Abhishek Bommana & Shruti Rao
bangaloREsidents-Expanded@Experimental Radio

Shruti Rao © Shruti Rao Shruti Rao is a Bangalore-based researcher, artist, filmmaker and arts manager with keen interest in film, new media and culture studies. She was a media professional in Mumbai for over a decade, operating in a diverse range of contents and formats, including commercials, feature films, business news, travel & music shows for lifestyle channels and in both fiction and non-fiction digital content production for platforms like YouTube and Amazon Prime India. Aside from a decade as a media professional in Mumbai, Shruti has worked as a producer and production manager at Sandbox Collective, a Bangalore based performing arts collective and more recently has been curating and programming the digital events for the Museum of Art and Photography, Bangalore (MAP).

She completed her Post-Graduate Diploma in Social Communications Media at Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai. For her diploma film - in collaboration with her cohorts - she researched, directed and edited a 22-minute non-fiction documentary film titled ‘enGayging Lives’ featuring the life of four queer men from diverse backgrounds in Mumbai, and speaking of their lives in the wake of the 2009 High Court verdict decriminalizing homosexuality. The film was screened at the first Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival in 2010 in Mumbai, India and at several international queer film festivals including the Iris Prize (Cardiff, UK), Q Film Festival (Indonesia), Hong Kong LGFF (Hong Kong), Reel Out (Canada), Translations (Seattle, USA), Transcreen (Amsterdam), Kalakranti (Chicago, USA), Anarchopride (Sweden), Entzaubert DIY festival (Germany), Beijing Queer Film Festival (China), and the Chicago South Asian Film Festival (USA).

Shruti graduated from Srishti School of Art Design and Technology, Bangalore with a Masters in Knowledge Systems and Practices. Her graduating project ‘Okay Smile Please’ was a 50-minute non-fiction audio documentary, created in the vein of her interest in film and media studies. The audio documentary was on the child artists' industry in the advertising sector in Mumbai. This audio documentary has since been  exhibited in the form of a collective listening session at the Social Communications Media Department, Sophia College, Bombay, and at Gallery Onkaf, Delhi.

She also participated in ‘The Amplified Voice' workshop by Laura Wright, supported by the Kochi Biennale Foundation and American Arts Incubator at Pepper House Kochi which resulted in a collaborative interactive sound installation titled ‘The Secret Bag’, a moving sound exhibition, to highlight the temporary nature of homes of the members of the transgender community in Kochi. It was taken to public spaces in Kochi and exhibited at Pepper House at the end of the workshop.

Abhishek Bommana © Abhishek Bommana Abhishek Bommana is a practicing multi-disciplinary Visual Artist, Author and Filmmaker with an eclectic take on storytelling through a myriad of mediums.

Abhishek has worked in multiple faculties across mainstream media for over two decades. He has experience working in Media production houses, Advertising agencies and multiple Television channels, with work ranging from Documentary films, Fiction shows, Feature-length films to experimental Music Videos and Visual content. He has Produced, Creative-directed and Directed commercials, web-content, mini-docs, featurettes, brand campaigns and editorials; written screenplays for film, television and web; authored books – his book ‘Ikiryo’ is currently under production towards being developed as an OTT show – and has created a body of work for various brands including Amazon, Kappa, Ogilvy and Mather, Channel [V], Discovery Channel, Marks & Spencer and the Savoy Fairmont, among others.

In recent years, Abhishek's artistic influences and efforts have organically shifted towards creating smaller, independent works through photography and illustration – spanning different cultures found within microcosms around the world. Abhishek is currently based in Bangalore city.

Note on the project
Shruti and Abhishek’s area of artistic and research interest is focused on the intersection of intimacy and internet-enabled technologies (mainly dating apps). The project broadly explores the changing landscape of romance and digital intimacy in Bangalore and Munich as a cultural and sociological phenomenon, examining the surge in usage of dating apps during the pandemic and the changing trends in how individuals from diverse backgrounds engage with these apps. This non-fiction audio narrative work will be carried out as a 'two-sister-cities' project, spanning Bangalore and Munich, in collaboration with their host Experimental Radio, Munich.

