Let me talk about my absence from TMATM. On one hand, I was on the road with limited internet access, but in addition, I was having an extremely difficult time getting my thoughts organized about the time I spent in India. I spent the majority of my time in Bangalore, a beautiful, intoxicating, chaotic city, and the activities in Jaaga reflect these aspects in the sense that the constant flux of ideas, discussions and relationships I encountered there were what stayed with me when I left. I realized the root of my confusion was that, unlike other projects, I couldn’t just draw lines around specific bodies of work and call them “pieces”, or “events”, because much of the work there was in progress and interconnected in surprising ways.
Jaaga, a Hindi word meaning space, is a community cultural center in the heart of Bangalore under the direction of Freeman Murray and Archana Prasad. It draws a diverse crowd, who are passionate about their various aims and interests. It is a structure that was built from the ground up out of pallet rack shelving, the type of material used for storage in big box stores. Jaaga, in its own words:
…seeks to nurture innovative endeavors by providing space, core infrastructure, and a diverse social environment. Born in August 2009 from a desire to bring the arts and technology communities closer together, Jaaga explores new ways of using pallet rack shelving to create community space in a dense urban landscape to foster innovation. Jaaga provides infrastructure and mentoring to tech startups, conducts educational workshops for aspiring students, and supports local groups and individuals who are pro-actively engaged in social and environmental issues. It hosts an Electronics Lab where people work on next generation lighting systems, and a Media Lab that trains people in new media technologies. It includes web enabled co-work spaces and multi-level spaces for screenings, workshops, lectures and performances.
Interesting documentation of the creation of Jaaga by City Signals:
Fleshing out the infrastructure has been an ongoing project at Jaaga, and many of the people who have passed through (or are currently there) have left a mark on the structure in some way. Eve Sibley, as a part of this Living Building Project, worked with several collaborators to plant a garden that now runs vertically along the walls of the structure, and features planters with vegetables on the roof. An artist from STEIM passed through Jaaga several days before I was there, and installed a car seat at the very top of the building, one level above the roof, in front of a steering wheel that triggered a Max/msp patch when rotated. Kiran, who I’ve referred to as the “experimental space expert,” has the uncanny ability to transform an object into something that has a completely different function, which is a skill that is often needed. The Jaaga founders hacked a Kinect device to respond when a user puts his/her palms together, suggesting a prayer, and installed it in Jaaga, provoking questions about the nature of technology and God. Below, the the electronic equipment of the space has been redesigned into the Jaaga “brain”:
These infrastructure projects were later developed into the Jaaga Sound and Lights project, which you can read about in my later post. The project was based around lights created by Gopi, Rajesh, Ravi and Phanindra who have a startup called Powerup Electronics aimed at designing systems for things such as security, alarms and lighting. For Jaaga, they designed a circuit with a microcontroller that controls an 7×7 LED array which can be programmed to light up different colors in different combinations and speeds, which is quite complex. And that’s just one light, multiply that by 30!
(below: trying to solder the LED boards at night, and a video of testing a prototype)
Not only is Jaaga host to various infrastructure projects, it is also a place for discussions about infrastructure in general. In a surprising coincidence, my professor from college in Oberlin, Ohio, happened to be in Bangalore the weekend I arrived. Julia Christensen stopped by Jaaga while doing research for her latest work Surplus Rising, which attempts to track pieces of industrial equipment from the Ohio and the rust belt region, to their new homes in China and India, tracing patterns in global industry. She presented Big Box Reuse at Jaaga, a project that is the culmination of several years of documenting vacated big box stores, and the (sometimes unusual) uses of space that spring up afterwards.
Naresh Narasimhan, the architect who has graciously allowed Jaaga to occupy his property, explained to me that the neighborhood where Jaaga currently sits used to be the edge of the city, on a street with homes whose residents were of mixed Indian and British heritage. Now, instead of facing a lake, these buildings face a field hockey stadium. Several blocks away, a former shanty town has been absorbed into the community. Jaaga is also located at the intersection of Hindu, Christian, Shia Muslim, and Tibetan Buddhist communities. A standard city map of street names, public transit and institutions can give some guidance, but it can’t hope to encompass the complexity of cultural interactions, smaller and informal businesses, and the wealth of community and personal stories relating to various neighborhoods. Because of this, Jaaga has also become a natural meeting point for conversations about mapping initiatives (see Cartonama, for example), transportation issues, and social and community organizations.
Lastly, I heard word that Jaaga needs to move in the upcoming months, and right now they are taking suggestions about all possible locations (still in Bangalore, or course). If you are familiar with Bangalore and are able to offer ideas, please send them to the Jaaga team!
*Update: Jaaga will be moving to a new space, nearby on Double Rd., in July!