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Memory tools: A bombed out church turns into urban scale artwork

I’ve seen this sort of stuff before in Germany. Many years ago in Cologne, I remember walking on a street with a giant circle inscribed in it, to remember the Roman structure that once stood there. It was 1999. I had recently graduated from architecture college and the simple memory tool simply blew my mind!

This summer in Berlin, I noticed that the heavy scent of memory and nostalgia, tinged with sweetness and pain, still hangs around every street corner. And so I was particularly struck by this little open space near Checkpoint Charlie.

It’s called Bethlehemkirchplatz. Here, where a Church once stood, stands a metal frame that recreates the outline of the original building in a giant three-dimensional sculpture designed by Spanish artist  Juan Garaizabal (it is a tube structure that plays with light apparently, but we saw it only in the daytime). You walk inside it and you see the plan of the erstwhile church inscribed into the paving in a distinct colour. It urges you to try and conjure up its walls and roof, its interiors, furniture, people. And you cannot, because it is in fact an empty space, filled with memory and emotion.

A 16th C church built for Szech Protestant refugees who came to Berlin at the time of Frederick William the 1st. Built around 1737, the church was bombed during the WWII in 1943 and in 1963 the ruins were brought down. The current artwork was inaugurated as recently as 2012.

We first caught a tantalizing glimpse of the sculpture on our way back from Checkpoint Charlie on Day 1 of our exploration of Berlin (more on that later). But it stayed in my mind and we went back to it another time to feel wha its like to stand inside that shell. Interestingly, the plaza is also known for the building in the background that was designed by well-known architect Philip Johnson and in this way, the place holds more than just memory but is linked to Berlin’s recent history and architectural prowess.

The artwork peeks out at us on a rainy day

The artwork peeks out at us on a rainy day

It fills the space, yet you see forms beyond it

It fills the space, yet you see forms beyond it

We return another day, under a blue sky

We return another day, under a blue sky

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The sculpture next to the church’s frame represents the everyday things the refugees left with. I didn’t take to it much!

 

The explorers are at it!

The explorers are at it!

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This is my favourite view of the plaza. And heya Johnson House now clearly visible in the background!

This is my favourite view of the plaza. And heya Johnson House now clearly visible in the background!

 

Day trip to Elephanta caves, Mumbai: Blast from the past!

Seeing as we had missed going there last time we visited Mumbai thanks to the rains and because Udai had heard of my childhood visits to these caves, he was raring to go. He had put down his demand to visit Elephanta on Day 1 of his solo Mumbai trip to stay with Rachna, who my kids fondly call Bossy (Bausi actually, which is half bua and half mausi, for those of you interested in the etymology of this strange term). It also sort of fits with her, we joke, but in reality she is a softy and a sweetheart.

Anyway, on a super hot summer day, the kids and us- Rachna, Nupur (mausi to the kids) and me- boarded the ferry boat to Elephanta which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was an experience pulling out into the sea, seeing the majestic Gateway of India and the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel getting smaller and smaller as we headed out. Yes, I’ve been here as a child with my cousins and the ferry ride was the most thrilling part of it. This time, I noticed how many locals there were on board carrying vegetables, corn, coconuts and other goods to the island. These sea-people, for whom now tourism was a lifeline, intrigued me and I wanted to know more…

Anyway, many ship-sightings, lifebuoy-countings and sunburns later, we approached the densely forested island, locally known as Gharapuri but named Elephanta after the stone carved elephant that was discovered here and now stands in the Bombay Zoo, or the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in the zoo premises to be precise.

Pulling away watching the beautiful Gateway and iconic Taj hotel get smaller and smaller...

Pulling away watching the beautiful Gateway and iconic Taj hotel get smaller and smaller…

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Mumbai skyline on a hot hot day

Mumbai skyline on a hot hot day

It’s a hot walk and climb to the caves (you can also take a cute chugging train till the steps), but all worth the effort. Sweat streaming, we enter the dark caves to be utterly fascinated by the sculpture, the architecture, the sheer monumentality of these caves, built between 450 and 750 AD. The trimurti- Brahma,Vishnu, Mahesh is exquisite and so are the several sculptures of dwarpals, shiva, shiva-parvatu, ardhnarishwar, etc that adorn the first large cave.

Chair, anyone? Was hot enough to tempt anyone, yet we saw only one brave old lady actually climb into one!

