An outdoor installation at the Sejong Center in Seoul, Korea, from October to November 2014. During World Script Symposia, 26 artists were invited to design interactive installations inspired by approximately 20 world scripts. This work draws from the Indian script devanagari to render an installation like a baoli, or Indian step well.

Shaped like an inverted pyramid, a baoli is an Indian step well. People assemble at baolis in order to draw water or to cool down from the heat, but beyond pure utility, they also act as sites of congregation. Like the seemingly endless number of stairs that cross their walls, they hold countless encounters, stories, and legends. Modeled after its namesake, Baoli is thus a dynamic place that cultivates interaction and the exchange of ideas.

Measuring 10 feet by 6 feet, this installation occupies the dimensions of a typical contemporary workspace. However, the use of tables and chairs is traditionally uncommon in India: locals are accustomed to repurposing existing elements in a space to accommodate their forms. A baoli’s steps therefore offer a breadth of possible seating arrangements: elderly folks recline, crouching children play, squatting housewives converse, and girls lean as they do laundry. Clusters emerge, and the community gathering spot takes on a range of functions, whether as storefront, playground, parlor, or workplace. Baoli is likewise comprised of versatile, modular components that can be rearranged as needed.

At the convergence of the installation’s two staircases, a table marked with devenagari reflects the potential outcomes of these social interactions. All spoken languages are lost if not recorded, and devanagari is the script that serves this function in India. The table has organic, henna-like stains listing verbs that articulate the possible activity within the space. As a baoli acts as a vessel to contain communal connections, devanagari is the medium which retains the content of its conversations. 

© 2012-8 Studio SML | k, Sammy Seung-min Lee, All rights reserved.

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