#i_finally_figured_it_out

the problem | the motivation | the possible outcome    

People in many developing countries around the world have forgotten the worth of their own cultural systems. Due to rapid urbanisation and imitation of many western systems, these underdeveloped and developing countries face not only the threat of an ecological destruction but also the cost of losing their sustainable knowledge, traditions and objects that made them unique. Knowledge that the world could benefit from immensely.

Much thanks to the technological advancement we see the world moving toward a ‘oneness in thought’ and a ‘sense of brotherhood’ prevailing in this ever connected planet. This connection and spread of information is a great shift from isolated times that were devoid of even the most basic needs and human rights. Now we are aware the problems of our world, everyone has an opinion on it and some people do something about it. It is a great shift, but it has come with certain consequences that have gone unnoticed. And there lies the problem because people are unable to see the worth of what all is being lost with this rampant need to develop.

From a personal stand point I can see my own country making these mistakes and it has made me anxious as a designer. I want to scream out and say ‘hey don’t go that way, its wrong’, but since the world has not yet invented a microphone that can be heard by a billion people at once, I will attempt to make some noise through my thesis.

With diversity comes culture, with culture comes knowledge and a knowledge that is exclusive to a place or ecosystem that survived in harmony since generations. India is nothing without its diversity. The beauty of this country is that we unify under diversity, diversity in thought, gender, race, religion, language, geographical terrains and cuisines. This country holds so much knowledge due to that diversity that it is crucial to protect it from fading.

With villages transforming into towns, towns into cities and cities into metropolitans, we are developing but with loopholes. Education, health care, sanitation, law and order are reaching from a top to bottom economic and social chain but a lot of information is not coming back up that chain. That information contains, ideas, traditions, rituals, objects, systems and people who have lived with the environment in harmony from the beginning of their time. It holds the answers to most of our world problems today and instead prioritising them we choose to tempt these beautiful olden systems with a lifestyle of materialism and disconnection with nature that eventually leads to their demise.

The other problem in this very problem is that some of these ‘developed countries’ have been able to see the worth in learning and sustaining olden knowledge. They have already started to revive this knowledge and implement its learning into their growing economic systems. These countries and growing systems have made way for a new kind of growth and development that values sustenance and health in place of extraction and decay.

Fortunately these teachings, practices and learnings have been a strong part our of culture since its inception. Sadly, they under threat and we are doing nothing in our power to protect them. And it will be most unfortunate to see this knowledge patented by somebody in the west and sold to us as a commodity at a much greater price in the near future. Everything we had but never did anything to sustain.

People have forgotten what is essential because too many reasons. The city life offers a total disconnect with nature and the environment. The more disconnected we are the more unaffected we are of our consequences. Then also people are constantly being brainwashed by corporations and governments through their advertisements and marketing. Everyone chasing lifestyle no one really living in the moment. I am not claiming that people are stupid and everyone is in the rat race, I just believe they some of us are too busy to see the wrong agendas at play in our lives.

Though my project, I hope to make some of those people see things differently. Mostly, I want to remind most people of my country about the forgotten stories of the Indian sustainable culture. I want empower people though their own memories of our cultural heritage, practices, traditions, objects, rituals and events. I want people to re-associate to this knowledge these elements of our culture that are sustainable and have safeguarded our ecosystems by living in harmony with it.

The problem is highly complex because it interlinked with many other related systems and to attempt to solve it will cause some fiction in other systems. But change doesn’t occur when we work in isolation. The future is all about collaboration and mixing with all realms of people. Hence, I too shall need the help of my friends, family and other unacquainted people to create a recipe to remember and revive the memories of our past and re-introduce them into our future.

A database of memories | Love letters to the past

Ingredients: Stories & Memories, Sustainable thinking, Ecological literacy, A card game

Method

  1. Collect the stories and memories from people, bring them to the table, sort and bring order.
  2. Select those that have a nostalgic aroma and instils personal re-association.
  3. Re-look at these selected stories and search for sustainable parts.
  4. Continue examining them under the lens of sustainable ethics and find how they promote ecological literacy.
  5. Build a database of these insights online and serve as a story sprouts.
  6. As you see a sense of pride rise among the readers, turn the flame down and cover.
  7. The dish is ready but now make sure to serve it in a way that enhances its flavours.
  8. Sever it through a game that lets everyone enjoy the research.

