The Snapped Rope and Other Stories from the New Bangalore’, is a photographic collection of objects and stories found locally that attempts to tell a multitudinous tale of the city. The collection traverses a breadth of subjects encompassing science, politics, iconography, governance, history, language and environment and their presence in the material world as a means to understand the city better. The Tasveer Journal caught up with Avani Tanya to ask her about her process and the ideas behind the series. (Scroll down for the interview.)
Glass vial containing atmospheric air
Collected at six am on the first of October
Piece of the Peninsular Gneiss Rock Exposure
Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens
3000 Million Years
Bark of a seventy-year-old African tulip tree
M. Chinnaswamy Stadium
Air-sealed for use in Outer Space Defence Food Research Laboratory
Visvesvaraya Industrial & Technological Museum
Sent on 15th August, 2012
St. Josephs College
Wood, rubber and leather
Illustration of Dr. Rajkumar
Used for tying elephants within temple premises
Available at all hardware stores
Interview with Avani Tanya
Tell us about your project, ‘The Snapped Rope and Other Stories from the New Bangalore’? How did it all start, its process and ongoing continuation? How is it different from the museums’ practice of collecting and preserving objects?
The project came into being one afternoon when I came across a newspaper article about a tree that was chopped down outside the Chinnaswamy Cricket Stadium because people were getting hurt by tripping on its exposed roots. This was the only information provided in the article. Later that day, as I was passing through that area, I found the uprooted tree stump. Personally there are very few things that are as disturbing as a chopped down tree. I picked up a piece of the bark as a remembrance. This was how I found my first object. And since I had no way to keep the bark preserved, I photographed it.
And then one object led to a story, which led to another object and so on. Some objects and stories were found during conversations with friends – like the picture of the hand of a girl who was molested on the street once. Some were found in the news – like the story about the woman who died due to safety negligence. Some from actual museums in the city – like the sitting stool made from an elephant’s foot or the sample of packaged food for space exploration missions. Some are directly from personal collections – like the match box label with an illustration of Rajkumar. These are everyday stories that the objects signify that I believe shape the city in quiet ways. They are markers of something else, something we talk about often but can’t always articulate.
In a sense, this collection borrows the method of the museum of isolating objects and providing descriptive captions, which make the objects and their context easy to interpret. The accompanying text is as important as the photograph.
But museums are institutions with agendas; this is instead a common person’s collection. It tries to cut across multiple subjects such as colonial history, governance, policy, science, technology, gender, popular culture, linguistics and the combined conflicts these create. This collection merely tries to provide a space to make connections, which is otherwise hard to do on an everyday basis. Photography allows for this movement of thought while preserving signifiers for the same.
How do you differentiate between ‘things’ and ‘objects’? Does your project in any way refer to ‘thing theory’ by Bill Brown?
When I was trying to make sense of my collection, I did read some ‘object’ theories to understand how human-object relationships have been studied. But, honestly, I think the process of finding and making was much more vibrant and involving and left me with little inclination to analyse the collection or act of collecting in a theoretical framework.
Does photography play any role in transforming the relationship between inanimate objects and viewers?
AT. In a collection like this, photography plays an important role in enhancing the relationship between objects and viewers because it separates the objects from their immediate context, and allows the viewer to derive new meaning.
In the everyday, I often come across things that urge me to stop and think – to make meaning. Here the camera comes to my rescue, as it allows me to take a photograph as a reference so I can go back to the thought at a later time. I believe the main purpose of photography is to isolate moments so one can pay attention to the smallest of details in perfect solitude at a later time. In my project, photography became a method to seek out and point at things that I felt needed attention. The photograph momentarily makes the objects and stories stand out against the backdrop of everyday life.
How will you define the new status of your objects or things (in your project) when they turn into art objects and inscribe new meanings by being viewed in gallery spaces?
AT. By being included in a formal collection, these objects have acquired a completely new life. First they are deliberately placed on a uniform gray background and photographed – stripping them of their original context. Then by making a book (or exhibiting them in a gallery space), I have opened them to further interpretation that a reader (viewer) might have when reading my personal interpretation juxtaposed with these constructed photographs. The objects are no longer seen as signifiers of their original purpose, but now transformed to mean completely different things. For example, the photograph of the tree bark, which is actually just a piece of wood, is now a signifier of the rampant environmental destruction in Bangalore.
In the age of digital photography, how do you view the lack of materiality in photo-imaging technologies?
AT. The act of ‘image making’ wasn’t a direct concern during the process of making this work – it was the method that best suited my enquiry. But, I feel digital processes help create multiple manifestations of an idea, which is crucial for its outreach. ‘The Snapped Rope and Other Stories’, was disseminated in multiple ways – primarily as a book. So even though the digital images of the object lack a material quality, the book gives them form. The book in this sense becomes the representing object. The website was just a secondary archive to facilitate sharing. I also made individual postcards to send to friends and family. And for me the production of a project like this was possible primarily because digital imaging and printing technologies make the process of photographing and self-publishing easy to access.