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Infinite Library: An interactive space that captivates visitors through multisensory storytelling

Infinite Library: An interactive space that captivates visitors through multisensory storytelling

‘The Infinite Library’ has returned to the national capital in partnership with the National Crafts Museum & Hastkala Academy (Ministry of Textiles, Government of India) and Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust. 

After a highly successful run at the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan New Delhi last year, ‘The Infinite Library’ has returned to the Capital in partnership with the National Crafts Museum & Hastkala Academy (Ministry of Textiles, Government of India) and Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust. The special edition of the installation titled ‘The Infinite Library x Shadow Puppet Theatre’ includes a set of unique experiences to accompany the VR project. The exhibition is on display at the National Crafts Museum & Hastkala Academy from 9th to 31st August 2023. The Infinite Library essentially reimagines the future of libraries as interactive spaces that engage visitors through multisensory forms of storytelling. It seeks to embed human stories within a much grander narrative, one which includes the birth of our planet and the evolution of all life forms. Mika Johnson is the creative director of The Infinite Library.

Johnson, a multimedia artist by profession, is interested in dream-like narratives, mythos, rituals, and biodiversity. Johnson draws inspiration from a short story by the legendary Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges. “I was on tour with a project. It was an adaptation of Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’. And then I came here and while I was here I was speaking to some colleagues and that’s when the idea of a virtual library occurred to me. My first inspiration was coming from Borges, the Argentinean writer who wrote in 1941 a short story called ‘The Library of Babel’. And the way he describes it is infinite. While there are only 25 symbols but the library contains every possible book that could exist with those 25 symbols. So it exists forever,” explains Johnson who isn’t directly involved with the new installation. “Let’s say the infinite library curation is mine but people can also recreate it remotely. We have blueprints online on our website ‘www.ithinkitsjust.infinite-library.com’ and so you could see the blueprints there,” reveals Johnson whose new project titled ‘Theta Noir’ believes in using artificial intelligence to make the world a better place.
Johnson, however, did speak to Anurupa Roy, Founder and Managing Trustee, Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust and Manjima Chatterjee regarding the curriculum creation for different target groups of young people. “Anurupa was our main consultant on the Library of Shadows, which is the VR piece based in South Indian puppetry. We had an amazing time working with her. She really made that beautiful part of the installation originally in Delhi when we did our world premiere. And she brought a lot of puppeteers actually on board as well, including Gundu Raju ji from Karnataka. She’s a puppeteer and she’s also an academic in the sense as she’s done a lot of research on shadow puppetry. So I think it’s important that she’s the connection to shadow puppetry in this installation. And then Manjima Chatterjee came on as a consultant for the educational part of the curriculums, which we are now creating for different target groups of young people. And so that’s how the infinite library will travel from here on. It will sort of move as VR headsets potentially into high schools, into public libraries, into other spaces,” explains Johnson.

Evidently, the Infinite Library is much more than a Virtual Reality (VR) experience alone, for the installation curates the evolution of storytelling itself. “It showcases traditional knowledge systems from times past and links their journeys to the present – from Indian shadow puppet arts that created characters in leather as a historical record in themselves, and Polynesian navigation systems that relied on star paths for direction, to bioscopes and zoetrope pre-film animation techniques, and onto 20th century film and 21st century VR realms – the experience makes these connections tangible and sensible for the visitor. The Infinite Library x Shadow Puppet Theatre project has travelled the world for three-years and for this edition there isn’t a more kindred venue than the National Crafts Museum & Hastkala Academy in New Delhi,” rejoices Anurupa Roy. National Crafts Museum is committed to promoting handloom and handicraft practices with an aim to increase awareness among new generations. “Puppet arts are an important tradition among artisans across several Indian states.

It is important to highlight their historical and contemporary significance as it helps preserve the tradition, by serving as a source of livelihood for the artisans involved in the craft as well as boosting growth of exports. To engage and impart knowledge to the current generation of visitors, we have been striving to make the museum more modern and experiential, so embracing digitization technology such as Virtual Reality (VR) is a need of the hour. In that same vein, exhibiting The Infinite Library x Shadow Puppet Theatre offers a great opportunity for visitors to learn about and understand this ancient Indian tradition and its repertoire,” explains Sohan Kumar Jha, Senior Director, National Crafts Museum & Hastkala Academy.

Aarushi Khanna, Project Coordinator, Goethe-Institut /Max Mueller Bhavan New Delhi, opines that the project reimagines the library as a knowledge system reflecting on and responding to our time. She explains, “It fosters a much-needed connection between technology, culture and nature, between past, present and future, to transmit knowledge in modes that are current.

This partnership with Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust and the National Crafts Museum & Hastkala Academy is quite thrilling as we took the core concept of the project, drew new connections, and extended it to the context of the National Crafts Museum. Complete with a gallery walk, a hands-on shadow puppetry workshop, a live shadow puppet performance with a living master of the form – this edition lets visitors, young or old, fully immerse in an exploration of diverse traditions of knowledge and the creative arts.”

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