My first (and last) UnBox was six years ago at Zorba, a farm in Delhi’s Sultanpur. It was sprawling. I remember screen printing my own t-shirt in one marquee, creating my own vodka infusion from a palette of colourful ingredients at another, having a picnic on the lawns - a chequered blanket in every basket! The founders at Quicksand Studios call it ‘the one that ended us’ and they’re only half-joking.
This year’s in Bangalore then seemed Bangalorean in comparison, scaled down, but with more tech, more thinking, more enquiry, more Pandi curry.
The brand spanking new Bangalore International Centre, with its mixed use of materials was an apt location for a multi-disciplinary festival where the programming lives in the intersections - of design, art, environment, social innovation, culture, policy, technology. Workshops (excellent), panels (successful), conversations (sometimes in need of a moderator) often linked to the festival theme around imagining new futures were the order for three days.
On day one, the workshop on feminist infrastructure made us question who creates the internet and create a wishlist of what might comprise safe, inclusive online spaces. The tech ecologies panel that followed explored ways in which technology and the natural world can coexist productively - how storytelling can help create a more sustainable coffee culture, how a Twitter bot helped conservationists catch wildlife poachers.
Personally, my curiosity in artificial intelligence will only be piqued once I can simulate myself in more than one place at any given time. At Unbox, each day’s workshops are programmed to coincide, which will show you your priorities pretty quickly. On day two, mine lay in the hands on Kannada lettering with Kalapi Gajjar-Bordawekar of Universal Thirst. We got both an introduction into the history of Indic type (very interesting to this girl whose childhood weekend’s were spent inside her grandparents’ letterpress printers) and a quick lesson in adapting Kannada alphabets to a particular style to make our own stickers (mine said LOVER of course) - would it be monolinear or calligraphic, bottom or top heavy? Equipped with a tiny bit of the terminology, I spent the rest of my time in Bangalore noticing these details in the handpainted and printed Kannada signage.
The Food Labs were, as always, a highlight. There were discussions around cultural appropriation, the future of urban farming, interconnected food ecosystems, but more importantly, there was lunch and Dennis Theo did a fine job of curating each day’s menu. We ate well - a feast of grandma’s recipes from Bangalore Oota Company out of a food truck, a Mangalorean spread and a home style meal using produce from various local sources including an excellent loaf of sourdough from Sour House.
On the last day, I moved from a fermentation workshop with them (we made sauerkraut!) to a panel about the same. My friends found themselves in workshops on consent and on data and infrastructure but fermentation is my life’s primary interest - as a holistic therapist, I’m extremely interested in the gut health - mental health connection and spending an afternoon talking about microbes and watching kefir bubble and hiss felt like the ultimate luxury.
As the festival closed, one statement from a participant stood out to encapsulate my experience better than I could have - something about how the organisers hold the reins lightly.
Unbox is a festival by the people, if you want it to be. Your peer in one workshop is your tutor in another. The public spaces, performances, excursions and installations are just as big a part of the programming but your interaction with them is up to you. You could spend your spare moments at the festival at the photocopier where (free) zinemaking was encouraged. Or you could contribute to Un parfum en commun, by far UnBox’s most out there installation. Swiss artist Maeve Rossett set up a station that demanded a workout on a cross trainer with cotton wool under your armpits which ended up in a vat of alcohol to determine the scent of the festival.
Nothing says ‘by the people’ as much as community perfume. Till 2020, UnBox Festival.
Photos: UnBox Festival Team and Sheena Dabholkar