The Eames India Report talks about a search for the values that is uniquely Indian and it is here that the study of Indian crafts will help inform current and future actions in the continuous evolution of the economy and the form that it takes in shaping the culture of the land. 

Museum of memories: objects, stories, past concepts that can be reformulated in the future. Derive a model of how we can enforce these old Sus-Systems.

Comparative Study: of old objects, systems, cultures vs new ones. A way to communicate that we have solutions in the past that are dying and need upliftment. 

A database of memories 

Get people to recall their personal experiences with Sustainable Indian culture. This accumulation of these memories can be in any medium, photography, poetry or the like. In a digital scrapbook or journal style.

Love letters to the past 

Get people to write letters to these memories, objects, incidents, describing and attributing them a sustainable aspects. Very personal and more or an artist expression.

Stories of sustainability

Similar to getting people to write letters but in a more impersonal and rational, more factual less fiction style. Through examples of daily life activities, cultures, crafts traditions, products, policies and random stuff in general that is sustainable in its make.

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Where?

At a need to document sustainable aspects, cultures, stories of my beloved country. There is an urgent need to recognise these aspects, Revive and Re-pride them. (the concept of the new three R’s). India has it going, but its fading, there is a need to make people realise we were in good shoes before the western influences arrive, changes that and then comes again decades later to tell us that what we already knew. Our culture needs too be re-identified and promoted through the lens of sustainability.

Maybe in a way we need to retell our stories in way that the suit the current context and way of communication. Change the narrative.

Why?

Because they are some of the best examples of sustainable culture. They are slowly dying because of rapid urbanisation and the inflow of international market. Oh and we must re-pride them, not just re-brand.

Any Design thought?

Well, Transition design to me is the best definition of design till date and It influences this need perfectly. Transition Design asks us to act locally but think globally. Keeping a mindful relation with the environment we must develop a holistic view of things we wish to contribute to there world.

Other reflections

Another reason why I am not thinking so much of the outcome because that is passe now, to have this fixed idea of thesis that must materialise in a very tangible and complete format. NOPE, not doing that. By going that way, I believe I cannot come up with anything new, everything will work towards fitting in that perfect little label or hashtag. This time I am willing take risk only because my heart said so.

A database of memories. of love letters to our past.

On India & Design

I started out with my focus on craftsmanship, then crafts in India and their sustainable aspects, but along the way I noticed so many more aspects that I did not wish to leave out just because they did not fit under the banner of Handcrafts. India is a curry like I mentioned and in it you find all sort of spices, with every bite you experience a new flavour. So on my little journey I realised by choosing only crafts and arts I was disregarding a lot of incredible little sustainable stories of India that need to be heard. So at the moment I am hoping that this becomes not just about art & craft but about these stories of sustainable culture that India has a vast resource for.

Also I realised that I don’t wish to be the author for all of these stories. I wish to collect them from their best possible sources, the people. It is through conversations that these idea took shape and hence need to be given credit. It was formed not in isolation but in connection.

On hand-crafting

Handmade crafts and arts have a narrative quality. They are not moulded or created with external force. They grow from within and are composed of the ‘Idea’, the DNA of its maker and his story. They are sustainable because they are not not made in surplus. Human limitation thus acts as an asset to our environment. Hence they should be promoted more than machine made goods. They should not be replaced, they need to be improved to suit the times today. This is what I feel and many people around the country who are trying to uplift crafts around India. I believe that the motivation to uplift crafts around India should be more anthropological then economic. If we only saw the value in what it does to expand cultural aspects and not just economic, perhaps we would come up with better strategies to protect and promote it.

Sadly from the personal point of view of the craftsman, the condition of crafts in India is not working in their favour. These crafts are at the risk of extinction because machine made goods are being preferred more than handmade. The consumer choses machine made objects because they are inexpensive. The craftsmanship livelihood and economic status is much the same as it were before independence’s. Of course their are initiatives to improve these conditions but some how somewhere the benefits of these initiatives never really reach the right people. The craftsman always suffers.

I have a few case studies that explain this better.

