ITF 2nd Theatre Seminar: Building for People (Romi Khosla)
Duration: 01:21:10; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 15.872; Saturation: 0.127; Lightness: 0.191; Volume: 0.232; Cuts per Minute: 0.567; Words per Minute: 66.993
The 2nd national seminar held by the India Theatre Forum
intended to address the overall theme of "Spaces of Theatre, Spaces for Theatre" in a wider and holistic manner. It was held between 14 to 18 March 2012 in Ninasam, an extremely special theatre space in Heggodu village of Karnataka which has served as a community centre for over 50 years. The seminar intended to cover a gamut of related topics ranging from the relationship of performing "bodies" to space, to the actual physical spaces of performance, to the politics of the spaces in society , to the new virtual spaces opening up and to the future of Spaces. In other words, the seminar built on the understanding that the act of theatre is always more than simply an act of theatre. To think of theatre and its processes is, ipso facto, to think of its temporal and spatial specificities. However, the main approach of the seminar was not to develop an academic theory of the spaces of/for theatre but to sketch the contours of a "spaciology" of theatre as perceived by its practitioners.
Ninasam, Heggodu, Karnataka
Sudhanva Deshpande: Good morning. After that lovely breakfast, welcome to the seminar. Before we start the session for today I have some announcements to make. One is, unless you are aware, there's a display wall there and some people who have come with material have already displayed material there. A lot of the material is to do with spaces that are... that people have set up or are setting up, or working on and so on. So do please go and take a look at the material, it's exciting, it's interesting, and it relates very centrally to the theme of the seminar. Plus if you have any other material that you would like displayed, please feel free to put it up there.
SD: Secondly, in the evening, we have a table or two between where we have food and here, on the path, where people have got stuff to sell. So do please take a look at that. There are books, there are videos, there are t-shirts, there are little buttons and so on. So exciting stuff. And all of this stuff has been produced by the theatre groups themselves. So this can be one way to support theatre groups by actually buying that stuff. So do please take a look at that as well.
SD: Thirdly, we have the open session starting today - open discussions, open sessions starting today. And on the wall that is next to the Ninasam office, as you exit the canteen and come here, you'll see that wall has been converted to Open Space wall. I would really encourage all of you to put up your ideas or topics for discussion and so on. But do please try and put it up by late morning. Either first thing in the morning, or try and put it up in the tea break in the morning. Because by lunch time, when we go for lunch, if at that time we see all the topics for the day, then we can decide which ones we want to be part of. And sometimes people do want to switch from one to the other- spend half an hour here, half an hour there, etc. So it just helps if everything is up before we actually go for lunch. So that's something that I really encourage you to do.
SD: And of course, apart from that as well, there are discussions that are happening, feel free to join a bunch of people who are talking, don't feel shy and stuff. We are also starting our one-on-one sessions today, as I told you yesterday these are free-ranging conversations between two people. These sessions will be taking place in the hall, it's a kind of an open air - not open air... sort of roof, but the sides are open. The hall is right behind this building on that side. The session we have today, we have Sadanand Menon and Manu Chakrabarty on the session yesterday, and particularly about the body, the actor body, traditional epistemologies, and trying to problematise our notion of the actors' body in space. So that's where they will start from, but they may end... "m sure its going to be a free-ranging discussion. If any of you want to listen to the discussion, you are most welcome to go there. There are going to be recorded and are going to be up on the website eventually. And will probably also go into the book. We'll see.
SD: ...Its from 2:30 to 3:30 so its at the same time that the open discussions are happening at various places. So after lunch there's no respite. Though ofcourse if you want to rest, you're most welcome. If any of you want to actually rest after lunch for a while, do please feel free to tell us, Akshara is here, I'm there, Sanjana, whoever. We'll be very happy to provide you with space where you can lie down for a bit and so on, its not a problem. Especially we do know that there are many people who are chronologically advantaged.
