Video project that takes us on new and recently rebuilt roads in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and India. Endoscopic views from the interior of the road system, and of the interfaces through which pride, money, data, climate, and vulnerability are connected to it, heighten our sense of developmental possibility, failure, and the deep ambiguity of road achievements.
‘A Passage Through Passages’ is a collaboration with anthropologists, and draws upon ethnographic and archival work in five field sites. This film is part of Roads and the Politics of Thought, a 5-year ethnographic study of road-building in South Asia.
A 5-screen film, that was at the centre of an exhibition with the same name, that opened in January 2020 at SOAS, London.
Two formal gestures foreground the film.
One is the idea of a faceted view in which you could be standing at one point, like the mysterious ‘zero-mile’ monument does in the middle of Nagpur city, and be simultaneously thinking of the town of Jabalpur and the now obscure village of Kowtah, probably often mistaken in people’s minds for Kota in Rajasthan, with one eye to Calcutta and the other to Bombay, a foot in a hundred-year colonial effort to map a territory called India, and another in the Indian nation today. The faceted view is an overlap, against the single space and time of the classical filmic / camera eye, and ‘after’ editing on the timeline. Sometimes, like in the now-classic Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica film Videograms of a Revolution, it is about two cameras looking at the same event. More often in this film, it is about a multiplicity of journeys and resulting outward views: looking down the road, and the side of the road, while standing by the roadside, in 2017, again in 2019; turn, fold, glance, repeat.
The second idea has something to do with ‘endoscopy’. This is our name for the kind of tunnel vision produced by ubiquitous dash cams, go-pros and the like. In systems terms, they have a certain interior, encyclopaedic value. For example, that of having mapped out, as we did, the entirety of the A9 from Dambulla to Jaffna in Sri Lanka at 50 frames per second. This was a different journey from when Google’s streetview cars did the same in 2015, and some surprising comparisons can be made between the two.
Remember those cams in Russia which are widespread as a requirement for accident insurance, but also end up recording falling meteorites and wild animals. The point of the endoscopic view is that it is what the car sees. And bus, or truck. This roadiness leads to a peculiar kind of image: like a CCTV system does, or an intestinal probe. It has its own interests and fascinations that only sometimes overlap with those of humans. At the dawn of (the fantasy of) the self-driving car, and in the dense matrix of automated toll booths and new world infrastructure projects, the view from transport, quite literally, has something to say about the hopes and fears of this, let’s say, century.
A Passage through Passages takes a journey that no single person could today undertake, for reasons of national politics. It travels on both infamous and obscure roads, roads made as pride, as duty, as defence, as investment, as welfare and as oppression. The title of the project riffs on the classic Orientalist text A Passage to India, and says that here and now, the ethnographic questions overlap with systemic ones. It also contains an acknowledgement of networks beyond roads, of the ways in which for example, an Indian artist group followed an Italian ethnographer down a road in Madhya Pradesh, and tried to make something else of it.
The film begins in central India, rotating around the base of the Nagpur measurement tower and around ideas central to India post-independence: village development, volunteerism, planning, seva, shramdaan, and technological progress. Nagpur is a useful place to evaluate how these ideals look today, from the point of view of a right-wing ideology with an HQ there, which currently drives nation-state thinking on these issues.
Part 1 is about a toll road in Madhya Pradesh, and begins with the figure of foraging sheep, of free lunches by the roadside, and of the Raika, or sheepherders from Rajasthan who travel on this road among many others, tarred or not. It has events and flashes that are drawn from the above-mentioned Tommaso Sbriccoli’s five-day walk down the road. One flash takes place on Independence Day, where a group of toll-booth managers exhort the toll operators to not break the system, to think of the nation. The fact that the profit from this road goes into international finance networks remains unspoken and invisible at such times. Another flash occurred on an edit table, when a map from 1891 was overlaid onto a contemporary satellite image, and it snapped perfectly into place. Sometimes, facets turn out to be the same.
Part 2 was an insert or bridge about a place in western India very familiar to Edward Simpson, with whom we have travelled, near here, on more watery roads. The tale of the horse-riding Jakhs is a classic story of appropriation, but also a lesson in the ambiguity of images and icons. Images of mines and their aftermaths in Kutch take us over the border to Tharparkar, where in a very similar landscape, a brand-new Chinese funded mining project needed a new road. And from there to Sri Lanka, on the A9 to Jaffna both before and after the war, and from there to the new island-hopping roads of the Maldives. There is a small lesson there in the Addu Island story, from a casual and low-key biker ‘gang’, about how to use a road for pleasure.
During our engagements with professional anthropologists on the project, we found them curious about and actively engaged in what one may call neighbouring contexts: Luke Heslop in Sri Lanka via his PhD work, Edward Simpson through a book or two in Kutch adjoining western MP, and Mustafa Khan in the so-near-yet-so-far Kutch, from the other side so to speak. In a way their interests had migrated from nearby worlds. This led us to think about the migrating voice and idea, or the one that is operable in more than one field site. Which, in turn, became important for the film in the ways in which understandings are relayed across these sites, i.e. a passing of the ball.
Who gets to think and talk about the whole? Coming from a film practice that has resisted voice-of-God narrators as well as essay-style author-driven voiceovers, we were interested to see what the distribution of speech and ideas looked like in the film. The distribution that is now present in the film is made up of about 20 voices, many of whom appear exactly twice, or in two different contexts. These people are, or play, novelist-editors, student-experts, ethnographer-bikers, planner-activists, villager- historians, actor-subjects, and more. They perform a spreading around of ideas and knowledges of the roads, beyond the studiers and the studied.
