Cultural Retrofits

A Response to Peareylal Bhavan

Peareylal Bhavan seems symptomatic of the condition where the hardware outlives the software. Most people whom we knew in Delhi did not know about Peareylal Bhavan, and some who knew spoke of it being a place of the past – an active public / cultural space hosting a variety of cultural events. Very clearly, the space (the hardware) was very active until the early 90s – or until the administration (the software) that set up the space was active. As is the fate of many such resources, the next generation of the administration either did not find it interesting, or did not have the time and the resources or simply did not have the vision and the energy.

Today Peareylal Bhavan hosts some stray performances and a lot of its spaces are rented out to other enterprises, which have made it their home – there is a newspaper house, a coaching class, an art gallery (more of a shop), and some other functions. In many ways, Peareylal Bhavan has retained its ‘public’ status – only the types of cultural functions seem to have changed. Today there are numerous people visiting it – largely young – but for different purposes other than a cultural event.

In many ways, Peareylal Bhavan is also an example of how modern institutional form with its stiff ideas about public, culture, space and architecture has been unable to cope up with transforming imaginations of public and culture. It’s idea of culture has been too serious.

Retrofitting Culture’ aims at working out an engagement with the numerous young people who keep visiting the Peareylal Bhavan for something or the other. It aims at setting up a series of interfaces to retrofit the institution for the new ideas of people and culture. These playful interfaces / retrofits hopefully will soften / dampen the high modern project of culture and help to redefine it.

The interfaces / retrofits will be set up at various places in the site of Peareylal Bhavan – at the entrance, on the stairs, on the roof, in the lobby, at the amphitheater, under the staircases, etc. They would sometime become useful furniture, while at other times simply follies to spend time with/at. These range from being a garden in the backyard, to being a nursery in the open staircase, to being a swing hanging from the open beam in front of the lobby. Over time they will decay, but, while they are around, they will add to the numerous stories of Peareylal Bhavan.

The proposal was a part of the Exhibition – ‘Insert 2014’, curated by Raqs Media Collective at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Arts (Jan-Feb 2014).