Action 11 – Point of View

Starting from the brief “ignore these prompts and do what you feel is appropriate”, I decided to conclude this semester by the picking up the keyword – Perspectives.

Having engaged with multiple perspectives of my cohort, the perspectives of all the authors and papers we read and those of my faculty – It really intrigued me to explore how ‘point of view/s’ influence our work and how we can use them to generate tools to map user behaviours.

How does point of view/perspectives inform my practice?

I don’t know how to answer this question yet or if this even is the right question to ask. But I did do a small exercise with my family members. I took a basic building block of design – Colour – and asked them to define it using the perspective of another person/object in a simple phrase. The results really pushed me to ponder upon and made me aware to the realities of the others around me.

Action 10 – Unboxing spontaneous making.

I will investigate the interdependence/interconnections of all of my previous actions through the making strategy of sketching to create images.

Have you ever played the join the dots game as a kid? Remember how following the numbered dots with your pencil would magically generate the image of a unicorn, plant or an aeroplane or basically anything in the whole wide world?

I started to think about how as kids these exercises used to be the ultimate creative expression without any expectation of being perfect with our drawings or the burden of achieving a pre-determined solution.

Reimagining that experience – I worked with 12 grids of dots (10X10 each) and experiment with a more intuitive and insightful problem solving process to create new images without thinking. This is my attempt to bypass pre-determined solutions and experiment and play with a childlike quality instead.

I allowed myself to enter a way of working where one form dictated the next in a spontaneous way. I had no predetermined solutions, and started by the simple method of mark making and flowing the lead to generate images from scratch. I came up with 12 distinct images in a span of an hour without putting much thought into the concept, composition and the end result. The low fidelity images can now be used to further built upon and create new visual languages.

Action 9 – Experimental Typography

I wanted to move away a little from my previous explorations and use materials to engage with my basic practice – Graphic design. I picked typography as a sub-branch and decided to use these two material sets to create new type forms –

1. paper and scissors

2. bubble wrap, ink and syringes.

This exploration was a small starting point and made me think about

What materials, apart from the digital medium, can I use to generate legible and usable typeforms?

The first exploration was to create small alphabet puzzles. I picked T and H because they are highly symmetric letterforms and it would be easier to explore the initial idea with them.

The second exploration included some experiments with a wet medium and bubble wrap. I simply mixed some ink in water and used syringes to inject it into the bubble wrap and see if I could generate legible letterforms. Here in the pictures I have tried to create an ‘A’ and a ‘B’. The result was satisfyingly good. I plan to draw out more letters and keep adding them here.

Action 8 – Restoring Old Histories

In her writing, Print Culture and Decolonising the University – Marie Battiste argues that ‘Indigenous Literacy’ has been denigrated by modern social researchers through imperialistic modern education. Her arguments put light on how and why aboriginal languages are being destroyed by Eurocentric philosophies.

We were introduced to this reading in our design dialogues class, and I was particularly impacted by the arguments because I could relate this to the socio-political happenings in my country, India, right now. The hate crimes and the discrimination against the minority Dalit and Muslim communities based on the kind of food they eat, the clothes they wear, and their language have become very prevalent in recent months. And the root cause of all that lies in the fundamental design myth that the article talks about – branding communities as ‘illiterate savages’ who are not capable simply because they do not fit into the modern boundaries of literacy. Another phenomenon to note is that how parents these days stress of getting their kids into an English medium school where the course curriculum is extremely Eurocentric (I was introduced to Shakespeare as a kid before any readings from an Indian author).

This thought coupled with my actions revolving around food so far in the studio, I started to think about how this Eurocentrism has trickled down into our choice of shelter, clothier, education and even food. As a millennial, I know more about western cuisines as compared to the histories of the cuisines from my own motherland. I prefer to cook and eat that over exploring the intricacies of the cuisine that is indigenous to my land.