SD: So... privileged, I should say. The sessions we have today, we start with a talk in the morning... shortly. After that, session two of the seminar is the one that we start after tea. This is to do with the performance space. I won't introduce the session, but really it's about the actual spaces where we perform and rehearse. It's really about the nuts and bolts of those spaces. And after lunch or rather after the afternoon tea, we have the session which talks about buildings. Theatre buildings. That's also going to be a very exciting session. In the evening we have Sex, Morality and Censorship. So that's a wonderful play, I'm sure you will all enjoy it.
SD: The talk that we have today, I'm not sure Romi has titled his talk. We had provisionally titled it... Okay! 'Space Between Objects'. But we had really asked Romi to talk about principles of desigining and building spaces that brings people together. There are just far too many spaces that are designed and built, both individual buildings as well as at the level of entire cities that actually seem like they are meant to keep people apart. We thought that it would be wonderful for Romi to speak about how to do the opposite - how to bring people together, and to get people to converse with each other in many ways, not just through language. Romi Khosla is one of India's most distinguished architects. He founded GRUP (Group for Rural and Urban Planning) in Delhi in 1974, and has designed a number of large institutional complexes as well as a number of small community based rural projects. He's designed the National Gallery in Bombay which many of us have seen. He's designed the corporate headquarters of the United Breweries in Bangalore which many of us have not been into. As well as Le Meridian's Boutique hotel in Kathmandu. That by the way is a building that's been talked about a lot in the literature on architecture in Nepal.
SD: He's served on the Aga Khan award jury, as well as the Izmir City Revitalisation Competition jury in Turkey. He has been appointed as a principal consultant to UNDP, UNOPS, UNESCO and WTO. And he has also carried out extensive urban planning and revitalisation tourism planning missions to the Balkans, Cyprus, Central Asia and Tibet.
SD: Romi has been trained as an architect of course, but before that, what's not very well known about Romi is that he received a degree in economics from the University of Cambridge. And that has in a sense informed a lot of the work that he has done, the concerns that run through his entire career. I will say no more. Welcome Romi.
Romi Khosla (RK): Thank you for that very generous introduction which has made me world-famous here. First of all, I would like to thank the organisers. I think it is an extraordinary effort that the theatre forum is making to search for solutions. Too few people who are struggling with ideas search for solutions. I think this entire event that we are having, I regard as a search for solutions for an institute that is trying to stand up on its feet. I am very happy to be able to support you.
RK: So I go straight into it. I'd written it out in case I can't control the time. There is a concept in Architecture that we call Tabula Rasa, that you are familiar with in theatre. It is also a concept used in neurobiology and computer sciences, and in fact the (Andalusia) Arab's first started debating it about 700 years ago. For me it is a very important concept. It signifies in architecture a blank site, but philosophically it means a blank slate - somebody who is born conceptually blank. So it is an eternal problem that the philosophers are said to ask, is whether are you born as a blank mind or do you carry in that mind the seeds of subjective values and the way you see things?
RK: Now, I think this is a very important distinction to be made and its an ideological split because there is no evidence for either. It's what you believe. The question before us is very simple - is there, and we talk about space taking that framework - is it conceptually blank? Does it not have any values whatsoever? Because unlike objects, space cannot be percieved. Or visualised. And aquiring knowledge of it is a very profound problem. How does one become aware of space, to see if it is blank and devoid of values, if one cannot percieve it? You cannot perceive space, one can imagine it.
RK: But if I go back to the response of the ancient Buddhists, Buddhists have a clear position on it, Buddhists would give you that if you use your imagination to perceive space you are doing it through your own particular conditioning and memory. Therefore any knowledge that you gain about it is conditional and not true.
RK: I think hidden in that concept of Buddhism is a very important principal that the Buddhists put forward. What is reality. If you see it through your memory and your perceptions, it is already conditioned, therefore it is going to be a part of your imagination and therefore not real. So let us go back to architecture.
