Tobias Megerle, an artist from Germany, is creating a model that can make households energy efficient. He tells Priyal Dave how and why he feels Mumbai will benefit.
Dressed in a black striped T.shirt and track pants, Tobias Megerle (41) roams bare foot across a large wooden-floored workshop at one end of Studio X in Kitab Mahal on D.N.Road, Fort. Three large aluminium boxes ending in a funnel occupy a long wooden table at the centre of the workshop.
Tobias is trying to explain to a local signboard painter how to paint the objects in such a way that they resemble a typical Indian truck. There is an interpreter who is translating his words into Hindi. The local painter says he will paint whatever he is told to paint, but looks at a loss till he is told that the three boxes and the funnel should be painted with the symbols associated with Indian trucks which are usually highly decorated. The penny has dropped but now Tobias looks like he is having a bit of a hard time of it!
He is being interviewed to find out more the project that he intends to bring to fruition by the end of this month. From rain and sun, he is going to produce energy and he thinks this is something Mumbai can do to great benefit.
To explain, he produces a sketch of the model of the “The Meaning of Energy” project. “In Germany, even though the sun is not present for a large part of the year, households have installed solar panels to make the most of solar energy. Here in Mumbai, I am surprised that people are doing nothing to harness this source of energy in spite of ample rain and sunlight. (Though “ample rain” is definitely stretching it a bit, considering that the monsoons have been a huge failure so far this year!)
Basically, Tobias is an artist, but that does not stop him from dabbling in science or anything else that interests him. He calls himself a dilettante in fact. In Germany, for nine years he taught art. Then three years ago, he followed his wife to Mumbai. Like other foreign visitors to the city, poverty was the first issue that struck him. For a few months he taught in some schools to educate poor children but soon he decided to focus on using art to address energy issues that afflict this city.
Describing his project, which is a Studio X monsoon residency, Tobias says, “The idea of ‘The Meaning of Energy’ is to show how simple and easy it is to become your own energy-producer. We use solar power to pump water from a lower tank into an upper tank. The upper tank can be seen as the “battery”. The water in the upper tank can run through a turbine to generate energy, when there is no sunlight. The parts of the machine are: a solar panel, two tanks, wires, water pipes, a water-pump and a turbine. Most of these parts are already installed in many houses in Mumbai. The idea is to illustrate that it is possible to generate energy on a small scale; to illustrate that the “energy turnaround” is something possible and not meant to be done by “someone else”, “somewhere else”. In other words, if you need energy for your home, you CAN make it yourself !
While renewable energy is often sidetracked as something “very expensive”, the artist insists that such costs are only one time and the long term advantages cannot be ignored. He also says the local government must actively engage itself in renewable energy to help households in becoming self-sustaining in energy.
Tobias feels that an artist should not restrict himself to a studio and display the work once every year, but instead move out in the open, explore and use everyday things to portray art.
Having participated in art exhibitions including the Kala Ghoda Festival this year, he has used his art to inspire and enhance real life scenarios. As an art teacher in Germany he put up various projects with his students in public spaces, including using public bill boards to address political issues in the country. In Mumbai, he has worked with wood carvers from Mahim to design skateboards in order to help the community realize how they could use their art in a different manner instead of just carving simple chairs and tables.
“I don’t identify myself as a scientist. I am an artist who wants to use my skill to address issues that affect people. You don’t have to be a scientist to solve simple issues. Back in Germany this project is not rocket science. It’s simple. I want to show how Mumbaikars too can have a simple model for themselves,” he confides.
Ironically, Tobias may be putting his heart into solving Mumbai’s problems, but he never wanted to visit India. “We stayed in China for a year. When I landed in Mumbai, it was such a stark contrast as compared to cities in China. But then I began to love the place. Mumbai helps you focus on the things you want to do.
This is what makes it unique.”
On the other hand, Tobias also feels that the city’s sense of art is limited to paint and brush; to individual studios and teaching of traditional art forms which needs to be revisited by artists. “The J.J. School of Arts is doing good work but I still feel it is teaching students very traditional art forms. The idea of art amongst students is very narrow. There are a lot of good painters but they need to look at a broader field.”
With another year to go in Mumbai, Tobias feels he wants to focus on the issue of migration in the city after he completes the energy project. “There is so much hue and cry about the original inhabitants of the city, but Mumbai is full of people who have migrated here at some point of time. I want to use my art to understand these issues,” he finishes.