Spaces: Kolkata, Mumbai and Singapore

This project uses the idea of walking to express a personal yearning for home. It is the search for a home that is not just a physical space, but also an idea present within objects, people and experiences. Having lived in three cities for most of my life I have always struggled to define what is home for me – and which of the three spaces feel more homely to me. This project took me back to these three spaces. I tried to document these spaces geographically and emotionally – so that I could understand and record the aspects of the space that were significant to my wanderlust. I followed Thoreau’s philosophy and decided to revisit my memories through a walk that lasted seven days.

Kolkata (1992 – 2003)

676 Block O, New Alipore in Kolkata was my home from 1992 – 2003. The project got me to return to this space after more than ten years; upon returning I found that the space was frozen in time and that my memory of it was very accurate.

The timelessness of this space represents the timelessness of the entire city – Kolkata is a city that moves at a slow pace – architecture in this city is also caught in time, things look old and decaying. The most interesting feature of my return was that the house that I grew up in was being demolished that week. The physical disappearance of my home was a source of grief but at the end of my seven-day walk around the space I experienced closure as the documentation of the space brought about a kind of catharsis that helped me rise above my feelings of nostalgia and discomfort.


Mumbai (2003 – Present)

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Having moved to Mumbai at the age of 13, at the brink of adolescence, I grew up in this city that never sleeps. Revisiting the space gave me a sense of familiarity that comes through constant engagement with the space. And even though I constantly transit between Singapore and Mumbai, I would say that I still live in Mumbai for my family is there. The human body has to move to accommodate itself in the space and this is something that I realized during my seven-day walk in Mumbai.

Singapore (2010 – Present)

Singapore is a city with an ever-evolving landscape – the permanence of physical spaces is a luxury that people in this country cannot afford to have. In this city, I feel like I am constantly displaced as the space that I live on campus changes every year. The end of each academic year marks my departure from this city, leaving no physical trace behind – almost as if my time here did not exist. The sense of passage of time in Singapore is also very skewed because of the lack of seasons therefore one perceives time to pass based more on personal milestones than environmental change.


Walking brings the mind and the body together in a manner that can only be described as ephemeral and surreal. The physical mapping of places helps to map the emotional associations with the space. Therefore I walked the areas around my homes in all three cities for a time period of seven days, while documenting the space and my interaction with it.

I recorded the walking data using a GPS device. Each city has its own characteristics and this can be seen in the manner that the human body navigates the city space. The GPS maps showed a lot about the pace of the city and the interaction a pedestrian had with them. The Map of Kolkata looks very organic and leisurely; it consists of slow strolls that don’t give a sense of urgency.

The Map of Mumbai looked chaotic, much like the ambience of the city itself. A pedestrian in Mumbai has to learn to navigate and manoeuvre their bodies in accordance with the space; the moving cars, street vendors and the occasional cattle on the road all affect the way one navigates through this city.

Singapore on the other hand is a much more pedestrian friendly city when compared to Kolkata and Mumbai. Therefore the amount I walked in Singapore in seven days is a lot more than Mumbai and Kolkata combined. There are straight roads and clear pathways, the movement of the body through space is very orderly – frantic yet orderly.

Kolkata Map

Mumbai Map – Edited

Singapore Map

The Making Process

To aptly explain the concept of a personal wanderlust I decided to explore three different avenues. The first is to physically create the GPS maps using screws and thread. Over 1500 screws were used to create the three maps; they were then manually screwed onto a 40 x 60 inch foam boards. The GPS data was projected onto the boards and then the strings were tied so as to make the maps accurate. The process of developing these GPS installations is documented in the images below.


To make the installation more interactive and to give it more meaning, I decided to project the geographical map of the space onto the Kolkata map along with information about the spaces and the emotions they evoked in poems (Appendix A) that I wrote as my response to revisiting the space that once used to be my home.

Figure 15: Projecting on the Installation.
Figure 15: Projecting on the Installation.

The second deliverable to explore my personal wanderlust is a book. This book features the ten words that are associated with these living spaces and the poems I wrote about these spaces. It is a book of expressive typography – that tries to capture the essence of the space.

