by Sakhi SobtiJul 30, 2023
The evening began at the rooftop of Khoj Studios in New Delhi, with everyone casually gathering on the roof and then after the introductions, artist River Lin, born in Taipei, and his group of provocateurs dressed in colourful wigs suddenly burst into action, caressing the potted plants, exploring their own forms with their hands, running to and fro, looking provocatively at the viewers and performing Frottage Exercises to recorded music. The artists and the audience were soon covered with tinsel and colourful crepe streamers, and the loud screams of joy and celebration marked the end of the performance. “It was a liberating experience for all of us I think, I hope it was for you too," was what Lin said at the end of the piece.
Folks then made their way downstairs to the canteen, where the action was in the room opposite. In the dimly lit interiors of a large room, the viewers were invited to experience dry objects with moist hands. The main installation object was an archway made out of metal through which viewers were encouraged to walk, touch it, even hammer on it with wet hands creating both noise and experiencing texture. The piece was conceived by Kaldi Moss, and explored the relationship between bodies, metal, and sound. "The tensile quality of these relations creates the textures of the experience,” quoted Moss.
To give a context to these pieces, we were at The Live Arts Workshop (LAW) - instituted by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia and their network of global partners, Pro Helvetia Johannesburg, Pro Helvetia South America, Pro Helvetia Cairo, and Pro Helvetia New Delhi. It was programmed at Khoj and interrogated the idea of 'live-ness' by locating the body as an ever-sensing tool, interacting with atmospheres, architectures, technologies, interfaces and communities, mediating affect.
After a small waiting period, made pleasant by tea and cold lemon soda, we were let into the room hosting Aseng Borang’s performance at the art event. Senga and her collection of bodies was the working title of the 15-minute long art performance by Borang and Manjari Kaul. The space was divided by a clothesline tied across the room with various garments hanging from it. The performance artist also hung from the roof seated on a wooden plinth, while another wooden plinth with a heap of clay mounted on it hung before her. Kaul is a professional actor who essayed the role of the narrator who narrates the story of Senga and her collected bodies. We learnt that Senga likes to be elevated because that is the only space she feels she owns and can essay as 'home' and a sense of belonging. The piece touched on several aspects of migration, stay, and the spaces that one occupies after moving from one location to another. It explored the presentation of the body as Senga (Borang) dressed up and spoke of her experience of ‘otherness.'
The crowd then made its way down to the ground floor, where Joanna Huesser engaged the viewers in a participatory performance that explored the possibilities of ‘negotiating’ balance. It began with the body of the performer (Huesser) balanced on a white seesaw, and gradually involved the viewers (some of them other performers), that then ‘helped’ the artist create an interesting act of balancing and counter-balance. The performance, like most of the work here, was totally spontaneous and brought one into a sense of awareness. It could be seen as a metaphor of the balancing act that we all perform on a daily basis but in a more subtle manner, as this was a dramatic enactment of the negotiations we make in life.
João Simões was assigned another room on the opposite side downstairs. Armed with a long device topped with a brush and decorated with silver baubles, the artist (Simoes) all dressed in white began the piece by painting large black stripes along the wall and the roof. All the while, recorded sounds of the breezes, winds, and even a hurricane of California and of New Delhi played in the background. The sound piece was recorded and made by Claudio Bueno. The piece itself was inspired by the philosophy of ‘spiral time’ and the traditions of whirling and the acts of the divine or inter-dimensional encounters in Sufism and Brazilian cultural practices.
Khursheed Ahmad’s piece The Clown of Yach-e-gham was a performance that evoked the political landscape of Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown. The piece comprised an assembly of text, image body, and sound where the figure of the Yach, wearing a set of horns, became a ghoul that haunts the village and takes on the role of the 'clown,' who is not funny, in fact, is a menacing disruptor of time. The performance weaved Bhand folklore and considered the occupation of Kashmir.
Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja’s Kwere Kwere looked into the body as it appropriates the terms it has been marked by the social fabric. To put it simply the artist explored the body’s endurance and resilience as it takes on social labels. “I draw on African queer theorist Zethu Matebeni’s thinking which situates queer in relation to Kwere Kwere (a term used to refer to African immigrants in South Africa), to show that queer and migrant experiences are not mutually exclusive," explained the artist. The term Kwere Kwere is also the sound made by the drum to which the body responds in rhythm and movement. The artist hence presented a playlist devoted to the drumbeats sampling songs from popular music in Africa to which people dance with joy and abandon.
Meanwhile, Sharanya Ramprakash executed a four-hour long piece while performing roles that were socially invisible, while being visible and ambulatory. It all remains to be seen.
The workshop was imagined without an inherent mentor-mentee hierarchy. Instead, it was a discourse and context first approach, similar to a Thinking and Making Lab, where both the provocateurs (to prompt) and the respondents (to respond) were at par with each other. The provocateurs to this performance were Chris Solarski, Neha Choksi, Mohamed Abdelkarim, Vinay Kumar, and Zuleikha Chaudhari, all of whom brought their area of expertise to the table to discuss the Live Arts Workshop that became a space for performance practices and contemporary art practices across mediums to interrogate "liveness" and locate the body in the framework in the context of live art.