What object would you like archaeologists 1000 years from now to remember our present day culture by?”
A diary? A set of mechanical lock and key? A bicycle bell? Or banknotes? It could be just about anything. At the ongoing exhibition at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), Google Arts and Culture has installed a few digital tablets which pose the aforementioned question to the visitors.
Named Future Relics, this interactive installation is the very first lab experiment that Google Arts and Culture has unveiled in India.
This installation is placed within the context of India and the World: A History in Nine Stories, an ongoing exhibition at the CSMVS, which tracks the histories of the world in relation to India through artefacts. The installation is ideally placed in the “First Cities” section of the exhibition, which introduces the visitors to those who lived in the ancient civilisations of India.
Freya Murray, Program Manager and Creative Lead, Google Cultural Institute Lab, in an email conversation with Guardian 20 told us about the idea that led her to create this project. “All projects start with a conversation. The CSMVS is a valued partner of Google Arts and Culture and together we were interested in exploring how we could collaborate on their major exhibition, India and the World. Could technology be used to inspire an interactive dialogue with museum visitors that extends the themes in the exhibition? This was our starting point and evolved into the Future Relics installation, which invites museum visitors to pause and to consider their own lives within the context of India and the World, and specifically reflecting on the First Cities section of the exhibition.”
Just as the usual artefacts exhibited at any museum give a sense of the lives lived in the past, so this installation will provide the future generations a glimpse of our contemporary lifestyle. At the end of this three-month exhibition, a special physical collection of 3D-printed clay vases will be designed based on the visitors’ most popular contributions, and the text sent in by the visitors will be inscribed on the 3D-printed pots. Murray thinks that pots are ideal to showcase these relics of the future. She says, “For centuries, pots have helped us uncover the lost stories of cities and civilisations. They are some of the most prevalent findings on many archaeological sites. Distinct markings often found on ceramic vessels have helped to reveal vital insights into our past and the way we lived. We invite visitors to the exhibition to leave a mark on a digital vase—blending this ancient storytelling technique with new technology to form a time capsule which aims to give future generations an insight into our lives today.”
Though this project aims to transcend time and to give us a peek into the future, India and the World also brings us back to the past. Displayed here are 104 important works of art from the Indian subcontinent, and 124 iconic pieces from the British Museum. Among the major highlights of the show is a drawing presented by the British Museum, titled Rembrandt›s Emperor Jahangir Receiving an Officer. This drawing was copied by the acclaimed Dutch artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. Rembrandt was fascinated by miniature paintings, which reached the European market in the 17th century, the time when Dutch maritime trade was at its strongest.
Similarly, a replica of Poseidon who is considered the Greek God of sea and other waters is on display at the exhibition. This image of Poseidon, was discovered with a group of Romano-Egyptian objects in Maharashtra and is sourced from Town Hall Museum, Kolhapur.
Neil MacGregor, who is associated with this project, in his introductory text to the exhibition catalogue, says, “India and the World grew out of a popular series on BBC Radio 4 called A 100 Objects. Each of the 100 episodes took an object from one part of the world at a particular moment, and asked: what was going on elsewhere at that time? The results told a global story that revealed unexpected connections among the peoples and nations of the world. India and the World takes a similar approach.
Jeremy Hill, the co-curator of the show has previously worked with Neil MacGregor on the BBC Radio Series, and the book A History of the World in 100 Objects. In an email conversation, he says, “Exploring how objects can be used to help people understand more about history, be it a long time ago or just the last 50 years, has been something the British Museum has explored in different ways over the last ten years. It has marked a move away from seeing objects as just works of art, or just there to illustrate a story told through a history book. It is about telling the story through the objects. You can see these ideas in India and the World. But starting from doing this as an exhibition is very different from doing this as a radio series or a book. That has been one of the most challenging and fun parts of working with colleagues in India to make this happen.”
The exhibition combines objects, from the collections of the CSMVS and the National Museum, on loans from across India and from the British Museum. Nine themes dominate the show. The exhibits range from figurative representations, large-scale sculptures, to inscriptions, coins, paintings, jewellery and tools.
The exhibition is jointly curated by Naman P. Ahuja. He talks about how he sifted through a wide range of material available on the subject. He says, “My initial shortlist had about twice the number of objects that you see in the show now. Each object was subjected to several selection criteria: did it tell a richly layered story? It was harder to retain something for the exhibition if it was too narrowly representative of a specific community or tradition as opposed to those objects which also speak of a wider humanistic or civilisational history. And then, when one is speaking for India as a whole, one needs also to try and be as representative as one can of the plurality and richness of the country’s traditions, apart from the diversity of its religions, the need to be able to include different regions and also be sensitive to issues around gender equality. But after all that is said and done, I believe the selection must meet elicit curiosity in the public, and it needs to do so aesthetically.”
Sabyasachi Mukherjee, director, CSMVS, believes that this collaborative exhibition opens up a new kind of narrative and unlocks many stories and histories. He says, “The exhibition is an experiment, the first of its kind outside the United States, the United Kingdom and European borders, and attempts to provide a model for museums to share their collections with people across the world, some of whom may otherwise never have access to them. It gives an opportunity to people from diverse countries and cultures to become partners in the world narrative, and motivates them to reclaim reposition their own unique regional, national and global identities in the changing cultural landscape of the world.”
A special preview of the India and the World exhibition is already live on the Google Arts and Culture app; the virtual 360-degree tour will be available online once the exhibition ends in mid-February next year