Thinking out of the box
French artists collaborate with students of Sir JJ College of Architecture to showcase an installation of interlocked cardboard modules.
Cities may not always be built out of imagination, but imaginary cities do require some thought. At least for Ramona Poenaru, a videographer and visual artist, and actor and theatre director Gaël Chaillat. Inspired by the ideas of American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, the French artistes embarked on the project Des châteaux en l'air (Castles in the air) in 2012.
"As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness," Thoreau had written in Walden or Life in the Woods, a book where he reflects on natural surroundings, while living in a cabin alone and constructed by himself around Walden Pond in Massachusetts. Thus, Poenaru and Chaillat have invited the public to build an imaginary city, using corrugated sheets sans glue or tape, at Mumbai's JJ School of Architecture. This participatory installation, called Shelter, can be spotted today at the campus, where other performances will follow; a poetry reading by professor Mustansir Dalvi, a lights performance with the students and video mapping by the artistes.
Poenaru and Chaillat's first project Ma cabane (My Cabin) in 2013 was a multimedia-play installation that was well received in France. But they soon found their calling in public spaces, resulting in the creation of Shelter, which first came to life in Berlin in 2015. They built a large shelter out of cardboard boxes in a shopping mall. "Our next project is about water: a multimedia play-installation made as a virtual journey on the Danube, where the public plays the role of the River," they share via email. Shelter will also travel to the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa and the Odisha Biennale this month.
The two had visited India for the first time in April when they visited the JJ campus. "As we were walking around in the city we were delighted to take a break in this green oasis and we found the natural environment very interesting as a setting for our cardboard constructions," the duo adds. Having received a positive response, the event was born out of a collaboration between Alliance Française de Bombay in collaboration with Région Grand-Est, Ville de Strasbourg, Institut Français, French Institute in India, and the Embassy of France in India. The cardboard modules have also been sourced from India.
Speaking about their first impressions of Mumbai, the artists state that they've often been asked if they find the city chaotic. But Chaillat thinks "full" would be a better adjective to go with the place. "Full of sound, images, sensations, movement, things, and people — the list goes on. But when it's full you need to empty it sometimes to make space. It's a good metaphor for our current condition. We are too full."
On Today, 5.30 pm
At Sir JJ College of Architecture, Dr Dadabhai Naoroji Road, near CST.
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