Sreyashi Bhattacharyya “Tinni”, India

Images from the end of semester exhibit (December 2014)

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Final Project Statement:

NICHE niːʃ,nɪtʃ noun:

  1. a shallow recess, especially one in a wall to display a statue or other ornament.
  2. a comfortable or suitable position in life or in employment.
  3. an specific ecological area where an organism inhabits; the role or function of an organism or species in an ecosystem; the interrelationship or a species with all the biotic and abiotic factors affecting it.

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Snapshots from the Open Studio event Nov 14 at the Siena Art Institute: 

Finalized structures for the collaborative installation “Today is Tomorrow: The Future of Colle” at the Archeological Museum in Colle di Val d’Elsa:

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Colle di Val d’Elsa si è trovata in uno spazio molto peculiare fra il suo passato e il suo presente. C’è un’accumulazione, un mantenimento di tutti gli strati di storia che rivela le storie di Colle – le storie delle famiglie, delle famiglie che queste ospitavano e di ogni vita che le ha vissute. Quando si considera il concetto di tempo, passato, presente e futuro sono in un costante dialogo fra loro che comporta un costante riflettere, ripristinare e reimmaginare ognuna di queste realtà.

Alla luce di questa mentalità, qui c’è la storia di due edifici che esistono insieme per ricordare il passato e chiarire il futuro. Di fronte alla nuova Piazza Arnolfo ci sono tre vecchie case che sono restate unite per molti secoli. In origine erano di proprietà di tre diverse famiglie che sono cresciute una generazione dopo l’altra fra le loro strette mura. Ma nel corso degli anni, dopo aver conversato dalle stesse finestre e e aver sentito le voci degli altri attraverso gli stessi muri, le famiglie cominciarono a capire che non erano soltanto vicini ma erano in effetti una sola grande famiglia. Perciò abbatterono i muri che le separavano e aprirono le loro case ad ogni altra famiglia della città. Riempite con tutti i libri e i mobili che le loro famiglie avevano raccolto attraverso i secoli, crearono il giardino della Memoria dove la gente poteva riunirsi e, imparare dal passato e immaginarsi il futuro attraversando la storia. Ma ciò impensierì molto uno dei loro vicini. Era preoccupato che se tutti avessero costantemente guardato indietro imparando dal passato, il loro futuro sarebbe semplicemente stato ancora una volta lo stesso passato. Perciò trascorreva tutto il giorno a come poter ispirare la meraviglia, la curiosità e l’invenzione a tutti coloro che vivevano in città. Camminava davanti alla sua finestra, affacciata su Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, pensando a cosa avrebbe ispirato il mondo. Sopraffatto e incapace di contrastare questa preoccupazione, si sedette e decise di chiedere una risposta a sua figlia, una bambina di tre anni. Mentre il sole scendeva e la stanza si faceva scura, accese una luce. Appena la luce fu accesa, sua figlia scoppiò a ridere eccitata e lui vide i suoi occhi raggianti riempirsi di stupore. All’improvviso tutto divenne chiaro. Decise di costruire il Giardino delle Luci. I labirinti di luci svettanti riaccendevano la curiosità infantile di ognuno ricordando la possibilità di un esteso mondo misterioso sopra le loro teste e ispirando la loro immaginazione a concepire un futuro meraviglioso.

Colle di Val d’Elsa has found itself in a peculiar liminal space between its past and its future. There is an accumulation and a preservation of all the layers of history that reveals the stories of Colle Val d’Elsa – the stories of the buildings, the families they housed, and the lives each of them lived. When considering time, the past, the present and the future are in constant dialogue with one another and there is a constant process of reflecting, restoring and reimagining each of these realities.

