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Bathers_Cottesloe_View1.jpgBathers, Perspective View, Shaumyika Sharma

Bathers


n. Slang word for ‘bathing suit’ (Australian)

n. A person swimming or spending time in the water (British)

 

This proposal was submitted to the Cottesloe Sculpture by the Sea open call for artists. The title of this work refers both to the Aussie slang for swimsuit or bathing suit, and to a number of late 19th/ early 20th Century paintings entitled ‘Bathers’ or ‘The Bathers’ by artists such as Renoir and Cezanne. Intended to be a celebration of the act of wearing bathers and the act of ‘bathing’ (or swimming), this art work is also meant to create a somewhat disturbing vision by presenting 35 identical female figures in ‘bathers’ in the form of mannequins (rarely seen in an exterior setting).

Bathers_Cottesloe_View2.jpgBathers, Perspective View, Shaumyika Sharma

As a woman, the experience of wearing bathers can bring with it both anxiety and joy. Women’s bodies are often objectified and/or judged. Both the act of exposing our bodies and choosing not to can bring these societal issues to the surface. A woman’s autonomy over her own body is frequently questioned and the recent burkini ban 
in France is just one example of disregard for women’s personal choices. On the other hand, women also often associate the act of putting on bathers with the joy of being immersed in a body of water, experiencing nature and feeling renewed.

cottesloeseasculptures_detail1Bathers, Detail Elevations, Shaumyika Sharma

The artwork is comprised of 35 identical mannequins in 35 identical poses, wearing 35 identical swimsuits ‘boxed’ within scaffolding. Each mannequin could be thought to represent roughly 100 million women as there are roughly 3.5 billion women in the world today. However, the mannequins are intentionally a ‘gold’ colour-a colour associated with the idea of the beach (sun, sand, tanning etc), while not being linked to any particular race. Within the scaffolding, there is one empty frame, intended for people to pose for photographs should they wish to, or create their own interpretation of the work in some way. Media depictions of women tend toward sameness and the promotion of an ‘ideal’ female body. By literalizing this tendency, ‘Bathers’ attempts to replace body-shaming with liberation and satire.

CottesloeSeaSculptures_Model.jpgBathers, Detail Model, Shaumyika Sharma

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Dyeing, winding, warping, beaming, reeding, joining, filling, weaving. Throughout India, craftspeople have refined the process of textile creation over the past five thousand years [1]. Generations of tradition inform the people who make fabric for a living. A system of instruction and apprenticeship sustains weaving as it does many other crafts [2]. But mechanical advancements of the industrial revolution and computerized advancements of the information age allow machines to produce imitations cheaply and quickly. Forced to compete with mill factories, weavers and other craftspeople now struggle to make a living on their skills.

picture1Block Printing in Ranthambhore, photo by Shaumyika Sharma

Shaumyika (author of this blog) has a personal connection with Indian textiles, as her mother studied a Master of Textiles and worked in the industry for a time. She has always wanted to open a building dedicated to textiles, and with architectural skills to contribute, she realized there is no reason to wait. One way to help struggling weavers is to improve their built environment, which is the job of an architect.

A major trend in architecture nowadays is to focus on problem solving. At the Architecture Biennale in Venice this year, many exhibits sought out ways to “improve the quality of the built environment and consequently people’s quality of life,” per the guiding statement from Alejandro Aravena [3]. As the director of the Architecture Sector in the 2016 Biennale, he hoped to see exceptional cases where architecture “did, is and will make a difference in those battles” [3]. Moving away from the notion of the starchitect, there is opportunity for any architect to choose projects with a cultural or social agenda. To begin this process, the architect needs an extensive knowledge of the community they are trying to help. So, about weaving…

Weaving, at its core, is a simple pattern of interlacing two discrete threads at right angles in order to construct a cloth. Lateral weft threads are passed above and below the longitudinal warp threads. But a vast knowledge base and skill set enables only craftspeople to weave intricate patterns, colors, and textures.

picture2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weaving#/media/File:Warp_and_weft.jpg

Twenty-three million craftspeople in India depend on their skills for livelihood, despite the fact that most artisans have moved on from tradition towards more profitable contemporary industries [4]. Preservation is a natural urge in many ways – we preserve the ancient architecture of Greece and Rome, ceramic bowls from Chinese empires, and Indian textiles as well. But in this case curating textiles only solves a problem of nostalgia. With millions of people that still depend on the sale of their weaving skills, India is now faced with a problem of excess labour, and those labourers struggle to resist obsolescence in the face of mechanized mills.

picture3Contemporary Indian Weaving Mill, image courtesy of The Textile Magazine
http://www.indiantextilemagazine.in/uncategorized/rajapalayam-mills-an-inspire-in-modern-indian-textile/

Trade secrets are crucial to weaving craft. They are often only taught to family members through inheritance [2]. A craftsperson may be the only one in their community who knows the proper techniques for production. Such specificity gives value to their labour, but only if that specialty leads to a specialized demand. When community members stop desiring custom-made craft and settle for milled textiles, their craft loses potential for profit, and their children lose desire to learn and pass on those skills [5].

The industrial revolution and Britain’s imperialism disrupted ancient Indian crafts. In the pre-independence era, little attention was paid to the consequences of modern textile mills [1]. When mills first gained popularity, the British marveled about their potential to cheaply and quickly mimic hand-crafted textiles. No concerted effort was made to develop the handloom industry, so craftspeople were forced to try to compete. During the second half of the twentieth century, the state of India began to massively support production and technical improvements in traditional crafts such as weaving [1].

