[Reader-list] For the Record...

Monica Narula monica at sarai.net
Wed Aug 2 19:11:27 IST 2006

For the Record
Raqs Media Collective

A Place Like This, A Time Like Now
Sometimes it feels like things are beginning to get really  
interesting. We imagine that Calcutta in the 1940s and ‘60s (or in  
the 1880s) and Bombay in the 1920s and ‘50s or Delhi in the 1850s and  
(briefly) in the 1970s, might have been really rewarding times and  
places to live in. We have a sense that Delhi, today, in the first  
decade of our young century, is again showings signs of quickening to  
the possibilities of a new life.

This new life does not come upon us without its share of pain,  
because it exists simultaneously with the cruel transformation of the  
city that evicts hundreds of thousands of people, and destroys their  
carefully built frameworks of existence. It is not without its share  
of paranoia, as the shadow of the deep state, through a variety of  
surveillance networks, leaches into every street corner. It is not  
without its vulgarity as new money explodes and talks tough and  
dirty. Perhaps it is at times precisely such as this one – when large  
structural conflicts play themselves out on the urban landscape –  
that the forging of critical and reflective cultural practices seems  
all the more urgent and compelling. Perhaps that is why we sense them  
so keenly when they begin to intimate themselves to us.

And so, even as our city re-invents itself through escalating  
conflicts over extant and looming habitation and property, new  
migrants re-define the face and voice of the street, women take an  
increasingly visible place on the precincts and old urbane  
certainties crumble; a new sensibility takes hold. Delhi has outgrown  
the destiny of being a small town with a violent past and burdened  
with Imperial grandeur. It is now just a city, just another very big  
city. A city that has set out on a journey to find the world.

Circuits and Cities
Interesting connections are being formed, between Delhi and  
Bangalore, between Delhi and Lahore, Delhi and Kathmandu, Delhi and  
Berlin, New York, Beirut, Bandung. There is also a relationship with  
mofussil towns, and regional centres in north India which is not only  
extractive. Traffic between Delhi and Benaras, Allahabad, Gorakhpur,  
Ballia, Patna, Jabalpur and Jaipur has a different cultural  
significance now. People bring new thoughts and voices from these  
places, and return to them with the connections that they make in a  
place like Delhi. Within our city, entire worlds, like those of the  
resettlement colonies of Dakshinpuri or of the threatened riverside  
settlements like Nangla Machi or of inner city squatter zones, are  
finding a voice. The sense of Delhi being a place that contains  
entire worlds is more vivid today than it has ever been.

Writers, artists, practitioners, performers and audiences travel  
between spaces more than before, and the magnet of Mumbai, which  
necessarily took away the best of Delhi, seems to have weakened,  
replaced, in parts, by a genuine conversation. We can no longer think  
of our milieu only in terms of the physical boundary of the National  
Capital Territory of Delhi, of the Republic of India, or even of the  
South Asian region, but crucially, in terms of how different sub  
cultures and scenes in Delhi function as nodes in an expanding  
network that intersects at key points with other networks which may  
have originated in other cities. Here, the distance (or proximity)  
between Delhi and Bangalore or Mumbai, or for that matter Beirut or  
Bandung, becomes a function not of geography but of the affinities  
and interests that transcend frontiers of one kind or another.

What’s going on? Where?
In the domain of the imagination, images, sounds and thought, there  
is a quiet ferment that marks our city. Its signs are muted, nascent,  
fragile. There is nothing overt or spectacular about these symptoms  
and we must not rush headlong to any conclusions or prognoses.  
Everything is uncertain. But the symptoms of a specific sensibility  
are insistent on revealing themselves. They demand from us a renewal  
of the terms of engagement which have hitherto ruled the domain of  
cultural praxis and artistic work. New publics beckon us to join them  
at play. So many things wait to be done.

This is as good a time as any to initiate a conversation that indexes  
some of these developments around us, points to things further away  
that might be of interest, and pauses to take stock of what might lie  

First, to take a look at what is around us:
Spaces like Khoj in Delhi which provide an excellent context of  
hospitality for new and emerging work, cross-border initiatives in  
modest and unconventional public spaces by artists and practitioners  
in India and Pakistan like Aar-Paar, (http://www.members.tripod.com/ 
aarpaar2/02.htm), and the recent initiatives taken by documentary  
filmmakers to challenge censorship in exhibition (http:// 
www.delhifilmarchive.org/)  are signs that there exists a strong  
desire to re-write the terms within which cultural practice occurs in  
our milieu.