Left Swipe Left_Shruti & Abhishek © Shruti Rao & Abhishek Bommana Shruti and Abhishek are currently looking for volunteers based in Bangalore / Munich for LEFT SWIPE LEFT - a podcast project on the App-Dating culture during the Pandemic. 
If you are interested in sharing your stories and experiences get in touch with them on leftswipeleft@gmail.com or call/whatsapp them directly on 9619105088/9987288438 or just shoot them a dm on instagram @abhishekbommana or @mumbaimohattarma.

The bangaloREsidency-Expanded@Experimental Radio is made possible with the support of the Department of Arts and Culture and the Cultural Department of the City of Munich.

Our audio-visual artistic project ‘Left Swipe Left’ focuses on the intersection of intimacy and internet enabled technologies (mainly dating apps) and explores the changing trends in dating app culture during the pandemic. While applying for the grant/residency, one of the main challenges is identifying right host-partner in Germany, alongside whom we would come to realize the artistic residency and our project. We found Experimental Radio in Munich city to be best suited with its primary focus on audio-based work. Experimental Radio is founded by Ralf Homann, is an interdisciplinary platform for radio art in Munich city aiming to bring together a multitude of different artistic practices together, including radio, spatial proceedings, and various collaborative works. The platform also fosters newer forms of radio / sound art such as live-act performances, micro-radio, radio sculpture, audio documentaries, aesthetic journalism and transmission art or sonic strategies.

We received the grant in March, 2020. After the initial happy-euphoric-victory-dance in our living room, much to the bewilderment and judgement of our cat, we knew we had a long way to prepare for our project work! What we didn’t anticipate was the year and half of global pandemic in wait, and that by the time the project (and our flight) actually took off, it would be the end of October 2021.

The initial proposal we submitted explored the use of dating apps focused on how popular culture (television, film, online content and literature) has been instrumental in shaping users’ ideas of romance/intimacy/compatibility/ monogamy etc. As we began our research and preparation, we found that there was a significant surge globally in the use of various dating apps, especially during pandemic. Users were forced to be creative and re-invent new ways of dating and intimacy during lockdowns. The intent and ways of engaging with the apps began to see significant changes. We shifted the focus of our work to look at the changing trends in dating app culture during the pandemic. Ralf - our host, and Maureen, Riya and Nandita at the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Bangalore were very supportive and encouraged complete autonomy to us as artists and researchers to take the project in directions we saw fit and allowed creative room for the project to take its own organic shape and form in terms of process and output. They generously also offered us (and the other grantees) the opportunity to formally learn German language, a task we both took on with much enthusiasm. We studied A1 and A2 levels of the language via online classes, along with other students and working professionals from around India, from two patient and wonderful teachers from the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan’s language department – Pooja Chaware and Nancy John Franklin. The discipline of the daily classes, the conversations, the homework, new vocabulary, and complex grammatical rules and structures, the inside jokes with the fun and engaging cohort group was a wonderful challenge to encounter during the pandemic. These classes proved incredibly helpful during our stay in Munich, from interacting with people, to using public transport, to shopping for groceries and ordering in restaurants. It also helped us understand the city and its people in a deeper and richer way.

Conceptualized as a two-city project spanning Bangalore and Munich, we began the first part of the project-work around mid-2021 which entailed interviewing participants from Bangalore city. We created and shared participant-invite posters through our social, academic and artistic networks and through the help of Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan’s Newsletter. With several calls, emails and Instagram DMs coming in, it took some time for these to translate into actual interviews. (When someone got in touch with initial curiosity about the project, it would take several calls and lengthy explanations about the project and its intent. A few people got filtered out at this stage, as there is understandable hesitation to discuss anything to do with one’s dating life.) Eventually, we did find several eager participants and set up in-person interviews with them, either at their home or ours. Interviews with these participants formed the initial ground of our project-work in Bangalore while we waited for Covid-related travel rules to work in our favor for us to enter part two of our residency in Munich.