But in the twenty-first century we expect technology to evolve faster than we can predict. Mechanical weaving machines continue to replace the loom and hands of a weaver. Computerisation takes things a step farther by enabling superfine, complex patterns to be digitally construed then mechanically executed. With machines and computers and international marketing, hand-weavers have more problems nowadays than just mechanical limitations. In many ways, weavers are totally alienated from fashion trends and potential markets both in India and abroad [1].

Countless weaving societies face similar challenges despite hugely differing crafts. One common challenge is the time required to produce the fabric. In the Patan region, patola textiles woven with selectively dyed warp and weft threads carry ceremonial importance. Pregnant women receive them during the srimant, or seventh month of pregnancy [5]. Often featuring beautiful tiger and elephant motifs, the dying process for these textiles utilizes three craftspeople and spans up to 75 days. Two craftspeople then simultaneously work the same loom to weave a sari, which takes another 25 days [5]. Though such time-consuming processes lead to rare, highly-valued products, it is difficult to generate substantial demand with so few patola textiles produced by any given community.

Left: http://saree-sari-india.blogspot.sg/2009/10/history-of-patola-sarees.html
Right: Handmade in India [5]

Another common challenge is changing tastes of the community. Community members sometimes favour mechanically produced textiles regardless of ceremonial valuation. In the Surat District, the handwoven cotton patku was traditionally presented to a bride when she first visited the groom’s house. Changing tastes and cheaper alternatives led locals to stop wearing the traditional patku with a preference for screen-printed fabric made in a mill. As a result, craftswomen resort to weaving lace [5].

patku1

Traditional Patku weaving, image courtesy of Handmade in India [5]

Weaving communities also face challenges from within, namely to employ and empower women. Women represent half of the potential workforce but, historically, lacked opportunities to learn craft skills from a male-dominated weaving industry. Taking strides towards equality will have profound benefits not only for women but for the community as a whole. When women work and make a living, they can educate themselves and their children, which elevates the community in the long term. In recent years, craft in India has been a significant means of social and financial independence for women [1].

All of the aforementioned problems persist (and worsen) despite constant monetary and policy aid from the state since the 1960s. Clearly such aid isn’t a complete solution. There has to be some way to provide a centralised location for weavers to collaborate with each other, produce demand for their products and find markets, all the while farming food and sending their children to school. We hope that architecture can provide an avenue towards this end.

To design, build, and set into operation a space where craftspeople can work, where their families can live, and where their children can go to school, with the objective of giving the craft and the community more visibility, thus creating greater public awareness; and contributing to the larger goals of empowerment of women, economic growth, and better education for the children in the community.
— Mission Statement for Weaver’s Co-op Project, Courtesy of Shaumyika Sharma

 

Architecture characterises the usage of spaces. For a room to enhance a weaver’s workshop, it must have an appropriate number of looms, ample light and manoeuvrable space, a washing area and a dying area. With each of these characteristics centralised in one location, the workshop has the power to reinvigorate workers and equip them to efficiently practice their craft. Now expand that principal to the entire co-op. The goal of the architecture is not to force a weaving community to change their approach. Rather, the goal is to provide a space with desks, bookshelves, and chalkboards to make basic education convenient and accessible; to provide a showroom or museum to display beautiful textiles and attract demand from community members.

Building a weaver’s co-op is not an intervention. It’s not a way to invalidate a community’s customs and tradition. Rather it’s a hope that architectural skills can serve the community to further its subsistence. By centralising high quality weaving facilities with educational facilities, a space for collaboration, and a space for display of the goods, architecture has the potential to make certain activities more attractive. In some cases, this model has proved highly successful.

Dastkar, for instance, established a craft coop in Ranthambhore over 25 years ago.  After the new national park displaced local craftspeople, Dastkar worked to provide stations for block printing, cushion cover production, and tie-dying [6]. As a result of those resources, the unskilled workers, who were trained in textile crafts, found an outlet for their work. Women in the co-op maintained financial independence so they could in turn send their daughters to college. Dastkar Ranthambhore grew to the point of expansion, when architecture really came into play. Added rooms included a “production center, raw material store, office, sales outlet, a training workshop, and a place for group interactions.” These spaces were so accessible that they in turn “changed the attitude of the villagers towards society, caste, marriage and purdah” [6]. The community adapted to the changed role of women, seeing the family benefits of women working properly and earning their own money. Shaumyika visited Ranthambhore to learn about the society, and hopes to place her work in its context.

picture4Women making Quilts in Ranthambhore, image courtesy of Dastkar Ranthambhore [6]

Another upcoming example is Varanasi, where the NGO Nest is collaborating with renowned architect David Adjaye to build a community center for weavers. The design of the centre draws from local architecture and will attempt to augment community relations. Women will assist the weaving process by having their own workspace to increase their craft skills. Space for social and health services will aim to promote mutual respect between Hindu and Muslim weavers [7].varanasi2varanasiThe Varanasi Project, images courtesy of Nest [7]

In the context of a self-initiated project, an architect has the privilege of choice. Once past the hurdle of funding, an architect can decide where looms and washrooms will go, how many classrooms there should be, where people should congregate, how visitors will navigate and observe the space, etc. But this choice is also a burden. An architect must constantly avoid “playing God.” In this case, they must learn the ins-and-outs of daily life and the problems that weavers face in detail, to provide spaces which ease the weaving and selling process. It will be important to hear every voice, especially those of women, who could benefit most by such a development.