Younger practitioners are trying out new forms – lawyers (such as in  
the Alternative Law Forum http://www.altlawforum.org/lawmedia) are  
making comic books and html works against intellectual property and  
censorship, and the comic book or graphic novel is emerging as an  
interesting complex new form (see the work of Sarnath Bannerji,  
Vishwajoyti Ghosh and Parismita Singh, among others), as its  
practitioners explore difficult zones in personal experience and  
history. Architects and urban theorists, such as Solomon Benjamin,  
are experimenting with performance based presentation formats. A new  
generation of photographers is making edgy and personal work, without  
obligatory colourful turbans and the tyranny of the ‘well made  
photograph’. There is a new energy in the documentary, and the short  
and experimental film making scenes, made possible in part by more  
accessible technologies of production. Zines appear and disappear  
with an interesting frequency and broadsheets inaugurate the advent  
of a serial image-text essay form, and a new kind of critical fiction  
as well as non-fiction writing is making its presence felt in  
English, Hindi, Bangla, Tamil and Malayalam on Blogs. It appears that  
things are stirring.

Meanwhile, elsewhere...
At times like this, it also becomes useful to try and see what may be  
going on in other places and in other milieux. In our travels over  
the last six years, we have had the good fortune of observing many  
initiatives and practices all over the world that we think might  
serve as interesting provocations, so as to begin a conversation  
about what might be possible. We are placing this list on record also  
to register our kinship and solidarity with the people who have  
actualized these practices.

We are mentioning here only those spaces and initiatives that we  
consider to be modest. We need to focus on situations and processes  
that can be initiated and sustained with limited resources. What we  
have noticed in each of these instances is that a tight budget, or a  
lack of expansive resources, has not by any means implied a  
handcuffed imagination. Exciting things can also be done in small  
spaces, with little money, with no captive audiences, and by people  
who have full time jobs and next to nothing in terms of social security.

We have also restricted this list to instances where we have actually  
encountered the concerned practitioners personally. The list of  
practices and initiatives that we have found interesting, exciting  
and challenging which we have read about in addition to these, or  
seen in a show or on the internet, (although we may not have met the  
people involved with them) is far longer, and would require separate  
writing! This list is not exhaustive, and we intend to update and  
expand it from time to time so as to maintain a public database of  
the conceptual, intellectual and practice based context that we are  
nourished by.

There is no specific design or hierarchy implicit in the order in  
which they appear in the list below:

Queen's Nail Annexe, San Francisco http://www.queensnailsannex.com/
A very small not-for-profit exhibition space (two rooms) which also  
doubles as a recording label in the Mission district in San  
Francisco, sustained by the innovative work of two dynamic persons.  
They work as community pedagogues, artists, facilitators and  
curators. The Queen’s Nail Annex offers space to young and old  
practitioners and curators who are able to offer a rigorous argument  
in their work. When we visited the Annex (which borrows its name from  
its neighbour - a Nail Beauty Parlour) we saw the opening of an  
exhibition devoted to videos and music produced by and in  
collaboration with the veteran experimental architecture and urbanism  
practice Archigram.

AndCompany, Frankfurt http://www.andco.de/
A group of performers, theatre artists, musicians and theorists,  
based mainly in Frankfurt. We collaborated with them on a 'reading  
performance' in connection with 'The Wherehouse', a process and work  
that reflects on the relationship between cities and people termed as  
illegal migrants. What attracted us to Andcompany&Co's work was its  
practical adventurousness, which took in a strong interest in the  
legacy of Brecht's work, along with theatre, music, acrobatics and  
theory with a sense of enjoyment in working together as an ensemble.  
Their commitment to music, fun and philosophy, within the constraints  
of a modest working style and a commitment to working with all  
available materials was interesting to engage with.

Mongrel, London http://www.mongrelx.org/
A collective of software programmers, artists, technicians, writers  
located in and around London. Mongrel considers its practice to be a  
kind of art hacking, and is founded on meticulous, almost obsessive  
research often initiated by Mongrel Graham Harwood in collaboration  
with itinerant theorist Matt Fuller. What continues to attract us to  
Mongrel's diverse productivity is its eclecticism and serious  
irreverence. They are just as happy doing cut and paste xerox comic  
books and newsprint broadsheets as they are writing complex bits of  
code for a piece of software or hacking games and applications.

