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Madhuja Mukherjee, 'Time Travel via CCTV': An Immersive History of a Place

We embarked on this project to traverse the multi-planar history of Calcutta, and its heterogeneous spatiality. The attempt was to recreate a visual chronotopia of sorts. Thus, a CCTV camera was setup on top of a defunct theatre - GEM, Entally; and, by shooting ceaselessly for over 10 days we generated an immersive and 360-degree time-space movement.

Time Travel via CCTV: An immersive history of place

Fragments from the CCTV-landscape project executed at GEM CINEMA, as a part of RESPONSE, CIMA 25th Anniversary Show, JAN. 27, 2018 – FEB 28, 2018, with Kenneth Cyrus and CAMP, Mumbai.  [See: https://studio.camp/events/Gem/ ]

While the ‘CCTV-Landscape’ project is part of CAMP’s larger venture, this was not my first encounter with GEM cinema. I had done site-specific installations in 2017, and my association with GEM is both personal, and also a part of a collective memory. It is through such interventions that my converstaions with CAMP began; and, in due course, the present project developed, albeit, through intense contestations between me, Shaina Anand (of CAMP) and Kenneth Cyrus (cinematographer). We embarked on this project to traverse the multi-planar history of Calcutta, and its heterogeneous spatiality. The attempt was to recreate a visual chronotopia of sorts. Thus, a CCTV camera was setup on top of a defunct theatre -- GEM, Entally; and, by shooting ceaselessly for over 10 days we generated an immersive and 360-degree time-space movement.

The location of GEM at the crossroads of Entally Market is significant. Situated at AJC Bose Road, GEM is set amidst diverse and complicated chronicles of the city. For instance, 200 years back the road was a ‘ditch’, which was later filled up and renamed as Lower Circular Road, and hence, became a thoroughfare of Bengal’s much debated ‘modernity’. GEM stands perpendicular to river Hoogly (about 15 kilometres away), and as our camera zoomed out vigorously, we traversed Chowringhee road area and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, which connected the ‘white-town’ with the ‘black-town’. Thereafter, as the CCTV camera-head pans, tilts and zooms we immerse on a dyanamic journey and observe -- at a distance of about 6 kilometres – enormous structures, which reveal the colossal environmental changes of the wetlands of eastern Calcutta; those which have become a part of our contemporary mega-urbanisation.

We journey through copious zones and disparate time frames, those which are marked by history, memory, and narratives of many centuries, decades, and a range of recorded and forgotten events. Such measured movement through spaces, however, is always a journey through times. A single camera mounted on the roof of GEM cinema brings to us sundry stories -- some factual and fantastic, others imaginative and documentary; peoples, places, structures, some visible, while others remain invisible. Perhaps, sometimes one can reverse the CCTV ‘eye’, and thus, become intimate with our immediate and distant surroundings, those which produce a thick quilt comprising complex anecdotes.

Readings:

1. Bose, Jagadish Chandra, 'Runaway Cyclone' (1921): 
http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/runaway-cyclone/

2. Halder, Epsita, 'Following the Sacred Graves: Image, Voice, Fragrance at the Mazars of Kolkata'   (2016): https://cafedissensus.com/2016/07/19/following-the-sacred-graves-image-voice-fragrance-at-the-mazars-of-kolkata/

3. Dey, Debanjana Dey and Sharmila Bannerjee: 'Ecosystem and Livelihood Support: The Story of East Kolkata Wetlands':
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0975425313511158

4. Bannerjee, Sumanta, 'Memoirs of Roads: Calcutta from Colonial Urbanization to Global Modernization' (2016):
http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468102.001.0001/acprof-9780199468102

5. Nabarun Bhattacharya's Poems, Trans. by Supriya Chaudhuri:
http://sanglap-journal.in/index.php/sanglap/article/view/93

6. Donner, Henrike, 'Whose City is it Anyway? Middle Class Imagination and Urban Restructuring in Twenty First Century Kolkata', New Perspectives on Turkey, no. 46 (2012): 129-155 (download here)

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