In exercising this caution, I realize that a designed space will not immediately solve the problems of a craft community in India. Hopefully, the space can facilitate ways for the community to solve the problems based on their own knowledge and skill sets. For example, a textile production group in Kyoto named Hosoo revamped their process to appeal to a high fashion audience. They began in the 1600s weaving traditional kimonos. Today the demand for those kimonos has diminished 90% [8]. To combat a lack of demand, they digitized and modernized the process with the aid of custom spaces, machines, and software. An artist will design a pattern which is then analyzed on a pixel-by-pixel level. Computers assist the production process which still features skilled craftspeople on handlooms. Hosoo got hired to produce specialty textiles for labels including Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Chanel [8].

picture5Kyoto Weaver’s Space, image courtesy of Hosoo [8]

Will Indian weaving societies follow a similar path to stay relevant? Is the craft being preserved despite that kind of change? Is innovation the key to survival, or is there a way to market traditional textiles to new markets which appreciate the craft? Moving forward, these questions must be considered and discussed with weaving communities in order to design spaces suitable for their future.

 

References

  1. “The Handloom Weaving Cluster: Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh”, UNIDO Cluster Development Programme (March 2003): 2-6,10,16-17,21,23-26
  2. “Traditional Craftsmanship,” UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Accessed 11 July 2016. http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/en/traditional-craftsmanship-00057
  3. “Alejandro Aravena appointed Director of the 15th Intl. Architecture Exhibition 2016,” La Biennale Di Venezia. Accessed 15 July 2016. http://www.labiennale.org/en/architecture/news/18-07.html
  4. Anubha Sood, “Crafts as Sustainable Livlihood Option in Rural India.” CraftRevival, accessed 25 Nov 2015.
  5. Aditi Ranjan and M P Ranjan, ed., Handmade in India (New Delhi: Council of Handicraft Development Corporations, 2007): 427, 440
  6. “Dastkar Ranthambhore,” last modified 2012. http://www.dastkarranthambhore.org/ourjourney.asp
  7. “The Building Project,” Nest. Accessed 12 July 2016. http://www.buildanest.org/projects/varanasi-india/the-building/
  8. Tilly Macalister-Smith, “Inside Hosoo, the 327-Year-Old Textiles Mill Supplying Chanel and Dior.” Business of Fashion, 2 July 2015. https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/global-currents/inside-hosoo-the-327-year-old-textiles-mill-that-supplies-chanel-and-dior

 

Maximum Pressure Area, Plug-In City Project (1962-64) by Peter Cook (Archigram), Ink and colour on photomechanical print, from McQuaid, M. (2002), Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from the Museum of Modern Art,New York: The Museum of Modern Art

The work of the architect extends far beyond the goal of achieving some programmatic end: their work surpasses the conception and construction of a building as they are charged with the tasks of conceiving of and manipulating space, and thus the experience of that space’s occupants.

Architecture is more than building. The work of the architect extends beyond. The understanding of emotion, occupation, movement, and empathy, set architecture apart from building. Architecture is conscious of its surroundings, the implications of its impact on an area, and its general context. And it is the task of the formal architect to conceive of and implement this grand enterprise. The architect is constrained not only by the limitations of construction and budget, but an inability to realize the project on their own at a 1:1 scale. Thus, they must draw.

Paul Rudophh_Yale Architecture Building

Yale Architecture Building by Paul Rudolph, Ink on paper. Courtesy of dezeen.

 

It is true that architectural drawing is first and foremost a tool; it has ideas, diagrammatic and analytical information employed for the purpose of coordinating the labor of building a building beyond mere image. This is to say that the architectural drawing is not solely for viewing pleasure, but is a carrier of useful information. This is what distinguishes architectural drawing from fine art. Architectural drawings are systematic, generated using a decodable visual language and accessible to a wide range of audiences. They are meant to be understood. This may be obvious with regard to architect’s technical drawings, but less obvious in the case of drawings where the line between art and architecture is finer. 

https://www.google.com.sg/search?q=paul+rudolph&espv=2&biw=1188&bih=619&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjPzMKL5dHNAhWJto8KHeKWD5oQ_AUIBigB#tbm=isch&q=steven+holl+drawings&imgrc=MjeuUfg2igLvUM%3A

Edge of a City: Spiroid Sectors (1991) by Steven Holl,  watercolour on paper. Courtesy of DrawingArchitecture.tumblr.com

 

Yet what is the value of these apparently hybrid illustrations? Why do architects often employ artistic techniques of representation in their architectural drawings? In his short essay “What is Architecture? (Art)”, Steven Holl defines architecture under four headings; Abstract, Use, Space and Idea. He asserts that a work of architecture harbours an idea and that “the phenomena of space, light, material/detail …. convey the art, whether or not the organizing idea is fully grasped.” 1

LouisKahn_SalkInstitute Sketch

Salk Institute for Biological Studies (1962)  by Louis Kahn, Charcoal on tracing paper, from McQuaid, M. (2002), Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from the Museum of Modern Art,New York: The Museum of Modern Art

In the above drawing, Louis Kahn was tasked to design a space his client, Joseph Salk “could invite Picasso” to, a place where masters of all disciplines could come and work together.  Though the formal details of Kahn’s design are barely visible, the drawing aptly portrays the building’s grandiose and exhaustive form. The tiny structure commands the page; an empire in the distance.  