The choice of typefaces in the book comes from the most commonly read newspapers of the specific cities. The main newspaper of Kolkata is The Statesman and the dominant typeface in this paper is Baskerville. The most read newspaper in Mumbai is The Times of India, which is printed mostly in Times New Roman. Singapore has the Straits time that uses Miller as its primary typeface. Using these three typefaces I designed a book that expresses the context of the poetry using minimalistic expressive typography.

The visual style of this book is cohesive with the style of the maps i.e. the book is black and white with ample white space. To show the movement of the body through the thoughts on the page, I decided to string the book together with the same string that I used to indicate the walked area on the GPS maps in the installation. This string directs the eye of the reader and also pieces together the narrative.

The third deliverable to really give context to the project is a video documentation of all the spaces around my home from all three cities. The video has an old run down feel to it to signify decay and reminiscence. The voice over in the video is the poetry that I use to describe the spaces – the narrative in the poems is what ties the book, the video and the installations together.

Layout and Planning

In order to successfully show my journey through these three spaces it was decided that the work be shown in an installation space with three walls. Each wall (1.8m wide) would have the map of the GPS walk from the different cities – the central map of my walk in Kolkata would have the interactive projection on top – describing the space and giving it context. To accompany that, I plan to have the video streaming on an iMac to give context to my walk in the other two spaces.

The installation space was carefully planned so as to create a feeling of awe when seen from afar and the proximity of wonder when seen up close. The biggest challenge I faced was to be able to align the projection with the physical map on the wall as the details needed to be precisely matched so that all the points on the installation corresponded to where they were placed geographically on the map that was being projected.


Artistic References



Jonas Mekas

One of the best ways to record the essence of a space is through videography and while video diaries are a commonplace occurrence today, the genre started with Jonas Mekas’ Walden (1969). Walden is an epic portrait of the avant-garde art scene in New York in the 60s. While the name of the film itself suggests that Henry David Thoreau’s Walden inspires it, it is a twist on Thoreau’s idea of isolating himself from his surroundings in order to reflect. Mekas shows through Walden, contemporary rumination by recording his everyday life and thoughts about his home away from home i.e. New York City.

One sees scenes from everyday New York juxtaposed with ambient sounds of the subway giving it a sense of time and place. On some level the viewer sees the city through an insider’s perspective as Mekas records his daily life through the interactions he has with the people in the art community in New York. It is therefore a time capsule that not only documents the art scene but also gives it context. However, since Mekas is not originally from New York, one also experiences Mekas’ sense of detachment from the city through his commentary. The manner in which Mekas shows everyday life is very raw and untouched – thereby letting spaces exude their natural character while still adding a personal meaning to the space through the intertitles.



Chantal Akerman

Chantal Akerman is a Belgian film director who lived in New York City for a few years and during this time she directed a film called News From Home. This film consists of long takes of locations in New York City, over laid with Akerman’s voice-over as she reads letters her mother sent her from Belgium between 1971 and 1973, when she lived in the city.

Exploring concepts of displacement and longing, the film gives an idea of the physical space of living (New York) but juxtaposes it with a voice over that gives away the feelings of nostalgia and pain that come from displacement from one’s homeland (Belgium). It traces Akerman’s routes as she explores and documents the spaces that she lives in and contrasts them with the emotions that her homeland evokes.

This piece is directed from the perspective of a flâneur i.e. someone who saunters around observing society. This flâneur’s perspective is evident, as Akerman does not show a protagonist in the piece even though it is so intensely personal and narrative in nature. Instead she lets the spaces converse with the audience while adding another layer of meaning to them with the voice over. The audience also feels almost like a flâneur as they stare into the space and observe it from a distance. Creating an eerie sense of time that transcends the space and makes it a canvas for rumination.

Figure 4: News From Home by Chantal Akerman

This manner in which Akerman depicts spaces while adding meaning onto them through voiceover is something that inspires this project. The video is treated in a way so that it leaves room for interpretation by the audience, which makes it even more powerful along with the voice over.


Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller

Janet Cardiff is a walking artist who creates site-specific artwork that involves audio guides, portable CD players and video cameras to create an immersive experience that literally guides the audience so that they may retrace Cardiff’s path. These art works involve Cardiff using her voice through a media device to tell the viewer which way to go and what to notice. At the same time she includes remarkable ambient sounds that help give a sense of time and space. One of her most interesting works is the Alter Bahnhof Video Walk [] done for dOCUMENTA 2013.

