Monday, March 17, 2014

Speeding Speech: Pigeon Mail to the 21st Century

We often find ourselves resenting the fast-paced-ness of technology in the 21st century, cringing about how instantly we can be reached by others, at almost any time of the day. On the other side of this global spectrum, however, technology has and continues to bring smiles to faces far apart, connecting lives beyond geological boundaries. Today, new media is allowing us, if not more intensely, but equally, to feel basic human emotions such as joy, sadness, jealousy... just as our ancestors did growing up in a technologically free world. 
Living alone in a foreign land, being miles and miles away from my home country, has made me deeply value technology, almost treasure it every single day- it's the only connection I have with home, my family and friends. This is the reason why I decided to do an experimental short film showing just how far we have come in electric circuitry! 

For my project, I put together clips of commercials and short films from the 1900s to the present day demonstrating the level of communication technology that existed in each decade and how people in their respective times, were able to utilize it. As the film advances chronologically, we notice how McLuhan's notions of electric circuitry and its expanse aptly summarize what has been happening over the past 100-150 years. He writes, "Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of "time" and "space" and pours upon us instantly and continuously the concerns of all other men. It has reconstituted dialogue on a global scale." (McLuhan in "Your Neighborhood", The Medium Is The Massage)


Gone are the days when you would trust a pigeon to deliver your message, have to go through an operator just to call someone, or spend both your time and a fortune in order to have a conversation. Today, our loved ones, and even strangers all around the world, are now just an on-screen tap away. We no longer need to wait. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wordsworth and McLuhan: Visionaries from Different Eras

I grew up on the poems of William Wordsworth. If you read them, especially this, my favorite one, you will probably wish you'd read them as a child too.
Marshall McLuhan in his book, The Medium is the Massage, quotes this verse from Wordsworth's poem, Expostulation and Reply (McLuhan 44):

"The eye, it cannot choose but see;
We cannot bid the ear be still;
Our bodies feel, where'er they be,
Against or with our will." 
- Expostulation and Reply, 1798
These lines were spoken by Wordsworth when his friend Matthew asked him why he was sitting, looking out to the lake, daydreaming his time away, when he should instead be spending his time reading books and enlightening himself. Wordsworth, a strong believer in the power of nature to provide man with a kind of knowledge that books would never be able to impart, said he was in fact enlightening himself just by allowing nature and his present surroundings to take control and stimulate his senses.
Wordsworth's response aptly summed his philosophy about the relationship between man and his immediate surroundings and it is this philosophy that McLuhan further explores throughout themes of his book. 
Both McLuhan and Wordsworth are not just revolutionary thinkers from different eras, but true visionaries. Their words still hold true and are very relatable today, to a generation way ahead of each of their times.
(L) Portrait of Wordsworth by S.Crosthwaite, 1884 (R) Photo of McLuhan by L.McCombe, 1967

Monday, February 24, 2014

"Something is Happening" Exhibition

Whenever we walk into a gallery, we are often so overwhelmed by the art surrounding us that we put little to no thought into how the pieces came about, placed where we see them, against the stark white walls, almost entirely dismissing the effort put in by perhaps hundreds of individuals, each doing their part to create this pristine whole. 
This realization dawned upon me, yet again, as I, along with the rest of the Digital Processes class, and J& J embarked on the journey of putting together our exhibition, “Something is Happening” in the Mudd Gallery, on the bright Wednesday afternoon of February the 19th.

We divided the work. Chris and I took it upon us to transport the pedestals to keep the class’s photobooks on, from Wriston. Later, I hung around the gallery and did everything that demanded the expertise of a 6 foot tall individual – like adjusting the lighting and putting up the title of the show on the wall. When deciding on the placement of each artist's pieces, which I can tell, would perhaps lead to a clash of ideas in the real-world setting, we were able to come together as a class and make a unified decision.
After we were done, we all stood in the room that was just an empty space with white walls only 3 hours ago, and were proud of what we had created – a new space that allowed for the visual stimulation of the viewer.

The gallery opening the following day was a success, regardless of the stormy weather. After spending weeks taking photographs, editing, eventually picking out two images and framing them to be hung in a gallery space, it was a satisfying experience to just be the spectator, and take in all the works, not individually but as a collective whole, reflecting a communal effort.

Posing next to my pieces and the exhibition title at the gallery opening
Photo by Ahin Ju, taken on my iPhone

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sound-Escape: Using Sound to Recreate a Day in My Life

For soundscape, I attempted to recreate the sounds I hear each day when I'm home in New Delhi, from the moment I wake up to the early afternoon.
It starts with birds chirping on my window, the milkman ringing the doorbell to deliver the morning full-cream and my mother stirring tea for my father in the kitchen as a dozen cats encircle her feet. It would be an understatement to say I enjoyed myself while working with GarageBand. In fact, I was so mesmerized by the creative process, I got carried away, creating a piece that was twice and a half as long as I initially intended for it to be.

