3×4

3 x 4 exploring metaspace platforms for inclusive future cities

In megacities such as Delhi and Mumbai – and within one of the fastest growing cities within the world, Ahmedabad – more than 50% of the population live in informal urban settlements. 3×4 metres is the plot size seen to be provided in resettlement colonies, a government initiative which relocates people within informal inner-city settlements to vacant land on the periphery. 3×4 looks at informal settlements differently where informality is not viewed as a problem, but a promising new model of urbanism for the global south. Building upon the practice-based research conducted as UnBox LABS 2014 Fellows, this project uses an immersive telematic networked environment to provide a playful, sensorial exploration of new hybrids of digital space. Merging two 3×4 metre room installations in New Delhi and London through mixed-reality, this transnational dialogue intends to set an aspiration for developing metaspace platforms in megacities of the global south.

Featured at UnBox Festival 2014, 3×4 was hosted by the Southbank Centre in London and Khōj International Artists’ Association in New Delhi. The reflective accounts that follow, critically consider the function of play in defining experiences and interactions:

Play is in the eye of the beholder

3×4 is a temporal and spatial timecode; reduced to its ephemeral elements it consists of 18 hours of memories and reflections in the minds and collective recollections of those who participated in it, played out over three days on 12, 13 and 14 December 2014 from 10:00-16:00 GMT / 15:30-21:30 IST daily. Ultimately what remains as its legacy is a story told in and between two cities consisting of human encounters and events that unfolded in a state of flux between London and Delhi. Whilst every effort was made to document this transitory happening through photographs and video footage the single most important recording was from the line out video feed; the final composited or chroma-keyed image of the audience participants displayed within the installation itself. When watching this recording we are taking up the position of the persons within it; we are looking directly at the very same image that caused the effect we are now contemplating for ourselves.

From beginning to end, the entire recording represents a 1080-minute data stream upon which we can now study and apply our own minute-by-minute layer of metadata based on observations, reflections and analysis, as we look the participant in the eye through this ‘two-way mirror’ recording. Whilst this work is ongoing, 45 minutes from each day has already been compiled and made available for public viewing https://vimeo.com/paulsermon/3×4-line-out-video. This video contains memorable moments upon which we can now reflect, such as when a young boy in Delhi wearing a white shirt and hat enters the space (53:30) and initially waves to participants in London, staying for over an hour perfecting his interactions and gestures as he invents and plays new games. Or when three ladies in Delhi enter (1:38:00) with two babies greeted by participants in London eager to hold and play with them, who appear to be memorized by this lacanian moment of realization as the babies stare into the screen [mirror]. — Paul Sermon

Playing with the future. Time / space inversions in metaspace

In Space Time Play (2007) von Borries, Walz and Böttger advocate the potential of gamespaces to not only create new notions of the city, but to permanently change their future composition. They speculate on how “the ludic conquest of real and imagined gamespace [can] become an instrument for the design of space-time” (von Borries, Walz and Böttger, 2007, p.13). This comes at a moment when new forms of urbanism are said to be abolishing temporal narratives of progress and shifting the spatial distribution of power from the global north to the south (see for example, Zeiderman’s (2008) paper Cities of the future? Megacities and the space/time of urban modernity). How can this future inversion of time and space be explored and contested through play?

Through the design of 3×4, its methods of connection and representation, the layering of London over New Delhi provided comment on the domination of the global north and rising of the global south. And yet, the co-creation of built and imagined landscapes offered opportunity to redefine collective futures, a critical visual commentary on living spaces, racial segregation, informality, underground culture and contemplative fantasies. Occupying a part-demolished building via 3×4, took the matters of informalising architecture, contested space and merciless destruction to a global audience. Not just imaginings, 3×4 also morphed into a playground of spontaneous and undirected play. Children, for whom the street and the objects it contain form a recreational landscape, shifted their space of play to this metaspace. Using their bodies as an interface, they even shared a digital chair – emblematic perhaps, of this approaching inversion and shared digital future. ‘Playing the city’ it seems, can bring built and imagined spaces closer together, creating new typologies of architectural space that shape lived experience in novel ways. Claire McAndrew

Whose city is it?

The installation brought together people from different backgrounds who might otherwise have never shared a 3×4 metres space before – not just through the physical space but also the hybrid digital room created. The digital interface, being alien to most, seemed to fascinate some while others seemed more apprehensive. But, as soon as someone from the other end of the connection waved or communicated a hug, initial hesitation gave way to fun and amusement. The element of ‘play’ in the installation, further heightened by the absence of sound with only a visual connection, aided the audience in confronting their own reactions, notions and even biases, in some cases.

The installation exposed many prejudices and the inherent inequalities in the city of Delhi. A strong case can be made of people’s reaction to the choice of venue in the city, which was different from a typical art gallery space in that it was based within a community and spilled out onto the street. The urban village, where the installation was located, lies at the confluence of, on one hand – low-income to middle-income residents, a large migrant population comprising students, labourers from rural areas, immigrants from other countries such as Nigeria and Afghanistan – and on the other, the affluent who frequent the high-end mall adjacent to the area. In many ways, this dichotomy is representative of the polarised ends of Indian cities today. Some asked us why we had decided to set up the installation in the village and not a ‘better’ place such as the mall next door. Even a local police officer questioned us on why we had set up the art project in that area. We would like to raise a question of our own – Who has the right to the city? — Swati Janu

3×4 is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of a broader collaboration between UnBox, British Council and Science & Innovation Network, supported by Khoj International Artists’ Association New Delhi and Southbank Centre London. For more info: 3x4m.org