Some times you merely write. Some times you really write. There is a difference. This edges towards the former. Read a story about German artist Fabian Hesse's work in Open magazine here. Or see below.
First, You Print the Shot Glass
Art and technology, material and digital, real and
virtual, all come together to drink vodka at a 3D printing party in Bangalore
Geeksville would cheer.
I am invited to a party called ‘3D Print Party Flux Assemble
Open-Hardware Kathe UM%hack*’. I don’t understand what that means, though I
suppose I can tell you what 3D printing is. A meeting with artist Fabian
Hesse, the party’s host, has given me an understanding of his line of practice,
but I still can’t pronounce the whole name of this party. Let’s stick to
calling it the 3D print party.
Fabian Hesse is a visual artist from Germany, and is in Bangalore as a
Goethe bangaloREsident@Jaaga, an artist-in-residence program that the Goethe
Institut organizes in the city in association with local cultural spaces and
arts organisations. His interest lies chiefly in the many layers of the Web
world and his works explore the fundamental changes that occur in the world and
society through information technology and ‘digitalisation’. One of the ways
Hesse engages with the process of this ‘digitalisation’ is through 3D printing,
using freely available open source software and hardware.
At the 3D print party in Bangalore’s Max Mueller Bhavan on a light
winter evening, the room is illuminated by the shivering lines and patterns on
a laptop screen, magnified and projected onto a wall. There is tea in a steel
can, and some biscuits. All the action is around the printer on the floor,
behind which sits surreptitiously a tall bottle of vodka, waiting to become
part of a ritual traditional among 3D print artists. A work week is only just
ending outside the glass windows of the building and the party indoors won’t
heat up for a few hours yet. A few people trickle in and art talk begins.
The printer, the party’s reason for being, sits in the middle of
the room. It is a square box, open on all sides. There is a lot going on with
it. A little screen tells you how much printing has been done already, what the
temperature is like and other numbers. The nozzle of the machine is
whirring back and forth, outlining a form in green—the only colour Hesse has added to the printer. Before
the event, he had invited people to send in images of things they’d
like to have printed; what’s being printed now, he tells me, is a sort of
mini-bust, based on a photograph of a friend’s head and shoulders.
The way it works is that Hesse takes an image, uses open source software
to convert it into a format printable in 3D, puts it on an SD card and feeds it
to the printer, which then prints a figure based on the image. Even a
small file takes hours to print; Hesse’s own works take between nine
and forty-something hours each.
The droning noise of the printer at work silences the conversations of
those that mill around it, peering in. There is something about the monotony
and the repetitive movement of the nozzle that, like a micro-trance, holds your
attention for several minutes—until you have taken a photo on your camera
phone, until someone you know walks in, until your back hurts from bending
Walking by the printer every few minutes to check on its progress, I
overhear the conversation continuing:
“I can’t get my head around these things. I am too old. I am fascinated
by it but I can’t understand it,” an observer says.
“Oh, neither can I,” replies another, “I just like what it is doing.”
Hesse is explaining to someone that the printer, which he has brought
with him from Germany, costs about 1,200 Euros. Across a long table are pieces
of plastic, metal, nuts and bolts and tape that will make another such printer.
With the help of some technical people from Electronic City, Bangalore, Hesse
will assemble the second 3D printer right here. He hopes it will work;
he and the people from Electronic City have reworked the nozzle a
Just then, the machine halts. Hesse doesn’t know why. The project in
progress can’t be finished.Once the printer stops, it can’t begin again
mid-project—the file would have to be printed again from scratch. Hesse uses a
spatula to remove the half-formed figure from the surface of the printer. In
its place, he loads an image of an iPhone cover. The girl who sent it
in is mighty excited. The printer is restarted.The pattern printing
now is intricate and the nozzle moves fast. As the cover begins to take shape,
more people mill around the machine, including a man and his little daughter.
While he seems delighted at all the technology, she doesn’t look too impressed.
An artist standing by is paying attention to the percentage of the
printing already done, looking at the little monitor where the numbers are on
display. It is at 12 per cent. Hesse is telling someone that he uses polylactic
acid (PLA), a kind of bio-degradable plastic that comes in all colours,
transparent and otherwise. Today’s shade is green.