RK: Architecture is essentially about relationships of objects and surfaces in space. Now one way to understand space, therefore, if you go forward and take a little more crisp view of this, one way to understand space is at two levels - one is at the tangible level. And the other intangible or ephemeral level. Space can be made tangible by containing, wiith physical interventions. It can also be made intangible by having LSD or mescaline, or tantric practices, trances,... Old-fashioned slow meditation. Intangible space then becomes vast, unbound space. Boundless voids. Space that is ephemeral, is non-lingual. It is inexpressible. And it is non-conceptual. It is beyond cognition. And generally a thing you hear about in anecdotes and from travellers of intangible parts. Well I spent a bit of my time with travellers of intangible parts, so I'm quite familiar with the..
BK: Yesterday by the way, some of that dialogue in the morning comes in that realm. So it may be a relief to know architects and theatre people deal with tangible space.
RK: This is a space that exists as a relationship between objects. Let's not look at the objects, let's not look at the state of mind of the actor. Let's look at the spaces between. This is a space that is conceptual, is capable of being charged, changed, altered, by surfaces that surround it. Tangible space into which you can enter, intervene, space that we can play and model.
RK: At its most abstract level, at its most creative level, architecture is about playing with space that exists between objects or surfaces, and by influencing that space by the creation of those objects and surfaces in such a way that it can have profound effects on those who experience it. In other words, architecture is about creating a space either with objects or with surfaces, into which the users enter. And it is our effort to take that perception and conceptional space that you enter into, to new heights.
RK: It is central to architecture that that space that you create (between surfaces, between objects) enables you to have a profound experience. And in this we share the goals of theatre. In theatre you have a script and you can only charge it by creating the space which that script writes down In the same way that I make a drawing and I build it. I would like to illustrate all of this with examples from our work. But by doing so, I'm also little bit, showing off to this privileged audience, but also because I can explain what I'm trying to say. I don't have any generalised theory about space. I mean there are enough of them around.
RK: There is no way to verify them. The louder and more emotional we get, the truer it sounds. But in my case, I can only tell you about how an architect approaches space, how we decide to manipulate it. Therefore, these explanations are literally an account of how one is constantly moving in and out of commonplace or familiar. Sometimes one succeeds, and at other times the end result is disappointing. Actually, I shall engage myself with four kinds of spaces. I think that that is what determines my work. Begin with Space between objects - place two objects, and it creates a space between them - so you deal with that space, influenced by what is the object. Then I'll talk about Space inside objects. You create an object, you enter in it, and there's a space inside it.
RK: Then there is space which we borrow in our work. Space of the mythilogical domains, of the vaster landscapes. That also we use in our work. And then there's space which - I come back to where I started - the Tabula Rasa, which is the hardest space to deal with. We should discuss that.
RK: Let us come to the first space - the Space between objects. It can be temorary, it can be kinetic, it moves or it can be permanent. First, illustrations from a fashion show. Here is a temporary space that is being created for a function to take place... So this was... we were introducing our concept into fashion spaces for a little while, till the fashion industry told us 'Nobody is looking at our clothes!' So, we were off.
RK: Same problem I had with theatre people. I did! I did some sets for Prasanna, he's kept a long distance from it!
RK: Let's look at space between kinetic objects. How we experiment with it, that is, objects that move. Here is a curious situation - East Europe - no I won't say East Europe, actually East Europe and Vienna, Budapest, those countries - are suffering from a new problem. They had in the 60's built themselves houses and that generation of people who were living in their housing have either died or moved on. And guess who moved in - the Turks! Now these Turks (and Croatians) have created two communities as it were, that don't talk to each other. So the European Union decided to have a worldwide competition on how we can address this problem, how can we create spaces to bring the two communities together who have become very suspicious of each other?
RK: Some guys are eating kebabs, other guys are eating bread. They're up on it. They can't share each others' food, they can't share each others' experience. So we created three kinds of spaces as part of our submission - it's actually quite hot from the oven, it went in about two weeks ago - Where we created in the space between the flats some kinetic objects. These are folding umbrellas that you can fold and take away, and then bring and use them for a variety of uses during the week. So Thursday is Kebab night, Friday is Goulash night, and you can have a library there. So this was the idea.
