Making Space:Sensing Place

In October 2009, along with artist Thurle Wright, I was awarded a Making Space:Sensing Place Fellowship; part of the HAT: Here and There International Exchange Programme, managed by A Fine Line:Cultural Practice. The Fellowship includes residencies with Britto Arts in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with Arts Reverie in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, with The V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London and with The Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire. Working and collaborating with artists and craftspeople from the UK, Bangladesh and India, responding to the collections and spaces we encounter and sharing these experiences through a touring exhibition and educational workshops.

This blog, which is still developing and being added to, is a record of my experiences during the MS:SP Fellowship. Steven Follen.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Down by the riverside: Old Dhaka

We made our way through Old Dhaka towards the warehouses along by the river.
I hadn't expected the water or the shoreline to be quiet so polluted and covered in waste of every description.

I had read that there were hundreds of different shaped boats in Bangladesh, and I was interested to see as many as possible to learn more about how they were constructed and record the forms. Earlier pieces of my work like 'Bound' had been heavily influenced by the gently shifting forms of boats ( particularly those from Kerela) and other work had been inspired by their methods of construction, I wanted to see and learn more.

There were men loading sacks of vegetables and spices form the warehouses into boats and others plying for the trade of shuttling passengers across the water.
We made our way along and into the spice and vegetable warehouses, on the way I spotted the bamboo scaffolding.
The poles are used to support the shuttering (wooden panels) which holds the concrete in place and creates its form when it is cast. Bamboo is used extensively to support the construction of buildings and for the trucks and barrows used to move things around the city. I havent yet seen examples of it used in architecture... a structurally sound, sustainable, quick growing, long lasting material.
The French, Portugese, Armenians and British had all been based here at some point in the past and left traces of their presence. Much of the old architecture is falling into disrepair and being replaced by new buildings, there is growing concern for the loss of this important part of Dhaka history.
The people of Old Dhaka were incredibly friendly and generous, some asked to have their photo taken!
and Muhammad (a book binder) invited us to have tea and meet his family.
We were even invited to a wedding!

We managed to get a CNG back to Britto. At around 6pm many people were enroute to or from the mosques, or out to socialize in the evening or shop ( stores stay open until around 10), it was rush hour and the CNG drivers wanted 200Tk to take us to Hatirpul - the price varies at different times of the day and whether the driver thinks he can get fares back across the city, eventually we agreed 100Tk, the driver went like the wind….when he wasn’t stuck in traffic. In the fading light the return route took us through the metalworking district and along 'bike road' with its masses of cycle shops. I saw metalworkers working giant sheets of tin plated and galvanized steel to make dishes, bowls and shelving units using the simplest of equipment and in the main literally on the street, the workshops are generally small spaces and so the work extends outside. A group of men forging a large chuck of bright orange steel which glowed in the disappearing light. One held and two hammered, alternately hitting out a constant rhythm – Somewhere to come back and observe and find out more, to record working processes.

We were heading back to Britto to meet Barney (A Fine Line), Teresa (The V&A Museum of Childhood) and Rachel (The Harley Gallery) who had arrived today. We met them at Britto, ate, talked about the project, saw a film about rickshaw art and met more members of Britto, followed by taking part in the ‘odd space’ project.