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Architect Bijoy Jain, principal at Studio Mumbai, is presenting Demolition Series, a “collective environment" at Chemould Prescott Road, using a gallery space as “air, light, height and breadth". These are not artworks per se but models based on real, existing or vanished structures.

Jain has long observed how space is used in cities that evolve rapidly, with as much bewilderment as you or me—structures that live in-between, that are built upon, that are indigenously built, that in the multiplicity of usage within a space are artworks in themselves. “This is what we have and what do we do with what we have now?" Jain asks. He sees structures being altered every day: “In this state of flux we are plagued with the problem of choice, the weight of choice, the freedom of choice. The discourse here is about that."

American architect Frank Lloyd Wright thought of architecture as “the framework of life". Living in a chaotically expanding megapolis, it would be natural to question what kind of life we see, as a shifting, perplexing framework around us alters before each sundown. It is not in the grand towers that rise like stranded rockets in the city, but in the human scale of quotidian living that Jain sees a framework that sustains a city.

Stumbling upon structures on a regular basis that were intriguing in the way they occupied space and time, Jain and Studio Mumbai slowly started mapping them, not so much as in measured, scaled mappings, but in photographs, videos and pacing the place. Unsure of what to make of the documentation, now in its hundreds, the studio started making drawings, “they were both real and fictitious, in the same way that what we were mapping was real and fictitious, because the state of flux creates the duality of fiction and reality. This is happening now, in real time, time is a very important force that is acting out on these spaces…and therefore the choices we make impact that course," says Jain.

In that, Demolition Series, though depicting spaces that have been rendered asunder, is not just demolition as physicality. Jain would like to think of it as questioning thought itself. For him this exercise in observation of spaces in alterity “in the space being created there lies this potential, the question is how do we participate" to harness that potential. “It is finally a question of time, the length of time, how do we render time when within that space—the potential for new to emerge."

There are model bricks as seen in rural kilns all over the country—“half the population in India build their own homes". There is Julie Tailor’s shop in Kottayam: Modelled space in a terracotta red evokes a sensorial remembrance; axial scaled models of tombstones at the Dutch graveyard in Surat used as foundations for structures built on them (“in a way, we could bring a model of Shah Jahan’s tomb into your living room, this void created in the axial representation is one’s perception of the histories held, of a person, a place, politics, cultural history—mini time capsules of data in that void"); a shop in Varanasi whose model of object placement is replicated even as the objects are reinterpreted.

More than mere documentations of these real spaces, these objects seek to evoke something beyond just the form or their physicality—the emotional values that are inherent in any occupied space. While the interest is in memory, it is not only about the memories and histories but “the possibilities of anticipation that are embedded in them, not just dealing with the past but dealing with the potential with what is to come."

The curatorial note at the Designs of the Year 2013 exhibition at the Design Museum in London, UK, talking about the use of memory, says, “Designers very rarely invent an entirely new form or idea that did not previously exist. They improve on what has gone before or they use ideas from the past to trigger the emotions they once inspired…. Architects do this when they try to work within the existing context of the city, just as fashion looks at its own recent history for inspiration."

In reimagining the real, Studio Mumbai and Jain posit this show as an opening to a discourse that goes to the very core of these structures as they alter before our eyes in extended geographies, a commonality overlapping in diversity. The viewer, then, is stretched—one has far more questions than answers, which one imagines is the idea of this show. In creating a collective environment that is in constant correction, Studio Mumbai creates a sensorial experience, one that is unsettling perhaps, much as the spaces they observe are. “We are opening spatial make-ups to the core, am I making sense?" asks Jain. And he positions that question as much as a challenge as an invite to the viewer, to participate in real time, in demolitions within our cities and in our minds.

Demolition Series is on at Queens Mansion, G Talwatkar Marg, Fort, Mumbai, till 10 August.

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