In this video walk Cardiff and Miller give the viewer an iPod and headphones and then direct them to different locations in an old train station in Kassel, Germany. It is at these locations where a different universe opens up where reality and fiction merge in an eerie and disturbing manner. As the participants watch the video of these locations on a small screen, they connect deeply with the unfolding of events because they are in the same location as the video. Thus the ideas of the past and the present merge into a surreal narrative that plays both on memory and current events. In this manner Cardiff and Miller manage to narrate a story that is site specific and unique while connecting the dots through time.

Figure 5: Alter Bahnhof Video Walk by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller

Paul Madonna

Paul Madonna is an illustrator who pushes graphic fiction way beyond its boundaries. He captures snapshots in time through his exploration of the relationship between image and text in the work, Everything Is Its Own Reward. Madonna’s illustrations depict urban landscapes from the busy city of San Francisco. It is fascinating to see that he doesn’t depict any human beings in his illustrations – this makes the entire landscape look very different. It is almost as if he presents the space from the viewpoint of a flâneur or someone who observes the cityscape from a distance.

The buildings in this work seem to talk to each other. His is a manner of story telling through poetry and images that makes the interpretation of these narratives unique to every viewer as we all relate to spaces at a very personal level. The images seem to be caught in time, as if they were snapshots in urban memory. This is a very poignant way of capturing landscape. The project appeals to human emotions even though Madonna doesn’t depict any humans in the piece.


Figure 2: Emotions Experienced When Taking a Walk Down the Same Road




Yi-Fu Tuan: Attachment to Homeland

While a wanderer essentially goes from one place to another forming associations and reliving experiences, some places seem to be more engaging to us than others. There is an insatiable drive to associate one’s sense of self to a place and this is the reason that the permanence of certain places is a continuous source of comfort to us – the reason why home is always a place to return to. We feel the need to make associations to understand the world and therefore we assign symbolic value to certain spaces. Our sense of identity is very driven by where we come from.

Human groups nearly everywhere tend to regard their own homeland as the center of the world. A people who believe they are at the center claim, implicitly, the ineluctable worth of their location. In diverse parts of the world this sense of centrality is made explicit by a geometric conception of space oriented to the cardinal points. Home is at the center of an astronomically determined spatial system… The stars are perceived to move around one’s abode; home is the focal point of a cosmic structure. (Tuan, 149) [4]

Yi-Fu Tuan in his book, Space and Place [4], talks about religion as something that has always tied humanity down to a place, with ancient civilizations creating their homes around the homes of their Gods and guardian spirits. Whole cities built around temples and mausoleums. But now universal religions not only bind people to spaces but also free them from it. Our profound attachment to the homeland is natural because the home is like a mother – it nurtures and nourishes us, it is the seed for all our memories and achievements, more importantly it is permanent and reassuring.

One would assume that these sentiments of attachment to the homeland don’t exist in the psyche of a vagabond; this is far from the truth. Even though a wanderer has no home s/he is drawn to certain places that speak to them. Their life force depends on the existence of these spaces that help them define who they are – more so than any other sedentary human being – because a vagabond gets their identity from the places that they traverse. The only difference is that a wanderer is a flâneur – observing and seeing everything from a distance – attached yet detached.

Even to a wanderer spaces have memories – the rocks, trees and walls are physical things that one can see and touch – physical things that one can associate memories with. Nomads, migrant workers, drifters and merchant seamen all long for a home even though they spend a lifetime away from it. The permanence of certain places reassures us of our existence.

This project tries to encapsulate the idea of belonging to a place. It also explains the longing for a place one once belonged to. It is a flâneur’s walk in the search for a home. Tuan also says,

Attachment of a deep though subconscious sort may come simply from familiarity and ease, with the assurance of nurture and security, with the memory of sounds and smells, of communal activities and pleasures accumulated over time. (Tuan, 159) [4]

Through this project one retraces my walks through three cities that I have called home at different points in my life – Kolkata, Mumbai and Singapore. It is a journey where I revisit the space of inhabitance after having left it years ago for another home. I lived in Kolkata from 1992 – 2003. In Mumbai from 2003 – 2010 and I have transitioned between Mumbai and Singapore from 2010 – 2015 (the present). I constantly struggle to define the concept of home or where is it that I come from? This project is my way of trying to find an answer to these questions.



