by Meghna MehtaApr 20, 2020
“In recent days, noise/sound seems to be an index of measuring public spirit. When we have no way of measuring silence, perhaps it is important to hold a space for quietude,” reads the open call for Pallavi Paul’s Share Your Quiet ongoing project, which invites people to share 10-second audio recordings of their everyday moments of ‘quiet’ so that they may be compiled together by the artist. “In silence things churn, relationships change, and ideas are born,” she holds.
Share Your Quiet is part of Sunaparanta Goa’s online initiative Surviving SQ, SQ being self-quarantine, which invites creative practitioners to share alternative ways of coping with the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. The decision to go online seems only natural during this time, when people cannot go out to engage with art but are afforded more free time than usual within the confines of their own homes. Sunaparanta had initially approached Paul by inviting her, as they did many others, to share existing artworks or vignettes of her studio practice, but certain events that were occurring in India at the time had planted the seeds of a more poignant project in her mind for which she was now provided a suitable platform.
On the eve of the Janata curfew it had come to Paul’s attention that the making of noise, as had been prescribed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a show of support for those on the frontlines in the fight against the virus, had become an evidence of public solidarity and patriotic fervour. Along with other like-minded people around the country who thought that as a society there had to be better, more critical, methods of addressing the issues at hand than engaging in this act, Paul did not participate in the display but rather chose to remain in a sort of dissentious silence. “What obviously started to bother me as more and more images of people making sounds started coming out was actually there was no measure of this silence… which was an active kind of silence. There must have been so many people like me… (and) there was no way of actually calibrating their quiet or their silence.”
“In my head it was obviously kind of still a theoretical thing. I was thinking it could be an alternative archive of this time, an oral archive, and also maybe kind of political conjecture in this moment where everything is already in a resolved syntax. So, you know you are nationalist if you do this (make noise during India's Janata curfew) or your being productive if you are uploading workout videos or cooking videos. Basically, you already place time within a very specific kind of syntax, which obviously always has political implications. So, for me it was important to loosen the time we find ourselves in, from that syntax.”
Paul’s previous work at Sunaparanta, which as part of the exhibition Games of Chance curated by the art centre’s program director, Leandre D’Souza, had focussed on themes of marginalisation in relation to the issues of refugees. In striking contrast, Share Your Quiet, due to its medium of dissemination and its general participating demographic on Instagram, engages with a more privileged section of society, and this stands out especially when India is facing a difficult migrant crisis caused by the imposition of curfew across the country. But while its primary participants may occupy positions of privilege, the logic of the installation is that their collective quiet, as a meter of public opinion, might have to some offer “critical pressures of politics of power”.
Paul’s compositions come out weekly on Mondays via Instagram, and on the surface appear more meditative than political, but it creates a textured contrast against the homogenous cacophony caused by the beating of utensils. Further, on remembering what has caused this quiet or what goes on behind its veil, one can begin to reflect on its implications. “This is not a tranquil quiet…it’s a very, very tempestuous quiet. From where I’m coming from, while it can be soothing to some, it’s producing a churning as well.”
Yet, amidst this churning, one must still bear in mind quietude’s potential for inducing calm. “As sounds intersect with each other, a conversation begins and leaves us with a sliver of hope even as we live through the world’s greatest crisis,” says Isheta Salgaocar, the patron of Sunaparanta.
Other projects which call for public participation as part of Surviving SQ include Lonely Residents by Kedar Dhondu and Metaphor of Contrasts by Ipshita Maitra. “In these times when we find ourselves isolated from one another, art becomes the social glue that keeps us connected,” explains Salgaocar.