After a year and half of planning, initial project-work, language lessons and of course, countless zoom calls with our host in Munich (the longest long-distance relationship we’ve ever had!), the day finally arrived and we landed in Munich on 29th October, 2021.

Shruti-Abhishek_residency_1 © Abhishek Bommana & Shruti Rao Munich City. Stunning, Engaging, Alive, Brilliant, Lovely Munich. The only thing that juxtaposed itself well against the bone chilling November-December cold was the unconditional warmth and generous hospitality of Müncheners! 

Our first impressions of Munich were formed through the eyes, ears and words of our warm, gregarious and wonderful host Ralf Homann. From receiving us at the airport with traditional Bavarian Oktoberfest cookies, to taking us around the city and familiarizing us with the public transport system, to exploring parts of the city that held cultural, historical and political significance, to touring the  neighborhood around the studio and living space, to walking quaint paths and parks along the river Isar, to introducing us to the sights, smells and sounds of the busy and very-vogue ‘downtown’ city centre, to enjoying decadent local Bavarian cuisine and full-bodied beers, to visiting local artist run spaces, to exploring several old and contemporary museums, art galleries and exhibitions in the city, to long-long walks every day (sometimes 6 hours at a stretch), pausing for plenty of great coffee, sandwiches and scintillating conversation throughout; the whirlwind first week of our initiation into Munich city was exhaustive and yet fulfilling and exciting. A lot of what we saw, heard and experienced from that first week has resonated with us in a powerful way and continues to stay with us to this day. Examples would be an exhibit at the famed Lenbachhaus; a brilliant collection of paintings by the expressionist artists’ group ‘Der Blaue Reiter’ or The Blue Rider in Munich in the year 1911, led by painters Gabriele Münter and Wassily Kandinsky. Or the ‘Pop Punk Politik – Die 1980er Jahre in München’ or Pop Punk Politics – The 1980s in Munich, an exhibition at Monacensia in the Hildebrandhaus, curated by Ralf himself, that looks at the work of Munich authors and artists against the background of the environmental, women's, gay and youth movements of the time in Munich city.

We found that the old and new truly do co-exist in a monumental time-warp in Munich. On one hand, you have historical residential localities, university and the art districts painted in warm shades of pastel pinks and mint greens, on the other, you have modern grey chrome shiny commercial buildings and concrete laden areas. The roads are chock-a-block with vintage automobiles, bicycles and vespas alongside modern electric cars, two wheelers and app-controlled e-scooters. This fascinating contrast of the old and new, or the ‘alte’ und ‘neue’ is set against an opulent backdrop of yellow, red, rust, orange and ochre, the stunning colors of autumn.

Shruti-Abhishek_Experimental Radio Studio © Abhishek Bommana & Shruti Rao For the first half of our six-week residency, we were housed at ‘33, Streitfeld’ studios, a space funded and supported by the Department of Arts and culture in Munich. The three-floor building used to be an old textile factory, now re-designed to be residential apartments and office-studio spaces. The Experimental Radio studio was on the 3rd floor where we worked every day (a wonderful space where we had the opportunity to work alongside Ralf Homann and Gabrielle Obermaier, a sculptress and public space artist); while we were housed in a compact, yet beautiful apartment upstairs on the 4th floor. There was a huge, perfectly stocked community kitchen space that also had ample room for gatherings and meetings. This was the venue for our initial ‘welcome soup’, a dinner held on our first week of arrival in Munich, with Ralf cooking up some delicious and wholesome leek, potato, onion and carrot and introducing us to musicians, theatre practitioners and artists, giving us the opportunity to give an informal presentation of our project and our past work.