Chair, anyone? Was hot enough to tempt anyone, yet we saw only one brave old lady actually climb into one!

Cave No 1 here we come!

Cave No 1 here we come!

Inside Cave No 1

Inside Cave No 1

Standing before the magnificent trimurti

Standing before the magnificent trimurti

Udai, Nupur, Rachna

Udai, Nupur, Rachna

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Posing on the steps before entering the cave...

Posing on the steps before entering the cave…

Photo mania!

Photo mania!

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bat hunting!

bat hunting!

For Udai and Aadyaa (and perhaps for all who visit), the fact that someone (in this case Portuguese traders) had shot at and maimed the sculptures was the main concern. they had read the Amar Chitra Katha comic about the caves and knew some of the history. So are those who did it bad? No? Then why did they do it? A long discussion on intolerance and how it is routinely practised, to the detriment of the human race, followed. An excellent opportunity for me to drill in my own philosophy of liberalism and tolerance, and appreciation of all cultures. I was to get the opportunity again, with much more impact, up in Mcleodganj in the context of Tibet, but more about that later.

The caves offer many photo opportunities and we took them all! On the way back, we decided to wait for the mini train to go back to the ferry. Sitting there, eating corn, I got the opportunity to converse in Marathi with the locals who run all the touristy knick-knack and food shops on the island. They were farmers and fisherfolk before, but now the monkeys have devastated all the crops and they rely on supplies from the mainland. They still fish and bit, do boat repair work etc, but are largely dependent on tourism fir income. The young do not stay here, leaving the island to study and work. I got the sense of despondency, rather than excitement. Would like to know more. When we declare something of heritage value, how does that change the loves of the people who have lived there for generations? Do they have links with the dynasty that carved the caves or are they later settlers? Is there any other way they can be involved to contribute to and benefit from the tourism that the island attracts? Is there any other way the trip the island can be enhanced? Through cultural interpretation centres, art displays, some non-invasive development around the island’s natural lakes and lagoons?

These were the thoughts going around my head on the ferry ride back. As the magnificent city of Mumbai came back into view, these thoughts faded and the excitement of walking around South Mumbai became more palpable!

snacking on bhutta! roasted corn, a super healthy, super tasty meal

Snacking on bhutta! roasted corn, a super healthy, super tasty meal

Heading back, Mumbai beckons!

Heading back, Mumbai beckons!

 

Of Form, Texture, Scale: Exploring Nekchand’s Rock Garden, Chandigarh

I last visited the Rock Garden in Chandigarh in December 1991 or thereabouts. I was born in the city and I was revisiting Chandigarh after my early years there for the very first time. I vaguely remember wandering around the sculptures and there are a few really nice pictures of Daddy, Mummy and me posing in front of the exhibits.

I was, therefore, quite excited to revisit the Rock Garden with my children and see how they react. Nekchand is a legend in the city and beyond. Even as the city was being planned and built by an over-enthusiastic newly-Independent nation along the lines suggested by the world famous architect Le Corbusier, Nekchand was piecing together works of art from bits and pieces he collected from the ruins of the villages that were relocated to create the city. Nekchand was of humble origins and a government servant. He worked secretly at night to create this garden and when it was discovered, illegally built on government land, it took a miracle and considerable civil society action to conserve this wonderland and create it into a public park. It is now a valuable resource for the city, attracting hundred of tourists every day.

Saturday 30th March, the day we visited, was no different and we joined the teeming crowds that ambled through its serpentine pathways, admired its fountains and streams, and were intrigued by the strange shapes and forms crafted from waste material. The park is now a model for environmental conservation, recycling all the water on its premises and even running the waterfalls from recycles water alone.

A new area has been added now and here, the scale changed dramatically. Everything is huge, larger than life. As an architect, I found the effect interesting in some parts but quite ineffective in others. Scale is not always a good thing! Another thing that irked me was the diesel-operated toy train in the park, going against its very philosophy of closeness with nature.

Udai and Aadyaa both enjoyed the Rock Garden, climbing all over the place, touching things. The water bodies attract many colourful insects and Udai was most fascinated with the red and blue dragonflies, and complained repeatedly about the fact that I was not carrying my zoom lens! Aadyaa loves climbing. This place was a dream come true for her and we had to keep stopping her from trying to scale the walls….All in all, a highly recommended outing for families. I only wish they had a better way of presenting the garden’s history and significance, a more interactive exhibit that could involve kids could drive home an important message about the importance of re-use and creativity.