“What is with the boxer shorts?” I ask, referring to a pair of
printed boxers hanging from a hook against a red surface on one wall in the
Hesse explains that the shorts, printed with the alphabet—a jumble of
letters layered over each other—are intended as “a nod to data security
patterns that prevent transparency and by turn, data theft. Boxer shorts are a
piece of private clothing; very few people see [them]. So this explores the
idea of whether to have transparency or not. In this museum, institution-like
set up, this was like a joke to me.”
Someone in the background is talking about being an artist, another
responding about not being one, but being in awe of art. Mutual
acquaintances are being invoked after new introductions. Hesse is going back
and forth between two laptops, saving files and tweaking things in each. On one
sits a small white rabbit figurine, printed in 3D. A few other
oddly-shaped 3D objects stand around, standing out in green against the red
boards that cover the walls.
It isn’t time yet for the vodka bottle to be put to its use.
The day before the party, I meet Hesse at the cozy Courtyard Café
at Jaaga, a space which describes itself as an ‘evolving community
sculpture’, a sort of creative common ground that is
hosting him. He speaks about how he started out as a graffiti artist in
his teens. In small town Germany, he and friends would stay out nights to “make
the city ours”. That got him in trouble, but not before putting him on a path
of art practice. He emphasises that he cannot make high end decorative pieces
Through his practice and his work with Fablab, an artist
collective in Germany where members pool together resources and exchange
know-how, Hesse explores the role of data as a new currency. The materiality of
data and its physical attributes are what he seeks to combine and
highlight through his 3D pieces. He once got hold of passwords of hacked
Twitter accounts and printed them out in 3D. That work and many of his others
are hard to transport around the world when he travels—the threads are
fragile—but his emails go around the world several times in a matter of
seconds. The irony of this, the contrast between his work and the
ideas that he conveys through it, isn’t lost on Hesse.
He is a 1980s child; we spend some time talking of those days, of
growing up without emails and internet. Hesse doesn’t allow himself to be
nostalgic of a simpler era, though: “you make the best of what you have.” For
all his interest in the internet and how it blurs the lines between virtual
and real, he says he was left speechless by the NSA spying scandal in the US.
“There was a moment when the internet was seen as Utopia. But it’s no longer
‘our internet’ anymore, and that makes me sad. I am an advocate of freedom of
The conversation drifts to Facebook and emails—the virtual that
crowds real lives. He says he finds himself exercising reserve in his
emails these days, after the spying scandal broke. “Not that I have anything to
hide, but still.”
At the party the next evening, his Twitter password work lies in a
corner. Hesse told me the night before that it is tradition among artists who
work with 3D printing to print a small glass and drink a shot of vodka from it.
That is the ‘party’ part of the evening. The ritual is observed in due
course. Printing happens too.
Late one night in early November, we asked this question, many others. The attempt to answer overwhelmed me then, as it continues to now. I had a special feeling about this year, and I was right. 2013, a landmark year in many ways that I will tell you about in a post later this month, has been a crazy year, mostly in good ways. A year after the November question, we don't have answers. I'm not sure we want any. Poetry, smiles, worries, love, intelligent wine on the table where we talk, cherry trees and spring air and beautiful-ness has been in season all year around. And I discover everyday that miracles do exist in my sometimes cynical world. Some miracles happen in a day, in a text message, in a single all night long phone call. Some are not marked by the exact time, some happen over 18 days. Some last that minute, some every day of every week. This November, I cannot shake off this smile from my face. And that is all you need to know.
I try not to write opinion pieces or commentary on trending issues. Not just because there are always too many of both out there, what with people given the free rein by the w.w.w. to scream and shout at the sound of a cough. But in the November issue of Kindle, it was Andhra Pradesh's turn to be written about. I spent many days trying to waddle through the different arguments for and against Telangana. Old friends came to the rescue and helped me understand the tapestry of politics, hopes and history that lends grey shades to the issue. No news can be black and white. This piece has also been tinted with some grey. Read the story here. Or see below.
my friend from the University days, always gets me Karachi biscuits from
Hyderabad when she visits. Sometimes over pasta and wine, we talk of old times
and giggle like the way we did the first day we met in class. We don’t talk
politics or ideologies, our borrowed time is expended on what the rest of the
boys and girls from college are up to. I have never met her husband J, we have
only said our hi-hellos over the phone. A few days ago I had a long
conversation with them, about politics, perceptions, the larger picture and the
audacity of hope – not the book. We also considered making plans to rob a bank.
