A pillar in the middle of the gallery at the Japan Foundation has tangles of wiry, black earphones. Enough to give nightmares to anyone, it stands in the middle of two walls. While one wall has tablets hammered onto it, with black benches sketched in the background, the other has a projection of a busy market place, with people walking around, engrossed in their phones and video games, and large billboards governing the visuals.
Delhi-based community artist Sreejata Roy’s exhibition titled, “Frozen Words” recreates the Akihabara area in Tokyo, also called Electric City. It is a result of a month-long art residency that Roy was a part of in Japan in 2011. “Akihabara is famous for electronics, video games and latest technology,” says Roy. The residency allowed Roy to critically explore the idea of public space and art, where she held workshops with people, spent time walking around and making informed decisions of how she would recreate her version of the area back home.
“It was vibrant and upbeat, but there was no space for any informal dialogue. Nobody talks, they are in their own world. I may be standing next to you, and I don’t know you, but I would be playing a game with you in some virtual universe. People would be sitting on benches, playing on their tabs, or distributing pamphlets on more electronics,” she says.
That explains the layout of her exhibition, with framed testimonials — of people talking about how the area is crowded but lonely — and mirrors strategically placed near the video projections of the busy square. “Digital devices often tend to convert their users into screen-bound entities, creating space for only technologically catalysed relationships. They keep you out of the real world as much as they allow you into another one” she says.
Roy has worked on community projects before, having turned a garbage-dump in Dakshinpuri into a public park. The 36-year old artist has also participated in group art shows and workshops in the UK, where she was studying media and art. This is her first solo show in India. “This exhibition is an ongoing concept, and definitely not the final output. Akihabara can’t be restricted to one gallery,” she says.
Frozen Words will be on display at the Japan Foundation, Lajpat Nagar, till July 16. Contact: 26442967
This story appeared in print under the headline Too Near, Too Far