So to change that, I had a conversation with my mother and she showed me a 30 year old handwritten cookbook where she had documented all the Indian recipes my grandmother had taught her. I was so excited to hold this piece of my family’s culinary history in my hand

As exciting as this was, it also broke my heart to see the condition of the forgotten treasure trove. I wanted to learn and cook every recipe in it. But before doing that, I decided to restore this piece of of our history to a usable condition.

So with Marcia’s guidance and a little YouTubing – I learnt how to do a quick book restoration at home using some simple tools. I started off by arranging all the loose pages in order, pressing them down and lining them up perfectly with each other.

The next step was to simply glue the text block together, repair the leather cover and attach new paper holder to either side of the main cover.

Once the glue work dried, I simply attached the text block to the restored covering and cut up an old piece of clothing to create a new covering for the book.

After the glueing and the covering had set, I presented the final book to my mother who was overjoyed to see the book preserved and in an almost good working condition. This small action gave her the push to explore these old recipes again and got me in touch with a part of my original roots as well.

Action 7 – Fast Food. Fast Packaging.

Why do we buy what we buy?

This question popped up in my mind during my last action. My parents always prefer to buy and eat food that is ‘fresh’, that is, it comes without any external packaging, is natural/organic, and is bought after a thorough inspection from all five senses as illustrated in my last blog. And then there is me – the fast millennial- with the modern grocery store on my fingertips and always basing my decisions on fancy packaging that is very loud and pompous and makes you want to own it. We think about what we are eating later, the first thought usually is ‘ooh it looks so yummy’. So essentially the only sense of ours that fast food engages, before we buy it, is sight – and sometimes smell initially.

What if someone redesigned the experience of buying fast food and make it similar to how my parents engage with buying produce for their slow food? What would that look like and how would it influence what we put in our bodies?

While thinking aloud these things standing in the supermarket, my sister interrupted my thoughts with an irritated comment –

“Why the hell can’t I see what’s this made of exactly!?”

She was referring to packet of ‘organic’ cookies she wanted to buy and wanted to see what was the organic ingredient in them. That gave me an idea. I decided to do a quick exercise. Collect wrappers of common fast food and repackage them to bring to forefront the only information that in my opinion should influence buying practices – ingredients, price and vegetarian/ non vegetarian tag. And I involved people from my class by asking them to share a packet of their most recent/ favourite fast food. I wanted to see if we would still be excited about confusing our favourite brand of chocolate once it was stripped of everything that distracted the consumer and could just see the actual things we were consuming through that particular fast food.

So here are some of the redesigned packages.

Original Packaging No. 1.
Submitted by Charles.
Redesigned Packaging No. 1
Original Packaging No. 2.
Submitted by Jeffery.
Redesigned Packaging No. 2
Original Packaging No. 3
Submitted by Shankar
Redesigned Packaging No. 3
Original Packaging No. 4
Submitted by Elham
Redesigned Packaging No. 4
Original Packaging No. 5
Submitted by Angela
Redesigned Packaging No. 5
Original Packaging No. 6
Submitted by Soumya
Redesigned Packaging No. 6
Original Packaging No. 7
Submitted by Melannie
Redesigned Packaging No. 7

This exercise that I called ‘Fast Packaging’. And I called it that because it is packaging that is to the point. Gives you the information that is probably of utmost importance while buying fast food.

Does this change how we buy our food, if so how?

Does it make us stop for a minute and look beyond our tastebuds?

What would it be like if we were to have a unified system of packaging like this? How would it change the capitalistic approach that has taken over our food shelves?

I tried to remove the clutter from the packaging of fast food. Do you perceive this exercise the the same way? What would it look like if our food was decluttered?

Do you find the marshmallow bag still cute enough to purchase? Or are you more concerned by what goes inside your body when you purchase that?

How would this approach to fast food packaging impact our spending habits?

How would it impact the design industry that thrives off the branding and packaging opportunities from the fast food sector?

