India

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Design History Photography

Journalist Spends Four Years Traversing India to Document Crumbling Subterranean Stepwells Before they Disappear

August 31, 2015

Christopher Jobson

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Across India an entire category of architecture is slowly crumbling into obscurity, and you’ve probably never even heard it. Such was the case 30 years ago when Chicago journalist Victoria Lautman made her first trip to the country and discovered the impressive structures called stepwells. Like gates to the underworld, the massive subterranean temples were designed as a primary way to access the water table in regions where the climate vacillates between swelteringly dry during most months, with a few weeks of torrential monsoons in the spring.

Thousands of stepwells were built in India starting around the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D. where they first appeared as rudimentary trenches but slowly evolved into much more elaborate feats of engineering and art. By the 11th century some stepwells were commissioned by wealthy or powerful philanthropists (almost a fourth of whom were female) as monumental tributes that would last for eternity. Lautman shares with Arch Daily about the ingenious construction of the giant wells that plunge into the ground up to 10 stories deep:

Construction of stepwells involved not just the sinking of a typical deep cylinder from which water could be hauled, but the careful placement of an adjacent, stone-lined “trench” that, once a long staircase and side ledges were embedded, allowed access to the ever-fluctuating water level which flowed through an opening in the well cylinder. In dry seasons, every step—which could number over a hundred—had to be negotiated to reach the bottom story. But during rainy seasons, a parallel function kicked in and the trench transformed into a large cistern, filling to capacity and submerging the steps sometimes to the surface. This ingenious system for water preservation continued for a millennium.

Because of an increasing drop in India’s water table due to unregulated pumping, most of the wells have long since dried up and are now almost completely neglected. While some stepwells near areas of heavy tourism are well maintained, most are used as garbage dumping grounds and are overgrown with wildlife or caved in completely. Many have fallen completely off the map.

Inspired by an urgency to document the wells before they disappear, Lautman has traveled to India numerous times in the last few years and taken upon herself to locate 120 structures across 7 states. She’s currently seeking a publisher to help bring her discoveries and photographs to a larger audience, and also offers stepwell lectures to architects and universities. If you’re interested, get in touch.

You can read a more comprehensive account of stepwells by Lautman on Arch Daily.

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Art

An Ornate Truck Spot-Welded from Thousands of Reflective Steel Disks by Valay Shende

March 10, 2015

Christopher Jobson

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Transit is a 2010 sculpture by Mumbai-based artist Valay Shende depicting a life-size work truck that carries figures of 22 people. Created over a period of 18 months, the piece was constructed from thousands of reflective stainless steel disks that have been individually spot welded together. Shende conceived of Transit as commentary on a dramatic rash of farmer sucides in India over the last decade. The truck’s rearview mirrors display video footage of roadways in London, Mumbai and Dubai, as if the vehicle is moving from the perspective of the driver’s seat but in reality it remains stationary. Transit is currently on view at the Mumbai City Museum, and you can read more about it on Indian Express. Images courtesy Sakshi Gallery. (via Jeremy Mayer)

 

 



Art

A Perpetual Whirlpool of Black Water Installed in a Gallery Floor by Anish Kapoor

February 10, 2015

Johnny Waldman

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Anish Kapoor. “Descension” (2014) ©Anish Kapoor 2015

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“If one is talking about sculpture then scale and skin is everything,” declared Anish Kapoor. He was speaking from India, the birthplace of the acclaimed sculptor, where his latest installation was part of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The skin of the object is what defines it, he goes on to explain, while scale creates a certain mystery around the object. Kapoor’s latest work, Descension, has both of these elements.

Unexpectedly set into the gallery floor is a large, seemingly endless hole. In it, a vortex of black water perpetually froths and churns. The whirlpool alters the form, or skin, of the water creating a fury of liquid that invades the walls of the gallery. Descension was on view in a corner room at the Aspinwall House in Fort Kochi, a meaningful location because the room opens to views of a peaceful sea that creates a striking contrast to the powerful whirling vortex. (via Designboom)

 

 



Amazing Science

Since the 1970s a Man Has Been Planting a Forest Larger than Central Park, One Tree at a Time

July 16, 2014

Christopher Jobson

Nestled in Northeast India next to the Brahmaputra River sits Majuli Island, a giant sandbar that happens to be the largest river island on Earth, home to some 150,000 people. It is also the location of the 1,360 acre Molai Forest, one of the most unusual woodlands in the world for the incredible fact that it was planted by a single man. Since 1979, forestry worker Jadav Payeng has dedicated his life to planting trees on the island, creating a forest that has surpassed the scale of New York’s Central Park.