 

As consumers of this piece, we are able to understand this project, untainted by the constraints of construction or any other factors that might come into play as the project moves further along. This drawing is Kahn’s idea, on paper. It is an artifact of his vision, insight into the coda that drove the constructed result. The conceptual drawing is the first object to distinguish architecture from building. It is the carrier of the emotion, occupancy and human empathy that underscore the project and this is what makes it awe-inspiring. 

Architecture must first exist as an idea, and the drawing is its conduit. 

PerryKulper_FastTwitch

Fast Twitch (1996-7) by Perry Kulper, mixed media on mylar/paper. Courtesy of Archinect.

 

1 Holl, S., “What is Architecture? (Art?)”, The Brooklyn Rail: Critical Perspectives on Arts, Politics and Culture, September 4 2013 (July 8 2016)

I didn’t imagine that I would have the opportunity to go to Venice twice in one year, but this year I did; for Carnevale and the Architecture Biennale. As I arrived in Venice for Carnevale, I saw a blurry, grey city before me, and in that moment, Venice seemed to me to be the worst idea for a city ever. A floating city surrounded completely by water? Could that be a good idea?

On the last day, the only sunny day we had during Carnevale, I looked out towards Giudecca and felt a sudden pull, a sense that I didn’t really want to leave the city and that I had to come back. But also that it was, perhaps, in fact, a great idea for a city. Our future cities may need to deal with water, and what better example than Venice? I also wanted so much to find someone I could talk to immediately about our future cities and the future of our cities.

CarnevalePeopleCarnevale 2, 5 & 21, Shaumyika SharmaVenice, May 2016, Shaumyika Sharma

I didn’t have this opportunity immediately, but I did have it three months later. With my invite to the preview of the Architecture Biennale in hand, I packed my suitcase and got on a plane knowing I would experience a very different Venice. This time, I saw a sunny Venice, a warm Venice with long daylight hours, some mosquitoes and, it seemed, endless prosecco. I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to go to a biennale, but I also felt that this was going to be an experience that would revive my deep love for architecture. It was kind of like a vow renewal to architecture.

VeniceBiennale_Arsenale_Light.jpgArsenale, Biennale 2016, photo by Shaumyika Sharma

Through this sunny filter, I experienced a new wave of social engagement in architecture. Architects from all over the world reinforced our social purpose, a purpose that went beyond economy and means. This was the outcome of years of the industry struggling economically, a generation (or two) struggling to find purpose often without the traditional client, sometimes without construction, living with the irony that despite our ability to create stable structures, the foundations of our own industry appeared to be weak. A generation, my generation, now firmly understood that stability is perhaps a form of entitlement we may not know.

RogersRenzoRenzo Piano (left, in blue) and Richard Rogers (right, in green), Biennale 2016, photo by Shaumyika Sharma

As architects, we are necessarily eternal optimists, however, and we seem to be finding our way towards a new form of practice, one that puts our social purpose front and centre, and lets the economy carry on.

IrishPavilionIrish Pavilion, Biennale 2016, photo by Shaumyika Sharma

This is not to say that we can survive without economic means, but we have to think beyond the day to day. We have to think about everything we studied and everything we now know about cities, urbanism, poverty and disaster relief, the environment and climate change. All the lay-offs and salary cuts seem to have forced us to focus our attention elsewhere, to see the bigger picture, even as we struggled to ensure we kept roofs over our own heads. The economy has caused many to leave the profession, but it has resulted in the rest of us thinking about our roles as problem-solvers.

ArchitectureUkraine_BeyondtheFront.jpgArchitecture Ukraine: Beyond the Front, Biennale 2016 Collateral Event, photo by Shaumyika Sharma

Suddenly, the hold that the economic collapse has had on our industry (and most other industries) seems almost unimportant. Although it has disrupted our lives, our livelihoods, our industry, it has not, as such, had an impact on our skills, our role in society, our capacity to improve people’s environments, and therefore their lives. Everyone needs to put food on the table, but our skills can solve problems that go far beyond this.

KumbhMelaStill from film about the Kumbh Mela, Biennale 2016, photo by Shaumyika Sharma

It’s hard to pinpoint any one pavilion or installation that summed up the Biennale’s theme of ‘Reporting from the Front’, but there are some highlights that will stay with me. The Kumbh Mela, a festival in India that takes place every 12 years, was presented as a prototype of rapid urbanism. At this festival, a city housing millions is built in a very short period of time, and dismantled just as quickly.

A film by Ensamble Studio turned construction into poetry in a way I had never seen.

EnsambleStudio2 copyStills from Ensamble Studio’s film, Biennale 2016, Shaumyika Sharma

The Australian pavilion was brilliant for its simplicity and clarity. The pool was at the centre of the pavilion and overlaid with audio from a variety of Australian voices. The idea of the pool, or a body of water at the centre of our existence, is so quintessentially Australian. In modern Australian life, much of our time revolves around the pool, the beach, the sea, but also as a country with so much desert, the watering hole, the idea of finding water, has always been important to all inhabitants of the country.

AustralianPavilion.jpgAustralian pavilion, Biennale 2016, Shaumyika Sharma

Anupama Kundoo’s work in India, particularly her material experiments were a call for action to do things differently, to find solutions through materiality, using local materials and techniques to create affordable housing.

AnupamaKundoo_Materials.jpgAnupama Kundoo, Material Experiments, Biennale 2016, photo by Shaumyika Sharma

AnupamaKundoo_HousePrototype.jpgAnupama Kundoo, Affordable House Prototype, Biennale 2016, photo by Shaumyika Sharma

Similarly, the US pavilion’s ideas for Detroit included a very important series of experiments by T+E+A+M who re-used or upcycled trash and rubble to create new forms of construction material.

