1ON1 with Mantis Shrimp Creative

Bangalore, Manisha AR | 30 April, 2020

Based out of Bangalore, they are looking to produce fresh work through collaborations with emerging artists and musicians across India.

When I returned to Bangalore after three years of living in Chicago, one of the first things I decided to do was go to a party. I wanted to see how much of an impact the ban on live music was having on venues across the city. So I reached out to an old friend of mine– Kunal Singh who according to Instagram was at some exciting parties around the city. He invited me to a party at a hotel bar named Aqua for which he was working the visuals. It’s hard to fully understand what he does from just scrolling through his Instagram which is why I was excited to be at this party for my investigation.

Over beers that night, I learned that while I had been away, Kunal Singh co-founded Mantis Shrimp Creative along with his friend Karan Katke. Online music magazine Wild City describes them as “a new media company dedicated to changing the way clubs and exhibits engage with visual artists.” On a purely aesthetic level, their primary goal is to excite the audience using a projector, computer visualisations and the occasional lighting console to create enticing visuals. Being able to tailor projections to various surfaces and shapes is known as projection mapping; a technique favored by large scale events like music festivals and concerts. Mantis Shrimp Creative is one of the few engineers-turned-artists duo who are bringing projection mapping into more accessible cultural spaces like malls, clubs and flea markets.

 Video mapping by Mantis Shrimp Creative

Friends from high school who reunited in engineering college, Kunal and Karan went their separate ways again after they graduated: Karan went to Prague Film School in 2016 to study cinematography while Kunal stayed in Bangalore working in sales and marketing at startups. Back at the MSC Mansion, Kunal tells me, “I think I was always inclined towards doing something creative or artistic, if not professionally then as a hobby. When he [Karan] came back from Prague, he showed me this cool concept where I could turn any surface into a screen.”

After returning from Prague, Karan worked for the production house Momo Media, writing and directing ad films. “Back then we met outside of our day-job schedules, he [Kunal] had the laptop and I had the projector and we did a bunch of experiments in and around the city,” one of their early collaborations came to fruition outside of Kunal’s office on Church Street. They began to collaborate and experiment early last year and officially registered as Mantis Shrimp Creative in September 2019.

“I was fascinated, and I am still fascinated by their work,” says art activist and photographer Roshini Kumar, one of Mantis Shrimp's early collaborators, She describes their work as fluid and full of endless possibilities– from creating an ambiance for an event to conceptualizing a photo shoot. In January 2019– when MSC was still in its early years– Roshini hosted the fifth edition of Open House, an initiative that brings artists and freelancers together to a flea market-like space to fundraise for different social causes. The aim of this event, Roshini tells me, is to help creators meet each other and connect, in addition to, of course, showcasing and selling their work. Kunal proposed the idea of working with Roshini to provide visuals to accompany performances and a video installation within the space.

In talking to Roshini, I learned another thing that makes Mantis Shrimp stand out- their creativity and willingness to go the extra mile. “I sent them a concept brief and Kunal really understood the goals of Open House so it was easy for me to trust their ideas, “ she told me. Kunal and Karan did the rest- from picking images, to choosing colors as well as organizing the logistics for the projections. After the event, excited by the outcome, Roshini also collaborated with them for an experimental fashion shoot and expressed interest in working with them again on future projects.

Kunal Singh and Karan Katke, the faces behind Mantis Shrimp Creative

If you scroll through Mantis Shrimp Creative’s Instagram account, you will see the full gamut of their clientele. Their posts oscillate between documentations of events they’ve collaborated on and independent visual experiments. One of their more recent posts titled ‘Genetic Mutation’, is a series of animations in three Instagram posts. They all start as a singular hollow square which expands, stretches and eventually resembles the shape of a gene. Paired with suspenseful music, it lulls the viewer into a meditative daze. I asked them about audience reactions to their work and they said, “People have been momentarily enthralled by the experience and then moved on. But then we also meet people who find us and ask where else they could use this. It's also how we end up finding our next gig.”

Besides working with musicians at venues like Puma Shuffle, the Bohemian House and Aqua, they have worked with corporate clients. In October every year, India celebrates Diwali, the Festival of Lights. In 2019, they partnered with RMZ Galleria in Yelahanka, a shopping mall, to create an interactive experience for the visitors for Diwali. The event was called 'LUMA' for which they collaborated with Bangalore based curator Shraddha Nair, emerging artists Vivek Chockalingam, Navin Kushwah, sculptor, digital artist Romicon Revola and shadow puppeteer Sindhe Chithambara Rao and his troupe from Andhra Pradesh, India. In addition to showcasing the works of other artists, Mantis Shrimp also showed a film they produced called ‘Conscious, Conscience’ (Oct 2019) which chronicles the story of mankind and the things they’ve achieved.

Along the same lines, they worked on another short film called Safar (Dec 2019) which uses Bangalore city as a blank canvas with all of the people they project are going places, jumping between buildings and cruising the city late at night– much like the boys at MSC Mansion. Albeit a novice attempt, these films are a peek into their creative vision.

Safar (December, 2019)

Back at their apartment, we continue to talk about their business model and future projects. “Honestly, we are not usually in the spotlight. The concept of having a visual element is not...,” Karan trails off as he tries to find the words. At a loss, he finally changes tracks, “Even [event] promoters don’t know why they are doing it.” Despite dealing with clients who don't know what they want and rely on the creators to sell the concept, they sound very confident about the value of their work.

“We’ve also been thinking about what we want to do as a company, like what’s going to keep us going both monetarily and creatively,” Kunal tells me while Karan nods in agreement. One of their primary goals for the upcoming year is to compile a show reel and deck which they can use to pitch new clients, “we’ve worked for a year and we want to compile that and approach new people, 2019 was rushed because we did one thing and then it was a domino effect where we just responded to requests,” Karan tells me. I ask them about their upcoming projects and they hesitate for a moment before saying “top secret, we could tell you but then we would have to kill you.” We burst out laughing but they don’t divulge any more information. I’ll probably just have to call Kunal and show up at one of their events to know what’s next.

Images courtesy Mantis Shrimp Creative

Still from Mantis Shrimp Creative’s film showcased at the LUMA Festival in 2019

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