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Radical Housing and Socially-Engaged Art

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On the wall a screen-a test of how observant you are. This build­ing in the video-do you recognize it? No?
It is right opposite Khoj. If you take three steps out from this particular studio and walk up the slope to the street, you will see it. On the screen, in this studio, it is populated with pictures, moving snapshots, and a searching spotlight. You see plates of food piled high, fried chicken, farmers cultivating crops, beekeepers, abattoirs, iron pots on a flame. Just as your eye latches on to one thing, it shifts moves, changes into something else. On the margins of this building in the video, you see cogs turning, machines whirring. Some sort of large-scale com­modity system implied, but not explained. If you closed your eyes to this barrage of images, you would still stand in a soundscape that parallels their incessant intensity. It sounds like a city – like Khirkee at a busy time.

White mattresses cover the floor and dead in the center, there are pots of what can only be food. You hesitate. Much to the frustration of the artist, you don’t take your shoes off and enter, and uncover the pots to dig into the beef fry, kaleji, fried baingan or pork in them.

Tucked into a corner, a sma Iler screen with a chair facing it. On the screen, one circle of light restlessly illuminates different parts of a kitchen. Snatches of conversations about food-order­ing, preparing, wasting, storing food-appear as multilingual sub­titles on the bottom of the video. The searchlight becomes a window through which we are taken to scenes that mirror those in the larger video-a cityscape in which food shops, vendors and consumers are central.

Both videos, along with the food served as a part of the piece, create a microcosm of our cultures of consumption. If the larger video captures the cacophonic excess of urban food systems in confus­ing flashes that one cannot fully make sense of, the smaller one acts as a counterpart that roots consumption in a more domestic, intimate space.

Subtitles that speak of forbidden foods and killing to eat remind you of the fraught weight religion and caste-bound culinary practices carry in contemporary India. This domestic space looks eerily calm, quite like CCTV footage (with a searchlight to match): almost a reminder of the sort of intimate, neighborly surveillance that sparks violence. With these videos playing in tandem, to eat in this space is to engage physically with these questions.

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