Park Fiction, Hamburg http://www.parkfiction.org/
An ensemble of people and practices located in close proximity to the  
depressed Saint Pauli district in Hamburg. A very successful instance  
of how cultural action within a community/neighbourhood context can  
stall the designs of urban redevelopment that might have resulted in  
eviction and demolition.
Atelier BowWow, Tokyo http://www.bow-wow.jp/http://www.icon- 

An innovative architecture practice located in Tokyo, initiated by  
Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Mayomi Kaijima, with whom we collaborated on  
the making of Temporary Autonomous Sarai (TAS) in Minneapolis in  
2002. Atelier BowWow's investigations in what they call 'da-me' or  
'not good' and 'pet' architecture, with their accent on researching  
informal and improvised architectural interventions in dense urban  
spaces is something we have a great deal of sympathy for. BowWow’s  
take on built form in urban space privileges that which may seem  
marginal at first, but is actually vital to the life of a  
neighbourhood or a street. It gestures to a density of contact, a  
plurality of usage and function, to the animatedness of interstitial  
spaces, and to a democracy of the sidewalk, the verge and the back  
alley that we find resonant with the urban forms of our city. It  
would be interesting to see what could occur if architectural  
practices in South Asia began taking an active interest in the  
informal city as an expressive of an architectural language.

TOROLAB, Tijuana http://torolab.co.nr/
Another architectural practice, like Atelier BowWow with a strong  
presence in contemporary art venues. Torolab is based in Tijuana at  
Mexico's northern frontier with the USA, and much of its work is by  
way of an imaginative and focused reflection and research on the  
special conditions of the border zone, the peculiar relationship  
between the twin cities of Tijuana in Mexico and San Diego in the USA  
and the forms of improvised and 'emergency' architecture, using  
discarded automobile bodies, car tyres, crates and cardboard boxes  
that are a hallmark of subaltern urbanism in Tijuana.

Arab Image Foundation, Beirut http://www.fai.org.lb/
An archival initiative undertaken by a group of photographers,  
critics and theorists spread across the Arabic speaking world, and in  
the Arab diaspora, to archive and document popular photographic and  
image making practices, especially with a view towards the  
destabilization of the 'Arab Image. They have spoken in Delhi, at an  
invitation from Khoj.

The Atlas Group Archive, Beirut/New York http://www.theatlasgroup.org/
A somewhat disembodied entity centred around the personage of Walid  
Raad that invokes an archival register to explore the contemporary  
history of Lebanon through mixed media installations, single channel  
screenings, visuals and literary essays and lectures/performances.  
What we find interesting in the work of the Atlas Group is the close  
attention to history, a sense of archival irony and a highly  
sophisticated visual language. What the Atlas Group Archive does is  
to use a historical imagination to weld a set of philosophical  
statements about the politics of seeing. The invocation of an image  
by the archive becomes an occasion for thinking about truth claims  
and uncertainty. Images, even the memories of images, become things  
to think with, not just objects to look at or recall. It may be  
interesting to see what happens were we to transpose aspects of this  
register of thinking with images and memories to the fractured  
history of our city.

Common Room & The Bandung Center for New Media Arts, Bandung http:// 
A dynamic cluster of self-organized spaces in Bandung, Indonesia,  
with a special interest in expressing the enormous vitality of urban  
youth culture in Bandung, with its distinct political and critical  
edge and commitment to having a very good time, with music, murals,  
experimental video, street fashion, new media, publishing and comics.  
The Common Room and the Bandung Center are object lessons in the  
ability to organize a dynamic public space and presence that is non- 
commercial, that has little or no funding, and that survives because  
of a close relationship to a young public that nurtures it with time  
and with improvised resources.

Long March Foundation, Beijing http://www.longmarchspace.com/english/ 
A highly intense ensemble of artistic, cultural and archival  
practices, developed over many years and within the matrix of a  
densely collaborative framework, particularly interested in areas  
such as migration within China, that emerges from the space of the  
Cultural Transmission Center in Beijing. We found this practice,  
which we encountered for the first time at the Taipei Biennale 2005,  
to occupy a different, more nuanced but far more quietly subversive  
register of expression compared to the by now formulaic visual  
sensation of contemporary art from China.

kein.org: collaborative media production, Internet/Munich http:// 
kein.org is a peer to peer network of cultural practices that  
encompasses software, theory, performance, events and conferences -   
kein.org has in its history been the site for very precise and  
focused online and offline interventions ('Kein Mensch ist Illegal'  
and 'Deportation Class') against the detention and deportation of  
illegal immigrants in Germany and Europe.

Metareciclagem, Rio de Janeiro/Sao Paulo http:// 
Metareciglagem is a loose ensemble of people and practices that  
embody a critical free and open source practice with software,  
machines, people and spaces in Brazil. Equally distant from the NGO  
scene and the imperatives of self-consciously political language,  
metareciclagem is basically interested in initiating a set of  
creative processes that reclaim autonomies for human presence and  
subjectivity in all processes involving technological mediation,  
especially, but not only in those that use computers (accessible,  
assembled hardware) and software.

Chaos Computer Club, Berlin http://www.ccc.de/?language=en
A pioneering group of hackers and who were and continue to be active  
in the Berlin scene, intervening critically and through cultural and  
artistic work in areas to do with intellectual property, electronic  
surveillance and technological creativity.

