‘The Bathroom Project’ was originally inaugurated in April, and all the installations were open to the public for two days. This piece was written back then, but never got round to being published. Some of the painted bathroom art installments are still there at NUMA today, while others might have been removed.
“Just go inside and see what she does to you”, said the woman as she exits the bathroom. She threw in a bit of advice about how to use the bathroom as well: go in and sit down. Being a little hesitant, I asked my friend to go in first. She comes out and says “I tried flushing but nothing happened.” This did nothing to inspire my confidence.
Once inside, the bathroom seemed like a regular bathroom. After I closed the door and sat on the toilet, just like the lady told us to, I saw the serious looking woman staring at me. Looking around, I found that the image came from the projector placed on a ledge to my right. How could I have missed that coming in? Assuming it was a live stream, I tried to act cool and look back at her, meeting her eyes. I even tried talking to her, but she wasn’t one for conversation. I even tried waving my hands around like a mad man. Still nothing. Then it dawned on me that this was a video, played on a loop: A lady staring at you while you sat on the toilet.
This was just the first of the six bathrooms to be experienced at NUMA Bangalore. ‘Experience’ is indeed the right word because through an initiative called ‘The Bathroom Project’, each of the six bathrooms in the building were converted into exhibits by various artists. The bathrooms, sorry exhibits, were open to the public on the 29 and 30 of April.
The serious looking lady in the first bathroom was Moakshaa Vohra, an artist based out of Bangalore who is currently finishing her degree project at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology. Her bathroom/art installation was titled ‘Meet Me After Dinner’.
“It becomes a conversation between the one present and the one absent, yet present” says Moakshaa Vohra in the printed synopsis stuck on the outside of bathroom door. Through her video projection she wanted to explore the idea of privacy in the bathroom, to invade the occupant’s sense of personal space which one assumes a bathroom would provide.
“I felt like I was in her space and she was judging me for it. It was like when I’d go back to someone’s place after a date and freshen up in their bathroom. You feel like they’re watching you through the door,” said Vandita Nayak, a student who was recovering from exhibit number one. “This was just the first one, I don’t know what to expect from the rest”.
The next exhibit was simply called “My Bathroom”, an instalment by Tsohil Bhatia, a performance artist and image maker. This time my friend made me go in first.
On entering the bathroom I see a long haired man in an orange t-shirt standing on top of a stepladder. He looks at me and says “Sup, Bro?”
After apologising profusely for walking in on whatever he was doing, I said I’ll come back when he’s done. He said that he’s just another person enjoying the exhibit. After having convinced me, I joined him inside. This one too looked like a regular bathroom. He says “Just look man, the art is all around you,”.
Not wanting to look stupid, I say that yes there is art all around you. Everything is art right? Even when it’s not obvious. He drew my attention to the corner of the room saying “No man, it’s literally all around you.” On closer inspection I made out vague shapes along the side of the wall, like a line of ants. There’s tiny writing all around the edges of the room. The writing forms a narrative that goes all the way to the ceiling, which explained the presence of the stepladder. Having pointed the art out, orange t-shirt man leaves, passing on the responsibility of helping the next person find the art.
Some of the text went “Good looking boys at the swimming pool, looked even better in the bathroom in their briefs and bulges.” The text formed many narratives, like the text around the air vent spoke of a girl from the narrator’s school who jumped out of a vent just like this one. The text along the ceiling spoke of the narrator’s mother, who wanted to commit suicide in a bathroom and also about the narrator doing bad, bad things in his cubicle at work.
“Over the last few days, my inhabitance in this bathroom has made it mine. While I exert ownership over it with my memories of a bathroom, there remains a clean bathroom, like you deserve it.” says Tsohil Bhatia in the synopsis of his exhibit.
Moving up to the 5th floor, there is a door with a unisex bathroom sign outside it. Someone had drawn around the heads of the figures to make them look like eyes. This is where your experience of Suren Makkar’s bathroom starts. His exhibit titled ‘Population Me’ was about vague ideas he has about verbal and non-verbal human communication, going by the synopsis on the door.
On entering the bathroom I had to shield my eyes from the bright green walls reflected by the fluorescent lights in the ceiling. This looked nothing like a regular bathroom. Right across from the door were two figures, a man and a woman painted in red with eyes all over their bodies, except for where their eyes should be. Instead, they seemed to be wearing Virtual Reality headsets.
This theme of virtual reality extended onto the next wall where there was distorted text that didn’t seem to say anything at all until you looked at it in the mirror. It then quoted a Simon and Garfunkel song, a book by Hanif Kureishi and a Jaden Smith tweet, three things I never thought I’d see together in my lifetime, especially in a bathroom.
“Bro, the ‘PL’ looks like an ‘R'” said a man to his friend who was painting on pieces of tape stuck to a window. These were the artists putting the finishing touches on their Dr-Seuss-inspired Bangalore spin on “Oh The Places You’d Go”, or “Oh the Races You’d Go” depending on how you read it.
The exhibit was a collective effort of five artists/friends, each of whom contributed with an aspect of the bathroom. Rahul KP, aka
Mechanimal, made the metal scrap art that hung from the ceiling of the bathroom. Shunnal Ligade, aka The Bathroom Painter, and Tara Christabelle made the illustrations that covered the walls. Smitha, an interior designer, helped with the use of space and the layout. Saadhu, aka Layertape, made the tape art that adorned the window outside.
Once you recovered from the amount of things going on at the same time, you’d realize that this was the effect they hoped to have on you with their portrayal of the orchestral madness that is Bangalore.
Not even the tissue dispenser was spared.
On the 6th floor is the penultimate bathroom of the building. Smruthi Gargi Eshwar, a graphic designer based out of Delhi, created an instalment just using pieces of printed paper cut into interesting shapes. A lady who knew Eshwar told us that she ran into an unexpected problem when the maintenance staff threw out a bunch of her display thinking it was waste paper.
Despite this minor setback, the artist managed to cover the walls in printed parallelograms, triangles, and wisps of paper that crept up the walls and on to the ceiling. The display even spilled over to the wall outside the restroom.
To reach the final bathroom we had to walk through a dark corridor, criss-crossed with wires connected to a projector that projected the image of a little girl crying in a bathroom on the door of the actual bathroom. Not knowing any better, we walked past the projector and open the door to the bathroom, expecting to see the rest.
“Hello, excuse me, please can you come back here.” This was the frantic voice of Phillip C Phillip, the artist behind (or in this case in front of) the last exhibit, which was simply titled ‘Bullying’. After taking us back, he points to a line on the floor and says, “Just stand here and look.”
Now we see what Philip intended for us to see, the inside of the bathroom from a vantage point that skewed your perception. Philip C Philip, an aspiring film-maker from Kerala, dabbled into animation for the first time to put up this exhibit. “I was trying to experiment with spatial awareness. I had to measure the distance from the door to the point where the projector is. It took me two weeks to make this 20 second video”.
After we finished experiencing these six, strange bathrooms, we decide to leave. On the way down I turn to my friend and say “You know, I kinda need to use the bathroom now.”