Skipping that part, this is how the conversation went.
has lived in Hyderabad for 14 years now, P for six. He is an economist, a
professor. She is in public relations. Both are from different states, but
speak the same language, and English, with each other. I am interested in what
they think of the whole Telangana issue, whether they are affected at all, if
they have an opinion, if it matters, because they are urban migrants who have
‘homes’, families elsewhere. I ask them to explain and J does, with a
professor’s rigour, breaking down the issue for me, giving me an
of his students are from outside the state, very few are invested in the
regionism, and its many other tentacles, that is leading to the creation of
India’s latest state. But he has friends who come from both coastal Andhra and
the Telangana districts. The issue is all about Hyderabad, J tells me. It is
the land of opportunity, the glitzy metropolis where everyone wants to be, to
work, to live. Everyone’s favourite city will go to one state, not the other,
though it will be the joint capital for the first ten years after AP breaks up.
J wonders whether the new capital, whichever city it is, cannot become just as
good, just as golden as Hyderabad. There are many perceptions at play here,
many politics, fractured parties, history and its violations, clever people’s
manipulations, emotions, the regular drama.
would have remained regular drama if not for how the state machineries have
been paralyzed because of it. There are politicians from the coastal Andhra
region and there are politicians from the Telangana region. Both sides will not
stop shouting the House to a standstill. The possibility of a government that
might transcend this issue and attempt to run a state is absent, for there are
too many emotions and precious vote banks at stake.
make it a little easier, J gives me the analogy of two friends. One wants to
remain friends, remain best friends even, while the other does not want to have
anything to do with him. Draw this line further and you arrive at the state of
AP where a traditional oppressor is uncomfortable with change and would rather
have the status quo, ignoring demands and denying rights. The traditionally
oppressed want to finally have control over their land, their resources, their
rights. The first group demands a united Andhra Pradesh, it is the second group
that will get the new state to itself.
and to my friend P, the strikes, the agitation and the whiff of trouble brewing
doesn’t make them stop and take notice. But every other person they meet will
bring up the issue and substantiate why they think the way they do. When P hires
a taxi and goes out on work, the taxi driver will tell her why he is happy
there will be a Telangana state, she tells me. Other colleagues, friends, think
otherwise. Many don’t have, or want to share, an opinion. Both agree that if
Hyderabad was taken out of the equation, no one would shout so much.
ask them if normal life is affected at all in the city, whether they see, hear,
read anything. J tells me they know only as much as I, in Bangalore, would read
in the papers. News channels show the opinions of their rich political owners.
But really, he tells me, the people from both the regions are in a way
punishing themselves. In smaller towns and nerve centres of the whole issue,
life came to a standstill. Not many of those living in the city could go back
home for the festivals last week.
an idea for how the agitation might be deflected. The Centre ought to announce
which city will be the capital of the new state, he thinks. People there would
stop agitating, those elsewhere will argue for and against the proposed name,
moving on from the bifurcation issue. There are many rumours and no favourites
for the new capital. I ask him what cities figures in his list. There is
Kurnool, Vijayawada, Ongole and the region within the triangle area of Guntur, Tenali
and Vijayawada, each with cases for and against them that J points out for me. The
final name will of course be more politically motivated than chosen on a strictly
practical basis, we both agree.
and I have been talking for an hour by now. Given the history of the issue, the
cold facts, I know which side I will lean toward, but for arguments sake, I ask
him if there is a case for a united state. The only one he has for me is a
scenario where there will be more demands for non-linguistic division of regions.
Where would that end, he mulls. But then, that is for the Centre to deal with,
he says, for, a person sitting in a backward village in a corner of Telangana
should not have to bother with this larger picture; he might not understand the
greater question, he need not be expected to care.
now, the mood of the people is one of hope, J tells me. The idea and attraction
of two different states is driven by money. It is laden with the hope that
magically things will change and that a new golden land will emerge. Practical
souls understand that golden lands aren’t created overnight, that dreams don’t
always turn hopelessness on its head. Disillusionment, carrying old cracks
under its arms, usually walks behind hope. But that’s the thing about hope,
isn’t it? It is audacious, not always practical. Hope though is nearly the only
thing that most people got.
piece has been inspired by a real conversation with real people.