Sunday, February 14, 2016

Unbox Caravan

A few thoughts about my brief visit to the Unbox Caravan. This was a two week project (I dropped in for 5 days), hosted at The National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, India. The project invited creatives from a range of disciplines to collaborate around a theme of 'connected communities'.

I have been moving around India since just before Christmas, visiting family mostly, plus a little holidaying. At each stop my accommodation has felt like a mini serai, so it was a pleasant surprise to find a real one in Ahmedabad.

On sound:
Instead of taking photographs on this trip I have been recording sound. Some short snapshots, up to a minute long; some more like panoramas or portraits lasting up to an hour. I have found that it leads to a very different experience when travelling than that which one gets from carrying a camera. For one thing one soon forgets about the topic of photography at all - no longer subconsciously framing and debating what would make a good photo. Instead it is replaced with the equivalent in terms of sound! The good thing is that currently, there are many fewer options for interpreting and editing sound on the fly. So generally I have just been pressing record and waiting, whilst keeping one eye on the levels. And it makes you listen - not just while thinking about opportunities to record (Is this an interesting sound? Is it loud enough? Is this something I have heard before? Does it tell a story? Etc.) - but also while the thing is recording, that's when you actually start listening properly. Which I'm not sure happens with photography: you don't look harder whilst taking the picture, it's all too quick for that. You do the looking later, when you're at home editing, or showing the picture to your friends. It's because sound takes longer to record, because it is durational, that you actually can experience and document at the same time. Which I think makes it a great tool for ethnography on its own, that is, not in conjunction with the camera.

On the experience:
In Ahmedabad, I was given plenty of opportunities to document sound - in the 5 days I had, we visited all sorts of makers, craftspeople, villages, shops, markets, not to mention the auto rides and the aviary that is the NID campus! I was also privileged to develop ideas with the other caravanners, particularly Gary, Sean and Jayne. As ever the people you work with comes down to lots of factors, luck being one, but, (and I'm looking for a thread here) I think all of us were concerned with interpreting what we were seeing/hearing, more than synthesizing anything terribly new. Which in itself is interesting. Many times during my 5 days I found myself comparing the event to a hackathon in my mind - it had that similar feel: positive, creative people finding common ground out of necessity and trying to create against a deadline. Only here the deadline was a really quite generous 2 weeks rather than 2 days. Yet this seemed much more challenging than any hackathon, which says more about hackathons that anything else. They generally have a bit more of a focussed brief for one thing, but also we rely so heavily on familiarity to function at a hack. And when that is removed, when you're dropped in a very different city amongst new people, my preference is really to absorb and interpret rather than synthesize and postulate. So I think that was a bit of a conflict for me, as I had come into the thing with the expectation to do (or help with doing) some postulating, and in the end for whatever reason, did not feel right doing it! Nonetheless, it is always interesting to grapple, and to help others do the same.

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