Bangalore / New York City

Encoded textures

An interactive installation based on handloom weavers in Bangalore. Conceptualized at Srishti Institute.

Encoded texture

An interactive installation

Image:  A sample of a punch card and our inspiration for the project.

Image: A sample of a punch card and our inspiration for the project.

 
 

About the handloom industry in Bangalore, India

As the handloom industry in Kamakshi Layout, Bangalore, Karnataka nears its closure, it is the art of weaving itself that is getting lost. Stories that are transferred through generations are perhaps the best medium to keep an art alive, and that is what we aimed to do through this project.

Inspiration

We spent four months researching on the weaving community of Bangalore and decided to create an installation as a medium to pass the stories of the weavers to the audience that has largely remained immune to these stories and has been reduced to mere consumers of the products that the weavers produce. Inspiration came from a project called Genocarta where the entire genomic sequence of a mitochondria was weaved on a scarf to make the understanding of the genome easier and the visualisation simpler.

 
Image on top (from right to left) : A handloom saree in progress; punch card attached to the hand-loom; punch-card attached to a power-loom; a weaver using a power-loom.  Image above : a weaver at his studio weaving a saree.

Image on top (from right to left): A handloom saree in progress; punch card attached to the hand-loom; punch-card attached to a power-loom; a weaver using a power-loom. Image above: a weaver at his studio weaving a saree.

Image above: an orange hand-loom saree with green border in progress.

 

Brainstorming & Fieldwork

For our project, various ideas were discussed (image below) such as using sound from a musical instrument to store it on a punched card, visualising sound created by the looms, using thermo-chromic ink to encode stories on fabrics etc. During the early phases of our research, Janaki Nair’s ‘Promise of the metropolis’ formed the basis of our exploration of Bangalore. We then began visiting the weavers’ colony as a group and interacting with the weavers and their families. We prepared a basic questionnaire each time we planned a visit but made sure to let the conversation take its own course. Since the group did not consist of any Kannada speaking member, we convinced the daughter of one of the weavers to translate the conversation for us.

If textiles could speak...then what will we hear?

The idea was to bring to life the stories of the handloom weavers in a medium that is their own and to create the entire experience of sharing the space that the weavers inhabit. As computer operated systems replace traditional handloom practices and resentment of weavers towards these mechanised systems grows, this project was an attempt to use this very shift in technology to tell the story of the weavers and their art. This installation, which explored principles of physical interaction design for storytelling, was an interactive sensory experience that called for attention. We decided to use an old bungalow as our installation space instead of a traditional gallery to create a more intimate feeling of coexistence. 

Early Prototype

After our preliminary field research we had with us a huge database of pictures, videos, and interview notes. We then started working towards developing an understanding of the working of the Jacquard loom and how it lead to the emergence of modern computing system. We focused our attention on interpreting the punched cards- how they are made, how information is encoded on them, and how this knowledge can be extrapolated to encode other forms of data. Within a few weeks we had built a working prototype of a punched card reader which could read the hexadecimal characters stored on the cards. We had a clear understanding of how information was stored in the form of binary data on different types of punched cards and we began working on an algorithm for storing musical notes on the cards.

After working on the idea for a few weeks we discarded it for certain shortcomings that we saw in the execution. We then began a fresh round of research to look for other ways of telling the story that we wanted to tell. We decided to use the sound pieces we collected from the weavers’ colony to recreate the same environment within our installation space. Our next round of prototyping involved using motion sensors, Arduino, and Processing to create an interactive space.

The final display

The installation consisted of saris forming hanging from the ceiling. Each sari was encoded with audio which could only be heard when a person was present in the space enclosed by the saris. The audience could move around the room and as they examined the saris the space came alive through the noise of the handlooms and the power looms and the narratives of the weavers. The noise of the looms became louder and the experience became more immersive as the number of people in the room increased, finally taking the form of commotion heard in the weavers’ colony.

The installation became a metaphor for the changes that the weaving industry in Bangalore has undergone over time. The plethora of intricate hand woven patterns that once adorned the saris have now been replaced with mass produced simple patterns produced on the power-loom. While the shift from the handlooms to the power-looms was evident through the sound in the room, the patterns being projected on a book in the centre of the installation was symbolic of the loss of the weaver’s art. ‘Encoded Textures’ was meant to make the audience question how technological changes affect the society. The Jacquard which originally led to the emergence of the modern computing system is now itself being controlled by computers. 

 
Proximity to the fabrics triggers sounds recorded from the weaving studios. The longer the viewer stands, the louder the sound gets.

Proximity to the fabrics triggers sounds recorded from the weaving studios. The longer the viewer stands, the louder the sound gets.

A visitor admiring the fabric.

A visitor admiring the fabric.

Shrankhla explaining the installation.

Shrankhla explaining the installation.

 
 

Team, LInks & exhibition date:

Paulami Roychoudhury, Kshitij Vyas, Suzanna Rai, Shrankhla Narya | Mentor: Abhiyan Humane & Swati Maskeri | Blog link + documentation available here | Exhibited on: Dec 2013