How Neralu, the Bangalore Tree Festival, came to be planned while exploring the historical, cultural and ecological aspects of Bangalore city through art, pedagogy and public engagement.
By Deepak Srinivasan
In September last year (2013), I quite fortuitously ran into a group of excited Bangaloreans who had begun discussing doing something around the trees of the city. This is where we began conversations about a possible tree festival for Bangalore. Anush, Arpana, Sangeetha, Uma, Mallik, Jahnavi and I met at Airlines hotel one evening. Janhavi Pai, a researcher friend had told me that these folks were interested in Bangalore’s trees and their stories and were discussing various ways to expand and share their experience. It almost seemed like a call and a dream come true.
For over 8 years now, I have been on the path to rediscover my own sense of engagement with Bangalore through unknown and untold social, cultural, political and historic layers. The trees of Bangalore are an amazing part of this story of urban Bangalore and its growth through the centuries.
In 2010, I was working at Maraa, a media and arts collective based in Bangalore, and we had collaborated with two artists from Vienna and the Visual Arts Collective, who run 1 Shanti Road gallery in Bangalore. As part of those explorations and inquiries, one of the activities was a small scale urban tree festival for Bangalore. More details on events from the 2010 festival can be found on this blog.
This city is filled with tree-enthusiasts, perhaps because we grew up with trees through the decades. Ecologists, hobbyists, nature and heritage enthusiasts, environmentalists, activists, artists, researchers – so many people in the city working on urban flora and fauna! Yet, there are very few and barely visible interdisciplinary networks. Many folks have probably never met beyond their own networks. Our intention as individuals in a group in contact with various experts, practitioners, enthusiastic public, students and networks was to try and facilitate a conversation and perhaps, interesting collaborations between various practices.
As we began to interact in September, Arpana, Sangeetha, Uma, Mallik, Anush and I (a mixed group of researchers, artists, technologists) began to share with each other lots of ideas, possibilities, research material, and resources. It suddenly seemed like a good idea to perhaps try a small pedagogical exploration within the realms of art and design. Since my move to design and art pedagogy at Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, I had worked with students on complex urban space and heritage related contexts as sites of inquiry, exploration and research.
In the meanwhile, we also managed to get together various practitioners and experts from the city and organize a brainstorming workshop in October, 2013. Many people joined us for this workshop and contributed, and a few expressed interest in working with students as well.
Putting together a 4-week module on Bangalore’s trees, I organized a series of workshops for students. Sangeetha Kadur (nature visualisation) worked with students on tree ID-ing and journalling methods, while Mallikarjun Javali (technology, research) and Chandrashekar Balachandran (creative geography, pedagogy) discussed exciting topics like visualizing maps and open street map workshop. Uma Bharath (heritage, history and culture), Sumitra Sunder (art, activism, urban spaces) and I worked with students on engaging with the city’s public, and Dr. Subramanya (professor at GKVK) and Kiran Keswani (architect and researcher) inspired us to look at the Kattes of Bangalore as ecological and public spheres.
This intersection with Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology resulted in two groups of students working towards and producing two interesting project ideas and prototypes. These are described below and links are provided for one to sample.
The Green Mile
A group of 6-7 students produced an audio walk of Malleshwaram, developed around a route they thought allowed for a diversity of spaces, history and trees. This audio walk has been titled The Green Mile and is the first scratch. The walk consists of 15 small audio bytes around 15 locations with trees, that include various spaces like the local space of the tree, its utility, people’s memories and some historic/ecological context for the species.
Look, its a tree!
A second set of students were highly inspired by Sangeetha Kadur’s journalling workshops, so they decided to follow journalling as a method to document their thoughts on research that they did on trees. The group has put together a blog that documents their own journals and they hope to build this into a participative journal sharing forum for Bangalore’s online media users. They claim that their relationship with trees changed through this medium of documentation (as opposed to using photography as a medium to document). You can take a look at some of their work here. You can also send in material, illustrations and narratives to be featured on the blog.
Such work with students and young urban groups will be available at a public forum called City of Trees. This group is free for all to propose, contribute, organise, lead and document more such initiatives.
This project with students gave us as a group lots more ideas for NERALU, the upcoming tree festival for Bangalore which we are now in the midst of facilitating. For more about the tree festival, go to neralu.in.
Deepak Srinivasan is a media practitioner, presently faculty at Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology. He is an artist and a community media practitioner with interests in performance and storytelling as methods of socio-cultural engagement and nature of public life in Bangalore.
Pictures courtesy: Tree Trunk