"TIMES OF HANDS – COVID GLOSSARY" – 04./05.06, 2-5pm (cet) – Interview with Prasad Shetty

“The pandemic made the digital, a home and the physical, a prison”

Photocredit: SEA

Ahead of the exhibition “Hands” (opening on 2nd of July, curated by Ala Younis und Madhusree Dutta) Cologne based Akademie der Künste der Welt is hosting a three event symposium dedicated to “Times of Hands”. 
The second symposium is happening upcoming weekend on 4th and 5th of June (2-5pm, cet) in Mumbai, co-hosted by Prasad Shetty – you can participate via Zoom. The next online symposiums gonna happen on 11th and 12th of June (“Gamification vs. Play).

Thomas Venker and Prasad Shetty, the curator of “TIMES OF HANDS – COVID GLOSSARY”, exchanged some questions and answers. 


Prasad Shetty

PRASAD, how did the idea for “COVID GLOSSARY“ TAKE SHAPE?

Prasad Shetty: The difficulty of making sense of the contemporary is that one is within it and trapped within one’s own pixel. The pandemic makes this condition most apparent with all of us being trapped within our houses. The only way to make sense of the times would be then to talk to others about their pixels and try to construct a narrative from there. The glossary form allows one to do exactly this – it puts together multiple stories of the pixels. One can go through a few pixels and construct a larger story. Someone else can go through other pixels and construct a completely different narrative. So while the glossary preserves the integrity of each pixel, it allows for multiple readings and narratives to access the contemporary. The idea of the glossary is a methodological exploration to engage with the times and make sense of it – recognizing fully that there may be multiple contradictory dimensions of this.

You invited a wide range of contributors to the symposia: JEEBESH BAGCHI SOLOMON BENJAMIN VASTAVIKTA BHAGAT MARIALAURA GHIDINI RUPALI GUPTE JAHNAVI PHALKEY MAMTA SAGAR SHVETA SARDA PRASAD SHETTY ABDOUMALIQ SIMONE. Are you able to take us by the hand and share your thoughts behind the roster of the people invited to participate and the topics placed by that?

The people invited for the symposium do different things – they are urbanists, artists, poets, storytellers, curators, translators, etc. – and they also interchange roles depending on where they are. They are able to talk about the contemporary through many languages and many dimensions. All of them have been struggling through the micro, meso, macro and meta narratives in their practices – trying to make sense of the world through its contradictions. We admire the works of all and have had long conversations with many of them, sharing stories with them. In the symposium, they will respond to the Glossary through their works, practices and spaces.

What is your personal experience regards the pandemic when it comes to aspects like lockdown, home working, social distance and cultural distance? What did you miss most? What are your personal and structural derivatives?

I went through the virus myself. It has hopefully exited my body now but perhaps will take much more time to exit the mind. The mechanism of perception in humans seemed like they were reduced to two senses – the eyes and the ears – but one received only digitally mediated images and sounds. The virus really affected taste and smell… along with touch. I miss the smell, taste and touch of the city. On the other hand, the pandemic has reconfigured spatio-temporal frames for humanity; it has made the digital, a home and the physical, a prison. I think many of the institutional forms that were consolidated through modernity came under interrogation (universities, community spaces, offices, government organisations, etc.). However, I think friendship based solidarities strengthened and compassions expanded.

You studied Urban Culture in Mumbai and Architecture in Rotterdam and teach at the School of Environment and Architecture (SEA) and work with the Mumbai Metropolitan Region on Environment Improvement and Heritage Conservation Society – I mentioned this as I am curious to hear your thoughts on the different short time and long time effects you see the pandemic will have on the cultural biotops both in Europe and in Asia.

I think the cultural biotops (and spatiality related to them) of Europe and Asia (particularly India) are significantly different. For example, in the big cities of India, large numbers of households (with about 4 to 6 persons in each) live within a dwelling unit that is just a single room. Here the idea of the home is not really the house. A lot of life happens outside the house – on the street, on street nodes, at work places, in public spaces, etc. The houses are usually places to keep one’s belongings and sleep. So when the lockdown happened, the idea of home as beyond a house collapsed. And the containment of the home created its own problems. I believe that Europe did not have this kind of a problem. The home and house are largely the same in Europe.
With many financial, commercial and service sector activities getting worked on digital platforms, it appears that ‘office’ space would be rendered useless across the world. Moreover, a logistical efficiency seems to have been achieved in many sectors which may continue. This means, a lot of ‘office’ space around the world may get retrofitted into residential spaces or cultural spaces. Large numbers of cities in Europe that run on finance and commerce are under threat of a spatial crisis and may aggressively require alternative economic possibilities. Asian cities have a mixed economy, but may see an intensification of culture industries with small but specialised activities.

Do you have the feeling that the pandemic will have a negative or positive effect over all on us as a global community? Why so?

Events such as pandemics change societies. I guess the fundamental nuts and bolts of the modern society – its institutions – cracked (and reassembled in some places). There has been many reconfigurations – spatio-temporal reconfigurations (today the world is getting used to universal time and geographical distances do not seem to matter); sensorial reconfigurations (as explained above how we are getting reduced into beings with only two senses – the sense of sight and the sense of hearing); and institutional configurations (smaller solidarities, social media groups, etc. seem to be performing better than large state institutions; there is surely a rise of autodidacts enabled by the digital learning sources, etc. rendering universities irrelevant).

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