In Architectural jargon, a folly is a building constructed merely for decorative purposes, one that is extravagant in its beauty. To some, who have argued the ancient argument against art for art’s sake, art itself is folly. Perhaps it is. But art is also a way of life. It is a building whose purpose is greater than its location. It is a vertical garden by day that transforms into a gorgeous illustration at night. Art is making a neighbourhood more lovely through community engagement. Archana Prasad’s journey has been an exploration of space, community building and creativity. When she is not consumed with her project Jaaga – a lego-like, convertible, artistic and intellectual space – or her quest for immortality, she likes to read, walk in the park, and leap straight into the deep end of a new project.
The Fuschia Tree: We hear that you spend your time between Bangalore and Berlin. Given your interest in 'spaces', how does geography impact your sense of space?
Archana Prasad: There is beauty in extreme order as much as there is in chaos. Most European cities, Berlin included, have this sense of clean lines, an orderliness, a sense of a deliberated, planned execution where positive and negative spaces are considered. Calm, collected, somber and poised.
The typical Indian city is quite the opposite. Things tumble onto each other, collide, retreat and resurge in a manic dance. Like our tropical sun – bright, alive, saturated and dynamic. And both are beautiful in their own right.
With Berlin and Bangalore I started to see a common thread – where change and rapid urbanisation keep the landscape moving, sometimes positively and often insipidly. I loved the gritty, grungy favella chic of my early visits to Berlin, when the art scene was thriving along with small business entrepreneurs and had infused entire districts with a bold interpretation of the immediate. In my mind it had something in common with the old city spaces on Bangalore, like Chickpet and Russel Market.
It’s a conversation thread that old Ahmedabad and the Alhambra of Grenada in Spain could join into. If you wander the little cobbled streets of the Sacromonte neighbourhood just outside the Alhambra of Grenada in Spain and juxtapose it with meandering through the old fort city area of Ahmedabad, you will see that the two spaces could easily have a conversation. The people, the markets, the colours are each specific to their geographies – but there is enough of a fundamental common ground. Something there can connect to the hyper contemporary urban grittiness that I see in the arthouses of Berlin and the informal, impossible streets of old Bangalore. There it is, the aesthetic, soul and source for Jaaga.
TFT: What did you dream of becoming when you were a child?
AP: I have an autobiography I wrote when I was 11 years old. In that I wrote that I wanted to grow up and be an interior designer and work in the Arts :) There was a time before that where I was convinced that I would be the next PT Usha. But pretty much all I ever really wanted to do was be an artist-designer.
TFT: You move seamlessly between the visual arts, poetry, technology and community engagement. Do you see all these as interconnected?
AP: I’m still trying to figure out the method to the madness. I don’t see them as different. I am basically driven by an innate interest in the larger area...and I then jump into the deep end with a project that depends on various aspects of tech, art, activism, research and design.
TFT: Tell us about the strangest performance / piece of art you have witnessed at Jaaga?
AP: Hahaaha. There have been more than a few. The ones I loved more recently - the Jaaga Sound and Light Installations and the Goa Space Ensemble Poetry-Performance on Water.
With Sound & Lights we invited seven artists from across the world and Bangalore to spend a couple of months working on making the Jaaga building more sentient via sound and light. Each work took on either one or both aspects and built installations that enabled people to play and dialogue with the Jaaga structure.
The Goa Space Ensemble ladies came over and just through sound and movement transported us deep into a world revealing the connection between humans and water. Another piece explored the outrage and lament of women in the face of the recent violent crimes against them.
TFT: When you're not painting, writing, collaborating with artists or spending time at Jaaga, what is your favourite thing to do?
AP: Taking long walks in Cubbon Park chatting about work, life and love with my husband Sean while our talented puppy is off in ever futile pursuit of squirrels.
TFT: Tell us more about your puppy.
AP: Our puppy Berlin is very talented. He even won the Showstopper at The Great Indian Dog show last year, and this year was invited back to be the Opening Act. Watch these wonderful performance at home accompanied by Sean.
TFT: What do you miss most about Bangalore when you are away?
AP: My family. My mom's garden. Jaaga, of course. Home food.
TFT: What is the one object/colour/sound that makes you feel at home in a space?
AP: My Moleskine. Red. The tampura.
TFT: Reach into the backpack you carry around the world with you. What's in it?
AP: Passport. Credit Card. Moleskine. Black ink pen. A kindle and a smart phone.
TFT: You can rearrange the entire universe. What would you do?
AP: I would rearrange it physically: rearrange it so as to make most of the world have Bangalore's climate, with small parts that show variation. I do hate the cold.
TFT: Many artists secretly wish they'd been born in an earlier era, for various reasons. Do you? Which one? Why/ why not?
AP: No no - I wish I were born in the future. A time of enlightened Singularity, where man-machine interactions were so integrated that we were one. Where crises were solved and one played eternally under the most beautiful man-made sun. Like Kurzweil I just want to keep this body going long enough so I can make it into the era of 'immortality'. Or at least until I become a fembot with machine gun jubblies!!
TFT: One thing you wish you had learnt at art school.
AP: Business Management and Public Policy
TFT: One thing you wish you hadn't.
AP: We really learnt very, very little and all of it was super fun actually!
TFT: If you could live on only four foods (you have these in abundance), including the essentials like salt, water, gin, what would they be?
AP: Rice. Barley. Ragi. Greens.
TFT: You're traveling around the world with one book and one song. What are they?
AP: Windup Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami / Moleskine. ‘Poses’ by Rufus Wainright
TFT: Your most valuable possession?
AP: My grandmother’s diamond earrings
TFT: What were some of the jobs you had when you were younger?
AP: Poster-maker. Isometric draughtsmen in an architecture firm. Photographer’s assistant. Ticket sales. Usher. Store assistant.
TFT: What would you tell a lost, young practitioner in your field?
AP: Work for experts – in any field. Read a lot. Jump into the deep end and you'll figure it out - stay active.
As told to Aneesha Bangera, a writer who wanders between Bangalore and Madras.
Archana Prasad is an artist and the co-founder of Jaaga, a creative space that welcomes artists, social entrepeneurs and tech geeks to work and ideate in a rich, innovative environment. Her work as a poet, visual artist and activist led her on the journey to Jaaga and other projects that weave together creativity and community engagement. Archana is an avid reader, a seeker of challenges and wants to live forever.
Read Archana’s Theory of Singularity.
When we choose to spend the day walking in the mountains or to cover a page of our best notebook with doodles, or places leaves in a flower vase to give the arrangement 'texture', colour-code our bookshelves, bake our own bread, wait long years before our rhododendron grows, perhaps we are committing a folly.Read More
By Aneesha Bangera, Issue 21, Folly: A wise fool, March 2013