This ‘fast’ action really excited to think about how the experience of a shopper in a market is designed and how branding plays a crucial role in shaping our lifestyles and futures. When we see a product branded as ‘organic’ or ‘environment friendly’ – do we actually stop to think and see what exactly makes it so? Fast food is synonymous with volume, pace and price value, not necessarily quality. Slow food is the opposite of fast food. It would be an interesting to investigate how to study and slow down the patterns of human consumption.

Action 6 – Investingating Food, Culture and Entrepreneurship

A morning trip to the market.

Woke up at the crack of dawn (required A LOT OF motivation because I am definitely not a morning person) to go to the fruit and vegetable market with my father. It was something I did a lot as a kid but hadn’t since I had started living by myself. 7 years later, moved back with my folks, admist a pandemic and rediscovered why and how my dad still prefers to buy his produce from local vendors rather than the mutistoried and imported grocery stores.

In India, as opposed to Western cultures, we have the concept of a farmers market literally on the streets and makeshift carts and a very transient physical space. We have a decade old signature bag that is still going strong for bringing the buys of the day home and I am literally jumping with excitement as it is my first trip outside of home in weeks.

Here is a glimpse of the market in action.

Amidst all the action from the traffic, one can clearly hear the loud and enthusiastic voices of the sellers calling out to prospective buyers to check out their produce which is stacked in beautiful baskets and almost sculptural pieces. The vendors focus a lot on making the produce look rich by placing bright colours at the forefront and constantly sprinkle water to keep the fresh look alive. Check out a few of those carts that caught my attention below.

Taking to these vendors and observing how they went about ‘strategising’ their sales made me compare and contrast my experience of shopping for these things online or in a fancy supermarket. This biggest difference – The absence of a personal touch by the seller and the ability to touch, feel, smell and even taste the produce we are out to consume.

It was a truly multisensorial experience. Much different from the indifferent way of shopping online or from stores manned by the corporate hires. The stories of how to pick a certain vegetable, what to look for, how much to buy and especially where the produce came from, often gets lost in the monotonous and straight ailes of the supermarket. While this street market laid it all bare and that too for a subsidized cost!

Watching my Dad engage with the shopkeepers, sometimes forgetting all the pandemic protocols, made me wonder about what about the experience was so attractive or useful that people weren’t even afraid of catching the virus. What pushed this need to be physically present and how might one design this practice in an alternate way to make sure the rules of pandemic ridden world are respected?

In the pictures below you will find buyers engaging with the produce with bare hands, using cash notes as exchange and a lot of plastic packaging. A very problematic scenario, but still a habit that even a worldwide calamity couldn’t change. How do you address this change of habit without disturbing the intrinsic habit/need of the users?

While all these thoughts rallied around in my brain, I saw another inspiring sight. The frugal and ancestral approach to the tools used by the vendors in the era of extreme industrialisation and Eurocentrism. From using basic weights and common kinves, stools and old school mechanical machines to weigh, peel and cut these guys were extremely fast and skilled with their methods. I documented a few of those methods where vendors were innovative enough to use common garage tools to execute their chores effiecitenyly and at minimal cost. I n this day and age of fancy cutting knives, digital wieghts and whirring machines with a huge carbon footprint this seemed to a be a pretty sustainable ecosystem of tools and technology. Do watch the video below if you are reading this!

After internalising all of this content that my morning trip generated I spoke about my ideas to Zach and a few my classmates. There is a rich availability of ‘thought threads’ in these pictures about studying where our food comes from, the daily habits of people who buy, the economic, social and political environment of the functioning of these markets.
So I using the aspects of storyboarding that Zach shared with me I drew out a mind map of the different areas of consideration of this action. I outlined the aspects of time, scenarios, and context of this action. I also jotted down reflective thoughts during the process to find threads to pursue for further investigations.

