Social Design: A Dialogic Public Art Practice

A trailblazer in social design, the artist duo Revue discusses how sharing space and objects in a public art project could lead to daily conflict resolution within participating communities.

LILA: Social design has played a central role in most of your projects, such as the mapping exercise for Khirki. What is social design, and how does it help enhance a public art practice such as yours?

Revue: Social design is a very large concept which includes graphic design, product design, architecture and many other forms of design, created though interaction and collaboration with the stakeholders. In our practice we primarily use graphic design as a tool to interact with the people in the community. We use several print forms to facilitate dialogue between the artists, collaborators and community or locality. Depending upon the content and idea we select the forms which could be a newspaper or sticker or poster or even map making. We had also used hoarding as form of conversation in the past as well. This is an on-going process where interactions happen through constant to and fro movement of ideas through these media forms.

LILA: In both Networks and Neighbourhoods and Axial Margins, the aim was to build social cohesion in completely different contexts. Based on your experience, how significant is the practice of art in being able to nurture and build such social bonds?  

Revue: In both the cases through collective artistic practices a sense of belonging emerged in the groups. The sustained engagements though creative processes (wall paintings, collective research, map making, creative productions and other practices) within the groups created the possibility of opening up, delve into their prejudices and build upon the mutual dependencies.

In the case of Axial Margins constant creative activity and sharing space and objects creates space for reconciliation in their day to day conflicts.

LILA: Public art also brings up the question of public ownership and representation. How do you ensure equitable participation and representation in such an exercise? Could you share some insights about your methodology?

Revue: Ownership and representation is exercised through proper credit structure and transparency. Every collaborator in the projects is duly credited as per the capacity they are collaborating. In the case of Axial Margins, the collaborators are addressed as artists. Their works are credited to them only, mostly individually or collective if there is any collective endeavour.

For Mobile Mohalla a group is formed by the name of Khirkee Collective, most of the works are attributed to that group, but if there is any individual work, say text, photograph or drawing that is credited individually. Revue is represented as project facilitator in both the cases and also credits both of us individually depending upon our inputs.

LILA: From Axial Margins, are there any insights you can share with us on the difference between creating for sustenance (as they did with diapers) and creating for expression? How important does it become to graduate to the second type of creation, not just in terms of community bonding, but also personal growth?

Revue: We don’t essentially see any logical growth path while moving from diaper making to painting. Diaper making was more like an ice breaking exercise to build the group. It gave the ladies a tangible product that convinced them to sit and work. It triggered the creative impulses. Then we moved to other activities and paintings. We understand that painting urges and abilities were already there in the ladies as we didn’t train them or there was no such learning curve. Once they are settled with their routine activities we discussed the possibility of painting. The idea of painting was not a pre-planned activity that we wanted to arrive. It emerged out of possibility emerged through discussions.

LILA: Do you also see these works in the public space also as an archive for the space they occupy and the people they represent?

Revue: Sure, we had been working around the idea of living archive for some time now, that we have specifically mentioned in our project Museum of Food. Even both the projects Mobile Mohalla and Axial Margins has significant aspect of archive embedded in them. In Axial Margins the paintings of the surroundings act as archives of Meena Bazar and its socio-cultural environment. Specifically, once the vibrant market is demolished and removed, these paintings work much as archival materials for that space. In Mobile Mohalla we had been curating an archive around the life and journeys of the women in the locality of Khirki and Huaz Rani. We are presently working around the idea of temporary archives at the site of research collaborators as a part of our ongoing series of site specific community activities in Khirki and Hauz Rani.

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