Vishwa Shroff interviews contributor Shalini Arora
Vishwa: How do you think your past experiences and studies have helped shape the way you think about space? And in turn corners?
Shalini: My training in architecture has profoundly affected the way I think about and perceive space. For one, I look at space (and corners) from different viewpoints- simultaneously weighing aesthetic, functional, social and environmental factors. Then again my training in `reading’ architectural drawings led me to an appreciation of the nuances of line weight and line thickness and the beauty that subtle changes in these can communicate in a drawing. However in my art practice, I bend the rules of architectural drawings and use my imagination to play with perspective, geometry and illusion…
As an artist, I perceive the white empty `paper space’ as the `site’ for my drawing intervention- much in the manner I would approach designing on a physical site. I also give a lot of importance to the interplay between positive and negative space in my drawings- which resonates with the concept of figure and ground in architecture and city plans. The ability to think three dimensionally is very useful especially when planning ones exhibition layout in a gallery space.
Vishwa: You also have a lot of experience of working with architects and the built environment, when thinking about buildings and the city scape. What are your thoughts and perceptions about the corners we encounter?
Shalini: When architects and city planners think about corners- in buildings and urban spaces- they are looked at from various perspectives. So the purely visual aesthetic factors are really but one criterion- though one architects engage with a lot. This deals with the formal articulation of the corner- whether interior or exterior. For example Frank Lloyd Wright made the corner of the room `disappear’ through the use of mitred glass windows. He thus succeeded in breaking the `box’ and this became a signature of his architectural vocabulary.
However, if one goes beyond the scale of the individual building to think at the larger scale of the city other more important questions arise, which move beyond the visual: Is it a live or dead corner? Does it encourage social interaction? Is it a left over space or is it consciously planned? Does it invite people in and make a place or courtyard more `public' and `inclusive'? These would be some of my concerns.
Vishwa: How do you relate to the city environment? And how do you traverse it?
Shalini: I have had a deep interest in the city from a long time- in fact my undergraduate research thesis at CEPT Ahmedabad titled `Urban Order as a Cultural Paradigm: An Interpretation of the Order in Ujjain" was an urban analysis from a cultural and epistemological point of view, based on the work of Deleuze & Guattari and their metaphor of tree and rhizome thinking.
In my art practice, focused on drawing, these old concerns resurface in series such as `Exploding City' and `Urban Space'. The Exploding City series is a visual abstraction of the uncontrolled growth and mindless overbuilding in our cities. Urban Space draws inspiration from public squares and spaces- which are sadly disappearing now. In the future, I plan to work on visually depicting the complexity of cities through the metaphor of city plans and maps. I am fascinated by the organic growth patterns and vibrant complexity of traditional cities like Ujjain and Banaras.
My response to the reality of living in Indian cities today is essentially one of alarm at the direction in which we are moving, given the challenges posed by the environmental crisis and climate change - I live in Delhi, which is currently the most polluted city in the world. The rise of gated communities and the shrinking of public spaces is another concern and speaks of a growing social polarization which is a dangerous trend.
Vishwa: And what next? Where do you see this project developing and how has it influenced your everyday work?
Shalini: My work -even prior to this project- dwelt on and worked with corners in certain works, whether consciously or otherwise. Now I have become more conscious of them and so perhaps their articulation will be subtly changed…