T+E+A+M_Materials

T+E+A+M_Materials3T+E+A+M’s installation, US pavilion, Biennale 2016, Shaumyika Sharma

Peter Zumthor’s installation for which he collaborated with a textile designer was subtle and moving, and of special interest to my practice since we are currently working on a Weaver’s Co-op.

VeniceBiennale_Zumthor_1.jpgThe work of Peter Zumthor with Christina Kim, Biennale 2016, photo by Shaumyika Sharma

There were other related events including a Zaha Hadid retrospective, significant and awe-inspiring as the profession mourns her loss.

ZahaHadid.jpgZaha Hadid Retrospectice, Venice, photo by Shaumyika Sharma

I also made time to see Tadao Ando’s Punta della Dogana , which was presented in ‘miniature’ form at the Biennale, but the real thing similarly inspired awe.

PuntadellaDogana.jpgPunta della Dogana, Tadao Ando, Venice, photo by Shaumyika Sharma

Of course, no trip to Venice would be complete without a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

Psi
Psi, John Tunnard at the Peggy Guggenheim collection, photo by Shaumyika Sharma

The biennale filled my cup. It was fresh oxygen. I can sustain myself for years now. I left with the understanding that money is essential, but purpose is what keeps us going.

 

We’re sharing our scheme for the International Garden Festival at the Jardin de Metis in Grand-Metis, Quebec, Canada. 040-View_Overall_MainThree words from the famous Robert Frost poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening inspired this Poet’s Garden; lovely, dark and deep. 040-View_EntranceThe experience of our Poet’s Garden is intended to be like a journey through woods. A path, semi-enclosed by dark stained ‘stick fencing’ slopes down gently into the depths of the earth such that the smell of soil becomes apparent. Frost’s poem is set in winter, but in summer our journey ends in the ‘lovely’ circular ‘field’ of red poppies at the heart of the scheme. Warhol’s and van Gogh’s The Poet’s Garden were also influences as were Reford Gardens’ own Himalayan blue poppies. The last four lines of Frost’s poem are engraved on a bench on the East side. 040-View_Overall_CornerThe garden has the potential to grow and evolve over time since poppies are self-seeding. As the poppies my perish in July, lavender is interspersed amongst them to prolong the enjoyment of flowers. In winter, the garden will more closely ‘resemble’ the poem. The wild-grass-covered open space could be used for events in the year(s) to come. 040-View_Path040-View_Bench

Seasons are a recurring theme in my work. They modify architectural facades-the light, the shadows, the reflections. They change the way we inhabit space-inside, outside etc. Seasons are a poetic reminder that everything changes and that architecture must not remain static.

With Seasons V, I have gone back to painting and embraced pigment again. Winter from Seasons V also doubled up as my 2015 Season’s Greetings e-newsletter. I can’t help but embrace the visual opportunities that festivals offer! Season’s Greetings and all the best for 2016!

SeasonsV_Spring

SeasonsV_Summer.jpg

SeasonsV_Autumn

SeasonsV_Winter.jpg

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter from Seasons V, Shaumyika Sharma, Acrylic on Canvas, 20″ x 20″, 2015

Last night’s art opening at the Rendezvous Hotel in Singapore was fun and unique. My art is showing alongside the work of eight other artists till the end of the year. Here are each of my 16 exhibited pieces from 5 series with a short description of each series:

Lucknow_Series_Courtyard_HiRes Lucknow_Series_Well_HiRes Lucknow_Series_Peacock_HiRes

Lucknow, 2011: Courtyard, Well, Peacock (shot in Lucknow, India)

20” x 20” C-Print from 120mm film

Limited Edition of 10

As a child growing up in Australia, large chunks of my ‘summer holidays’ were spent experiencing North Indian winters. My grandparents’ house and the botanic gardens in Lucknow are captured here on 120mm film.

Monument:Nature_Series_GardenTomb Monument:Nature_Series_PalaceTree Monument:Nature_Series_AmerBirds

Monument/Nature, 2010: Tomb/Garden, Palace/Lake, Fort/Birds (shot in Delhi and Rajasthan, India)

18” x 24” C-Print from digital

Limited Edition of 10

Nature puts these 3 monuments in North India into perspective; Mohammed Shah’s Tomb at the Lodi Gardens in Delhi, a Palace in Rajasthan and Amber Fort in Rajasthan.

MusicPseudoSynaesthesia_Feldman'sRothkoV

MusicPseudoSynaesthesia_LeMerleNoir

Music Pseudo-Synaesthesia, 2013: Feldman’s Rothko V, Le Merle Noir

20″ x 20″ Acrylic on Canvas

Painting while listening to music by Feldman and Messiaen and , a kind of pseudo-synaesthesia converts sound into pigment.

SeasonsIV_Spring

SeasonsIV_Summer

SeasonsIV_Autumn

SeasonsIV_Winter

Seasons IV, 2014: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

16” x 12” Collage/mixed media on watercolour paper

Architecture can seem permanent and static, yet the seasons impact it visually, transforming its appearance over time, and technically, affecting materials and inhabitation. The seasons represent change and are a reminder that architecture can’t be conceived of as purely static.

Spring  Summer Autumn  Winter

Seasons II, 2008: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

5.85” x 8.257” Collage/mixed media on watercolour paper

The extremes of the four seasons in New York influence how we inhabit space, what we wear and how we live as a whole. These four collages explore the natural world’s influence on architecture and fashion in urban life.

