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Video-pool: Nicole Wolf
Video Mumbai

When commuting on the local train which connects the suburbs of Mumbai with the inner city, once you pass Bandra the train tracks continue on the bridge that crosses the Mahim Creek, the Creek which connects the Mithi River with the Arabian Sea. This vast area always reminded me of the extreme ambivalences that Bombay encapsulates – of the utopic and the apocalyptic that the city implies. The Mahim Creek is said to be vital to the ecosystem of Bombay, a mini-ecosystem filled with mangroves that announces itself through an extreme smell, caused by sewage and industrial waste that finds its way into the water. On coming closer the water is dark, somehow cumbersome, heavy, oily. Along the rail track runs a pipeline, migrants made the marshland solid enough to become a space to settle and what is now called slums have developed there. One day at dusk, once again passing the Mahim Creek, I saw through the train window the flickering of a colour TV, surrounded by a group of people gathering on the concrete platform of an electricity pole, seemingly right in the midst of that black sea that is the Creek. An image that stuck in my mind. An image talking of a condition as much as of desires, of quotidian tactics to navigate the city, to make it inhabitable and expand on its porousness.
My interest in video practice lies here — in its potential to articulate those instances, push them further, support those subtle signals and minor gestures of various kinds to create different vistas onto and within the city. My compilation is an extract from my personal archive; an archive of documentary film and video making in India and consequently a search for the multiple forms of experimentation within acts of documenting and imagining. The city that is gazed at, touched upon, dreamt about, and travelled through is Mumbai. In the spirit of the video pool the compilation is an open ended beginning, an invitation to add on, to extend through other projects and by thinking along suggested and new lines and of course in relation to other cities.

The most basic starting point is the approach that video and the city live off each other. They rub shoulders through their practices, their audio-visual textures, their many sensual qualities and thus support and challenge each other. Therefore, as much as video makes for urban conditions, the urban continuously participates in how video makers stand in relation to the images they make, how their images attend to ever new associations with the real, with forms of intervention or understandings of activism and thus the political. The urban might at times appear as raw material and video as the tool to record, but ultimately the urban and video both qualify each other; in their changing forms they are implicated in each other.

The articulation, documentation and experimentation can focus on an event, a singular crisis or the everyday as a critical condition. It can attend to instances of forgotten migration, hidden labour, unnoticed urban planning decisions, overlooked signs of history and politics in the city’s visual culture. It can however also lead us to the multiple notions of time, the varied measurements and calculations that speak of people’s relation to the city. It might thus mean to follow the rhythm of how someone narrates her day, or the irregular paths of water or the quickening or slowing down of the moving video images. Articulation is then not perceived as the seeking of a representation of the hidden, but more as the act of aligning oneself with desires, sensing alternative logics and intelligences for a pushing of the limits of possible — inventing new terms to think the city.

These articulations — this play — takes place in the practice of research, in the interaction of residents with the camera during a shooting process, in a roughly edited version screened to a small group of people, or in what is called a final project which then lives on in different spaces for yet again different kinds of looking, listening and responding. The invention of new spaces for projecting and viewing video work such as the Video Art Road Shows (Shilpa Gupta) and public screenings by the filmmakers collective Vikalp takes thus part in calling forth a new audience, another spectator, another citizen maybe.

My desire is thus to create a platform that reaches out to these different practices and spaces and I have therefore interspersed among the actual video works instances of alternative viewing experiences and media art projects which touch as much on video as on the urban. My given order suggests a distinct narrative; it aligns the works in a specific way so that they build on each other, albeit in myriad ways. At the same time the idea of the video pool invites for entering wherever it seems most appealing, leaving and re-entering as a personal navigation to possibly find other themes and figures running through the proposed work.

Were you to see the video works as, say, a weekly series, what would be your alignments — to Bombay, to video, to the nightmares and dreams of the urban?

Possible is a play with pieces of a puzzle that are the stories of particular Mumbai neighbourhoods or the various incarnations of labour forces that are presented. You might come to think the city horizontally and vertically and attend to different layers of the city — from a self invented drainage system to the high-flying window cleaner of a Singapur sky-scraper. You come to listen to how events of crises are unfolded, by victims, perpetrators, different kinds of spectators, politicians, mainstream media and the video makers. Hereby, the notion of a city in crises might shift and expand and video, taking part in those qualifications, will reflect on itself.