RK: Here is the drawing of the umbrella spread out and then when it is folded... It is divided into three parts, the first part shows some way you can use it, the second / middle part shows there is a market there. In the third part it shows it becomes a playground. So in this sense we were creating - giving a signal that if you want to get communities together you have to create objects and then make them use of space between.
RK: The second one was a little bit more mine. This was a series of benches that had sails behind them. This is a slightly wind-swept area near a lake in Vienna where they had a severe problem of...various things...But what we did was that we created a new kind of an object. It is an object that when you sit on it, with the breeze it kind of rotates, and you can do various things with it. This was how it was laid out. The area in blue, that's within the water, where we also place some of it. And the one on the land is simply sailing seats. So the idea is that you go there and you get a completely different sense of experience. So... again, each sail is an object, and you define the space between them as being the community space. And the community space becomes...like you had your exercise where you gave us five questions yesterday,...so this is supposed to be the idea - go through this completely new experience.
RK: And that's the day of a festival...it was an Austrian festival, the place can come to life. So that's...
RK: We used the same principal for a park proposal in Tel Aviv (which was another competition), where we created an orange... This was Rabin square, it was a memorial. Here also we had thought what was important was to create, so we created an orange grove and set amongst it the same benches. This is showing them when there's a breeze blowing from one direction, and how it would feel to be in this. Again, the juxtaposition of an orange grove, sailing, benches, and then of course the sea, which is slightly beyond.
RK: And there is a performance space also.
RK: Another object we created was a children's playground. Again this was kinetic...Here we created a series of panels that you could rotate and thereby change the space between the objects. So from being ordered to being disordered. From being personalised to being part of... So when the teacher will come in she will control the entire playground and will get that outside perimeter made so the children don't run out, and then she'd control the space between. And when the teacher is not there, this is more likely to be the kind of experience you would have, and they use it. They personalise it in small parts. And we gave a symbolical door.
RK: So, very important that when you create a space, a domain, think of the mind essentially, and you punctuate it with objects. You also give a sense of entry into it. This is a conventional door that leads you into it. You don't have to go through it. But the kids go through it. That is interesting. They all go through it.
RK: So it becomes an experience of colour, form, space; but always remembering the tension of having an object, and the nature of that object influences the space between.
RK: The path that led in from the door comes in and then rises up and then goes down. So even that conventional notion of path is broken.
RK: The third entry that we gave for the problem of the Turks and the Austrians, was that we would create a series of glass cubes which will be left in an open space. And these cubes will be used for different uses during the day by the community. The glass cube gives a kind of transparency to the use of the space. So we are getting a little bit closer to the issue of the space inside the object. Here we are still a little bit outside objects. I'm viewing this through another glass cube that's... seeing how they can use it. The idea was that the communities would leave objects inside these cubes which were above the use level as museums of their culture. So at night these cubes would be lit up and you would see stuff from the Austrian culture and stuff from the Turkish Culture. As objects, beautiful objects of museum value which is on dispay at night. So it is not as if the place died at night.
RK: We treat it like dice. It was a solution we were suggesting. This is a view from the top of those cubes, and down below you can see what we imagined would be the objects which are on display at night; so that you bring the communities together by making each of them aware of their great traditions, where they create beautiful things and generally to create a different level of respect.
RK: Another object we designed which is now being built in Holland. This was another important international competition where they wanted to use a space which had become a neglected space. So we had suggested, what you see here as a twist. A huge twist has been built, you can use it to lie against, or skate against, etc. So they are just objects placed in a landscape and then people react to them.
RK: That should be... a couple of months more and it will be there. They are of enormous length, so they snake their way through the urban landscape.
RK: This idea of the twist we carried forward... enclosing space in a twist. This is, in principle, the model of a space being twisted by an object. And then another object is placed inside it, which is a building. And then we kind of... if you imagine that... as being something - Inner landscape in a place where people come to use the building inside it, as you can see... So that gives you an idea.
