Man and the machine

  • In a technology-driven world, Yantra 4.0 tries to take the interaction out of the virtual and in to the real world.
- BINIT BANA, Kathmandu

Dec 25, 2015-

As I made my way to the top floor of Nepal Art Council (NAC) a week before Yantra 4.0’s December 23rd opening, I had no idea what to expect. All I had to go on was a brief email about the event I had received from Siddhartha Arts Foundation’s Education Initiative (SAEF) the other day and a high hope coming off the excitement I had heard from last year’s Yantra festival. What greeted me as soon as I entered the Bagmati Hall of NAC was a small group of four huddled around a small desk thumbing away in their laptops and nothing else. One of them was Nischal Oli, one of the organisers and the curator, who promptly got up and started explaining about the history of the festival that brings art, science and technology together. As Oli continued, I gazed around the hall. All the walls are white washed and empty, as if a canvas ready to be painted, ready to adapt as the theme of this year’s festival: adaptation. 

Yantra started out as a robotics competition in 2012 under the Robotics Association of Nepal, but with each successive year, and addition of organisers, the festival has now grown to become a platform to foster creativity with multi-disciplinary collaboration between artists, engineers and designers. This year, too, the main exhibition in NAC will display the winners of the National Robotics Competition but it will only the tip of the iceberg. 

Last year the Art + Tech section of Yantra focused on interactive exhibitions based on projections, displays and sensor, which, as Oli addressed, is a narrow view on interaction. “Humans have started associating the idea of interaction with the instance, and that instance has been further associated with displays and technology, which is not so,” said Oli about how we’ve gone to negate the long term interactions that we have with our environment which we rarely recognise.  So this year’s festival’s interactive artworks will focus on the physical than the virtual. 

The ‘Touch-Me-Not’ project is the perfect example of this shift in perspective. The exhibition, by artists Amrit Karki and Deepak Lopchan and engineer Pujan Ranjit, does away with response to stimuli on the screen and will in turn create mechanical replicas of the namesake plant of their project that will react to the actual touch of the audience. Then in the ‘Peace Pond’ lotus flowers with LED lights will create a peace symbol on a shallow pool.  ‘Sarangi’ will create a modern version of the instrument with sensors to teach the audience members the notes and harmonies that can be created with it. 

However, among the four exhibitions on display, the concept of the ‘Irritating Machine’ by artist Kabi Raj Lama and engineers Rabi Raj Khadka and Rabin Pant seems to be the most intriguing and relevant. The team has placed large four feet high portraits of Nepali Prime Ministers inside a dark room. Every time someone approaches a portrait, they are bombarded by the electoral speeches given by the specific PM and flashing LED lights. The more people enter the room, the more noise and light there is. Lama says, “It is to raise a question to our politicians and to stir the public, who have remained complaisant for far too long, into a reaction”. The piece depicts the chaos of our political system, something we adapted for our convenience but has left us wanting for more; it is a call to action. “It is not only an installation, it is a form of social commentary,” says Lama. 

But Yantra goes beyond the collaborative artwork. Photographer Manish Paudel’s images in ‘Waste is Beautiful’ and artist Kiran Maharjan’s steam punk graphic novel reimagining of Nepal in  ‘Dimensions’ attempt to inquire about the science and technology and its effect on arts. Whereas Yantra Research Grant winner Arjun Panti’s findings on the history of watches, shoes and umbrellas, simple objects that have had an impact in the lives of Nepalis, are taken as inspiration by various artists and photographers with site-specific installations. Throughout the festival, Yantra will also be trying to educate with a children’s workshop and a master class by Pawan Shrestha of Green Tree Developers on interior designing of exhibitions. Now, as  Yantra is running full steam ahead, the Bagmati Hall of NAC has become a modern wonderland filled with innovation and intrigue, and the white walls are teaming with lights, colours and creativity. 

Yantra is organised by Robotics Association of Nepal (RAN), Siddhartha Arts Foundation’s Education Initiative (SAFEI) and Karkhana.

Yantra 4.0

December 23 – January 1

Nepal Art Council


Gallery Hours: 11am - 6pm

Guided Tours: (Tuesday-Sunday): 11am-1 pm and 4pm-6pm

Published: 25-12-2015 15:43

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