Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Many many images. A lot on flickr.
Call to prayer outside my hotel before the sun. Then another. A swim in a pool with no right angles that I could see, other than the tiles. 40m? something unexpected after a thousands of 25m/25ft laps.

About Getting There
A cab ride to the IIT, (India Institute of Technology), inching along with the traffic around the perimeter road. Horns honking continuously from all directions, and all sorts of vehicles. A 3k trip (I thought I could walk it: it’s good I didn’t.) locked in a chain with buses, trucks: auto-rickshaws and motorcycles weaving boldly in and out of any perceived hesitation or gap. A few pedestrians (a woman in a sari, a young very slender man in work clothes) crossing in front/behind my cab. Lots of horns. And the part that made me laugh (beyond just the hilarious blend of sounds) was that the horns clearly weren’t signaling for anyone to watch out, or to gain any ground. It seemed more just habit, like taking your shoes off before entering a temple, or nodding to a stranger. My driver laughed too.

We turned off into the gates of the Institute and stopped at the security checkpoint. The guard wanted to know if I had with me any electronics—camera… (he gestured “and so forth”). I presented my Leica but that didn’t interest him. I have no idea why: either his interest or his lack of interest. He was so pleasant about this exchange. That too delighted me. (Tight security at the hotel as well: sniffing dogs, and guards opening doors and peering under the hood at the entry gate, bags run through a screener, and the wand scan (women have a discreet curtained area just inside the first set of doors).

At the introductory session, our host cited the chaos of Mumbai. I don't really see the chaos but I have the very rare position of not needing to, really, be anywhere or do anything. What for locals can be chaotic and difficult is to me today fascinating, unique, and hilarious. Will I feel this way tomorrow? After a week? Like that pool where I thought I was swimming straight ahead but with the undulating outer walls, and the patterns on the tile bottom, I ended up someplace different at the end of every lap. It entertainment: sitting in traffic and watching and listening.

About the Conference
Lovely. Relaxed. Inspired. Kind. Warm. Inspiring. Did I say “lovely”? My students can tell you if I use that word too much. But honestly, the people I’ve met have been generous and open and the presenters have been, by and large, inspired and inspiring.

The name of the conference—Designing For Children—led me to expect primarily the point of view of doing something FOR children. Designing projects, or spaces, or tools. None of the presentations took this point of view. With one exception (not surprisingly, from Sesame Street India) each presentation showed some aspect of co-construction. Without exception, each presenter demonstrated some aspect of the enormous power children display: for narrative; for drawing as a highly flexible tool (for imagination, communication, illustration); for a desire to work through social conflicts; for ingenuity, resourcefulness, and courage. The message, as I see it, is that we as adults are learning about our own potential and limitations (constructed over decades of life experiences and our own now-outdated education) just as children are engaged in what comes naturally to them: Growing and learning.

Some os the Presenters
The Engine Room, a project through the London College of Printing seems to have successfully taken on a city-wide initiative to introduce some of the core ideas of Reggio Emilia that I will speak about: dialogic process, building good citizenry, engaging multiple languages, listening deeply to the narrative of each child for patterns and symbols. Jinan Kumbham, a self-titled design activist seemed to despair at our ability to recognize the exceptional power of children, yet each presentation before and after him did just that. I hope he recognizes that it is time to reconsider what he perceives to be he prevailing view. He showed some remarkable images of the activities of children in rural areas—in his words “indigenous” children—with very limited resources, and no access to formal education. Children displaying extraordinary (even by the standards of this group) ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness. “If your aesthetic sense is not yours”, he announced, “You are no longer you”.

Others to mention: D. McCannon and her projects ith children constructing “allegorical narratives” and “spacial metaphors”, exploring narrative and symbolic language through drawings. Nina Sabnani linking narrative work with children to her study of the art of the traveling storyteller indigenous to Rajasthan, who carries with him an elaborately constructed and illustrated “portable shrine”. She cited storytelling as a tool to work out social relationships, something we see as primary with young children. As if they are profoundly inclined to seek connection. And Kevin Todd’s work with a group of teenagers to design a mural for an exterior wall of their school. He claims he was dismayed at a certain point in the process when he perceived it to be stalled. Yet I when asked him more about this, he noted that negotiation was perhaps even more significant than the actual designed thing for the mural itself was an expression of the students’ shared vision.

Common Themes, which I’ll Cite Tomorrow
Dialogue, narrative as social negotiation; design as negotiation; design and civics, flexibility of roles and outcomes; multiple languages; children creating their own frameworks and boundaries; adults as co-constructors: learning, documenting, interpreting, and “making sense” along side the children who are also “making sense”.

One more note: the images above are of women separating out the petals of marigolds to make a design on the pavement. The woman drawing is marking out the borders of each color of petal.

That’s all for tonight about that. One more thing which defies words. My Flip cannot record the sound of what sounds like the driving beat of a dozen drums, which may be drums or it may be the amusement park rides of a festival in the shanty neighborhood 34 floors below. Imagine a never-ending drum solo by Keith Moon punctuated by car horns and the lights of a ferris wheel,tilta-whirl, and the fairway. Imagine looking down 250 feet to the spectacle below with crowds moving about in large clusters. Then amplify that. That is an image of Mumbai I cannot capture.


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