Milan Kundera: Ignorance 

We can know places intimately or conceptually, but in hindsight our concept of a place over rides what we believe the place to be. This is the reason why looking back at places of inhabitance brings back feelings of nostalgia and longing. It is also the reason why returning to a place that one once lived in can be disappointing: because our perception of the place creates an idealistic image of the space in our minds and more often than not this image is not in sync with reality. This makes us long for that ideal state of being forever. Milan Kundera in his book Ignorance says,

Nostalgia seems something like the pain of ignorance, of not knowing. (Kundera, 6) [5]

He explains how our longing for a place comes from the lack of acquaintance and the lack of engagement with that space. Only when we are removed from our homes do we long for them. The lesser one visits this space of inhabitance the more of an idealistic image it becomes and since that image is merely an exaggerated perception of that place even revisiting the space after years will not live up to our expectations of the space.

Therefore returning to the space of inhabitance not only brings up feelings of nostalgia but also those of loss and disappointment. It is a bittersweet encounter that leaves one lost in the glories of the past while one battles with the issues of displacement and change. Kundera explains this loss and nostalgia in his book Ignorance, which chronicles the feelings associated with returning to the homeland when it has ceased to be a home. This idea of returning to the homeland and finding it either changed or stagnant is something that is evident in this project.



Odyssey: The Great Return to the Homeland

The ancient Greek epic of Odyssey shows the ten year long journey of Odysseus as he tries to return to his homeland (Ithaca) after the fall of Troy. Odysseus is one of the greatest wanderers of history and his yearning for home is an ode to his nostalgia. Even though Odysseus has a happy life as a hostage to his lover Calypso for seven years he still remarks,

Mighty goddess, do not be angry with me for this. I know very well myself that wise Penelope is less impressive to look upon than you in looks and stature… But even so I wish and long day in and day out to reach my home, and to see the day of my return. (Homer, 215-20)

Odysseus chose to go to the known homeland rather than to explore the unknown present even though the present was something that was comfortable and delightful. This goes to show how strong our yearning for home can be. When Odysseus thinks of Ithaca it is with nostalgia. Nostalgia comes from our lack of remembrance, for memory works in such a manner that if something is not recalled from time to time then it eventually fades away. Therefore the more Odysseus suffered, the more he forgot about his homeland.

This faded memory of a previous place of inhabitance stirs these emotions of nostalgia in one who has left their home. Even though Odysseus finally reaches Ithaca, he finds his wife being wooed by several suitors, nobody recognizes him and nobody asks him about his adventures away from Ithaca – it was as if he never left. Acknowledging that the journey away from home is almost as important as the journey around one’s home is a revelation that one comes to after reading the Odyssey.




Rebecca Solnit: A History of Walking


The history of walking goes back further than the history of human beings, but the history of walking as a conscious cultural act rather than a means to an end is only a few centuries old. (Solnit, 14).

While the contemporary walker sees walking as a mode of transportation, old thinkers and philosophers saw walking as a catalyst for creative thinking. In the book Wanderlust: A History of Walking[1], Rebecca Solnit explores the origins of wandering by tracing its roots back to Ancient Greece.

First with the Sophists who believed in the mobility of ideas – they were philosophers who went from one place to another delivering ideas and talks to various audiences. They believed that the movement of knowledge was more important than their loyalty to a certain space and later Aristotle carried this peripatetic thinking forward.

Aristotle is known to have taught in the Peripatetic school – a school that gets its name from the Peripatos, which is a colonnade or walkway that Aristotle used to walk in while giving his lectures. The word ‘Peripatetic’ itself means “one who walks habitually and extensively.” Therefore the name of the school itself links thinking with walking and this association is evident in ancient Greece where even the architecture accommodates walking as a social activity.

This association between walking and philosophising later became widespread with philosophers like Georg Hegel, Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Friedrich Nietzsche who all used the walk as something that aided their thoughts. But there were few philosophers who thought about walking and Rousseau was the pioneer in this field.