As I worked on this project, a sense of nostalgia came upon me. The fact that these sounds were fragments I put together from a variety of sources - voice recordings my mother sent me, voicemails from my friends, found sound effects on the internet - started to fade away and this piece as a whole, began to perfectly replicate my personal reality. That put me in two very different states of mind. One, where I was proud to have succeeded in what I set out to do, the other, where I craved to re-live my childhood, wondering how often, if at all, I would be able to experience these sounds again. The feeling was both beautiful and sad, all at once. 

At home, in the morning, from within my sheets, there is no escaping from these sounds. As Marshall McLuhan puts it, "We are enveloped by sound. It forms a seamless web around us" (McLuhan, 11). I grew up wanting desperately to dismiss them, to shut them out, but today, as I sit and listen to this piece over and over again, I long for my ears to be filled with these sounds again, to be home, just perhaps, for one more morning.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Photo Book Layout

At first, Snapfish nearly brought me down to tears, and I was certainly not the first to have felt flustered by its limitations . Even so, I decided to persevere, to give myself time each day for these past 4 days to work on my photo book, and alas, I was able to end this ongoing battle of frustration and emerge unharmed, photo book in hand.

Page 1 of Photo Book

As I put my photos together, I tried to chronicle my journey, starting from the collapsed toy trains I found while waiting for my Spiced Chai Latte at Harmony and ending at the last photograph I took, of the garage door sign on Retired and Broke Drive
Even though every photograph is meant to have its own personal narrative, one that I hint at in each's title, there were often moments where I found interesting narrative being shared between two photographs. For example, pages 6 and 7 of the book (see below) which contain the images titled, "Up Is The Wrong Way" & "But There Are Berries Hanging From The Sky"compliment each other, not just narratively, but in their color schemes, in their composition - the crispness of the bright reds against the stark blues. 

Pages 6 and 7 of Photo Book

Friday, January 31, 2014

Early Morning: A Photo Series

When you grow up in a city of 10 million, in a country that is rapidly developing, preparing itself and its citizens to enter the global arena, you find yourself constantly seeking quietude, some time away from the fast-paced-ness of events, eventually leading you to begin to romanticize solitude.
My father had always been a storyteller. He had a penchant for adding narrative to everything mundane. As a child, when I often found myself being overwhelmed by how much was simultaneously happening all at once, around me, he would tell me to put my shoes on and then take me on a long walk around our neighborhood. These walks weren’t interventions of any sort; there were no questions asked. Instead, while we strolled through parks and past houses, he would point at the simplest of things, like perhaps the lone red rose in a neighbor’s garden, and create a little story around it. Walking with him, I would carefully observe one thing after the other; the same things that I previously didn’t care enough about to even notice, suddenly turned into objects of immense interest.
These walks would launch me into a fantastical journey and I would never want that little journey to come to an end. When we would come back home and I would tell my father how I felt a lot better, he would respond by saying, “Always remember, nothing gives one more clarity than taking a walk”. Ever since, I have lived by his words.

The generation of today does not stop and think. As technology advances, we are rapidly, if not already, endangering our sense and patience for observation. 
The art of visually stimulating one’s senses has become obsolete. McLuhan too recognized this growing ignorance towards one’s immediate environment. He says, “At the high speeds of electric communication, purely visual means of apprehending the world are no longer possible” (McLuhan 63).

For the “Something is Happening” photo project, I decided to venture out, in the wee hours of this Wednesday morning, on the streets of Appleton. With three layers of clothing and a camera hanging around my neck, I wanted to be disturbed by nothing but the icy wind, as I attempted to capture subtleties in our environment that we pass by in absolute oblivion - create my own private little narratives.

The wind was icy, the roads empty and the small businesses all shut.
To a lone wanderer, in subzero temperatures, downtown Appleton felt serene.

Up Is The Wrong Way, a photograph by Zain Ali
I would walk, pause, think and click. Different vantage points allowed for interesting narrative. I found humor trapped in nooks and corners, I found spring locked inside a gardening shop. I realized there was still so much outside to see, instead of just piles of white snow. There were fascinating compositions. 

I hope after viewing my photo series, “Early Morning”, you too decide to venture out, take your own little private walk. Not with your head down, texting away on your iPhone 5, but with your chin up, and your eyes not shut.