And, finally, to return to a technical point: this film is a composition made from diverse sources. It relays its debts and sources and wishes to be part of relays in turn. It is part of an ecosystem of thinking and images that is trans-geographical, and that must build its own roads, against the old ones of nation and empire.
Faiza Ahmad Khan
Sound Design Venkatesh Iyer
GFX Mubashir Niyaz
Color Correction Dwani Guru
Print Gurpreet Kaur
Hidayat Sami as Novelist
Vishrut Landge as Highways consultant
Shabnam Vadhera as Gadkari's Neighbour
Sameera Iyengar as Bureaucrat
Ashok Sukumaran as Researcher
Udit Parashar as Shopkeeper
Indrani Misra as Financial Analyst
Govind Kushwaha as Toll Collector
Bhagat Singh as Supervisor
Shabnam Vadhera as Gandhian
Edward Simpson as Anthropologist
Ishaque H Khalifa as Ex-miner
Rana Singh Sodha as Security Guard
Kumbhaji Hamir Pragji as Hamir Bhai
Hamir Pragji Jadeja as Hamir Bhai's son
Bhagu Prithvirajsinh Jadeja as Bhagu
Frankfinn Institute Trainee as Tour Guide
Aftershocks: The Rough Guide to Democracy footage courtesy Rakesh Sharma.
Mohammed Iqbal Rahmo as Tailor
Mustafa Khan as Anthropologist
Shaina Anand as Development Specialist
Hidayat Sami as Editor
Allah Dino Shah as Patel of Rilo Rind
Ayoub Memon as Local Historian
Pratap Meghwal as Activist from Gorano
Ashok Sukumaran as Speculator
Dost Mohammed Halepota as Land Owner
In Sri Lanka
Chandrakagupta Thenuwara as Artist
Vijay Nagaraj as Political Economist
Indrani Misra as Journalist
Vindhya Buthpitiya as Anthropologist
Shrujana Sridhar as Photographer
Sameera Iyengar as Tourist
Simpreet Singh as Civil Engineer
Joshua Thomas as Student
Balasundaram Pillai as VC Jaffna University
Ahilan Kadrigamar as Political Economist
Deborah Menezes as Anthropologist
Imparaj as RDA Engineer
Luke Heslop as Anthropologist
Shaina Anand as Filmmaker
Tamil Eelam Police as Policeman
LTTE camera persons
Special Thanks to Iffat Fatima for the footage archive from her film The Other Side Peace, 2005.
Luke Heslop as Anthropologist
Joshua Thomas as Biker
Shrujana Sridhar as Lubna Hawwa
Ashok Sukumaran as Environmentalist
Nafiu De Yeste
Sarre De Yeste
Subhadra Anand, Srinivas Chokkakula, Khalid Chauhan, Gillean Dickie, Jan Gerber, Natasha Ginwala, Ahilan Kadrigamar, Siddhant Karnick, Sandeep Mhatre, Baby Narayan More, Sameep Padora, Sairaj Patil, Sharmini Perera, Nada Raza.
Screening of a new 5-channel film by CAMP: 85 minutes
A Passage Through Passages is inspired by ethnographic and archival work in five field sites.
The screening is followed by a discussion, and a response from Susan Schuppli.
A Passage Through Passages is inspired by ethnographic and archival work in five field sites. The central feature of the exhibition is a multi-screen film work by CAMP.
On three screens, a city-symphony filmed by automated CCTV cameras in Amsterdam. The optical and motor capacities of these cameras are pushed to an extreme. Certain human subjects reappear near or far in the images, suggesting a form of reciprocal knowledge or intent, a secret pact between cameras and people.
A 100-foot long sequence of photo-cutouts, first shown at the Chennai Photo Biennale, March 2019
20 mins, HD. 2 - channel installation
Filmed in Guangzhou at the Zhuhai International Container Terminal
Single exposure solar cyanotype print on cotton fabric
CAMP with Shunya collective and Clark House Initiative 22 x 5 feet
An image of the sea as its own “country”, with frontier towns at its edges disorients an easy reading of this territory
A three-channel installation from 8mm film From the Clark House family archives, sequenced in a timeline as above. Each screen is a different part of the same 8mm frame, usually a face.
Feature-length travelogue by sea between western India, eastern Africa and the Persian gulf. First shown at a purpose built outdoor cinema on the creekside in Sharjah in 2013, where many of the sailors gather. Shown in Documenta 13 in an abridged form, as part of the installation The Boat Modes.
83 mins. Original format(s): HDV, SDV, VHS, Cellphone videos (variable). Stereo audio and in-cameraphone music.
4 channel HDV, 8 minutes
A screenplay in Courier 12pt melodramatic format, spanning the first three days of lobbying for cabinet spots, in the wake of the Indian general elections of 2009. The dialogue is entirely from phone taps made by the government. The screenplay slows them down and asks: what kinds of environments and scenes may lie behind them, and how are they connected?
Printed screenplay and IVR-based phone line, audience can type in scene numbers to hear dialogue in the original voices. Also performed as a reading.
Act II (Hum Logos) is a 45-minute audio film spliced from the Pad.ma collection of the Radia Tapes. It covers two months after the Indian general elections of 2009, with the new cabinet in power. The film asks: if debate around these tapes was about whether they are edited or not, or as Justice Mukhopadhay put it, "splice has been added", then what can further editing do?