My backpack carrier and my adventure lover were both enamored of the Rock Garden

My backpack carrier and my adventure lover were both enamored of the Rock Garden

Ravone-like walkways- The expansion and contraction in scale makes the Rock Garden a delight to wonder through!

Ravone-like walkways- The expansion and contraction in scale makes the Rock Garden a delight to wonder through!

Textures- From old ceramic electrical hardware

Textures- From old ceramic electrical hardware

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More texture

More texture

Incongruity is the name of the game...

Incongruity is the name of the game…

three of my favourtie people made to pose in an interesting arrangement, offsetting the texture behind

Three of my favorite people made to pose in an interesting arrangement, offsetting the texture behind

Close-up of the happy poser!

Close-up of the happy poser!

The two sisters rocked the trip, the whacky Chaturvedi humor keeping spirits high....yay for Meeta didi and Nupur!

The two sisters rocked the trip, the whacky Chaturvedi humor keeping spirits high….yay for Meeta didi and Nupur!

Soul of the party...

Soul of the party…

The older waterfall...Even on a warm day, this space felt refreshing and cool...all my efforts went to stop my little one from stepping into the water and slipping!

The older waterfall…Even on a warm day, this space felt refreshing and cool…all my efforts went to stop my little one from stepping into the water and slipping!

The new, larger waterfall is over four floors high and rather spectacular!

The new, larger waterfall is over four floors high and rather spectacular!

More texture in the new phase...pretty dramatic ravine-like effect

More texture in the new phase…pretty dramatic ravine-like effect

The new phase ends up in this large, out-of-scale, rather terribly designed space...totally takes the oomph out of the experience...and do not miss the bizarre diesel-powered toy train! Ugh! My kids of course insisted on riding, you see their silhouettes in there...

The new phase ends up in this large, out-of-scale, rather terribly designed space…totally takes the oomph out of the experience…and do not miss the bizarre diesel-powered toy train! Ugh! My kids of course insisted on riding, you see their silhouettes in there…

As you keave the Rock Garden, the familiar Nekchand-style sculptures say goodbye...check this one out enjoying his beer!

As you leave the Rock Garden, the familiar Nekchand-style sculptures say goodbye…check this one out enjoying his beer! Appropriate indeed, as the rest of this day was dedicated to celebrating my birthday…party time!

An afternoon of art and nostalgia @ Mandi House, New Delhi

Stolen moments of pleasure are always special. But often times, when you suddenly find yourself at a loose end with time on your hands, when a meeting gets over too soon for example, it’s hard to figure out what to do. I rack my brains to think of all the stuff I always want to do but never seem to have time for, and nothing comes to mind.

The walk from SPA’s archi block to planning block never looked so good in our days….some things do change for the better!

Well, today the cylinders inside my brain fired up at the right time when I realized I was done early at college and my car wouldn’t pick me up for another hour at least. I walked briskly to the other side of the road and caught the first auto to Mandi House. This was a nostalgia trip for sure, for Mandi House was where we went whenever we had a free afternoon, back in the days when we studied architecture in SPA. A sort of culture hub, we were always sure to be able to see a few art exhibitions and would end up catching a play or music performance at one of the 5 or so auditoriums there.

This afternoon, I headed first for the Triveni Kala Sangam. This was always our favorite among the Mandi House venues because it is a Joseph Allen Stein building, beautiful, always serene and quiet. As usual, most galleries were open and walking through the art, both paintings and sculpture, was pleasurable indeed. ‘Polemics of a Soul Catcher’, an exhibition of very large paintings, oil on canvas, by Satish Sharma offered a commentary of the place of modern man, his moral dilemmas, his new increasingly urban environment..thought provoking. A group art show in the open air court offered a variety of techniques and themes and the sculpture court was also full of interesting works.

Triveni has been a magnet for art lovers for years. Now of course, many modern art galleries have opened up in South Delhi and suburban areas too, and the importance of Mandi House has diminished somewhat.

You can’t not be in love with Stein’s architecture

Lallan Singh’s work filled the sculpture garden at the Triveni Kala Sangam. This was one of those endearing spaces where we spent some afternoons sitting around and sketching the exhibited work.