In light of this mentality here is the story of two buildings that exist together to remember the past and enlighten the future. Facing the new Piazza Arnolfo, stand three old houses that have stood together for many hundreds of years. Originally these houses were owned by three different families who rose one generation after another within its narrow walls. However over the years, after having conversations out of the same windows and hearing each other voices through the same walls, the families began to realize that they were not simply neighbors but they were in fact one large family. So they tore down the walls between them and opened up their homes to every other family in the city! Filled with all the books and furniture their families had collected over the many hundreds of years, they created the Garden of Memory where people could come together, learn from the past, and envision the future while existing within history. However this made one of their neighbors very concerned. He became worried that if everyone was constantly looking back and only learning from the past, their future would simply be the past once again. So he thought all day of how he could inspire wonderment, curiosity, and invention within everyone in the city. He paced up and down his window, looking down on via Giuseppe Garibaldi end began to meditate on what would inspire the world. Overwhelmed and unable to tackle his concern, he sat down and turned to his three year old daughter for answers. With the sun setting and the room darkening, he decided to turn on a light. The second the light was turned on, his daughter’s mouth burst with giggles of excitement and he saw her eyes widen, beaming with amazement. Suddenly it all became clear. He decided to build the Garden of Lights. The mazes of towering lights reignited everyone’s childish curiosity by reminding everyone of the possibilities of the mysterious expansive world above them and inspiring their imagination to conceive a beautiful future.

Work-in-progress: collaborative installation “Today is Tomorrow: The Future of Colle.”

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Oct 20, 2014:  Fifth Reading Response:

The excerpt “The Blue of Distance” from Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guild to Getting Lost discusses distance – how it is experienced and how it can be represented. The process of viewing a space and experiencing a space is largely dependent on perspective. Whether it is physical perspective, emotional perspective, historical perspective, or visual perspective all of these varying modes of experiencing a space affect how this space is imprinted in our minds and how it is then later reimagined or recreated. Ultimately there is no objective way representing a space because the act itself is so subjective. Often times we consider this inability to objectively, logically, or accurately map out something as a failure in some way, when in reality it isn’t. Solnit discusses how adults are obsessed with abstractions, while kids are constantly engaged with what is immediately in front of them, interacting with the space and manipulating the space. This subjective experience is what makes a space come alive because by immersing yourself within a space you make the space meaningful since space only exists in relation to other spaces.

Oct 13, 2014:  Project Statement, “Today is Tomorrow: The Future of Colle”

Colle Val d’Elsa has found itself in a peculiar place between restoring its past and reimagining its future. In my portion of the exhibit I would like to explore this tension between the past, the present and the future of Colle and elaborate on how this conflict can be resolved. My portion of the exhibit will be comprised of six buildings, most of which are houses or stores and two of which will function as images to display a preservation of the past and the promise of the future. My main building will be three houses that have come together to form a public courtyard comprised of old furniture. I want to reconsider how we think about public and private spaces, and display how in the future old spaces are reconsidered and reimagined to facilitate communal spaces and more open conversations. I want the garden to be comprised of old furniture to recognize the rich history of Italy and the preservationist mentalities of Italians. It’s important to recognize and build off of one’s past, and I imagine that this garden would be a space for people to meet and be surrounded by their past when considering their future. The second main building is going to be a light store to explore the promise of the future. When electricity was invented, many thought that it was magical and a symbol of the future. I want to build on this image and bring light into Colle by making it a space where people gather at night for cultural celebrations and performances. The other buildings will be houses with restaurants and shops on the bottom floor.

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Oct 8, 2014: Fourth Reading Response:  Questions for Prof. Ulivieri on Vernacular Architecture

1. From my understanding vernacular architecture consists of a reciprocal relationship between architecture and it’s environment (social, agricultural, etc.). Could you comment on movements of architecture such as futurism, in which there was an application of non-traditional techniques and forms to create a new vocabulary to mold an idealized future, and their relationship to this discussion of vernacular architecture?

2. When considering the history of trade, imperialism, and colonialism from the 18th to 20th century, these periods are evident in the application of different architectural forms in buildings all around Europe from that time. These buildings end up being more of a patchwork than an actual diffusion and understanding of different architectural forms from different cultures. In your article you mentioned how “the survival of this tradition is threatened worldwide by the pressure of economic, cultural and architectural homogenization,” which seems historically tied to trade, imperialism, and colonialism. However, in now there is a lot of cultural diffusion which is giving rise to new communities, traditions, and identities and essentially building another layer of history. Could you comment on how you see this relationship between old tradition and new traditions? There’s something very poetic about old spaces being repurposed and people continuing to live their modern-day lives in old decaying settings (like Siena!) – could you comment on how you perceive these situations in which the boundaries between tradition and modernity are being tested, in relation to vernacular architecture?