Since our project was ethnographic in nature, and would seek participants from Munich city interviewing with us about their experiences with usage of dating apps during the pandemic, we already had begun our preparations towards finding volunteers/interview partners in Munich even while we were in Bangalore. We found a few participants initially, but they were far and few between, and nowhere near the volume/number of participants we wanted to conduct interviews with, given the scale of study we were planning to make for our podcast. To make our search easier, we did everything we could in a city full of people we didn’t know. We printed and distributed posters and handbills at all the important venues, exhibits, museums and studios; not to forget through newsletters of art academies and art channels - with huge and consistent help from our host Ralf Homann. We also put out digital invites and e-posters on both our Insta stories and Facebook. After some thought, we decided to use the medium itself to find participants, got on a number of popular dating apps ourselves, right there in Munich to find participants! We figured the popular dating apps in Munich (apart from Bumble, Tinder and Okcupid of course) were called Badoo and Lovoo, and we got busy setting accounts up on all of these apps immediately! Instead of information on whether or not we were ‘sapiosexuals’ and whether or not we’d like to have kids in the unforeseeable future; our profiles had the summary of our projects and a bunch of everyday pictures to begin with. Using the medium itself proved incredibly helpful, and after many-many-many app led chats, (including unsolicited invitations for threesomes, one-night stands and dinner dates), we did find several genuinely interested participants. People from different background in Munich, students, working professionals, queer and non-binary individuals, young people in their late 20’s to people in their early 50’s, an abortion rights activist to a copy editor for a travel magazine – it was an interesting mix of narratives.   

Shruti-Abhishek_Interview project © Abhishek Bommana & Shruti Rao While our participant search continued, and with some interviews scheduled, we delved into working towards our upcoming presentation that was to be held four weeks into our residency at the ‘Kunstraum München’ – a famous contemporary art house and performance venue.

In the midst of our work preparations and interviews, there had been dinners, club hangouts, café sit-ins, bar walk-ins, exhibitions and museum visits and frequenting of parks, lanes, weekly markets, laundromats, grocery stores and restaurants that had become a familiar part of our time there. We had begun to make a lot of friends and they all helped spread our word around. There was a constant feeling of adventure and curiosity walking with us in this gorgeous city that we were slowly getting to know more of, and also falling in love with a little bit. We started getting really comfortable with speaking, hearing and seeing the German language all around us – within conversations and jokes, with posters and billboards stuck in public spaces in the city, at the supermarket, at the tram, S- Bahn and U- Bahn stations.

Towards the latter half of our residency, we shifted to a second accommodation, the lovely ‘8, Ligsalzstraße’ – our host’s home in a vibrant, multi-cultural background of a neighborhood in West Munich. We stayed in the ground floor of a radical, Ninteenth-century, three-storey community-living house (called ‘Syndicate-model living’ in Germany). Our bedroom looked out into an old school backyard, and there was a huge, community kitchen. Living in this space allowed us to have a special peek into an alternate way of living, understanding the politics and logistics of affordable housing in Munich and what it takes to create and run a space like this. We had many wonderful interactions with artists, activists, photographers, archivists, filmmakers, designers while living here as our living space was adjoining a community space that would house weekly meetings of different activist groups, that was a venue for filmmakers to work on their ongoing projects, for groups to celebrate with meals and music, for singing classes for young children, for a weekly market of fresh fruits, vegetables and bread from the peri-urban farms around Munich. It is a rich, thriving space and we were very lucky to have experienced that.

We finally had our presentation on the 24th November – a presentation and talk about our project, its progress so far, and its future – at the Kunstraum München. Apart from us, there was a presentation by German artist Florian Wüst, presenting his work ‘Sinus und Sägezahn – Elektronische Musik in Film und Video’ – a presentation of the history of electronic music in German film and video, told through rare film clips and his own narration. We had sent invites to a lot of our new friends, and all the artists, curators, practitioners that we had met through our host Ralf Homann!  