RK: This was a customs barrier for...in Europe. Proposal for it, where you can actually drive through (?).
RK: Now let's talk about entering the object and how do you control the surface. Here we have a black object - it is Swarovski - and you enter through a specific door (like you did the playground), and inside the entire surface is pulled and pushed, and the display given on the walls. Again we work on this principle of twisting the object - surfaces, influence the space between. And because you then have to walk around them, these surfaces which are pulled down. And then, of course, the colour. The colour, as in the playground, the colour of the surfaces play a very important role.
RK: At different levels you experience that space within the surfaces differently. So we took this into a high fashion shop, Shantanu and Nikhil shop in one of the shopping malls in Delhi. And we put it to a slightly less temporary use and less that's how it looks. In this case, the fashion designer felt that it was helping his brand...
RK: So dresses get hung in it. That is a view as you enter the shop. It should create enough curiosity. It was just one material that we used, so that we are not talking about materiality here, we're talking about the change in surface.
RK: Another one that we did, another fashion store. This, using the principles of origami - folding surfaces and creating a completely different environment inside. Again the use of black and white colours...very specific colours...
RK: Again, with the sense of space that you get when you enter this place, it's beautiful.
RK: And we took it to architecture... where again we change the boundaries of indoor space and (?) space...
RK: Here is a space that is enclosed by surfaces that are more in touch with (?). And the seating actually are ...(?)
RK: So again you are entering the object but actually also exploring the situation outside the object. You can see the walls are suspended, the ceiling is suspended and the canteen seating comes out and extends beyond the roof.
RK: Again, the idea that it should... same as the Swarovski - this object that invites you inside.
RK: And then you treat the surfaces as independent moulders of surface. This is some seating inside, it's completely washable and very hardy.
RK: I come now to space borrowed from natural or mythical domains. Sometimes there are reasons why one needs to place one's objects in a larger space. Then when given the opportunity, we use the landscape and we borrow that landscape. The site on which you are building is small, but you place it in such a way that the entire landscape behind it is borrowed.
RK: So this is a house in Himachal which is made from (?). One of the links in these two or three - the houses I will show you, is that there are analogies in it. So obviously what happens is that the analogy that you are using to frame the object is familiar. It looks 'house', because of the nature of its roof, because of the nature of its balconies; it is not a conventional house, but it is a house.
RK: So while using...first of all you frame the object with an analogy in mind. And then you place it in a landscape that is borrowed.
RK: And that's its setting.
RK: This is another house we did in the mountains also - It's called (?) house - which then took the analogy of 'house'.
RK: Analogies are very important in creative work. If you become aware - Are you making analogies or are you radicalising away from an analogy? And this is a boundary we explore in our work... So this has got the analogy of a house, but actually it's much more severe. It stretches it to the point where it almost leaves the analogy, but still contains it.
RK: What happens in architecture is that there is some other guy paying for it.
RK: You can only take him so far.
RK: House... Do you mind if it looks like a house?...
RK: So we play with that, to see how far we can stretch it, and we then place it in the borrowed landscape... And... look at it... it's a house!
RK: The texture of the surface we talked about - surface - being important. It's very important that you create the texture. This is the structure of the roof of two buildings we built next to each other. It's a separate structure. We cut the slate in such a way to break the monotony of the roof. You reject the tin sheet, the concrete,... you come to a handmade surface. Because that surface immediately gives you a different feel. And this is the kind of exercise you would do in order to create that space.
RK: And these are some of the structures, studies that we do in order for us to create. What was essentially an idea that a house has a sloping roof. So we take it literally.
RK: Another one that I give you is a much more abstract one. This has to do with a fashion institute that is coming up in Calcutta now. The question here was why can't it be like the fold of a textile? There was no reason why not. Why can't it be like a fold of textile! So we said good idea, let's pursue. So can it be like this? Can the building be like this?
ITs hard, difficult.