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Sept 23, 2014:  Third Reading Response:

What I find most fascinating about Wafa Hourani’s Photo-Life investigations is how he imagines these communities and the lives of its members and ultimately revives photographs by giving them a story and a voice. When I think about my relationship with Siena, thus far, I feel as if I am already familiar with certain streets, paths, and buildings that I walk through and walk passed regularly. I find myself constantly imagining the life of others who have walked down the same paths as I have and who live behind the doors that I have photographed, but truthfully I have no idea what kind of lives the people who live behind those walls actually lead. Tour guides, art historians, and tourists all have so many stories to tell about this mesmerizing city of Siena, but I find myself constantly craving those underlying stories of the mundane day-to-day existences of those who have lived and grown up in Siena. Living with a host family, I am lucky enough to get a glimpse of those existences, but there is so much that is still private and cannot be explained or learned.  I keep wondering if there are others living here who have experienced similar struggles as I have and whether there are certain shared experiences that would make me less foreign. This entire process of imagining the possible lives of people I’ve never met makes me more and more conscious and cautious of my ignorance, and it reminds me how these imagined lives are simply projections of myself onto the landscape, onto the streets, onto the woman I see walking in front of me. For example, I’m always responsive to all the images of the Virgin Mary that greet me as I walk through the streets of Siena. The images can be found in statues above doorways or on antique tiles that have been plastered onto the façade of buildings. There is an integration of religion into all parts of city life and I wonder how this integration is perceived and practiced by those who live in the city. Do people feel blessed by the statue above their door every time they leave their house? Do they feel protected in some special way? Does this change how people relate to one another in the house or outside the house? Maybe these questions are ridiculous ones to ask and I’m only asking it because I’m an overly sensitive soul, but I feel as if there are so many stories echoing from all the walls I walk by and I don’t know how true they are. I definitely relate to Baudrillard when he discusses scenes and how “for there to be a scene, there has to be an illusion, a minimum of the real which carries you off, seduces or revolts you.” I feel as if every story I imagine is an illusion, like a play I have written for myself to feel more within this new setting that I find myself in.


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I often make up stories for interesting things that I see, so I recorded two such stories in my sketchbook. I realized that it was a very situationist practice because the spaces just kind of make up stories and experiences of their own as I walk through them.


Sept 16:  Second reading response:

I often consider systemization to be one of the most beautiful plagues we, as humans, face. Humans are obsessed with deciphering and defining aspects of the human experience until they have been characterized and categorized into “spectacles” or “phenomena” of the human experience. When considering Victorian curiosity cabinets, this process of systemization began as one inspired by an almost childish sense of wonder. However over the years it seems as if the refinement of these forms of systemization has bleached us of our fascination with the wonders of life and has diseased us with the “banalisation” that Ctcheglov prescribes to the 20th century. This fuels a desire to rediscover the magical wonders of our seemingly mundane and sterile surroundings, leading to the development of psychogeography. I find it amusing how psychogeography, especially with its academic and pretentious pseudo-science title, is simply another formulaic system created to facilitate a “natural” state of an “aimless stroll,” when in reality it is a forced experience with an ultimate goal. However, this development illustrates a need to reconnect our lives with the spaces that we’re living in. I often think about how we have created templates for ourselves of how civilization functions, how cities are erected, how society is divided, etc., based on the seeming success of preceding civilizations, without reconsidering whether those original modes of living are the best way of living. So we subscribe ourselves to particular roles and schedules and walk along gated pathways that only offer us particular prescribed outcomes.  This practice of psychogeography seems to be an attempt to rewire our society by reconsidering the environments we live in and the moods and behaviors they inspire, and the causational relationship between space and the self.

When considering how tourism assigns particular lives to cities, it’s interesting how a city can stop growing and living for itself because it is bound to the life that has been prescribed to it and that it is thriving off of. And this process also causes the city to lose its aura, since people will visit the city specifically to recreate the image of the city that has been reproduced in so many different settings. This brings into question, what does it mean to discover a place? Almost all of the places that have been “discovered” have had long lives of their own long before the date of their “discovery.” The concept of discovery is incredibly ego-centric. Discovery is a large part of psychogeography, since psychogeographers believe that they are capable of objectively mapping the emotions and behaviors of a place based on their experience walking around unfamiliar spaces. This approach is incredibly reductive when considering how subjective one’s experience. Moreover, wandering is a privilege that adds an entire layer of class-based experiences that is reserved to a particular group of people. Therefore, the methodology of psychogeography doesn’t truly accomplish the goals it wishes to achieve.

