Dance and steel; body and language

This morning, Jerri and I visited  the Balan Nambiar exhibition, ‘Sculpting in Time’, at NGMA. We’d attended the opening on Sunday, with its Mizhavu performance and flaming torches lit by a series of young student artists. It was only today, though, that I understood that this structured assemblage of torches references a similar object used in Theyyam (perhaps in Kuthu or Kuttiyattam too – I don’t know).

Alongside wonderful photographs of ritual performances, Nambiar’s sculptures render their geometry in steel. According to the text on the gallery wall, ‘The inspiration Nambiar takes from arcane practices, ritual worship and sacred objects is all too evident’. Another note comments, in relation to his interest in goddess worship, that his own sculptures are ‘clear expressions of primal femininity’. I thought they were fascinating, but they did not seem very feminine to me, with their precise, steel grids, and spiralling spikes. But perhaps this begs the question of how we expect primal feminity to be expressed.

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Later, Anindya, Sumitra, Jerri and I met with Angarika and Nihal from Maraa, and  then with Abhishek, to discuss the two commissioned works.

We explained the project and its aims; they talked us through their plans for the work, and then we talked through practicalities and questions that arose.

Maraa will be leading an audio-walk for students, based on recordings they have made with other students, reflecting on issues of gender and sexuality within city and campus spaces. An interesting question arose around our initial, but quickly questioned assumption that everything should be documented visually. Attuned through their work on the sensuality of the city (the ‘olfactory’ garbage walks, for example), Angarika commented that the issues they are approaching in this new work are often dominated by visual media coverage. Using audio walks and audio recordings is an alternative approach, that is also less intrusive to participants.

Talking to Abhishek, our longest discussion was around the way in which people would encounter his work, in which he will play the role of a market researcher for a tech company. How can they be invited to participate knowingly without destroying the tone and fiction of the work? How do performances in the street meet their audiences, and what are the ethics of this encounter? Part of this involved thinking about how the performer is positioned culturally, and thinking through the effect of this in relation to the  target audience.

These two works connect with two contested aspects of public space – the personal space of the gendered and sexualized body, and the tensions between languages in a multilingual city. Both will listen (literally) to voices that are often peripheral to the dominant conversation. Abhishek will be on the literal periphery of the city map, too, while Maraa’s work is leading towards experiments in ‘sonic mapping’, wherever it takes place. In relation to our proposed starting point of the city’s historic ‘inscription stones’, between them they raise questions not only of what and who is recorded, but also how, and in what language(s).

Preparations at NIAS

How lovely to revisit the beautiful campus at NIAS, with its cool arches and vibrant blossoms… It was, as always, such a pleasure to be there.

We got deep into the practicalities this morning, with occasional digressions to discuss questions such as –

Why is there often less emphasis on learning through artwork than teaching through it?

What are the effects of alerting people to the unexpected qualities of an area – does this tend to preserve or destroy it? Does art pave the way for gentrification, as some have suggested (here as well as elsewhere?)

How is local art entangled and engaged with politics on a wider scale? Is it possible to separate the local from the national? How do we engage with this in a non-threatening way?

How can the artworks empower the audience member, rather than making them vulnerable in public space?

And then back to more mundane issues in terms of timetabling, spaces, clarifications to be made and how many to invite.

Here we are, standing in a line, as is our custom at the end of a meeting…

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Preparations

A few days before we all meet in Bengaluru. Looking forward to meeting and hosting work by Maraa, Abhishek Hazra, Smitha Cariappa and Lawei BemBem, with more announcements to follow.

We will be heading to Chennai for the Urur-Olcott Kuppam Vizha and spending time listening to and sharing research about performance and urban South India. More to come.