A Curtain Raiser to The Unbox Festival

The countdown has begun for a festival that connects people and helps one to learn from the experience of people from various fields. The Unbox Festival is being put together, for the fifth time, by Quicksand Design Studio, a research and design practice with studios in New Delhi, Bangalore and Goa.

UnBox Festival will take place at the Bangalore International Centre, in Domlur, between February 15-17, 2019. Here is an interview with Babitha George, Co-Founder – UnBox Festival & Director – Quicksand Design Studio. She talks about the events at the festival this year, how the festival began, and the outcomes from the festival so far.

Tell us something about UnBox Festival?

The multi-disciplinary festival brings together people from various fields of design, technology, culture, art and Policymaking.

Incepted by Quicksand Design Studio in 2011 as an annual festival in India, and a fellowship program since 2012, UnBox has promoted new thoughts and partnerships at the intersection of design, art, culture and social innovation. UnBox is a growing community of creative, academic and developmental professionals seeking to collaborate beyond their immediate practice and looking to infuse future world experiences with imagination, sustainability and responsibility.

In 2014 we took a pause on the UnBox festival format to reflect and renew. While we were away, we spent time quietly tinkering. UnBox was evolving and we tried on many hats. We packed it small and took it to Ahmedabad, Bombay, Bangalore, Goa, Berlin, London, Leeds, Sheffield, Anstruther, and Tokyo. It became a lab, a caravan, a pop-up, an immersive media arts platform, and an in-house experiment for the folks at the studio. It’s now back in India as a festival platform after a 4-year hiatus and with the upcoming edition we hope to rediscover lost paths, forge new trails, and have a good time while we are at it!

This year, UnBox will take place at the Bangalore International Centre in Domlur between February 15-17, 2019 and will bring together a unique programme that features diverse tracks for participants to explore intersections across design, art, culture, technology and policy. The festival will invite diverse participation and bring together technologists, activists, policy makers and a mix of the creative community to ideate and collaborate on the most pressing challenges facing India today.

What are the main events at the festival?

UnBox 2019 will run across three full days with workshops, labs, conference sessions and conversations over meals, along with evenings of performances and excursions into the city curated to inspire, provoke and imagine. With a detailed programming in place this year we deep dive into conversations around art, design, culture, technology, policy, environment and social innovation. Right from conversations and discussions around emerging technologies such as AI to conservation and human ecologies, design led innovation to digital heritage and food ecosystems to creating a smell map of the city, UnBox 2019 brings together a diverse mix of projects which are shared either as evolved project ideas, or other projects that either culminate or are initiated at the festival. In this way the UnBox experience lives not just for the three days of the festival, but moves into a space of continued learning and collaborations.

Who are the participants at the festival?

UnBox 2019 is where people from seemingly disparate backgrounds, but with similar interests and values around collaboration come together to explore diverse themes and apply their unique skills and talents in co-creating new products and ideas. The festival line up in terms of participants and practitioners is carefully curated for a rich balance of the intellectual and the experiential.

How did the UnBox festival begin in the first place?

We started UnBox with the intent to create a larger community who value multidisciplinary approaches and are open to questioning their own practice and learn from others. 8 years in, we have built a vibrant network of artists, designers, thinkers, young professionals and stakeholders in the creative economy space in India and abroad. We’ve always put innovative experiments at the center of our programming and this year UnBox festival will be no different. With UnBox 2019 we hope to bring people from disparate backgrounds together to explore diverse themes and co-create new products and share fresh ideas. It’s important to have a safe space that allows for discussions about failure as well as about work that is in progress, which might be messy and chaotic.

Through UnBox, we want to allow for new encounters and conversations, and to draw inspiration from unlikely spaces. This festival edition will collectively engage with new futures in a way that acknowledges and builds on the multilayered complexity of our lives, from culture, memories and the past to the spaces and communities we inhabit and shape.

Tell us something about the outcome of the festival in previous years?

The outcomes of the festival are both tangible and intangible. Some projects have started at the festival and continued into longer projects. For eg; UnBox has been working with the University of Dundee for a while around decentralised narratives for technology that attempt to co-create solutions with communities that are appropriate for the context. We are partnering with Black Baza Coffee and Buffalo Back Collective on this project and all of these explorations will make its way to the festival this year via conversations, workshops and exhibits.

There are several other examples like this, also of projects that start at the festival and continue to be explored beyond the festival through active collaborations. Some other outcomes are intangible, through connections that are made. The intimate format of the festival allows for informal and meaningful networking, some of which are facilitated by the UnBox team, while some others happen organically.

