The “92” workshop took place twice: once on 16 February 2017, and again, in expanded form, on 11 March 2017, both as part of the "Short Festival for Biographies & the Production of Space" at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany. There was also a third, informal, extremely extended “92” workshop-of-sorts on 28 March 2017. The workshops took place on the 92 bus, which runs from Rotebühlplatz (downtown Stuttgart) to Schloss Solitude to the town of Leonberg, before looping back around and ending in Stuttgart again, at a stop called Heslach Vogelrain. The three workshops explored different segments of this 90-minute journey.
I started to think about conducting a workshop for the “Biographies
and Production of Space” festival, I immediately recalled workshops
I had led in Delhi, both independently and with Deepani. I lived
in Delhi for many years, and my research on the environmental
politics and environmental history of the city has plunged me into
its archives, its parks, its jungles, its political protests, its
parties, its crimes, its scandals, its secrets. I find Delhi to be an
endlessly fascinating city – the good, the bad and the ugly
squeezed into a crowded city of roughly twenty million people, with a
millennium of urban history to boot. So in Delhi, it had been fairly
easy for me to come up with workshops for students which explored the
varied spaces and urban politics of the city.
I initially arrived at Akademie Schloss Solitude in October 2016, I
felt disconnected from Stuttgart. There was, of course, the physical
disconnection – Solitude is on the outskirts of Stuttgart, a bus
ride away from the city. But there was another sense of dislocation:
I was at Solitude to work on a book about Delhi. With Delhi
constantly on my mind, Stuttgart seemed too tidy, too ordered, too
polished. There was also, quite simply, the matter of time: it takes
time to adjust to a new place, to sense its rhythms, to go beyond the
first tentative explorations. And Solitude as a social space seemed
removed from Stuttgart as well. It seemed like a literal “utopia”
or “no place,” with its cosmopolitan, constantly shifting cast of
in short, when I thought of potential urban space-themed workshops in
Stuttgart, I was stumped.
it struck me: the 92 bus. The fellows – those who love Stuttgart,
those who hate it, those who are indifferent – have to take the 92
bus, if only to get their weekly groceries. (Various attempts at
using grocery delivery services have generally ended as comedies of
error. I’m also excluding here the lucky few fellows who own their
own cars.) It is our lifeline to the city. And some of my fondest
memories from my early days in Solitude was returning to the Akademie
on the 92 bus with a group of fellows – sometimes as an planned
group, returning from an event, but more often than not,
accidentally, as fellows grabbed onto the 92 lifeline after varied
adventures in the city. Especially late at night, when fellows
outnumbered non-fellows on the bus and took over the entire back
section, the 92 began to feel like our private vehicle, escorting us
up the winding road to the Schloss. The blurring of public space and
private space, the passage from the city center to its tree-lined
outskirts, the twists and turns of the route – it created an ideal
setting for a place-based workshop.
was the inspiration for the 92 setting. The workshop activities were
inspired, in part, by my past collaborations with Deepani. In works
such as this
we tried to experiment with various ways in which text and image can
be combined to evoke urban spaces. Following the lead of the epigraph
above, we tried not to prioritize image or text, but to juxtapose
them so that they spoke to each other in unexpected ways.
inspiration were the “Metro poems” or “subway poems” of the
author Jacque Jouet, a member of the Oulipo
literary collective. Here’s how Jouet himself describes the poems
(as translated by another Oulipian, Ian Monk):
From time to time, I write subway poems. This poem being an example.
Do you want to know what a subway poem consists of? Let's suppose you do. Here, then, is what a subway poem consists of.
A subway poem is a poem composed during a journey in the subway.
There are as many lines in a subway poem as there are stations in your journey, minus one.
The first line is composed mentally between the first two stations of your journey (counting the station you got on at).
It is then written down when the train stops at the second station.
The second line is composed mentally between the second and the third stations of your journey.
It is then written down when the train stops at the third station. And so on.
You must not write anything down when the train is moving.
You must not compose when the train has stopped.
The poem's last line is written down on the platform of the last station.
If your journey necessitates one or more changes of line, the poem will then have two or more stanzas.
An unscheduled stop between two stations is always an awkward moment in the writing of a subway poem
first workshop was the shortest, and in many ways was a test run. It
was also eminently practical: it took festival participants from
downtown, where Ana Mendes had just concluded a lecture/performance,
to Akademie Schloss Solitude, where a performance by Simone Rueß and
Bryan Eubanks awaited us.
The participants were given notebooks and a variety of pens, pencils and crayons. The instructions we provided were quite simple and open-ended: write some text, and create some images, based on your experience of the bus ride. This could be sensory experiences, but also emotional or intellectual reflections on the ride. Since it was dark by the time of the workshop, the experience of riding the bus is largely turned inwards, to the brightly-lit interiors of the vehicle.
This version of the workshop was longer and more structured. Here are the instructions for Round 2, which were placed in the notebooks of each participants:
Round 3 was perhaps not truly a workshop. It was more of a compulsion. We had ridden the more populated part of the 92 bus route, from Stuttgart to Leonberg and back. But what of its hidden underbelly, the mysterious route from Heslach Vogelrain to Leonberg? Deepani and I, joined by Rosa Menkman, set out to explore this mystery on 28 March. We walked from Solitude to Heslach Vogelrain through the forest (with brief interruptions to traverse underneath highways),
and we found our way to our old friend 92.
Art in Motion
All workshops are a process of setting something into motion. In this case, the motion was quite literal. (And it had quite visceral effects, as some participants became motion sick as the bus twisted and turned through the city outskirts.) Once the bus was moving, our role as facilitators was necessarily minimal: making our way through the bus was a laborious, awkward process, and aside from some basic instructions and troubleshooting, we mostly observed as the participants went to work. We had simply provided a framework; the results were due to the enthusiasm, focus and immense creative energy of the participants.