RK: Yes it can! So we did some studies to make the building from an idea. Now here we are talking not about analogies. If the houses were analogies which were evident, here we have an analogy which is completely hidden, and is always in question. So this building is actually... this is roughly how it ends up.
RK: We come to Space, finally, as Tabula Rasa. A space which has absolutely no loading, you're not carrying any baggage when you explore it. This is very hard to do. You are influenced by what you see, by what you hear, by what prejudices you have about space, about theatre, about anything.
RK: So the hardest nut to crack and on the outer edges of creativity is the notion, that we're dealing with space which has no baggage.
RK: And we'll explore that...
RK: This is the dental college, a vast building, at Jamia Millia. Actually one of the critics said that it looks like a dental college because of all these toothless smiles.
RK: The design of this was based on a very simple notion, that you turn your back on the sun and the heat, and the north light is fully glass and all the dental treatment takes place with those chairs up against that big glass, which gives you good light.
RK: Otherwise, all of you know the way the dentist is always adjusting great spot lights. So this was to kind of preclude that...
RK: This is the inside of the building. Part of it is made...
RK: And that's the example of the glass. So we reversed the glass and the solid side. So the solid side has slit openings in it and the glass has slit areas which are opaque. But just sitting behind the glass are hundreds of people on each floor lined up.
RK: The other project that we are just finishing is again something which you are placing two cubes back to back, and the entire the entire building is made out of steel, fabricated in Karnataka and Kerala and bolted in position. Its a very new innovative kind of building. Its also a completely self-contained building, for its water, its treatment and its minimal consumption of power.
RK: What we have done is, all its seismic earthquake forces, we actually expressed them in terms of its structure. What you are doing thereby is actually creating a language which has no baggage, in terms of framing your architectural language, without prejudice. I call this state of mind that is not able to face tabula rasa... which has got prejudiced, not in a negative sense. But in a sense that you free yourself from conditioning. So there it is, under construction.
RK: It looks completely as if it arrived from outer space.
RK: Now, taking a wild shot at theatre, where I am using the same concept of space and transferring it to theatre. So space between performers and the audience - I find people referring to it all the time - Proscenium, Thrust. Sapce within the performers, in my mind not looked at carefully enough. Then there's space borrowed from natural domains. The performance space comes at the centre.
RK: The examples that I am giving you are from a book... 'Beyind the Proscenium'. So you will be familiar with it.
RK: The first is the Badal Sircar (?), where he has placed the audience, rejecting the proscenium as a spatial barrier between the audience and the actors. That means what you are doing in this example is that you are placing the audience as I would place objects, and then activating the space between them.This diagram fully illustrates that- that you activate the space between.
RK: So what you do is first of all, reject the notion of there being two objects - audience and actor. You combine them into one object, and then you create a space inside it.
RK: I take the example of Matsumoto's 'Purushartha'. Here we have space within the object. And what he is doing here is he is transforming it with the use of technology. Projectors. And cameras.
RK: The definitions of the light pillars here and the projections, actually are the surfaces within which the performance is taking place. So he is also in a sense defining the space of performance by the use of surfaces on which he is projecting.
RK: Lastly I come to the... Mythical. Borrowing from the landscape. And this is Lokendra Arambam's Macbeth; where he has placed some of the work from the North-East where the mythical landscape is so apparent and so important in their imagination, that much of the dramatic work is continuosly referring that. As I see it, this is one of the four categories with which either create theatre, or achitecture, as far as space is concerned. And each one of these, whether it is between objects or inside objects, whether it is set in a larger space - each one of them has a very clear set of disciplines and ways to approach. And it is hard to... rather, let's say it is better to focus on one of these specific things.
RK: Its important for me as an architect to take the perception - your feeling of what it feels like in a space - out of you. To push it out. This I think is also one of the searches within theatre. Generally speaking, I'm very narrow-minded about spaces. I'm not so liberal....
RK: I have certain constraints... I think a state of mind is also important.... (?)
RK: Thank you very much...