While home to such a large population, rapidly increasing erosion over the last 100 years has reduced the land mass of Majuli Island to less than half. Spurred by the dire situation, Payeng transformed himself into a modern day Johnny Appleseed and singlehandedly planted thousands upon thousands of plants, including 300 hectares of bamboo.

Payeng’s work has been credited with significantly fortifying the island, while providing a habitat for several endangered animals which have returned to the area; a herd of nearly 100 elephants (which has now given birth to an additional ten), Bengal tigers, and a species of vulture that hasn’t been seen on the island in over 40 years. Gives you more than a little hope for the world, doesn’t it?

Filmmaker William Douglas McMaster recently wrote and directed this beautiful documentary short titled Forest Man from the perspective of Payeng’s friend, photographer Jitu Kalita. The project was funded in part last year through Kickstarter. The video is a bit longer than what we usually see here on Colossal, but completely worth your time. (via Gizmodo)

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Art

A Sprawling Mud Mural by Yusuke Asai Brings Art Into Classrooms in India

May 30, 2014

Johnny Waldman

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“Earth Painting: Blessing Dance” 2011, 11 kinds of soils, cow dung, ash of straw, water, straw. Photo by Kenji Mimura

The Wall Art Project is a non-profit organization based in Tokyo who organizes Wall Art Festival (WAF), an initiative to bring art into schools in places like India and Tibet. The Japanese artist Yusuke Asai, who paints with basically anything he can get his hands on (tape, pens, leaves, dust and mud…) was asked to travel to the Niranjana School in Bihar (east India) to create a mural on the walls of a classroom.

You can only imagine the surprise when Asai unveiled a sprawling, immersive mural titled “Earth Painting; The Forest of Vows.” To create the piece, Asai sourced only locally available materials which included 7 different types of soil, cow dung, water and straw. Unfortunately the installation wasn’t permanent and was washed away after several months, but we do have these photos to document the art. (syndicated from Spoon & Tamago)

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“Earth Painting: Blessing Dance” 2011, 11 kinds of soils, cow dung, ash of straw, water, straw. Photo by Kenji Mimura

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“Earth Painting: Blessing Dance” 2011, 11 kinds of soils, cow dung, ash of straw, water, straw. Photo by Kenji Mimura

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“Earth Painting: Stories of YAOYOROZU” 2012, 13 kinds of soils, water, ash of straw. Photo by Kenji Mimura

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“Earth Painting: Stories of YAOYOROZU” 2012, 13 kinds of soils, water, ash of straw. Photo by Kenji Mimura

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left: “Earth Painting: Blessing Dance” 2011. Photo by Kenji Mimura | right: “Earth Painting; The Forest of Vows” 2010. Photo by Junai Nakagawa

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“Earth Painting: Stories of YAOYOROZU” 2012, 13 kinds of soils, water, ash of straw. Photo by Kenji Mimura

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“Earth Painting; The Forest of Vows” 2010, 7 kinds of soils, cow dung, water, straw. Photo by Junai Nakagawa

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“Earth Painting: Stories of YAOYOROZU” 2012, 13 kinds of soils, water, ash of straw. Photo by Kenji Mimura

 

 



Documentary Music

Take a Death-Defying Ride Alongside India's Well of Death Riders

October 3, 2013

Christopher Jobson

This fantastic bit of filmmaking blends music video and documentary in a new clip for British rock group Django Django’s 2010 track WOR. The subjects of the video are Allahabad’s Well of Death riders who risk life and limb daily to earn money at local melas (fairs) by driving cars and motorcycles inside a temporary cylindrical structure about 25 feet high and 30 feet across. The cars are held in the air by centripetal force and needless to say there’s very little room for error. The Well of Death is extremely risky for both performers and audience members, but regardless, it frequently draws a huge crowd as evidenced in this video. Directed by Jim Demuth, based on an original concept by Vincent Neff. More music video documentaries, please. (via Vimeo)

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