Revealing hidden treasures

Indira Lakshmi reflects on her recent Nest Residency

Y E A H ! So Excited!

I was in Delhi, sitting next to my husband in a bar called ‘Dr Zombie’ decorated in neon green and black with plastic skeletons hanging from the celling. We decided to go out, things are opening up again in the city after the second dreadful wave of Covid, which seems to be rapidly fading from collective memory. I opened my emails and found out that I’d been selected for the Future Ecologies Nest residency. I was totally ecstatic to be able to have been offered space and time to develop my practice, and was eager to get started.


September 5th. Back in England. Mixed feelings about being back. L o n e l y … u n c e r t a i n t y
lovely weather 🙂 w=i=l=d=p=r=i=m=r=o=s=e sittiNGoN**thegrass


15th September – 10am – canal trip – Dom Breadmore’s boat.

It takes a few minutes to get used to the motions of the boat, the sensation of buoyancy is something I’ve not felt in years. The last time I was on a boat was in Orissa, December 2017, Chilika lake, looking at gangetic dolphins. Being on the canal felt like Coventry’s secret mirror world, where everything moves in slow motion, watching the flora of the banks drift by, and the soft motions of the water felt surreal and healing.

C O C O N U T S –

There’s objects in the water that look like coconuts. I think of when offerings are given to the river Ganges, to show gratitude for sustaining life. I start remembering my grandma and the ritual when we immersed her ashes in Stratford upon Avon, because the river Avon eventually reaches the sea, just like the Ganges.

Dom explained that there’s a Hindu temple which backs onto the canal, and the coconuts are indeed ritual offerings. Something about the coconuts stuck in my mind. I feel they’re poignant metaphors for cultural displacement. I started to think about the diverse histories of migration to the city. My own family migrated to Coventry from Punjab in 1958 following the post-war call out for workers from the commonwealth.

The canal has a rich history. It was once lined with numerous factories and the homes of workers. A fascinating range of objects have been found in there including old machinery parts and even a grenade! Then there are these seemingly random, floating coconuts. They’re such loaded objects. They contain the energy of hopes, dreams, pleas, hundreds of prayers… They make me think of cultural displacement, not only within the Indian diaspora community I grew up in, but also within myself as I’ve navigated through both England and India. I’m a floating person, not truly belonging to either culture, that’s also a gift.

T h i n k i n g About T H E B O D Y

I started thinking about interactivity, as I knew my work would be potentially displayed physically at Random String Festival. I’d been thinking about passive participation in art spaces vs active participation, where the viewer considers the traces they leave behind in a space as well as what they take away. I’m also interested in technology bringing people together, physically rather than remotely in a metaverse dystopia, and how we create environments where physical exploration and movement can take place.

I constantly think about the body in space. How does the body inhabit the environment, how does the way we move/ position ourselves effect perception and vice versa.

I had been experimenting with the software Pure Data for a while, an open source visual programming environment. In Delhi I’d visited an exhibition where an artist had used Reactivision, an open source, cross-platform computer vision framework, to track markers to the effect of the viewer moving around and triggering a print command. I instinctively knew this was something I had to delve into, though initially I wasn’t sure how I’d use it.

R E A C T I V I S I O N == :s ….. 🙂 …… ❤

There was some refurbishment going on upstairs at The Nest, so I couldn’t access the studio. Frances helped me to print out sheets of fiducial markers, and I sat in the downstairs communal space and got to work.

I learnt the initial basics of programming during my MA in Visual Arts Practice at Ambedkar University in New Delhi, then carried on teaching myself. I figured out the basics with Reactivision fairly quickly, but getting beyond the basics took hours of sitting transfixed at my laptop.

One use of Reactivision is to track movement of fiducial markers. You move a fiducial marker – Reactivision tracks the coordinates and position – events are triggered depending on how you write the program. My process was – Reactivision feeds the X and Y coordinates into Pure Data, with that data you can assign certain events to certain markers, or to the X and Y coordinates of the markers.
Initially I routed out the data to a digital synthesizer and started experimenting. (video of me initially experimenting with Pure Data and Reactivision)

T R I N I T Y M A R I N A W I T H Frances ❤

I wanted to find out what life was like living on the canal, in a boat. I remember when I lived in Leicester, my ex’s dad worked on a marina, I had some friends that lived in a boat too. I remembered bits of conversations from back then about what it was like to live on the water, the reasons why people wanted to get away from city life.

