Tunnel of Us

Tunnel Of Us is a site-specific project that engaged with people’s place making in the congested Tunnel Ambanidia in Antananarivo, Madagascar. This tunnel is one of two built during the colonial era and links the East of Antananarivo with the city center, a city that was designed to accommodate 100 000 people but currently accommodates over 2 million with 5 million movements in the city everyday and a further 30 000 new people arriving every month. As a result, uncontrolled urban sprawl has lead to serious electricity, clean water, sanitation, health and heavy traffic congestion challenges for all the people living within the city. Most people in Antananarivo traverse on foot or with public transport, and the tunnel facilitates this gushing of the masses as they proceed in and out of the city center.  The directional flow of traffic within the tunnel seems to condense a part of the city in one place; housed within walls echo experiences and rhythms of the cities movement in an almost peaceful hum-drum meta-soundscape.

 

By standing still in the tunnel and allowing the sense of rushed urgency to dissipate as my lungs acclimatized to the polluted environment, I began to notice the markings on the walls; drawn into the thick layer of filth that clung to the surface of the tunnel were lines marking movement: waves from objects scraping the walls as people walked by. In between those lines, I noticed that people had drawn out their names in the grime, spending enough time in the toxic tunnel to mark their presence. 

 

Mostly, pedestrians either rushed passed me, or told me to keep moving as I stood still. But soon I began to notice the others who also found solace in the tunnel; a small girl child dressed in rags sat up against the wall playing with stones, unnoticed by the busy passer bys; a man who was severely crippled and disease ridden seemed to prefer to walk in the road toward oncoming traffic, so they had to slow down and engage with him – a connection he might have found hard to come by outside in the busy city; and then, also, the invisible people who spent time marking their presence on the walls. Was this marking of self an act of place-making in such a busy city?

 

I returned the next day and began to mimic the place-makers by drawing onto the walls with my fingers, writing words that were meant to be a trigger for a further possible playful engagement. The words were written in Malagasy and translated into: travel; move/movement; me; I am; I am here; my name is; I come from; we are alive; we came here; I live here; here.  I spent the day playing with lines of movement connecting to these words and illustrating some of the urban sprawl and rural landscapes that existed outside of the tunnel walls, until my fingers could not draw anymore. Upon returning the following day I noticed that some new words had been added around the ones I had left as well as along the drawn movement lines: a response from those who write. 

 

This playful intervention that blurred the separation between life and art was a way in which to reach out to an everyday audience that was largely inaccessible through art institutions. It was an ephemeral work that only lasted as long as it took for the pollution to cover up the words again, but one that engaged with the writings of other people who used such a surface as their drawing board.

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