What is most exciting is when practices that would traditionally not work with each other find points of connections and new ways of collaborating and exploring challenges. For eg; what does it mean for a technologist to work with a social scientist to think of what it means to develop more sensitive and thoughtful technology services for communities, that take into account the unique aspects of various contexts.  

Tell us something about the installations, exhibition and performances at the festival?  

Attendees can expect to see a diverse mix of installations, exhibitions and performances at the festival. For instance, Invisible Flock and Quicksand bring to UnBox 2019 Kāṇada kathegaḷu which aims to mix environmental data collection with technology to find new ways of representing hidden elements of nature and our fragile relationship to it.

Stories from Down Under: VR Cinema Pods with Crossover Labs (UK) is a showcase of cutting-edge immersive entertainment from Australia featuring award-winning virtual reality films in association with Australian High Commission. The films export you to different worlds including the life of a street artist, a magical autumn forest and the land of an Australian indigenous elder.

Anatomy of an AI – In this talk, Prof. Vladan Joler from Novi Sad University uncovers the invisible matrix of human labour, energy consumption and resource extraction that is hidden behind digital networks and Artificial Intelligence. Specifically, it takes the home assistant Amazon Echo as a case study of black box technology and, step by step, reconstructs its design and the relations of each component with planetary ecology and economy.

In a participatory performance installation titled Un Parfum En Commun (supported by Pro Helvetia) with Swiss artist Maeva Rosset the intent is to create a common scent that identifies with all those who become part of its creation.

Aurora with Invisible Flock and Quicksand aims to open up a dialogue on the value of water at a local and global level, to understand it as an element, a life force, a resource, a commodity and a danger.  

NOW – A Kinetic Life (supported by Goethe India) with Thomas Heidtmann (Lacuna Lab) and Bidisha Das is an interactive installation that spans a visual and acoustic connections between outer space and physical spaces that surround us. It is an orchestra of movement using elements from outer space, nature and human bodies as instrumentations.

Reminiscent of the warmth of a hardbound book and the scent of its pages, The Unlimited Book with Thejesh GN expands the ecosystem of a library as the keeper of infinite knowledge. Taking the form of a secret book safe which consists of a custom server that runs on battery it serves readings that are stored locally on the server without the use of the internet. Project Infinity with Thejesh GN and PARI, an edition of the Unlimited Book includes a curated selection of stories from the People’s Archive of Rural India.

Mix the City Auto with Indian Music Experience is a transient space created within an Indian Auto Rickshaw to showcase and experience the diversity of sound, music and cultural influences from various cities in the country. It features original content by Indian composers and musicians in the form of short audio and video samples, compiled by UK music producers (Boxed In, Django Django and Anna Meredith, along with Israeli producer Kutiman). Supported by the British Council.

UK-India Lab with Invisible Flock and Quicksand who are facilitating a new network of artists and creatives from UK and India through a lab that focuses on building meaningful, cross-disciplinary collaborations within environmental and socially engaged practices. Supported by the British Council.

Swarpeti with Pratyush Gupta explores Indian classical music is intertwined with nature, seasons, colours and emotions. It transcends time and cultures to create a blend of music full of depth and wonder.

Talking Albums with PARI present a curated set of albums that speak from The People’s Archive of Rural India, a living journal and an archive of stories from India’s countryside.

Boundary Conditions with Deepak Kurki Shivaswamy, Abhijeet Tambe is an installation which looks to ignite an experience that is created by placing moving bodies in and against an architectural space that speaks of itself.

Performances

UnBox Open House: Friday @ Bangalore International Centre

With: Seasonal Affected Beats (Tarun Balani) and Aural Eye (Alina & Daniel)

UnBox Afterdark: Saturday @ Foxtrot

With: SPRYK (Tejas), Thiruda, Alt-Q and Echofloat (Jeff Nelson)

UnBox Unwind: Sunday @ HummingTree

With: Abhijeet Tambe & Friends, Nikhil and Shreyas

How can someone participate in the festival?

Apart from an extended team of co-creators, mentors and practitioners who make up the festival programme, there is also a ticketed, open call for participants. Attendees will have access to talks, discussions, workshops, exhibitions, installations, meals, performances and excursions into the city curated to inspire, provoke and imagine.


Babitha George, Co-Founder – UnBox Festival & Director – Quicksand Design Studio

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