The evening of our presentation was particularly cold (even by Munich standards!) and the government had just put out new strict Corona-rules about public gatherings, including a certified covid antigen test for every guest. We didn’t know what would the turnout be, but we were ready to present even to an audience of FIVE, if they turned up. All our (and our host Ralf’s) worries turned to smiles soon as we saw an excellent turnout of people. So much so that a lot of the guests later had to be turned away owing to strict rules on the number of people gathered per square meter inside the gallery!

Shruti-Abhishek_Presentation, Kunstraum München © Abhishek Bommana & Shruti Rao Our presentation included a short introduction about our past work and the conceptualization of this project, we then played the short, edited film to showcase the traditional beliefs of mainstream ‘love and romance’ as how majority of the people in India have grown up witnessing (or subconsciously picking patterns and beliefs from). Post the viewing of the clip, we addressed the audience on what our project is all about, what is our particular lens on the vast subject, what aspects of the same are we choosing to focus on as artists and practitioners and how do we plan to go about the project. Post that, we also played a collection of clips gleaned from our interviews in Bangalore and Munich and spoke further on the similarities and differences that we found between usage of the apps in Bangalore and Munich. The evening approached a finale with a good round of Q&A, and an open discussion. A lot of good questions and opinions came up that served as important, unexplored jump-off points for us to incorporate into our study for the project. A lot of notes were shared and taken that beautiful evening that ended with applause, rounds of beer and some post-midnight-McDonalds in the city center!

Another brilliant turn of events brought to us a feature on a local radio show the next day! (Philip Syvarth, a journalist from the radio station ‘Bayerischer Rundfunk’ was present amongst the audience the previous evening and wanted to interview us for a segment on public radio). He also took a few samples of audio clippings from us with participants’ interview clips, and the segment aired on public radio.
After the presentation and the public radio segment, the project gained significant momentum. We started receiving communication from a lot of interested participants! Word had spread, and we kept receiving messages on our DMs and through friends of earlier participants on a roll! We were interviewing participants almost every day after that for the next 3 weeks in Munich. The Munich chapter of our project, it would be safe to say, turned out to be a success. We wrapped our residency in Munich on the 10th December, 2021.
 
As we reflect upon the six weeks we spent in Munich, there is nothing but a deep sense of gratitude, and happiness. There is also a sense of purpose ahead of us as we prepare to interview (still) more participants from both Bangalore (in person) and Munich (over Zoom video calls). These are participants who contacted us even after we’d left Munich, and we scheduled meetings with in early 2022, which is where we are at the moment. It’s something we both are looking forward to a lot, especially post our return from our six-week residency in Munich. We’ve come back with many more lenses and perspectives, after having had endless conversations and asking questions (some answered, some still in processing in our minds), and a fresh ‘second wind’ to add many more layers to the project with!

Here on, we plan to weave together a twelve-episode podcast, of fifteen to eighteen minutes’ duration each, based on our interviews in both cities; and put together a publication of illustrations, art, posters, images, and textual excerpts from our interviews as a final product of our residency. This space shall be updated with more news as we make progress, and finally complete our project to share with everyone!

Shruti-Abhishek with Ralf © Abhishek Bommana & Shruti Rao We are immensely grateful to Maureen Gonsalves, Riya Matthew, Nandita Nirgudkar and to Dr. Claus Heimes at the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Bangalore; to our brilliant, wonderful host and friend Ralf Homann, to Gabriele Obermaier who shared her studio space (and many lovely snacks and coffee with us), to everyone at Kunstraum München – Lena, Alexander and Lenny for all the help and support, to our dear friend Sophia for documenting the presentation, to the wonderful circle of people in Munich who provided immense on-ground support, to each single one of our wonderful participants in Bangalore and Munich who reached out to us and openly shared their stories– this project would amount to nothing without every single one of them.

We wait to see how our project shapes up, and where it takes us from the here and now. The world is our proverbial oyster!

(All images belong to Abhishek Bommana and Shruti Rao)