The Answer Is Blowing In The Typhoon?

The third Urban Typhoon workshop was recently organized in Khirkee Village, New Delhi. Khirkee used to be peri-urban village on the South of Delhi, but in the last decades the expanding city has engulfed the village and a big shopping mall and planned housing development sit right next to the village. The workshop, jointly organized by URBZ and Khoj, invited…

“…artists, architects, activists and academics from all over the world to ideate with residents, grassroots groups and other users of Khirkee Village, New Delhi. The event aims at reclaiming the locality by collectively generating multiple ideas, visions and plans for its future.”

But according to a WSJ reporter (which interestingly is the only available media report on the workshop):

“on Monday, local residents were supposed to come in to discuss the road and other topics. But they didn’t come… Several folks in the neighborhood said they were unaware of the workshop or what it was trying to do.”

Now what is surprising is the ‘resistance’ to the workshop from the local residents, as seen by this reporter, is not documented by the blog entries of the participants. This mismatch (lack of reflexivity?) is disturbing. Creating participation is one of the biggest challenges in such situations and the organizers were clearly aware of it, as they mention in pre-workshop notes:

“The workshop doesn’t offer a formula for participation. The equation with “the community” has to be invented by all participants individually and collectively. This is where creativity is most needed. The “community” may not exist before we create it in some way and it is often invoked most concretely only in a collective process.”

As the organizers upload the final reports of the workshop, one cannot but not wonder about the point of organising such 7-day media-stormtrooper invasions. I especially feel concerned about the forms of ‘community’ that such hurriedly-researched and hurriedly-executed urban art explorations create. The absurd shortness of the intervention period not only make it very difficult for the participants to ‘create’ a sense of ‘community’, but also the residents of the area tend to see the entire exercise as a frivolous one — more of a circus than an intervention. Now the question is: can a circus also be an intervention?

Maybe yes, but not when the circus stays in the town for only seven days, and talks in an unfamiliar language – oral and visual (see the final day poster below) — and comes up with new, insightful (?) suggestions such as “the road and water issues can only be addressed by a coming together of the residents”. As a last thought, is urban typhoon a good metaphor for creative intervention in urban situations, or does it carry a sense of insensitivity towards the context?