I had but a short time left, but I still tried to dash across to the Lalit Kala Akademi building, where again I know there always is something worth looking at.This ws quite a job with all the construction happening in this area. Thankfully, there were marshalls who were actually stopping cars so pedestrians could cross! I don’t come here often, but since I was a pedestrian today I noticed just how much the vehicular traffic has increased by in Lutyen’s Delhi. It completely destroys the charm, the constant whirring of cars with impatient drivers who don’t really want to wait for the pedestrians to cross! And this is the only walkable part of the city!

This is what the lovely patch of green at the cnter of Mandi House circle looks like now! To think that we spent many hours of one memorable night sitting in that patch of green on our group date as fresh hostelers in 1994! Hope this gets fixed soon…

Rabindra Bhawan’s memorable arches

I had only about fifteen minutes at Lalit Kala Akademi. The building, Rabindra Bhawan, hosts important cultural institutions for literature, fine arts and performing arts and is an iconic building designed by Habib Rehman, one of many public buildings he designed in the ’50s and ’60s. The art gallery here has been renovated and I was entering the renovated space for the first time. Rather nice and uncluttered. The exhibition, and I cannot remember the name of the show or the artists, was an exploration of abstraction using new media. I quite liked some of the works, especially those depicting nature and human form.

An hour or so well spent, in my own company, soaking in art, the city and its spaces….

Elevated views in Delhi- Aug 12, 2012

Every Thursday, I get the opportunity to drive back from SPA using the Barapulla. That controversial elevated road that was built in preparation of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. It slices through Delhi. It offers new views, very unexpected ones for someone who has been accustomed to Delhi roads and the views they offer for near on two decades! It crosses many government colonies and many urban villages, you see the crowded, haphazard, highly dense fabric of the city. You see real lives, real people.

I stopped at a little market the other day somewhere near Thiagaraj Stadium to buy fruits and there was a lively discussion going on about how much the local chakki (mill) charges to grind a kilo of wheat into flour. And I wondered at whether we who switch loyalties between supermarkets can begin to understand lives that continue to span the urban-rural divide; one foot here, one foot there; mind here, heart there.

I got to click some interesting pictures from the elevated roads I took. Some of the art that went up in public spaces was spectacular, some terribly mundane. The JLN Stadium transformed from blah to blitz. I want to take more pictures on this route. It would be interesting to see how people use some of these spaces (or don’t because they can’t get to them).

Love these orbs…at AIIMS flyover!

While getting on to the Barapulla…Empty green islands..

Another view…

The spectacular JLN Stadium….Need to get off and take better images. loads of potential there for superb architectural photography

 

 

 

Stretched imagination: The wonderful world that children have inside their heads! May 21, 2012

Udai attended a 6-day art workshop this past week. Conducted by Sonal, a dear friend of Rahul and mine from the good old days in Lucknow, he had the time of his life exploring and discovering in himself new abilities and talents. Ten kids varying from age 7 to 11 and a wonderfully involved and talented teacher- Here’s a short run through of what they did…..

Exercise 1 was learning to put together the background, mid ground and foreground. Kids had an inherent ability to portray different moods and a very clear visualization of the scene was apparent. This one is Udai’s.

Exercise 2- Think of up of your own character. They made these fantastic character sheets describing these characters (Caroto the warrior carrot and Lion the Monkey are on this pic’s foreground), what they do, what they like, dislike, etc.

Udai created Matrix (inspired by summer holiday reading of Asterix) the Tribal Man. Lives in a cave in Africa. Hunts mammoths and eats mammoth heads. Dives backward flip into water and loves swimming. Wields a deadly spear!

Step 3 was creating a wire frame of the character. Some kids changed their characters but our man stuck to Matrix loyally all the way through!

Next: They built on the skeleton to add flesh and skin and clothes and accessories. This was most exciting. That Sonal Bua had so much fantastic stationery and material…wow! Do note the red loin cloth and the neck piece worn by our smart man Matrix! The important lesson at this point was to exaggerate the special characteristic, in this case Matrix’s leanness.

And that’s how Matrix turned out. He is broke at the neck but he adorns a wall in our house! Bua has got some stronger wire to remake him 🙂 In the final version, he got 3 bracelets on each arm also!

The most involved teacher with another talented student. During the presentation, Sonal had something special to highlight about each child. Made the parents day for sure!

Aadyaa thoroughly enjoyed the display and was much inspired. We went home and made a masterpiece of our own!!

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