In each city, the Lab takes on an entirely new face. Part of this is due to the individual context of the city, but equally responsible for shaping the Lab is the Lab Team at its reins. Last week, the four new Mumbai Lab Team members were announced, and the mix this time around is really exciting again. This interview with Héctor Zamora is the first in a series of interviews with Lab Team members to get to know them, their work, and what they are bringing to the table for the Lab in Mumbai.
First, can you describe your own work, and how you are applying your skills here at the Lab?
I am an artist, and I think the important point connecting my artwork and the Lab is that I work a lot in public space. I don’t have a specific way that I work, but rather I adapt the way I work to the specific situation in the public space. Now we are working in Mumbai, a very interesting, kind of specific city, and this challenge is to bring something that will really connect with the community, with the city, and with the space where we will work. . . . I am using some of my experience as an artist working in public space to try to create some really deep connections with the public in Mumbai.
Is your goal as an artist to make a statement or judgment about public space, or use it as the material for your art? Can you define this interaction?
I think that, for me, it’s very important to work in public space because one of my goals is to try and make something very plural—something that can touch [others besides] the public already connected with art. This is the big challenge when you are working in the streets or in public open spaces, because you have a very diverse public. I think this got my attention because of the possibility to talk not to a specific public, but to the general population. That way you get feedback and reactions that you maybe don’t expect, because you are talking to people who are not normally connected with art. In that way, you’re stimulating them to have a new experience confronting your artwork.
How does that come into play at the Lab?
Well, as you know, the Lab has a specific building that is in a specific location, and for all of us on the Lab Team it was very important to challenge the Lab to try to go out of that location, with the idea to make all the programs more plural. This is a specific reaction I got during the time we were there, when I was on the first visit in Mumbai. When you are in Mumbai, you can see that this is a very complex city; that the shape of Mumbai is made for many different cultures that all share a very small piece of ground. But it’s also interesting that you can see the borders. Even though, in some moments, they are very mixed, if you are thinking on social levels you see that there is a very hard difference between one area of the city and another. If the Lab is trying to talk to that city, I thought that maybe it would be a good possibility to interact and bring the Lab to a wider audience and create some off-site programs—bring them to specific locations in the city that are very public areas or important public spaces to make some experiments around how the people using that public space will react to our programs and the things we’ve developed. For me, this is very important. If we keep the Lab only in one location, then only a really limited group of people will have the possibility to interact with the Lab. Though it is impossible to make something that will have the possibility to connect with each person living in Mumbai, this is what we’re trying to do.
Can you talk a bit about the inspiration for the programs you’re spearheading at the Lab?
One very important thing for me was Octavio Paz. I had the opportunity to get two books that Octavio Paz wrote about his experiences in India, and specifically in Mumbai, because this was the first place that he arrived when he got there in the 1960s. His book In Light of India talks a little about his experience when he arrived for the first time in Mumbai and I was reading that book for the first days when I was in Mumbai for the first time. . . . For me, it was an amazing experience to be there reading that book and to live something very close to his experience. . . This, I think, brought me to a different way of experiencing Mumbai, because of course Mumbai is, for us, quite difficult or hard because it’s a really extreme reality. I remember, during our first days in Mumbai in February, we were sitting every morning at a table and discussing the projects, but at the same time we were experimenting with the first trips around Mumbai, visiting the different areas. The explosion or overdose of reality was a bit hard for everybody because we were just confronting a new city, a crazy city. . . . I was reading another way to understand Mumbai—the poetry of Octavio Paz—and this gave me another flavor, not only to think about the complexity and the chaos and the problematics . . . . I was seeing Mumbai as an amazing experience full of flavors, colors, and trying to go inside of that craziness to understand why this radical situation is happening there. . . . I got very interested in food, music, and dance. I think these are very common elements for almost every culture around the world. It’s a very simple and basic language, and you can use this to communicate something almost anywhere. Now I am working with the Lab to use music, dance, food, and celebrations—these are the kinds of strategies that we can use to bring the Lab closer to the Mumbai public.
What’s your greatest hope for what will come out of the Lab in Mumbai?
I want to see a very pop, or popular, Lab. I would love to have something that will . . . touch as many people as possible. I think it’s very important for these kinds of projects to not get stuck in a very small discussion for only a small group of people. . . . Of course, we’d like to create some awareness about some of the problems that you can find in Mumbai, but if you can only create that awareness in a really small group of people, this will not work. It has to be very plural and popular, so we’re using very simple strategies to bring the concepts of the Lab out in a very flexible, massive way.
Another goal or hope for me is that we can learn a lot about what is happening in Mumbai, because the level of adaptability that you can see in Mumbai is very extreme. Even though the people are surviving in this really radical environment, they’re surviving in a really good way . . . You can see how different cultures are adapting for the future. . . . I think we are not trying to fix the problems in Mumbai. Maybe it’s more important to understand how things are working there, and what we can learn for our own cities and our own cultural thinking.
Three words to describe the process so far?
Pop. Fun. Challenge.
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Photo: Arjunan Sanjayan