A potters village in Pokhran, Rajasthan that speaks for a dying sustainable craft. A Jewellery maker in Pushkar, Rajasthan and how his language has taken shape from his work and the troubles of a Weaver from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.

on storytelling

I need to stop making a big deal about storytelling. Storytelling is like curry. It is there in every Indian dish, every Indian aspect. And after being amidst all the stories I realised that there is no need to separate it and talk about it exclusively. If there is chicken curry for dinner the meat will take centerstage, no one talks about the curry, but it is where most flavour is. Then again curry by its self is just a medium, it needs context, it needs the meat or for my vegan friends the veggies. Storytelling is that curry, full of flavour and yet unrepresented.

When I travelled through some parts of Indian I visited a lot artisans and craftsmen and somehow I felt their arts or crafts were telling stories about them. These hand-crafted mediums carries the message of their culture. They told the story of a place, the people and their lives. And with new art, new material or the death of a craft, there was a lot being said without being spoken. Old cultures are at the risk of extinction whereas new cultures are constantly being formed, just like art, just like craft.

currentlings

it helps to talk, to reflect and to write. 

Here in India for over a month and have been meeting old friends and new. A lot of people ask me what I have been upto and I just explode. I literally blurt out everything, unedited, uncensored. From my current plans, to what I ate the day before, about my neighbours dogs, and some my future dreams, all of that answered at a simple “hey, whats been up?” 

But it helps to talk like that so I can hear myself only to be surprised much later by all the random stuff I speak with so much passion. And right now my thoughts are all over the place, so I feel the need to arrange them. And after all the travelling, there is lot to tell.

ingredients for culture

I admire India for how it makes my mind churn into a whirlpool of thoughts and ideas. I know that people who find beauty in its flaws, find a way into themselves.

I travelled through Rajasthan, Jaisalmer - Pokhran - Jodhpur - Pushkar - Jaipur in over a week. I met some wonderful people and learned a lot about my life from theirs. From jewellery craftsmen in Pushkar, pottery artisans and cotton weavers in Pokhran, to an Oud player from Israel, this week has been a gift to me. Thoughts filtered and took shape without me trying very hard. All the reading and random contemplation since months found a direction in this short but memorable solo trip.

I have been reading and reflecting on craftsmanship, storytelling and drifting to arts and sustainability along the way. If India was a subject, it would be hard to give it a label because it teaches life. It is everything excessive, everything lacking, it touches all your sense and I struggle to put it in a sentence. It is art.  

When a place lacks ‘Art’ or the ‘Appreciation for Arts’, it lacks the opportunity for culture. Storytelling and its visual representations along with ritual practices build culture. When you don’t have people to represent a verbal story in a visual form or in ritual, culture will cease at its creation. Culture requires an artistic mindset to express its self. When a place shuts down to artists, its shuts down to expression. Expression is freedom and what is life without it.

People who are not exposed to Art, see very little. These people to their disadvantage have a linear way of thinking. They judge situations easily and stay away from what is different. What is different will often scare them or pose a threat. Whereas people who have seen different are intrigued by the different. They will approach it and try to understand it and maybe eventually accept it.

Indian states like West Bengal and Rajasthan are two places that are extremely rich in arts and crafts. They have a long history of acceptance and explorations with Arts and Crafts, hence their cultural identity is extremely strong. In personal encounters with people from these two states, I have found that them to be very fluid in perception. There is openness in thought because arts are welcomed in the society. And if not acceptance, there is always space for a debate.

Where I come from is Haryana, an agricultural state in India. It has been so busy feeding India post independence that it has not been able to make space for Art. Before Independence, Haryana was the battlefield for many historic battles in Indian history, hence you can hear a dialect here that is more shrewd and harsh in its tone. There has not been much development in the ‘Arts’ front and the existing ‘Crafts’ are slowly dying.

When a place lacks Art, it lacks culture, it lacks fluidity in perception and flexibility in belief systems. Arts and crafts are important in formulating the cultural story of a place. When they die, so does culture and hence the vibrant story of a place and its people.

Storytelling sets the ground work for culture, visual arts, crafts and other forms of expression spread it and finally ritual practices and traditions sustain it.