Never did I think so much, exist so vividly, and experience so much, never have I been so much myself – if I may use that expression – as in the journeys I have take alone and on foot. There is something about walking that stimulates and enlivens my thoughts. (Rousseau, 124). [2]

Rousseau was a radical walking thinker, he believed that science and knowledge had taken humankind away from its natural state; insisting that a walker was devoid of all these worldly attachments and hence the act of walking was pure and untainted by the ravages of technological advancement.

Rousseau’s ideal walker of history would be one who relied just on bodily strength to get from one place to another. Sauntering for Rousseau meant going into the wilderness. However the complex urban design of contemporary society does not allow for such a walker to exist in today’s times. Therefore one must realise that since spaces are no longer what they used to be, this means that one’s interaction with these spaces has also changed. And while wandering aimlessly through the woods is an exercise in meditative contemplation, the contemporary walker has to adapt themselves to the changing landscape of their existence. Therefore it is fascinating to see what walking means in a contemporary urban setting.


Associations Made During Walks

 The history of both urban and rural walking is a history of freedom and of the definition of pleasure. (Solnit, 173).

Spaces may have changed but walking still serves the same purpose as before. Urban cityscapes offer anonymity, refuge and variety – letting the contemporary wanderer explore and notice small details like a flickering traffic light, or a child crossing the road – while this may seem like the complete opposite of Rousseau’s definition of walking it still stays true to the idea that a walk provides the walker with information that helps him or her make associations.

These associations tend to connect walks with memories, emotions and the past. Drawing from environmental cues that trigger contemplative conversations about one’s view of the world. A walk feeds us information as we try to make associations between quantifiable data such as the passage of time and sensory perception with more qualitative data such as the perception of memory and emotion during a walk.


Figure 1: Associations Made During Walks
Figure 1: Associations Made During Walks


Perception of Time

A walk through a known space brings the past, present and future together. This is because as one wanders through a space one constantly remembers past experiences that occurred in that place – while simultaneously creating a present as they head towards a future.

 Each walk moves through space like a thread through fabric, sewing it together into a continuous experience – so unlike the way air travel chops us time and space. (Solnit, xv).

In this way a ruminative walk changes our perception of time. We not only feel connected to the past but also relive it through the path of our feet. At the same time we experience emotions that are characteristic of reminiscing. While the past seems like a distant memory, the future seems like an exciting possibility. Our feet take us through time as we walk through space. This moment where everything exists simultaneously is a rare marvel in today’s sauntering however it was in this moment that the philosophers ideated and the artists created.

From my experience a walking down the same road can be seen as a positive and a negative experience. One experiences pain, nostalgia, ignorance and fondness while thinking of the past as s/he walks through a known space. At the same time one experiencing anxiety and optimism while thinking of the future, which always seems nearer than the past.


Figure 2: Emotions Experienced When Taking a Walk Down the Same Road
Figure 2: Emotions Experienced When Taking a Walk Down the Same Road



Thoreau: Walking

Henry David Thoreau talks extensively of walking and the act of ruminating that accompanies it. Walden is a reflection upon humble living in natural surroundings wherein Thoreau confined himself to a cabin that he built for two years, two months and two days while he wrote the book Walden that shows human development via the four seasons of a year. Thoreau’s need to isolate himself from the humdrums of everyday life while living in the wilderness is an ode to the human condition of seeking solitude in spaces of comfort. In his essay Walking [3]: Thoreau talks about the act of sauntering, which is defined as walking in a slow and relaxed manner. He says:

 The word from sans terre without land or home, which, therefore, in good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. (Thoreau, 8)

This makes one question the idea of belonging to a space that one can call home, and begs the question: Does a wanderer have a home? If so does his/her sauntering begin and end at the familiar place that is home? This is a question that drives this project – one that leads us to try and understand how the past, present and future display themselves to a wanderer who essentially belongs no where and is sans terre. Thoreau says:

 Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations. (Thoreau, Chapter 8).