We seem to think that Greece and Athens can hardly be saved unless we all cluster round the Acropolis. The most convenient way we seek to give expression to the continuity of Greek cultural heritage is by trying to put up our buildings around the Sacred Rock and to imitate what we think was ancient Greek architecture. In a most primitive fashion we rally around a symbol instead of endeavoring to study this symbol, to grasp its inner meaning and to use it as a source of inspiration.

– C.A. Doxiadis, Our Capital and its Future, 1961Early Athenian High-Rise Neighborhoods

Early Athenian High-Rise Neighborhoods, or “Geitonies”

Athens heavily emphasizes antiquity. Everywhere, relics of bygone days are highlighted. Some are completely accessible, others behind rails, and those that are spontaneously found are covered up with glass. Either way, we feel ourselves in the glorious past, imagining the marketplace where Socrates once roamed or a patio as it would be during the symposia. With these monument-spectacles, we fetishize the ancient, turning it into an ambiguous icon rather than a source of inspiration.

Hordes of tourists daily visiting the Propylaia - the access point to the top of the Sacred Rock

Hordes of tourists daily visiting the Propylaia – the only access point to the top of the Sacred Rock.

The transition of the city is discernable in scarce, less underscored medieval buildings. But the ignorance and frequent misuse of ancient heritage is evident in the overwhelming majority of construction. The greatest of ruins in Athens is the grey high-rise – the “polikatoikia.” Spread – or rather, carbon copied – over the city, this building type ages worse and has different priorities than the neatly idolized “ruins.”The

The “Polikatoikia”

This haphazard expansion is historically reasonable. While Athens – in fact the Acropolis – has been continually inhabited, it was nothing more than a village, especially after the decade-long revolution. From 1833 until today, the population grew from about 4,000 to almost 4 million, with most growth occurring during the 20th century. Today it is one of the densest cities in Europe.Athens in 1850

Athens in 1850

The prevailing architectural character of Athens is a result of this sudden population surge, lack of building regulation, and neglect for urban planning. In 1922-24, there was a wave of refugees from Asia Minor, following expulsion by Turkish forces and the subsequent population exchange. Athens’ population almost doubled between 1920 and 1928! In the 50s, Greeks began moving from the countryside to the city, and by the 80s and 90s it was foreign immigrants looking for a place in the Athenian metropolis.

An aerial view of Athens today

An aerial view of Athens today

Throughout all these stages, construction was laissez-faire. People built wherever they wanted and whatever they pleased, with attention to private benefit rather than consideration for urban development. Starting from the boom of refugee settlements in the 20s, the “polikatoikia” was born, later rapidly multiplying by the process of “antiparohi”; a process that consisted of a property exchange between landowner and developer – land to build for apartments to live in and off of.

Some early refugee housing on Alexandras Avenue

Some early refugee housing on Alexandras Avenue

Much of Athens was developed in this way, creating space without design. This need for space also created a building culture of repetition, particularly post-1949 after a World War and Civil War almost back to back. Balconies stacked on top of each other dominated the façade, pulling private life out over the street. This porosity is emphasized at ground level, which is typically used for shops and sometimes arcades, allowing the public to penetrate the city block. Thus, besides their monstrous plainness and replication, “polikatoikias” succeeded in providing rapid housing and creating intimate, permeable communities.

A street in Koukaki with the Acropolis hill visible in the distance

A streetview of Koukaki with the Acropolis hill visible in the distance

This place-less, closely-knit scene is reaffirmed walking through neighborhoods like Koukaki that, even though it is by the Acropolis, has an abundance of “polikatoikias” (albeit, some of the nicer ones) and a lack of parking space. But as we continue closer towards Acropolis, we find what might be the most unique area of Athens. Known as Anafiotika, this Cycladic community was built under the rule of Bavarian King Otto by immigrants from the island Anafi. In the mess of Athens – still visible in the skyline – this is exemplary of the coexistence of the picturesque and the grotesque in the city.

Anafiotika, right under the Acropolis

Anafiotika, right under the Acropolis

Continuing the walk around the Acropolis, we reach Plaka, another part of the ‘heart’ of Athens that escaped ruthless development. Moving downhill we spot crumbling and boarded up houses, a reminder of the practical mindset of Athens. These beautiful buildings are expensive and difficult to renovate, maintain, and inhabit so people move to high-rises and the suburbs.

Plaka hillside restaurants by night

Plaka hillside restaurants by night

A Plaka Street

A Plaka Street

The mention of the ‘imported’ King Otto brings us to the very important concept of imported romanticism for Ancient Athens. After the revolution, European nations began imagining reviving the capital to its former glory. Greeks, needing support, complied, even instating a new dialect – “katharevousa,” deriving from ‘clean’ and citing ancient Greek – as the official tongue. Athens began capitalizing on ancient heritage as a catalyst for investment and growth.

King Otto of Bavaria

King Otto of Bavaria

While “polikatoikias” and, even to some extent, the Anafiotika were based on practicality, the attempt to tailor modern Greece to its ancient character was impractical and implausible. As Athens expanded and mercilessly modernized, this double identity became ever contrasting and cumbersome. This illusion culminated with Greece’s entrance into the EU in 1981 with reference to it as the ‘cradle of Western civilization.’ While geographically true, culturally modern Athenians were categorically different.