Frances, the community connector at Talking Birds, connected me with a friend of her husband named Marc Denny. Marc lives on a boat moored up in Trinity Marina, Hinkley. We drove up to meet Marc, who had gathered some of his friends together who also lived on boats there. We sat in a pub nearby and I recorded a conversation between us.

It was brilliant to speak to them, I wish I could have gone back and had individual recorded chats with them all but there wasn’t enough time. The main things I took away were that there was a greater sense of community, the pace of life was different away from the city/life on land, you had to be more mindful about your resources i.e water and heat…

I caught up with some friends who had lived on canal boats. They said life was hard in the winter but equally beautiful. Sensorially it’s a totally different way of life.

O C T O B E R 7th </3

Bad News… </3…
S-l-o-w-f-u-n-c-t-i-o-n-i-n-g | h-y-p-e-r-p-r-o-d-u-c-t-i-v-i-t-y — Taking breaks to cry in all the video installations at Coventry Biennial.

S4DN3*ss s l o w l y thenfast ( ͡❛ ﹏ ͡❛) l a g

C A N A L sOng

I joined Dom and Anne from Ludic rooms for a trip down the canal, to record using a hydrophone (underwater microphone). The results were interesting but not what I expected. All the hydrophone recordings sounded like a motorbike…

I applied some reverb and added layers of guitar and vocals over the top.

I fragmented the song into separate tracks and inserted them into the Pure Data patch I was working on. I developed the patch enough to be able to use it for a table-top interactive soundscape.

T A B L E – T O P (( OMG Kill me now :’) )) C R E A T I O N H U R D L E LONGTIME

I researched different ways that people had used Reactivision and marker tracking with interactivity, and decided I was going to make a rear-projected table-top interface where the markers could be read from underneath.
This was the plan:

Here’s an example of the moveable objects with fiducial markers underneath. I decided to use objects found in the canal which are anomalies; coconuts, litter, empty beer cans…

I borrowed a large piece of perspex from Ludic Rooms and initially began working with the perspex balanced on two tables. I began working with rear projection, which is one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever done…

s l o w l y thenfast ( ͡❛ ﹏ ͡❛) l a g

The code was now working well, but getting the hardware and physical elements to work was much more challenging. This is really what took up the most of my time, but I’m really, really glad to have had this time of trial and error. It’s been an invaluable learning process. I eventually figured things out, and moving forward I have this know-how in my artistic tool kit – I’m already planning the next development of this work.

My friend Tom Edwards helped me with making a wooden structure for the perspex, which we assembled at Random String Festival.

I wish I had more time to make things more polished. I think I utilised the time as well as I could, and ended up with a working prototype for the future. If I could do this again I’d do it with floating objects on water, in a shallow tank…

I realise that when you finally get over the technical hurdles your mind opens up to more possibilities, rather than being obsessed with overcoming tech difficulties. I heard a phrase in November that sticks with me ‘rationally working with what you have reveals hidden treasures’. I’m trying to do that. I’m not a software engineer or a trained musician, until now I’ve intuitively worked with the skills I’ve picked up at different points in life, and this residency has given me the time and space to develop my skills with programming. A new window has opened for me. Though I used found objects for the work at Random String, I know that now I can integrate my skills as a sculptor into a touch interactive framework, and I’m thinking along new lines with interactivity, games and experiences.

14th November, 2021, Random String Festival 😀

The display at Random String Festival was a really valuable experience. The work was interacted with a lot by people of all ages, it was a really positive atmosphere. The rear projection wasn’t perfect, my positioning of the mirrors is something I need to work on in the future, as well as refining the code and other hardware/physical elements.

One of the great things about the display was the constant interaction with the work, people were engaging and actively participating in the experience – people were having fun with it, having a laugh with their friends, children were fascinated with it…

I’m thinking about the balance between something which is a spectacle and still looks inviting enough to physically engage with.

I’m working on the next rendition of this table top interface for a gig my friend George and I are organising in March with our project Human Oils. I’m trying to create a game, where there are more obvious rules, more clearly defined ways of moving things around. I’m thinking noughts and crosses with different objects, just as an experiment.

(Coventry City of Culture video, me talking about the work)

I want to sincerely thank everyone at Talking Birds and Ludic Rooms for their support and for the invaluable work they do. This has been an incredible and valuable experience which I feel has really propelled me forward with my practice.



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