This consideration of objective versus subjective experience and de Certeau’s discussion of voyeur and walker, reminds me of Panofsky’s distinction between mathematical space and psychophysiological space in “Perspective as Symbolic Form.” Panofsky distinguishes between mathematical space and psychophysiological space to deconstruct the notion of perspective. Mathematical space is an infinite, unchanging and homogenous space, while psychophysical space is a space confined by the limits imposed by our perception based on the experience of the space. Hence, perspective is seen to transform psychophysiological space into a constructed mathematical space. Psychophysiological space takes into account our physical presence and the natural spheroidal field of vision, which mathematical space doesn’t. Therefore, perspectival constructions are the result of conscious efforts to flatten a curved (image on retina) reality. This creates definite size and form to otherwise variable and distorted objects and also negates differences between different dimensions (front and back, right and left, etc.). This creates a discrepancy between the reality experienced by human and the conscious perspectival constructions made by humans. When considering how psychogeographers are expected to wander through space without being controlled by the “currents” that may compel them to enter or exit spaces, they almost exist outside of real psychophysical space because their perspective of the space is flattened by the fact that they do not experience the magnetism of the world around them. Similarly one may experience a sense of distance as a voyeur, in de Certeau’s view, but may also exist within space and be influenced by the space that envelopes them.


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This is a series of photos taken of the inner face of my family’s door. This collection of popular images of saints was simply tucked away behind the bars that are used to lock the door. It is almost like a little book, sitting silently on the door, that I found fascinating when considering what useful or important spaces are in our daily lives. I think it is amazing how this liminal space seems to be blessed by these images of saints, who I would imagine protect those living in the house and those who journey out of the house.



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Sept 9, 2014: First Reading Response:

When reading James Bradburne’s essay, “Shifting our ground,” I really responded to his discussion of boundaries as a place of encounter. Boundaries and the territories they create are only significant due to the experiences they facilitate. Growing up I considered the cities that I grew up in as a vital part of my self-concept. I would tell people that I was “from” Beijing and that Beijing was “home,” even after moving to a new city and knowing that in three years when I’d move again I’d say the same about this currently new city. I envied my friends who could point out the street where they first rode a bike, and I constantly desired a similar sense of ownership of some kind of land to house my memories of that space and time. However, over time I began to loose that sense of ownership of the land and I was no longer “from” Beijing and Beijing was no longer one of my “homes,” but despite my fears the memories didn’t disappear. The experiences themselves were not bound by the physical territories I had assigned to them. The experiences bled out of those lands and found a way to somehow affect every proceeding experience. I no longer feel any particular connection to any physical territory, but rather to the life of my experiences and the space they’ve created in my life.

When considering this physical conception of territory, I find myself constantly thinking of ownership and the historical practice of conquering and colonizing land, which parallels the historical practice of conquering and colonizing bodies. J.M Coetzee addresses this parallel in his novel Disgrace, where he utilizes rape as a symbol of invasion, subjugation and suppression. I have always considered all forms of sexualized violence as a violation of one’s physical, mental, or emotional boundaries. This violation is representative of an absence of acknowledgment of another’s personhood, and therefore one’s belief that they have ownership over another’s choices and actions. This alternate conception of territory further acknowledges an essential question: how rigorously must we define and declare our boundaries for them to be respected and protected? Walter Guadagnini’s essay, “Il n’y a plus de Pyrénées,” discusses the paradoxical nature of boundaries and how if a border were to remain intact it would eventually wither and die and states that therefore while it is “created to enclose, a border always ends up encouraging opening and, above all, change.” While I appreciate and agree with some of Guadagnini’s discussion of boundaries, I find it difficult to reconcile the inevitability of overcoming boundaries that he presents with my perspective on personal boundaries.


Tinni Bhattacharyya is a rising junior at Oberlin College, where she is an Art History and Visual Arts double major with a concentration in Cognitive Sciences. Tinni grew up as a bit of a nomad, moving every three (sometimes two) years to a new country and a new home. This experience has shaped a lot of her work, as she enjoys exploring the processes behind the development of ones’ identity and of varying perspectives.

Tinni often draws upon her knowledge of biology, neuroscience and psychology to investigate these concepts primarily through printmaking, mixed media drawings, and multi-media installations.

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