The Contemporary Athenian Skyline

The contemporary Athenian skyline

It is only natural that Greek identity and architecture changes over time. The change becomes problematic when we obsess over the old and self-impose an illusion of the past. Today, Greece finds itself entrenched in a sociopolitical crisis, partly due to this dual identity. We observe that Athens, dotted with relics of antiquity, has very little to do with Ancient Athenian character. The aforementioned external romanticism and the internal unprincipled modernization are at odds with each other, and contemporary Greece collapses under the weight of its dichotomy. Instead it is productive to consider modern and contemporary Athenian architecture – its popular development, modularity, and challenge of public and private sphere – and draw inspiration and understanding from ancient paradigms, rather than trying to fetishize and relive the past. Athens needs a new urban philosophy for the 21st century.

-Guest Post by Aris Constantinos Minaretzis Tsionos

Long before the current media attention for the prolonged political thriller that nearly culminated in ‘Grexit’, Greece enjoyed a more prominent position in architectural history. Athens is built above and within its ancient counterpart, and it is difficult to think of Athens without a mental flash of ruins.

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Le Corbusier amidst the ruins in Athens

That flash is most likely of the Parthenon. But since Greek heritage is often viewed in an incomplete manner, let us turn to the second most famous, but probably most important, monument on the Acropolis: the Erechtheion. Eternalized by its six anthropomorphic columns – the Caryatids – the temple was dedicated to Athena and Poseidon, built on the spot of their mythological contest, and related to the holiest of Athenian relics: a wooden xonaon (heaven-sent effigy) of Athena.

A sneak-peak of our walk

A sneak-peak of our walk

At this point one may turn the page of “History-of-Architecture-in-100-Pages” or move on to the next exhibit. But this story of the Erechtheion scarcely rubs the surface of roughly 2,400 years of history. The building underwent damages and reconstruction during the Roman era, was transformed into a Byzantine church, a Frankish palace, and later a harem for the Ottoman commander. At the outset of the 19th century, the infamous Lord Elgin removed one of the Caryatids. And this is just our current understanding with our recent pursuit of preservation.

The Erechtheion with a view of the Porch of the Caryatids

The Erechtheion with a view of the Porch of the Caryatids

The aim of this introduction is not to be didactic, but to draw attention to the architectural character of Athens. It is considered one of the oldest cities in the world, and has weathered diverse eras. Its population increased almost 1,000 times from the 1830s to today. The result is a multi-influenced, incoherent metropolis. Athens’ architectural history is revealed gradually, through sporadic secrets in today’s chaotic cityscape.

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Bernard Tschumi’s New Acropolis Museum. Courtesy of Bernard Tschumi Architects.

A good place to start is Bernard Tschumi’s Acropolis Museum; a convergence of the ancient and contemporary at the foot of the Acropolis. Sidetracked for years, the museum’s construction was further complicated by the finding of a parallel city. The design had to be reformed to accommodate and protect the ancient streets and houses. Tschumi’s proposal stood on carefully placed pylons, and integrated a glass floor through which the old city is visible. The design prompts us to walk above the findings to really understand the cross-temporal relationship of the museum, its contents, and Athens.

The entrance to the Acropolis Museum, with a view of the ancient city. Courtesy of Bernard Tschumi Architects

The entrance to the Acropolis Museum, with a view of the ancient city. Courtesy of Bernard Tschumi Architects

Archaeological rescue is standard procedure. Constructing a metro in the center of Athens was an Olympian feat. In every station, there was discovery, sidetracking, and a need for preservation over construction. In Syntagma Station, we find a wall made out of glass, revealing the stratified earth. Here we can contemplate ancient graves, one of which still has the bones of its occupant. There we also find the free-of-charge Syntagma Archaeological Collection – an improvised gallery of artifacts found during construction.

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The Syntagma Metro Station Gallery

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An ancient grave found during excavations for the Syntagma Station

In both museums, things are displayed where they are found, whether a metro station or an ambitious building. The Acropolis Museum is in fact totally site specific. The appreciation of urban and historical context was key to the competition prompt, and deftly incorporated Tschumi’s design. The Main Gallery is reminiscent of a conventional space, but moving up to the Parthenon Gallery, we find ourselves in what might be the most context-specific gallery in the world. The entire level is rotated 23 degrees to parallel the Parthenon, which is always visible through glass walls. The artifacts are placed in a one-to-one position and scale as on the original building, with plaster copies in the place of the missing Elgin marbles. The relationship between artifact and site here is unprecedented and powerful.

The Parthenon Hall. Courtesy of Bernard Tschumi Architects.

The Parthenon Hall. Courtesy of Bernard Tschumi Architects

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Site Plan for the Acropolis Museum, showing the relationship between the Parthenon Hall and the Parthenon Ruins

Even early on this walk, we notice that the layered architectural character of Athens does not stop at archaeology. Most buildings are haphazardly built, driven by the practical need for space with little or no design involved. Athens exists in a duality between ancient and modern, in which we forget that the contemporary Hellenic Republic is in fact a very young country negotiating the weight of its ancient identity. The intermediate stages of Athens’ development are visible amidst the concrete of modern Greece.

The unfortunate rapid development of Athens

The unfortunate rapid development of Athens

Continuing the walk out of Syntagma, we come onto the crowded shopping street – Ermou Street. Dodging shoppers, walkers, and advertisers, we reach an open square with a small church called Kapnikarea. Built sometime in the 11th century, it dates back to Byzantium. As was customary with early Christian temples, it was built over an ancient pagan temple.

