The creativity of auto drivers, rickshaw pullers, truckers, and trolley carriers is born in the waiting time that constitutes the transportation industry. In between jobs, they adorn their vehicles with painted images of gods and superstitious objects like lemon and chilies to ward off evil, with chips and toffee wrappers to add color, and with advertisements, till their vehicle by day, and often their place of rest at night, is their own. Filled with color and a renewed hope amidst the chaos of traffic, the thick blanket of heat, the dust and the omnipresent grayish black hue of pollution, these vehicles big and small become indispensable, not only for their physical function of transport but also for their aesthetic value.
Khoj’s “Public. Art. Ecology” project has taken this idea of transportation and color and made it deliberate, conscious, even quirky. A "Passenger Propelled Rickshaw" (PPR) stands in the courtyard of the Select Citywalk Mall, a public space that is inhabited by most of Delhi’s lower middle to upper classes. The rickshaw is brightly adorned, and contains pedals at the back for the passengers to propel the wheels forward. Sylvia Winkler & Stephan Koeperl, the designers of the rickshaw, try to bring awareness to the importance of self-reliance in transportation, to the sharing of energy and the interaction between the director and actor, the driver and the passenger: ‘a power hierarchy neutralized.'
The rickshaw sits as an installation alongside an easel describing its purpose, till 7pm everyday, when a security guard at the mall sits in the front seat steering, as visitors delight in taking a minute-long ride in a rickshaw that they drive themselves. The rickshaw, in some way, is owned by its passengers, whose felt sense of belonging was expressed in their marveling tone of voices.
The PPR began its rounds when it took part in a demonstration led by the Manushi Sangathan, a forum for peaceful social justice action, demanded an end to arbitrary penalties and quotas, bribes, harassment of pullers and an end to confiscation and destruction of cycle-rickshaws and hand-carts by the police and the municipal authorities. These modes of transportation should, in fact, be encouraged, considering they are completely eco-friendly.
Beside the PPR at the mall, is the anti-eco-friendly vehicle, an installation designed by Chuck Varga. A Maruti 800, a symbol of the ‘everyman’s’ car, with a large sign that reads ‘1 person dies each day due to pollution’ lies encased in a giant transparent balloon, that heaves like a breathing lung. Every other person at the mall walks over to look at what the commotion is about and end up mesmerized—discussing the installation with their mates and talking to their children about what it might mean. If not revolutionizing the environmental ethic, then these installations are at least a step in shifting the process of thought. Art that does not scream a message and instead invites a viewer to quietly analyze both engages one’s critical and visual senses as well as tugs at the inner, humanitarian self; the self that is eventually responsible for its actions.
The next courtyard posits three screens, one on water scarcity, one on pollution and another on the congestion created by endless construction in the city of Delhi, moving with the rhythm of Beethoven, which blasts from speakers nearby, and the gurgle of the fountains in between the videos. The fountains are, of course, an ironic addition to the whole message: although the water is recycled, much is lost through leakage and evaporation. The effect is aesthetically mesmerizing—the sound, the smell and the cool— yet this art moves far beyond aesthetics, into the realm of the functional, the social, the political.
Inside, Thukral and Tagra place a sculpture made from resin, iron and decals, titled "Apocalyptron" from the series, “The Dawn of Decadence.” All 14 feet of this futuristic man made from multi-colored plastics dominates the already overwhelming burst of sensation and color of a mall. The man is modeled after the Japanese Transformer figure, created by an accumulation of popular products from the market, imagining a world where Consumerism becomes a monster. On one hand, the shiny exterior of the shampoo bottles and other products are deceiving--the artists in some way support the brands by buying them for their projects--on another level the aesthetic effect is to create a repulsive creature so large and filled with power, that if tipped…..
It would come crashing down,
so hollow and so baseless.
Thus in color and in movement lies hope. In an otherwise dark world with a dark message, lies art, full with color, in form or in content, reminding us that our private selves cannot be too far apart from our public spaces, and that in order to preserve the former, we must care for the later.
-- Himali Singh Soin
(Images, from top to bottom: Sylvia Winkler and Stephan Koeperl, Passenger Propelled Rickshaw; Chuck Varga, Lung; Thukral and Tagra, Apocalyptron. All images courtesy of the aritsts.)