Radioqualia, London, Bacelona, Auckland http://www.radioqualia.net
An online art collaboration by New Zealanders Adam Hyde and Honor  
Harger, it was founded in 1998 in Australia and is currently based in  
Europe. Using various streaming media softwares, r a d i o q u a l i  
a experiments with the concept of artistic broadcasting, using the  
internet and traditional media forms, such as radio and television,  
as primary tools, and aims to explore broadcasting technology within  
the context of philosophical speculation.

Bureau d'etudes, Paris/Strasbourg http://bureaudetudes.free.fr/
A practice consisting of researchers and cartographers who map flows  
of power and control in politics, economy, society and culture and  
render their work through elaborate diagrams, often exhibited within  
contemporary art venues and events.

Visible Collective, New York http://www.disappearedinamerica.org/ 
A collective of artists, documentarists, legal practitioners,  
designers, programmers, cartographers and activists - creators of the  
'Disappeared in America' project that documents the detention and  
disappearance of people in the United States of America following  
September 11, 2001

Temporary Services http://www.temporaryservices.org/
Temporary Services is a group of three persons: Brett Bloom, Salem  
Collo-Julin and Marc Fischer. Their work draws on their varied  
backgrounds and interests to produce creative exhibitions, events,  
projects and publications. Within their work they create socially  
dynamic situations and spaces for dialogue. They are distinguished by  
their fondness of self published pamphlets, and public projects that  
are temporary, ephemeral, or that operate outside of conventional or  
officially sanctioned categories of public expression.
We were especially struck by Temporary Services collaboration with a  
prisoner serving a sentence of life imprisonment that resulted in a  
project called 'Prisoners Inventions' consisting of a collection of  
ingenuous inventions made by a prisoner, a book and the replica of a  
prison cell.

Red 76, mainly Portalnd, Oregon http://www.red76.com/
Red76 is the title used by a group of people working on collaborative  
projects in Portland, Oregon. The guiding constructs holding Red76  
projects together are the facilitation of thought in public space and  
the examination of how to define what and where that space can be.  
The wish to charge space, to create an atmosphere where the public  
may become hyper aware of their surroundings and their day-to-day  
activities – such as making a lecture series in Laundromat shops – is  
an important construct for them.

Critical Art Ensemble, dispersed locations online http://www.critical- 
A collective of artists, theorists and scientists known for their  
critical research and creative work located at the intersections of  
technology, biology, cybernetics, feminism and a trenchant critique  
of the military-industrial-information technology complex. CAE  
produces events, performances based on laboratory experiments, books  
and web-based renditions of research themes and ideas.

Middle Corea http://middlecorea.net/
Middle Corea describes itself as a virtual networked territory  
actually located in the Internet, and ideally located within the  
ecosystem of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. It  
realises itself through a variety of artistic and documentation  
activities undertaken by a group of artists, practitioners,  
photographers, theorists and curators loosely located in and around  

Mute and Metamute www.metamute.org, London
A print journal and website devoted to a wide ranging critical  
discussion of the politics and culture of new technologies of  

Improbable Voices http://www.improbablevoices.net
Improbable Voices is an archive of reflections in the form of  
interviews from inside a women’s prison, and a proposal for a  
monument to the prison-industrial system. The Improbable Voices  
project emerges out of a collaboration between a California based  
artist, Sharon Daniels, a group of ten women inmates who are  
incarcerated at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in  
Chowchilla, CA - the largest female correctional facility in the  
United States and Justice Now, a human rights organization that works  
with women in prison to build a safe, compassionate world without  
 From the above list it will be evident that the kind of practices  
that we are talking about range from comics to high theory, with  
software, web-based work, radio, documentary filmmaking, and self- 
published broadsheets in between. Crucially, each of these might  
involve either a level of sociality in the production of cultural  
processes or a willingness to engage with a discursive register (and  
sometimes both). This unties art and cultural work from decorative or  
propagandist demands and enables it to claim a space for forms that  
are generative of questions, thought, reflection and communitas.

Many of these formal approaches might seem somewhat alien to the  
current milieu of art exhibition practices in places such as Delhi,  
but we are certain that there is a change in the offing. New spaces  
will emerge and are emerging where new forms and new people will be  
at play. This is nascent now, but we think that this will take on a  
momentum of its own in a matter of years.

What is also evident is that as in other areas of human creativity  
(science, music, filmmaking) the rise of collectives, ensembles and  
networks will accelerate a vibrant cultural milieu.
We hope that this listing provides everyone in our milieu with  
reasons for reflection, and we look forward to carrying forward a  

We look forward to more interesting times in our city!

August 1, 2006

Monica Narula
Raqs Media Collective
29 Rajpur Road
Delhi 110054

More information about the reader-list mailing list