Action 5 – Transcending the Limits of the Real

Very new to the medium of Video Sketching or Videography in general, but I looked forward to this assignment as it allowed me to think of narratives and make storyboards. Rather confused about what direction to pursue I started by thinking about which Action I had enjoyed so far. The answer was Action 2 – Terroir. I had loved the idea of making someone else experience your identity, preferences and culture through food. Food for me is one medium that can transcend barriers of language and culture and is understood across the world in varied but sometime similar fashion.

My first video is called deconstructing a meal. I am super fascinated about how different individual ingredients come together to create a single dish. Every time I travel and eat something new – I either write about it or sketch it out. During action 2 I had realised how the same base ingredients are treated so differently from culture to culture and tribe to tribe. Food is a complex experience that engages all our five sense – Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch and Taste. I wanted to study the intricacies of how a certain sense interacts with the food we eat by isolating the interaction.

What happens when you ‘deconstruct’ a meal to observe its interaction with a single sense – say sight?

Deconstructing a meal visually.

Proceeding on the same lines my next video was about texture and touch of food. While the meal from the first video was from a fine dine, for the second video I chose a simple Indian street side condiment – Curry Leaf Chutney. I went down to the food stall near my house to get the recipe, collected the ingredients from our garden and stitched the process in a short video. I tried to play with the before and after texture of the individual ingredients.

Memories from the street

The making of these videos got me curious about a lot of things relating to the concept of ‘Terroir’

What is the journey of the individual ingredients on our food?

Where does the food we put on plate come from? What’s the journey?

Where do our culinary traditions come from? And how do they influence our identity?

Is food simply a mode of survival or is it a deciding factor in social and political hierarchies of our world systems?

Action 4 – Step out and Generate

Ecological Literacy – Got me thinking about what is literacy through the lens of Ecology. I first googled the term ‘Ecology’. I mean we all understand the term but I wanted to see what words exactly are used to define the term. Here’s a screenshot

Ah – ‘the relationship between living organisms and their physical environment’. This phrase got me thinking about what is this relationship that humans have or are supposed to have with nature. Is it a mother-offspring relation or a master-slave relation or are they just good friends – Humans and Nature? Who influences whom? and most importantly how and to what extent?
These flurry of questions made me step out to observe this relation. I Live in a co-housimg set up and thought it would be interesting to observe how people interact with and treat the ecology around them.

I thought it would be interesting to step out and observe how people have modeled their living systems around their immediate ecosystem. I live in a co-op and my immediate ecology is extremely choreographed and synchronized. But not in the way nature would do it. I observed how the choreography of nature happened on the front to increase the face value of the human facades. But the scene behind the facades were stark opposite. Nature was discarded with all the other garbage. This made me question how humans treat nature in general.

Some questions I thought of were

Why is nature treated like an ornament that’s discarded after use rather than something we should truly preserve? 

Is this a problem in the context of India or is it a global pattern?

Can sensitizing people towards this problem be a chapter in the defining ‘ecological literacy’?

I clicked a walked around for a good hour and clicked a few more pictures of such opposing scenarios – unkempt ecology and choreographed beauty.

As I was walking around I picked up bits and pieces of the ‘discarded’ nature and decided to explore making a new ecosystem out of those small pieces. My eureka moment was to make a light bulb terrarium and try and generate life out of the natural objects I found lying around. I got really fascinated with how this we can create a mini amlost sel sustaining ecosystem out of ‘waste’. I began thinking about how interesting it would be to scale up this concept. I imagined a world where everyone starts making these ecosystems at home and use it as a tool to learn and observe how these systems work. Here’s a little attempt of my light bulb terrarium.

It was my first ever attempt and got a bit messy. But I am onto making many more and see them thrive and grow for now. The interesting takeaway is how you can recyce discarded soil, fallen flower seeds, twigs, pebbles and a little spray of water.

