Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you already know Sanket Avlani vis-a-vis his Taxi Fabric Project, which gathered different designers from the city to revamp drab taxi interiors with colourful, lively new fabric designed exclusively for them. More recently, the designer has taken his learnings to the classroom where he has been teaching a weekly elective course for the Indian School of Design and Innovation, otherwise known as Parsons Mumbai, for the last four months. Having designed his course around a Public Art Installations project (‘Impact through Public Art‘) which encourages students to give their art to the city, the fruit of both his and his students’ labour is now available for all citizens to interact with. We caught up with him to dissect the project a little further.
Sanket explains, “I think the process was to to take them through the journey of public interactions ( as artists).” He refers to the student’s project as less of learning a practice, “and more of a conditioning for them.” The students were divided into four groups and encouraged by Sanket to interact with their city and the people around them. He designed the course as a way for his students to exercise their rights of expression, not only as artists, but as Mumbaikars, or as he puts it, “ (the project) is meant as a freedom of choice to involve oneself.’ He adds matter-of-factly, “this is how artists communicate man.”
It was very important to him that the installations did not come across as overly imposing upon the public, conceding, “people are sensitive when it comes to who we are as a society.” As a result, most of the installations are minimalist, giving people the opportunity to understand them in their own way, as well as interact with them in their own way. Sanket explains, “without it (art) being in the confines of a gallery there is a different sort of responsibility attached.”
Although the themes of each installation differ in commentary and style, they are united through the underlying theme of being or “something that any kind of person should be able to understand.”
Lovebirds on Marine Drive is a subtle coupling of plastic pink and blue lovebirds placed upon the barricade boulders on Marine Drive. The ocean facing birds speckle the dreary rocks with colour, which seems to please people bustling up and down the bay. The installation appears to be reminiscent of couples spending time together along the oceanfront–one of the few spaces in the city that allows for a seeming privacy.
Puddles of Sky, on Worli Seaface, is a smattering of square mirrors that pepper the promenade. Of all the pieces this one is probably the most interactive. As Sanket extols, “ you can discover it , walk over it, at all these installation you’ll see people constantly looking at them, trying to figure out what it is.”
In Lower Parel, a corrugated steel wall portrays a black and white mural named, The Lenticular Truth of Parel’s Mill Workers. The rivets on the wall sort of distort the mural, which is rather intriguing when you face it from across the road. Sanket comments, “this is something that needs to be said, it is a testimony to the fade of these mill workers because of modernization and globalization.” In reference to the title of the mural he explains, “lenticular is the technique where you create stickers that move like gifs.” With that in mind, the blurring sensation the installation achieves acts as a depiction of the mill workers fading right in front of you, which is quite a cool technique.
The last installation ‘Word Search’ is the largest installation of them all, with an a array of large Hindi letters climbing the facade of a building. The letters reach till the fourth floor, so even people far off can view the installation, and maybe even play a bit of word search before they keep on moving.
Looking back on this project Sanket says, “as a process, I think the credit goes to these really young and highly skilled students. I feel I have been the one has learnt the most from these installations.” However, he admits that this only feels like the beginning. “We are just getting started with this, we need to put up more art in the public domain,” he insists. He refers to the Aravani Art Project, by Poornima Sukumar, who uses art to provide inclusive spaces for marginalized communities, like transgenders, saying “we need more projects like this.”
While you wait for the next installations to snake their way onto our streets, however, you could always succumb to his advice and take matters into your own hands. Art, after all, need not know any limits.
Words: Julian Manning
Feature Image: Sanket Avlani