FYP Report – Part 1



All sentient beings feel an insatiable drive to associate their sense of self to a place and the only way to define the topology of the self is by exploring the topography of the space it comes from. Spaces give meaning to our existence; they feed our imagination and provide us with cues for rumination. In that way one’s sense of self is essentially a reflection of one’s interaction and experiences within a space and the objects and people who inhabit it. The best way to understand this self is by taking a walk through these spaces and exploring the routes that make us who we are.

A walk in that sense provides us with a platform not just for exploration but also rumination. The visual and auditory cues that come from a walk, constantly feed one’s imagination – one looks, assimilates and then thinks. This is an infinite feedback system and therefore all walks are endlessly fertile.

 When you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back; the more one comes to know them, the more one seeds them with invisible crop of memories and associations that will be waiting for you when you come back, while new places offer up new thoughts, new possibilities. Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind and walking travels both terrains. (Solnit, 13).

In the current time of comfort in travel with automated technology that helps us get from one place to the other in the least amount of time, the art of walking seems to be disappearing. The art of leisurely walking or sauntering is somewhat archaic, often deemed wasteful. We are so driven by the constant need to maximise productivity in the amount of time spent that simple ruminative walks that fuelled the imagination of philosophers like Aristotle, Thoreau, Rousseau, Wordsworth and countless others have disappeared from our day-to-day lives.

The time that is spent going from one place to the other is now believed to be unproductive and useless; it is therefore filled with earphones playing music, mobile phones replaying conversations. The average person blocks out any form of thought while travelling or walking from one place to the other by filling that time with other media. It is almost as if people are afraid of solitude and feel the need to fill every second with some sort of sensory information making it almost impossible for them to ruminate.

One would assume that the multiplication of technology would have give us more free time to pursue interests that drive the soul. Contrary to that, the introduction of new technologies has made it possible for us to maximise the time and place of production thereby minimizing the unstructured travel time in between. If one truly considers this then it is easy to see how being constantly efficient is actually unproductive for self-discovery and development. In order to discover and create there is a need to wander, therefore the need to walk aimlessly is apparent in our current lifestyles.

However this is not to say that technology is at fault here. Technology has aided walkers in the current time, making it possible to organise walks that have brought about global change and protest. For example the globally organised walk against the war in Iraq would never have been possible without using the Internet and other technologies that organised this mammoth protest in the form of a walk. Millions of people from Baghdad, Barcelona, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Calcutta, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Dublin, Glasgow, Istanbul, Karachi, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Montreal, Moscow, New York, Paris, Rome, San Francisco, Seoul, Sydney, Tehran, Tokyo, and Vancouver came together to show their protest through a walk that was organised through the Internet.

The problem we face is one that stems from our lack of interest in exploring places; we use technology as a distraction from this need to wander. While some efforts show that technology can indeed aid the contemporary walker in his/her sauntering – it is our weariness of seeking it out that grounds us in our reality – with the inability to explore. It is essential to understand where we come from and the only way to do it is on foot – outdoors.

Paul Madonna

“Paul Madonna has not only pressed graphic fiction way beyond its present boundaries, he has created a new and stunning art form where the stand-alone brilliant visuals and the hauntingly human words synthesize into a pure and irreducible aesthetic vision. This book taught me something fundamental and true and beautiful about the ineffable thereness and thingness of life.Everything is its Own Reward is a work of genius.” 
    – Robert Olen Butler
author of A Small Hotel, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

coffee_041011_948x682 coffee_442_021509_800x530 120708-coffee 489.03.489Paul Madonna is a San-Francisco based illustrator/Artist. His illustrations are interactive on the iPad.

Things that I have noticed about his work:

  1. He never depicts people in his version of San-Francisco – this is interesting because San-Francisco is a really crowded city and depicting it without people makes it seem very different. This relates to the idea of the flâneur i.e. someone who observes the cityscape from a distance
  2. His buildings seem to talk to each other – the space speaks out to the viewer and the text augments this experience.
  3. There is a sense of storytelling that is unique to every person who views his work. As the work interacts with the viewer in a very personal way.
  4. He appeals to human emotions even though he doesn’t show any humans in his work.


Zeroxwalla Zine

This is a zine made by Bombay Duck Designs, it is a good reference for showing images that capture a place. It is very clean and iconic in terms of the colour usage. Interesting use of collage and posterized images along with illustration.







I would like to create a site-specific zine, inspired by this kind of work.