and you could see a woman with a shopping cart. Nothing exceptional, you might say. But what if this woman was wheeling her cart down a 52-foot wall, cocking a snook at reality? Or, if you head to an old wedding hall in north Bangalore, split in two as part of road widening, you might see a haphazard timeline of the wedding invitations of couples who got married there years ago. A collage of movie posters there will change every week. In yet another quarter, one of the four watch towers, built by Kempegowda II to mark the boundary of Bangalore, will be the venue for multiple interactive performances, unified by a single theme.
All these performances and two others are part of Project 560, an initiative launched by Bangalore-based non-profit India Foundation for the Arts that will explore the idea of artistic engagement with spaces. The name is a reference to the city's pin code. "Project 560 started from this idea of exploring the city through performances. A city is an amazing resource for an artiste. It's constantly in a state of flux dealing with changes, and spaces make all these stories of development, conflict and struggle interesting," says IFA Executive Director Arundhati Ghosh. The initiative is being funded with Rs 28 lakh donated by mobile technology company Qualcomm. Of the 23 proposals received, five have made the final cut.
Mallika Prasad and Ram Ganesh Kamatham, theatre artistes and professional mountaineers, chose to explore the theme through the climbing wall outside the mall. "What one goes to a mall for is antithetical to the experience of climbing. And we wanted to look at the movement of being on a wall in different ways," says Prasad, an alumnus of National School of Drama. Kamatham, who has written and performed several plays, says the mall presented an intriguing space, because site-specific work tends to be in spaces that are dilapidated or no longer in use. "We wanted to go to a bustling space, but reclaim it for the kind of experience you would normally not associate with it," he says. The location, in the bustling IT hub of Whitefield, was also important because it represented a microcosm of the drastic transformation of the city.
Vinayak Mantap, the old wedding hall that has recently been sliced into two, was a spot Jeetin Rangher used to pass by on his way to school, when it would be bustling with activity. "Now when I look at it, the ground floor is filled with garbage and has become the basement... what kind of story would the structure be telling now?" asks Rangher, who hopes that locals will also be part of the project which will tackle social issues as well. "Not everybody goes to a gallery. But here, the public will become part of the process." If people want to continue using it as an artistic space, it could start having a life of its own, says Rangher, who will be collaborating with visual artists Bhuvanesh Kumar and Katarina Rasic.
"It's very easy to talk about a city in a binary language (the old versus the new) but we wanted to avoid that. We preferred proposals that accepted the development as real and thought about how to intervene, engage with what happened, and give it a more human face," says IFA's Ghosh. There will be a week-long festival in the beginning of June, though work at most of the sites and some performances will commence towards the end of the month. In June, there will also be seminars to contextualise the festival and let the artistes talk about their engagement with the spaces they chose.
Rangasiri, a Bangalore theatre group, will be using Kempegowda's watch tower near Mekhri Circle, as their site for performances. "The watch towers pulled us towards them because they define the boundaries of the city, and we wanted to play around with that concept," says Sandeep Pai, a member of Rangasiri. The original plan had included a performance incorporating all four towers, but that had to be scrapped because one of the towers was on defence land.
Of the other two projects, one would be performance art in Basavangudi, one of the most traditional quarters of Bangalore. Spearheaded by Dimple Shah, the area will witness six artistic interventions over three months that will look at its history, its colours and its people. The other, by the 080:30 collective, will see 10 artists working in five different spaces across the city.
"When city plans are decided, everything else gets a space that's transactional except the arts. So in a way, Project 560 is also the artistic community's way of saying we will find the space to embed art in if you don't give it to us, almost in a guerrilla manner," says Ghosh.