Action 3 – Extending and Seeking

For Action 3 I chose to go with Ecological Literacy from the Stretch Lexicon.
As I was in quarantine due to a neighbour being tested with COVID at the time of the assignment I did not have the access to go out and explore much. So I did the second best thing which was to go sit in our little balcony garden where my parents have grown a plethora of wild herbs, flowering plants and a lot of pigeons visit often for a cool drink of water.

Having cooped up myself inside my room all these months juggling work and studies this was the first time in a while that I had sat ‘outside’ of my screen. Usually that’s the space my parents occupy for their morning and evening tea. This time around they found me lurking around with a camera and my sketchbook. Needless to say they were pretty surprised to see me out and about for once.

I decided to use this time simply for a meditative hour were I just sat and observed what was going on with each plant. What creatures visited them, those who even lived in the soil, the way each plant differently reacted to the wind and how well domesticated they were. At this point I couldn’t help but think about how different they looked from the nature we see when we actually go outside. The domesticated face of nature was pretty and well kept but so selective. Almost classist. Like I know my mom would never bring a plant that did not go with the decor or served a purpose in the kitchen.

As I sat there sketching the flora around me I started at a micro level observing the imperfections and textures. My parents were really intrigued and curious as I told them about the assignment and tried to contribute to it in their own little way. They talked to me about why they enjoy spending time here especially in the mornings and tried to direct my sketching by placing the pots at different angles. It was a relief to finally have a discussion with someone that was not centred around what news channels and social media has been feeding us all this while.

Wrapping up my sketches I went back to screen and just digitally altered a few of my drawings to see the juxtaposition of natural colours and forms on digital colours. This was me just getting back into my comfort zone. While doing this I became conscious of our need to make our work look pretty. The commercial designer in me has really limited my creative potential and ability to stretch out of the box. Have we become so ingrained in selling good work that we end up ignoring the exploration and reflection part of our process?

On this note I thought to myself how political, social and cultural jargon has taken over our lives completely and cut us off from our root – nature. We rarely talk about design or art or anything in the context of ecology anymore. How do we start altering design to shift from this existing paradigm of information overload? How do we go away from creating work meant to please clients and create work that actually contributes to the world in a meaningful way?

Action 2 – Terroir

I am believe strongly in the saying – You are what you eat. There are several contexts to the way this  is perceived. The proverbial notion is that you need to eat good food to be healthy. Some believe that it has a religious root rather than a dietary logic (It is said that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are changed into the body and blood of Jesus). However the earliest known origin of the modern day proverb is known to be the words of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the famous French lawyer also known as an epicure – “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are”

What, in my understanding, he was referring to was a larger lens of looking at the relationship between man and the food they eat. For the Action 2 – Terroir – I have illustrated for April a recipe for ‘Kheer’. It is a sweet rice pudding, versions of which are traditionally made on important festivals across the Indian subcontinent. The primary reason I saw this as a fitting offering was that the base ingredients are common across both our cultures. Rice, for example, is a staple in China. My diagram captures the simple process of making the pudding along with illustrating through colours the texture of the sensory experience that I have while making it in my kitchen. 

This is a dessert I grew up on and was the first thing I learnt to make when I moved out of my parents house. Apart from the obvious memories the aroma and the taste provide comfort along with the much needed sugar kick at times. The relationship that I share with Kheer is dynamic – it reminds me of home during stressful times and is also reminds me of one of my first triumphs at being independent. 

April’s offering to me was actually a very familiar dish that made me nostalgic about my undergraduate days. Egg Fried Rice is a dish which is often whipped up as a quick snack in many Indian dorm rooms. I was excited to see if the recipe matched the version I had been making for so long. Well, it didn’t! It was much more simpler and had more technique than what we did here. I made the dish in the general cacophony of my home kitchen and had little time to enjoy it fully. But I did notice the distinct flavour and it reminded me of my trip to China. Being an Indian, we have a very different perception of Chinese food. But this offering took me back to the memories of the authentic flavours and made me realise how cultures, traditions and even flavours change drastically when they travel through timezones and generations.