KhirkeeYaan is an exploration of an open-circuit TV system as a local area network communication, micro-media generation and feedback device. Shaina Anand, a Mumbai-based film/video artist and media interventionist, has over the last two years been involved in radical media intervention projects, targetting issues of media ethics, representations of reality, showing a sensibility towards using technology, re-appropriating it in order to take a critical stand in the realm of contemporary media politics.
Through the month of April, she was an artist-in-residence at the Khoj Studios New Delhi, where she executed an eight-module media intervention project titled Khirkeeyaan, (khirkee-window, Yaan-vehicle), which was developed and executed in Khirkee, an urban village established in the 13th century and known for its famous and stunningly beautiful Khirkee masjid built in 1380 AD.
The Khirkee Village
About 600 years ago, this area began to take shape as a residential block as the Rajputs, (Sainis), Chauhans and Muslims began to settle in — descendants of these early communities still form the entrenched power structures in the village. The Khirkee village is a clustered locality very close to Malviya Nagar situated in the south of Delhi. Malviya Nagar itself has an interesting history; post-Partition the government earmarked the area for a number of refugees coming in from Lahore. It is around this time that the government acquired the land in Khirkee and left it for agricultural use.
Wives of emigrant Nepali workers interact
Under pressure from an ever-expanding Delhi, Khirkee has today developed to become an essentially a slum community of migrant labourers — mainly from Bihar, Nepal and West Bengal — who live in makeshift accommodation on unauthorized land. Interestingly, this change is deemed illegal, and the entire Khirkee village is seen as unauthorized occupation by the city council of the very city whose appetite for labour led to the re-mapping of Khirkee. Predictably, the Delhi city council feels that it does not have to respond to the basic issues of this community — electricity, housing, roads, etc.
The resident community at Khirkee village is a disparate one — low-level income groups on the one hand and upper-middle class (largely artists) on the other. There is a professional photography studio and professionals such as an architect and filmmaker’s residence in the neighborhood of Khoj. There are different religious groupings and further stratification in terms of caste as well.
One of the features of disparate communities is they often lack an accessible space that will generate dialogue which is meaningful to the local community. Khoj had been based in Khirkee Extension for about three years and yet had no meaningful relationship with its immediate environment; local people regarded the organisation with suspicion and distrust. It is this alienation that prompted Khoj to look towards strengthening its relationship with its neighbours in Khirkee village. Through a series of community art projects, led by enthusiastic young artists, Khoj is pushing to forge links with the people who are not so inclusive in the “Art Circle”.
Shaina Anand’s residency was a part of Khoj’s month-long programming centered round pushing the boundaries of public art practices. The open studio day for Shaina’s residency coincided with the April ‘Workshop on Public/Community/Intervention/Art’. It was a day after the Open Studio Day of Delli Dur Ast (a lens-based workshop held in the Walled City of Delhi), a bold attempt to cast media intervention in terms of artistic practice.
The device consists of four cameras at a distance of 25-100m from each other, within walking proximity but not necessarily within line of site. The images from all four cameras (as well as sound) appear on one screen in a quadrant. At the site and axis of each camera is also a TV, wherein the viewer/actor/audience can see this quadrant of action/image/sound from all four sites.
Shaina’s strategy was to use surveillance cameras, mounted on television sets, connected with microphones and to connect four such ‘devices’ using cable TV wiring to create a split-screen open circuit media interface. Conceptually, this project is a continuation of Shaina’s media interventions in Bangalore, such as Russell TV/Rustle TV and WI CITY TV, wherein the artist used the technological medium of cable TV, and subverted it by making it local, open-ended, interactive and non-hierarchical.
The Khirkee community raps, DJ Abid asks if they want more tunes
However, this project marked a significant leap as the ‘outsiders’ (the cameraman and the video editor) were eliminated and the emphasis was entirely on exploring the possibilities of multiple views and real-time feedback thereby pushing the limits of how one perceives community-based media. Importantly, the feedback access to the images real-time on-site becomes a setting for various experiments in community networking and performance; automated story-telling and filmmaking.
Technologically, certain subversive elements need to be noticed. The surveillance camera-television combination is traditionally used as an electronic extension of the ‘panovkian gaze’, stealthy and closed circuit; Shaina takes this device and turns it around by implanting them visibly and interactively in an open circuit network.
By making the use of technology transparent Shaina achieved a kind of de-mythification, thereby enabling people to interact freely without being overawed by either the camera, or the highly visible RF wiring. Another important aspect of Shaina’s intervention was the in-built participatory mechanism. All the modules used electricity and space given by the participants, thus even in small ways various parties were contributors to the production/distribution process. There was also a subversion of the hierarchical relationship between the television and the audience. Shaina successfully placed the television within the audience, and the sleet screen interaction meant that there was a constant four-way exchange of ideas and no one segment/sector could claim an authoritarian role.
The nature of the modules ranged from placing the device in narrow crowded market lanes allowing various corners of the market to interact with each other … inevitably resulting in boisterous, macho neighbourhood exchanges to setting them up in intimate spaces allowing four partially connected immigrant Nepali housewives to chat through the afternoon. In the last two modules, Shaina experimented with inserting ‘actors’ in the scene in an attempt to find out the implications they would have in the unfolding of the narratives, with this experimentation the artist made an attempt to push boundaries into the exploration of location and people specific fictive moviemaking and performance.
Although, for her Open Studio Day, Shaina had cut edited DVDs to condense the various modules and ‘present’ them to her audience, but the residency on real was played out in the process and in real time. What people witnessed through the eight-monitor display on the open day was an artist-edited documentation.
Aastha Chauhan, a young city based artist who leads the Khoj’s community outreach at Khirkee assisted Shaina throughout the residency; her involvement in Khirkee was the access window that Shaina initially used for her intervention. However, in the course of the month, Shaina had managed to create her own dynamics within the locality; nonetheless Aastha’s collaboration gave Shaina certain anthropological insights, which they together used to formulate the nature of certain modules.