An investigation into public space, body and gender at Shiva-ji Nagaara bus station, carried out the 22nd of January
What space do we want public space to be?
How to shape and initiate new relations to what is already there? How to transform, what is already there?
And what about the invisible space, the unsaid, the undone, the silenced space or the not yet invented
What are different presences of a body in public space? What communication (or non-communication) is visible in the body? What limits, borderlines and concepts revealed by how we relate physically to the space, to each other?
Shiva-ji Nagaara: the bus stop- on the process of creating a score for an intervention
A place of transition, a spot for transporting yourself from somewhere to somewhere. A place where both woman and men are present. People pass through, some seem to be in a slight hurry, others wait and install themselves to wait for long time. The space is, structured by its function of buses coming and going, clear lines of platforms and lanes in the middle. Structured by habits that we developed for this kind of places. A melting spot, of different people’s way crossing.
The order of the space, the unspoken and spoken rules of how to use this place are clearly visible. Different for woman and men.
The process of creating a set of actions:
We explored Shivanajagar along following questions. The focus was on body and physical presence as the tool for observation as well as the object for observation and experience.
- How is space distributed in this location, observe and move within the pattern of space. What are patterns of man, of woman? What happens if you step out of the pattern, introduce for example another distance, another place to stand?
- How are men moving in this location? How are woman moving in this location? Copy physical positions, ways of walking of both woman and man. Try to understand through embodiment.
- What signs of unexpressed movement can you see
in people’s bodies? Study small physical impulses, and try to imagine the hidden movement, what would this movement be as it is expresses?
Observations after the exercises:
One very clear observation shared by everyone was, that man’s body often tended to be very lose and comfortable, swinging the arms loosely and taking up space actually, while thy experienced the woman’s body as more restrained and tension in
shoulders and sternum.
To break the pattern of space and place yourself in spaces, where for example a woman usually would not sit, or in a closer distance to s.o. was experienced as difficult to do, and not easy to feel comfortable while doing it. It brought to awareness the prevailing pattern of space.
Outline for actions, to be tried out on Thursday 22nd of January
We had 2 hours to research on site. Upon those experiences, a score for action for this space emerged. It was thought as a first draft to test actions, reactions and their potential. It was tried in the afternoon. About 8 girls were performing it, others engaged in documenting the event and reactions to it as well as engaging in conversations with people around. The tasks are forwarded to the participating group by SMS.
Part of the score was for example:
1. Welcome. Find out what the word woman is in any other language from people around you. Come back to the starting point when you are done and share the word.
2. In the subway tunnel: hand out pens and pencils and ask people to write down what they hear, see, smell. Other questions for a space of offering a reflection were going to be developed later.
3. Go to the spot of separate inside and outside “fence” mirror what people on the other side do, final action: show a mirror.
4. Shake your body, a group of at least 8 people, collectively in a visible spot.
5. Clean the benches and invite somebody to sit there, start a conversation.
6. Share a glass of water
7. Ask a man of the favorite place of his mother, sister, wife and which bus would take you there, invite him to show you the bus-stop, offer that you will close your eyes for him to take you there.
Some experiences as we did it:
The shaking was experienced as a kind of liberation by some of the girls, and took on wild forms. People watching started to smile,
Somehow I felt it as a collective relief, that some could watch others doing something that is restricted, and kept under the surface, as a silenced need.
Even the cops, first wanting to interrupt the action, started to laugh at the end and be witnesses of girls dancing madly and shaking the body at the bus stop.
One man commented: Usually it is man teasing woman, now it’s the girls teasing man.
Sumona, one of the students, describes her experience of part of the actions here (full length on Srishti students blog).
“We went back to subway. At this point we had caught the attention of the sweeper woman who told us that no man would dare to touch her, as she would beat him with her broom. She and her friends stood by and watched our next action. We formed a circle and hit a note together, gathering all the energy we could from the sound and ran full speed down the subway, up the ramp and burst onto the platform. We ran to the middle of the station and all eight of us jumped and shook ourselves- it was quite a sight and quite a feeling! A policeman came and blew his whistle but he just started laughing so we didn’t stop. We thought we would anger a few people through this action but it was very joyful and everyone who watched us had a smile on their face- especially the old women and the kids. One young man was asked why he thought we were doing this. He actually said he thought it was our way of retaliating against what men do to women.
Armed with a rag, some Colin and a glass of water we each occupied one bench along the length of a
platform. First we scrubbed and cleaned the bench. A lot of us were incredibly uncomfortable with this. I remembered the sweeper women while doing this. A lady told Mrinalini that she was too beautiful too be cleaning benches. This action catalyzed a lot of discussions about caste and colour between the public and us. Most people were pleasantly surprised. We then went up to random men in the station and asked them if they wanted a glass of water. We thought this might be a good gesture to begin with but were surprised to find that no one accepted. We the asked them a set of questions “think of one important woman in your life (everyone thought of their mother!). What is her favourite place in Bangalore? Which bus goes there? Can you take me to the bus? I will close my eyes.”
Sayantani met a policeman who agreed to accompany her but asked her to keep her eyes open. Swati was very surprised to find how carefully the man she met took her to the bus. A man who didn’t know where he was going himself led Urmila and they had a long conversation about the relationship between men and women in public spaces. The reaction I got from the man I approached was ” please don’t ask me to take you. The bus is right here!” I found at first that I was only willing to ask one kind of man- someone closer to my class perhaps, someone who was not clearly religious etc. but I pushed my self to step out of my boundaries.”
Video and photo cameras were present around the event almost all the time through, and they added to the perception and development of the interaction in the bus station. As well as woman, clearly spotted as foreigners, added to the interpretations and reactions. It would be interesting to see the difference, if Indian girls only carried it out.
Observation on movement related to the action:
It seemed to me that movement in some of the actions, as for example the shaking, was formulating the invisible. It became a catalyst for the unspoken desire, the undone dream, performed in public space, thus releasing a collective energy and zooming in on the relation of a larger public to a specific issue. A next step could be to make passer byes or a wider audience engages in the movement itself, thus offering them not to be only a witness, but participant.
Other movement was copying daily action but done by different people or in different place.
(As for example the cleaning of the benches). As well, it functioned as a strong catalyst for reactions and dialogue, and introduces other patterns than the prevailing ones in the public space.
Different angles on potentials and questions following this exercise:
• What would this actions need, to become a social practice?
How to shape actions that channel a need of doing something for people? What can be strategies to root it in daily life?
• The actions as a potential to trigger dialogue- the actual intervention is the trigger for a larger dialogue to happen, how to take care of that dialogue.
• Develop these actions so they provide an experience for the participant- what if the action turn to be invisible, but create a strong experience and questioning for the one doing it?
• …To be continued