Movement will be crucial and manifold. Free movement, forced migration, leakages and new frontiers. What does it mean for different people to leave, to set out on a journey and to settle? What are the physical and emotional ties people build? Does video qualify senses of belonging or separation? How do the different rhythms of the city intersect with the quickening and slowing down of a camera movement? How does video shift between a quality of immediacy and possibilities for abstracting? Can new fields of intensities be articulated and mobilised?

Linkages might be made through casual conversations about technicalities of the city, such as commenting on the fastest train to commute between Colaba and Borivali or one’s habits of using hotel toilets when roaming in the city. Also one might become familiar with particular soundscapes, follow the twittering of sparrows and later bemoan their absence or get accustomed to the sound of cleaning kitchen vessels. The different lights in narrow lanes of hut settlements or on the grand roundabouts with their surrounding colonial architecture might add to how we relate to the city. Trains will come and go and we can’t escape their iconic quality and crucial place in the history of the city.

Reflecting on heterogeneous time crops up from moving through the proposed video works. They seem to juggle flexibility and precarity, cosmopolitanism and fundamentalism, unregulated labour and immigration laws, porousness and solid borders; they move between the urge to follow the flow of a conversation and bringing close to each other contradictory statements, zooming into the texture of a wall and reaching out to the city’s soul through an image plateau; they oscillate between the tragic and the humorous.

In the best case exuberance happens through a messy meeting between the creativities of every-day urban living and the video practices and images. What if video made, however faintly, accessible the paces of Mumbai, what if video articulated the strategies of recycling, pirating and leaking, articulated the gestures and subtle signals as to create those platforms from which to have different kinds of conversations?

Experiments with different kinds of relations between the logic of fiction and the logic of non-fiction seem to align themselves with the meshing of the lived urban everyday, its official dreams and singular flashes of desire and, maybe here video becomes the screen of memories and futures.

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/Madhusree Dutta/
I Live in Behrampada, 45:00, 1993, India (Hindi ST English)
This film was shot between 5th and 12th February 1993, shortly after the second wave of the Bombay riots following the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Godaam. Archiving the Political: The Majlis video footage archive.

Students of Wilson College/ /
Aur Irani Chai, 20:00, 2000, India (Hindi ST English)
Students make video ethnographies of their neighbourhood and reflect on the histories and possible futures of the Irani Cafés in the locality. PUKAR

/Surabhi Sharma/
Jari Mari, of cloth and other stories, 74:00, 2001, India
Jari Mari explores the lives of the people of Jari Mari, a sprawling slum colony adjacent to Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji international airport. Jari Mari’s narrow lanes house hundreds of small sweatshops where women and men work, without the right to organise.

/Paromita Vohra/
A Short Film About Time, 11:00, 1999, India
Depicting the sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always shifting relationship between a young woman with a broken heart, her psychotherapist and his watch, ‘A Short Film About Time’ was shot in a day and completely self financed. Vikalp: Films for Freedom

/Paromita Vohra/
Q2P, 53:00, 2006, India (English/Hindi ST English)
Q2P peers through the dream of Mumbai as a future Shanghai and finds ... public toilets ... not enough of them.

/Madhusree Dutta/
7 Islands and a Metro, 100:00, 2006, India (English/Hindi ST English)
A non-fiction feature film dedicated to the seven goddesses who reign over Bom Bahia, Bombay, Mumbai. A tale of the city structured around imaginary debates between Sadan Hasan Manto and Ismat Chugtai around the art of chronicling these multilayered overlapping cities. Aar Paar – Public Art Exchange Project between India and Pakistan

/Avijit Mukul Kishore/
Snapshots from a Family Album, 63:00, 2004, India (Hindi ST English)
The director looks at his family over the course of five years and thus reflects on the life and histories of a middle class family between two cities, Bombay and Delhi.

/Ashok Sukumaran/
Interior Design II (Mumbai), nd, India
Sukumaran’s interest in embedded technologies, architecture as viewing space and interventions in the urban through often simple technological devices which alter how we locate ourselves within the city, work with and upon video. The notion of the ‘leak’ which he deploys in relation to the collaborative project ‘City of Glass’ brings us back to the starting point — the TV set in the Mahim Creek.

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