Bangaloresident@1 Shanthi Road
Oliver Walker (Liverpool, 1980) is a visual artist who uses live art, interventions and video to investigate social and political systems. In Bangalore, he intends to start a plastic bag collection (much in the way a museum would collect art or other objects). In addition, he is open to new ideas and collaborations. He will be hosted by 1 Shanthi Road.
Oliver studied Fine Art in Bristol (UK) and at the University of the Arts (UdK) Berlin (Germany), and has lived in Berlin for over 10 years. He has been awarded residencies to the Cité des Arts in Paris and BankArt1929 in Yokohama. He received an Arts Council England grant for his project ‘One Euro’, which has been shown at FACT (Liverpool) and Transmediale/HKW (Berlin) among others.
Oliver explained the origins of the idea behind the plastic bag collection:
“The idea came while trying to find a plastic bag to line my rubbish bin. The only one I could find was an unusually-shaped bag left by an ex-flatmate from Taiwan. I didn’t want to use it for the bin, which made me realise how much I valued this essentially worthless, completely everyday object from the other side of the planet.”
Plastic bags are ubiquitous tiny details of our capitalist, industrial world. They are ‘egalitarian’ (everyone has access to them), incredibly similar (everyone recognises them), but also very varied, often featuring local telephone numbers, names and designs, giving a sense of place. They carry both expensive and cheap items, and are used by the poorest and richest in society. And while they are an environmental disaster that we are becoming increasingly aware of (a 2017 study suggested between 72% and 90% of all drinking water worldwide is contaminated with microplastics), as the initial anecdote explains, they carry not just objects, but stories too. We are at a point where many countries are introducing plastic bag bans, including various bans across India. If this trend continues, which it surely will, plastic bags will at some point in the future become rare and maybe even relics of a bygone period of over-production.
Clearly, bags are intrinsically connected with urbanity, and Bangalore is extremely urban. At the same time, being such a ubiquitous object, collecting them can touch on other aspects of everyday life.
Although there is a clear project proposal, Walker expects the project to be shaped by his time in Bangalore, and to possibly develop new ideas in direct response to being in the city. The possibility to enter into exchange with other artists in Bangalore is also exciting.
While at 1 Shanthi Road, I produced several works; one was a bicycle featuring a steering wheel mounted on it (plus horn), one was a bicycle bell installed on an SUV, and a third was a performance for video in which I ‘rode’ through the city on an exercise bike mounted on the back of a small truck.
I applied and came on the bangaloREsidency with one proposal, but ultimately pursued a quite different idea. I responded to the situation in which I found myself in the city. I had originally deliberately proposed a project that did not comment too directly on Indian society. As a British/Western artist relatively new to the Indian context, I didn't want to naively claim to understand it. The original proposal, to make a plastic bag collection, could be initiated in any place, and both respond to that particular site and issues affecting the wider world.
I think artists working on a residency always find themselves in a dichotomy. On the one hand, they are in a new context and need to respond to that; on the other they need to be careful not to make overly ambitious claims about understanding that context after a short time there, as ‘parachuted in’ artists (and this especially if they are, as in my case, a Western artist in a global south context - or from the former colonial power!). I see this as a scale upon which artists on residencies work, and there is no simple answer; it needs to be negotiated. In my time in Bangalore I shifted slightly from the former to the latter end of the scale, by responding critically to the situation.
I'm pleased with this shift, because I did not simply respond to the context, but I brought with me concerns and sensibilities that I'd developed in Berlin - around mobility and traffic. In Berlin, I spent the half a year prior to going to Bangalore thinking about mobility, whilst working with the Deutsche Bahn. On arrival in Bangalore one is confronted with the traffic, in a both practical and corporeal way. Practically I initially found it difficult to move in the city, using primarily app-based taxi services, and later a little more walking, local buses and occasionally the metro. This is a huge contrast to Berlin, where I primarily use my body to move - cycling, or walking. Soon I really began to notice the lack of physical activity. I simply couldn't walk - there are often no pedestrian crossings or pavements, and walking becomes a chore, being constantly honked at and dodging cars when crossing the street. There are few cyclists in the city, and most Bangaloreans I met were shocked at the idea of cycling, or told me they used to do it as a child. Cycling also appeared to be largely a means of transport for poorer people, in contrast to in Germany, where all classes of people cycle, but perhaps even more middle class people.
In addition to the influences I mentioned above, the work I realised responds, in part, to the way the roads themselves feature such a mix of transport. Lanes are not recognised, and motorbikes, buses, cars and taxis; push carts, bicycles and people weave in and out between each other. Perhaps my transport mash ups are a response to the way the different forms of transport on the streets mix.
Another factor which shaped the way I worked was the availability of workshops in the immediate vicinity of the residency, their openness to trying to solve problems, and how ready the residency hosts were to help me discuss my ideas with the workshops.
Within a few minutes’ walk or ride from the residency we found a used car-part neighbourhood, a cycle workshop, a motorbike workshop, hardware shops, and a tailor. It wasn't just the proximity which made a difference; the workshops are physically open (they have an open shutter, rather than a door, and the activity is often fully visible). This is in contrast to light industry in western cities, which is often more geographically separated from residential areas, the activity is visibly separated, and the employees and business owners would tend to not have the time and the interest to discuss things in such an open-ended way. Here, on more than one occasion, someone invited me to jump on their motorbike, and took me a few streets away to find a part or get something fixed. It was easy to get into conversation and simply start. In addition, I shouldn’t forget the economic factor - here I could afford certain things with an ease that I perhaps couldn’t in Germany. This is an economic situation that has arisen through historical factors that I shouldn’t overlook.
I enjoyed often getting back to 1 Shanthi Road in the evening to find a heated but friendly debate at the table. This is the same table where breakfast and lunch are eaten, laptops are tapped away on and sketchbooks filled, and drinks for the openings are served. Shanthi Road makes sense in India - with a partial dissolution between private and public space. The studios, for retreating to, are piled above the courtyard like a house of cards, while the courtyard, kitchen and living room below are where more communal life takes place. This extends to people who used to live there, or who live in Bangalore, who’ll arrive and make themselves at home at various times of the day. People pop in, and that makes it a great place to be.
Several of the Goethe residents came together and decided it would make sense to do a group show at 1 Shanthi Road. Right from the start, we knew we wanted to try and utilise the various spaces that Shanthi Road has, and we managed this: with my piece illuminated on the street, the gallery hosting an installation and photographic series and the courtyard a projection, the living room featuring portraits smuggled into the existing collection, and the rooftop a beautiful video piece with the city as a backdrop. Visitors were encouraged to explore all the different spaces.
These factors, and being around an environment of making at 1 Shanthi Road, meant the whole process of having an idea and realising it was accelerated, and I found I felt more relaxed about producing. My whole time there was productive.