Civilizations are not remembered by their business people, their bankers or lawyers. They’re remembered by the arts" - Eli Broad

>>>

Everything, every person has a story. Artists have a story before they tell a story. Corporation build a story before they sell a story. Politics is always making up stories. Media is selling the best stories. Parents are reading bed time stories. 

What story am I chasing? Story of handwork or handcrafts? Story of crafts or craftsmen? Do these stories need to be told differently today? Will these new stories help them identify with this new world? Or give them a new identity?

Maybe I need to collect stories before I can think of retelling them.

summary

(mcluhan, miyazaki, irvin, thalhofer, ingold)

Whatever please teaches more effectively. Education outside the classrooms.

Morality is complex. A huge part of world is grey and not black or white.

Making like growing is an internal process. Ideas are genetic.

‘Making of an object’ has a narrative quality.

Slow down. Design in and for broader horizons of time.

Resonance

You know that feeling when you totally relate to a famous quotation. That excitement when you hear some famous person talk about things you believe in and but weren’t sure if you should believe in them. That feeling of assurance when some believes in the same things as you. That great feeling. Well, Terry Irvin is that feeling for me. Listening to her or reading her is my way to telling my self that I am not going mad.

In one of her talks she emphasizes on the importance of having a holistic world view. Individualistic views and details are important but we need to know when its enough. Getting to much into the depth of one thing might be futile when viewed from a larger perspective of how the world works.

Relevance is everything. I personally use the word a lot when I critique my work. Irvin asks designers to think and design in longer horizons of time so that what we make today is not irrelevant in a few decades. She really is a fortune teller and her advice for the 21st century is something I absolutely believe in. 

We. We should seek collaboration and cooperation. We should be open to the idea of re-skilling ourselves. We need to slow down and keep a mindful relationship with the environment. Much like Gandhi, she says that one person’s perspective shift can be the cause for a worldwide shift.

Whatever please teaches more effectively

Personal reflections | Classrooms without walls - Marchall Mcluhan 

With the advent of media and technology it became evident that the world was not like the way the books prescribed, it was in fact very flawed. Media showed the grand schemes of things and it dawned on the people that there more significant things then people themselves. Just like how society lost the motivation to “society” when the image of the planet earth was first broadcasted.

The amazing thing about reading Mcluhan is that his insights stay relevant even as the media and technology keeps changing. In fact, I find his writings extremely ominous for the times we live in.

Marshall McLuhan emphasis that we must use new media to its best cause and learn to control it before it unknowingly seeks to control us. Today with the use of smartphones and social media one can easily say that we have lost control over the technology we created. In a way we have failed Mcluhan because we couldn’t use our judgments to discriminate the damaging aspects of this technology.

For the ones who realised are people who romance the past or too stubborn to change or for the better are people who still have a fluid conscious. They can see and sense how their lives and lives around them is systematically being altered. These people know that simultaneous sharing of information (tech & media) brings people together but also dumbs them down (mob mentality). The world is becoming a small place with the sharing of information but we are also losing diversity of thought. Therefore it is important, now more then ever before to have differential education. By that I mean we need to restructure our education systems and provide different ways of filtering information. Information is filtered differently when experienced. Perhaps this is where we need to tap into, experiential education. And if we take that route we sure should hold on to Mcluhan’s words; “Whatever please teaches more effectively.”

Morality is complex

Hayao Miyazaki - The Essence of Humanity | Reflections and observations

There two kinds of people in this world, those who understands Miyazaki films and the others who don’t but fortunate are the ones who understand that it is not important to understand his films. These people know life a little better.

Miyazaki’s work is not meant to be for children, it is a beautiful expression of human emotions which they might understand it only much later. This makes his work mysterious, even though he tries to emphasis on reality through depiction of little human gestures that film maker generally avoid.

People can’t relate to perfection, its unsettling for most. Miyazaki creates a world where morality is complex. Its not all black and white. The protagonist doesn’t have to win, he has to adapt, much like in real life.

Disney can never be a Miyazaki even if it tried. Hayao has never studied screenwriting and perhaps that is why it is so different and honest. He reach out through empathy that the audience projects on his character. He doesn’t try hard, its subtle yet leave an undeniable impact. But perhaps that most beautiful aspect about Miyazaki’s films is that they end when the characters overcome an emotional aspect and not with a tangible reward.