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Radical Housing and Socially-Engaged Art

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In ProTools, a DAW I’ve recently started learning how to use, there’s this option for exporting or bouncing your audio file called interleaving. It means the file will be saved or recorded as stereo files instead of multiple mono files. It also lets you choose where the audio session you’re working on will be stored. I had to google what it meant the first time I saw it because I hadn’t a clue what it meant in any context outside of interleaved pages in a book, the blank insert pages added in to provide balance and structure, and separations.

I also found that interleaving in computing means dividing memory or processing power to make memory faster to access and relieve pressure on the motherboard. I can attest to that simply because of the increasingly panicked noises my laptop has been making the more files I transfer on it over this past month. On a more meta level, it aligns with what my friend Finsta once said to me late one muggy night on her seventh-floor terrace in the middle of Khirki. She’s a rapper who produces all her music in the grand tradition of all genuinely great sound artists. A mic duct-taped into a closet talks about how holy and tender an act is to ask for your computer to hold your memories and retain the effect of keystrokes. What can it say?

This residency has been a meditation on memory and its natural or constructed containers, interrogating the hazy space between them. Hanging out with Shiv, Fileona, Gopa, Mahesh and Celin this past month has taught me creation and construction at hyper speed. Watching them work and react to Delhi and then work out that first-brush collision with this hungry choking city in their work feels like privileged access and something I’m getting away with.

I write extensively for the Internet, but I’m a print journalist. I have my old printed bylines in a folder in my mother’s cupboard, and when I was in college, I used to store them under my bed. My career began quaint and archaic. Writing for print disciplines you in an unforgiving way. There’s no arguing with hard deadlines, and I’ll be the first to admit that digital has made me soft. Lazy.

Print journalism is a dying field which makes it ideal for crusaders and martyrs. In my first baby newsroom, we used to gas ourselves up by talking in circles about how journalism was the first draft of history. Honestly, who gives a damn about first drafts? They’re just what you submit to prove to your editor that you have effectively used your time and not just fooled around. Things get serious in the second, third, and other drafts. That’s also when the writing gets good. That’s what this is, these podcast accompanying text/blog texts. Then there are the audio files, the most honest medium and best primed for time capsules. Better even than video. Early on, Mahesh spoke about how he wanted to work out a way to capture voices because “we know how we look, but we don’t know how we speak.” If anyone is going to succeed in this aim, it’ll be him. But till then, here are our voices, and the sounds of Peers “23.

Of course, it’s not an objective archive, but there’s no such thing. The concept of an objective and fully comprehensive archive is fictional. There is an algorithm behind everything; even our minds are governed by chemical and physiological impulses. Imprints are what Fileona calls them. Imprints and their negatives because absences also paint pictures and build scenes. That’s why we made a book of cyanotypes together that she put together, which you can see online but only touch if you’re reading this at the Open Studio on the 22nd. But also their art, which won’t exist in the precise arrangement I’ve grown used to seeing take shape around me this past month. After this, it will only live in the memories, sight-sound-texture, and photographs of people who came to the show on the 22nd.

I’m writing this before the open studio, but it’s already a relic. Or a relic-to-be. All the photos being posted of us and the works of our peers on social media platforms, as well as those that don’t cut. But in our private drives, there are the pictures we’ve taken of each other for our own GC, our friends and family back home, and maybe even just for ourselves. I won’t present as an expert on how the human mind works scientifically. I do, however, know that memory is by nature elusive, and these hard-to-pin-down threads collectively weave into the multi-modal multi-authored tapestry that is the past.

I’ve been thinking about how art criticism has a place in academia which is different from art journalism, which is distinct from art writing. At the same time, being the critic-in-residence for this programme at Khoj is its own thing – a position with the space to draw from all three disciplines. The Khoj residence is like a container in the most membraneous way, with doors everywhere. I’ve never seen a building crazier for doors. In the lead-up to the open studio, more of them unlock as the peers march through them, arms full of production materials, prototypes and notebooks. Surfaces sprout food and, later on, fabric, wiring, squares of handmade paper, charcoal sticks, sewing kits and glue.

I’m writing this, watching the artists putting their works together, literally bringing visions to life. These acts of creation are made all the more real for their unglamorousness. Paint splatters, tools lying around, sleepy conversations, cups of coffee heated and re-heated. The rough notes will be sanitised and cleaned up for a public audience. It reminds me of the reality of fugitive planning.

“We’re in a trance that’s under and around us. We move through it, and it moves with us, out beyond the settlements, out beyond the redevelopment, where black night is falling, where we hate to be alone, back inside to sleep till morning, drink till morning, plan till morning, as the common embrace, right inside, and around, in the surround.”

Fred Moten, the undercommons: fugitive planning & black study

Working in relentless and often unforgiving industries like news and publishing can make it easy not to trust one’s creative instincts. They foster the sense that you’re supposed to justify and find specific citations for your every impulse, sequestering gut instinct into bullet points and corporate speak. Here I watched as the Peers followed paths of inquiry and interest without second-guessing themselves. Their sensibilities allowed for changes and nonlinearity even as logistical or technical obstacles arose. Their work took account of the weather and used the spaces around them. When they brought in their community or personal memories, they did so unselfconsciously.

Often as writers, we forget that much of our work is second-hand, a two-dimensional rendering of life itself. Much can be said and discussed about the craft and the art of writing, but now I wonder (even more than usual) if it can be compared to making something with your hands.

Gardening, stitching, painting, sculpting, printing – all these acts of making, of tender and intelligent labour, concepts brought to life by embodied knowledge. I think about how Bahujan theorist and researcher Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd frames the caste question as a question of production. He maintains that the castes that suffer the most are “productive castes“. According to him, the deep damage wrought by and in caste society is because it is enlivened and possessed by a superstructure “delegitimises work and labour” while prioritising the enclosure of resources and property. However, he argues that ‘Dalitbahujan society’, in contrast, negates private property because it’s “tremendous confidence in its/our own labour power and because of its/our concept of labour as life.”

Reading this in a half-faded spiral-bound printed-out PDF for the first time, I didn’t need any verification or data to accept it. It rang true through my whole body.

When I first got the email about being the critic-in-residence and told my friends about it, they joked that it was a perfect position for me – “You get just to live and criticise, dude?” Honestly, though, I can’t find anything to criticise after spending a month watching people whose skills and evident dedication to their work I admire. What a privilege and joy it is to witness this, both the living and the labouring, and to understand how they’re the same in a new way.