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Church of Kapnikarea

The interior of Kapnikarea

The interior of Kapnikarea

Continuing down Ermou, we end up at Monastiraki Square, where there is another contrast of Athens’ histories. Above the shops on Pandrossou Street, there is an Ottoman building, known as the Tzistarakis Mosque but functioning as a Folk Art and Pottery Museum today. Right next to it, there are ruins from Hadrian’s Library, harkening back to the Roman era of Athens. On them there are hints of Byzantine mosaics, reminders of the Library’s later uses.Tsiderakis Mosque, next to the shopping street Pandrossou and the ruins of Hadrian's Library

Tzistarakis Mosque, next to the shopping street Pandrossou and the ruins of Hadrian’s LibraryRuins of Hadrian's Library. Note the brown blemish to the right - a remain of a mosaic and reminder of the buildings Byzantine re-use

Ruins of Hadrian’s Library. Note the brown blemish to the right – a remain of a mosaic and reminder of the buildings Byzantine re-use

These observations fit the character of most of Athens, a gentle nod to the continuous and diverse inhabitation of the city, amidst the blaring reminder of modern building frenzy. The nature of this city is necessarily peripatetic. Treasures are hidden underground and amidst randomly constructed concrete box buildings. This is the key to the city’s identity. Unlike many other European cities, there is no consistent or harmonious style, but a gradation of images mirroring the city as a lively crossroads of histories and cultures.

-Guest Post by Aris Minaretzis

Mumbai is a tough city to love. What with all its ugly sprawl, incessant construction, and smoke choked skies it is hard to find beauty that goes beyond its hackneyed Bollywood glamorization. Yet, despite these abhorrent flaws Mumbai remained the perennial muse of one India’s most renowned architect and urbanist Charles Correa. Correa was certainly qualified enough to settle down anywhere in the world after graduating from prestigious institutions like St. Xaviers College in Mumbai, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but chose to return to Mumbai, or Bombay as he would have known it, to set up his own practice in 1958. Ever since Correa has indulged in a love-hate relationship with the city, dubbing it as both “a great city and a terrible place.” But instead of grumbling about it, Correa devoted his vast expertise to improve the ground level urban conditions of the city. Therefore, despite the unrelenting pace of the city, Mumbai paused on June 16 to mourn the sudden loss of Charles Correa. charlae correa Correa’s death came to me in the form of a casual blip on my Facebook newsfeed, a nonchalant series of sentences that truncated his entire life and death into a trending topic. But the oeuvre of Charles Correa is anything but temporary; his work spans from iconic memorials like the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, to low income housing projects in Peru, and academic buildings like the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT. The common thread knitting these diverse projects together is Correa’s trademark clarity in design that is born from a deep connection to the site. In an interview for NDTV’s The Unstoppable Indians in 2008 Correa explained that “architecture is rooted in the place in which it stands” and responds to both human and natural agents like climate, culture and lifestyle, making an intimate understanding of the site crucial to Correa’s design philosophy. Kanchanjunga Apartments Correa’s famous Kanchanjunga Apartments in Mumbai exemplify the architect’s commitment to tailor make each project to thrive in its environs. Kanchanjuga is a unique high-rise in a sea of soulless glass towers that form the Mumbai skyline. It’s a building I grew up next to, completely enthralled by its odd Jenga tower-esque form, but despite all my juvenile interpretations the building is a true success in marrying the modern skyscraper with the old world charm of Indian bungalows. The building is situated on a small hill and the elevated location allows each apartment to break free from the overbearing lattice of the city, moreover Kanchanjunga is deliberately turned at an angle that protects each apartment from the harsh Indian sun while still allowing enough light to percolate through every room. Correa’s trademark ‘spaces open to the skies’ manifest themselves as enormous two-storey high balconies in each apartment that capitalize the building’s proximity to the sea and the much needed cool sea breeze that ventilates the apartments. The high-ceiling balconies are reminiscent of the verandahs found in traditional Indian homes, creating a large space for congregation in a city apartment bereft of the usual claustrophobia. Where Correa could have easily constructed another glass building, perfectly temperature controlled by the various engineers, he exercised his imagination, innovated, and designed functional homes that continue to exist symbiotically with their surroundings. breez In an age where Ayn Rand popularized the notion of the arrogant, excessively intellectual and ‘misunderstood’ genius architect, Charles Correa endured as a rejection of these stereotypes. Correa’s restrained eloquence and refreshing humility shine through every interview the late architect gave, and also reflect the genuine vision of modernity Correa had for the country. His designs were never tacky facsimiles of Western modernity, nor exaggerated Indian motifs from antiquity, they were rooted into and motivated by the India he wished to design. Correa’s extensive plans for planning Navi Mumbai and the mid to low income houses there, unfortunately most of which remain un-built, remain a testimony of how the architect was in constant pursuit of bettering India. Now, Correa’s legacy lives on in the form of the Urban Design Institute in Mumbai and the myriad of his memorable projects all across the world.

When I return to Mumbai I will inevitably gaze into its skyline. And amongst the sights of all the monstrous towers mushrooming and the cynical thoughts of the city’s unsustainable growth I will finally find the Kanchanjunga and smile- in a forest full of glass buildings Correa’s innovative design still triumphs. Young aspiring architects like myself can turn to Correa’s projects, his living legacy, for inspiration and carry on where the beloved Charles Correa left off. Yet, it is undeniable, the city and the world are forever worse without him.

-Guest Post by Gauri Bahuguna