Thursday, December 29, 2016

Sharira - ecstasy

Sharira- my journey 

Sharira was an eclectic performance that was waiting to explode on me in all its splendour as it unfolded this evening at Spaces. The wait for it has grown upon me over the years. The expectations of the performance have been creeping and enveloping me over the years. It occurs to me that my little sojourn thus far in appreciating arts and literature and the many stakes that have gone into it, have all played a crucial part in enabling me to understand and appreciate this exquisite piece of performance art.

I believe it was an introduction to Tishani Doshi and her writings in the columns in The Hindu that opened the first windows to appreciating it for me. She was a personification of an exciting mix of literature, poetry and dance for me. I am the kind of person who gets over excited when a poet and a dancer collaborate, as in the case of Arudhathi Subramanium and Alarmel Valli. But imagine how excited I should have been to learn of a poet who also practiced dance.

Then, as I was introduced to Spaces, Sadanand Menon and the oeuvre of Chandralekha, it was only an ideal build up to witnessing this evening’s performance of Sharira. Who better to introduce Chandralekhe than Sadanand, who had been associated with her for a long time as a fellow artist and a critic and seen her oeuvre grow over the years . I consider it a blessing to have been able to attend a couple of sessions and listen to Sadanand speak about Chandralekha.
 © Frederic Soltan/Sygma/Corbis

Through these talks, Chandralekha comes across as a rebel who took immense pride in her stand, ‘ I exist, despite you ( the system)’. It was a kind of Tapas and meditation that she had performed at Spaces in defying the system and creating art in an atmosphere of experimentation and collaboration. For instance, in choreographing a performance, she was particular about doing away with the aspects that appealed to the viewer as ‘beautiful’.

 I understand, she wanted to disturb the viewer, constantly question his aesthetic leanings and redefine it by breaking barriers. She despised performances being framed within a fixed a repertoire. She wanted her performances, and performers to keep evolving.

This was amply evident when Tishani, who has been performing and living with this single piece for more than a decade and a half now, said that the piece has evolved on its own and that she has not made any conscious changes to it.

CL had been an ever thinking artist. I don’t think there were any precedents when she choreographed a work inspired by the mathematical treatise ‘Leelavathi’.

She was always open to collaborations and this helped her art evolve in leaps and bounds. This paved way for her collaborations with, Kalari, Yoga, which would sort of set a trend in classical dances and theatre performances across the country.

The ease and enterprise with CL collaborates is nowhere more evident than how a casual meeting lead to a life long association for Sadanand. And in how a casual follow up meeting with Tishani after CL liked Tishani's review of her book ' Rainbow on the road' led her working in Sharira. What a life long transformation she has left on these wonderful people.

Sharira- the format

Sharira, unfolded in three parts. First there was the invocation of the female form in Shakthi.  It opens up in silence and as the dormant form slowly moving to life, exploring its own form. The strings of the tambura strum in first and fill the air, as the form now starts exploring the space and the freedom around it. The voice then comes in invoking the various names of the Shakthi, like Janani, Jwalamukhi, as the form explores and realises its potentials.

Through out this sequence of invoking the Shakthi,  the dancer stays close to the earth and almost explores movements in a flat frame. She seems to invoke the earth the profound life and potential that the earth holds in it.

 In her movements she questions and breaks all our conceptions of dance. for instance, Jutting forth the back to face the audience and letting the yoni perform movements. There is a treatment of the back and the yoni in executing movements on par with hands that are prominently used to make mudras in conevention. The feet is also used to make mudhraic expressions.

In the second part, the Male dancer comes in just when the Shakthi seems to have touched upon her feminism. Just as the male comes in, Tala is introduced, invoking Shiva and the drum. The male energy tries to engage with the female form with love and play, here the music resembles the buzzing of a bee circling a flower. Shiva is invoked by his aspects of anandha and thandava.

The Male form, played by Kalari artist Shaji John, is visualised as an erect and throbbing one. Its presented in a reddish shade of light, whereas the female form was given a whitish light.

The third part is about the union of Shiva and shakthi and here the music resembles sounds of the waves crushing against the shore.  The union was visualised beautifully like a glorious exploration of the sutras of Kama rasa. I haven’t seen the monuments of Khajuraho, but this performance  made me think that Chandralekha had ventured to create monumental and exquisite performance of that scale.

Sharira- ecstasy :

Sharira was sheer ecstasy to me as it unfolded layer by layer. It invoked ecstasy in its slowness, in its silence, in the music that still rings in my ears, in its movements that seemed to raise from the music, in it making you wonder  was it the other way around, in breaking and redefining aesthetics of movements, in breaking barriers of movements, in visualising ecstasy in movements, in creating the splendour of the ecstasy of union through a jugalbandi of music and performance, in gradually building up and hitting a beautiful climax. 

The Gundecha brothers with their range, modulation and duet of their music were a sheer pleasure to listen to. it was equally ecstatic to close your eyes and just listen to them perform.

Finally, it was the ecstasy for me in being able to relate to an artist and her art.  In her disdain for the convention and appetite for breaking norms and creating new standards, I think Sharira is a result of  Chandralekha’s  bid to disown the the drama in Mudras as symbols and gestures of the hand to convey meanings, and her attempt to create a new lingo of the Mudhras with the whole body, the Sharira. It is such an exciting journey trying to understand the artist, her aspirations and her art. 

The panaromic experience of this performance has kind of redefined ecstasy for me.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Artists and Articulations- II

Leighton Pierce

Interacting with Leighton Pierce, some one who moved to the video genre, starting off with pottery then moved on to sound before discovering Video, was a picture in contrast in many ways to that presented by Gary Hill.

Leighton's approach and art comes across as more abstract in nature. His art is a result of amalgam of techniques and technologies. It is impossible to hazard a guess or visualise on what his work would look like on production.

Leighton was again very open in sharing with his working modalities. He goes out every day with his still camera and randomly shoots for hours together of images from daily life. The way he clicks his images, with an expanded shutter time and performing movements with his camera, is a key part of his art. it is a performance in itself, worth listening to him talk about it. 

He then collates these images on his system into a video presnetation.

The third part comes in the installation, wherein he has to compose his different videos to suit the space of exhibition. He is meticulous about factoring in the features of the space of exhibition while composing his videos for the installation.

Happenstace and chance are an important feature of Leighton's art. He was very candid in conceding that, something amazing happens out there in his installations and u didn't do that on purpose.

While we saw earlier that Text played an important role in Gary's works, Sound is integral to Leighton's works. Infact, sound is so central to his videos that he says he shoots video with a certain sound pattern in mind.

Sergio Chejfec and Sharmista Mohanty

This Kochi Biennale has many new features to it. it is, i believe, the first time text and performance arts are given a big space in the Biennale platform. Sergio Chejfec's novel in 88 chapters will be on display at various locations in the Biennale. Sharmista has a prime space in a room with a lovely view all for herself to project her poem in a milk white projection.

Interacting with these artists opened up ideas like how perception dies with expectation in a  Narrative and investigating on whatever happened to 'a culture of curiosity'.

Samiran Datta

Samiran Datta in his talk about his works was a picture of reflection of his love for the film and print. He romantically revisited his tryst with film and days of printing and how he devised indigenous techniques to create effects in the visual. 

Among the techniques he shared with us were, Sandwiching films; letting films to age for years and then exposing them; using sound negative to create high contrast; pictures with impression of hand; using chines ink on film; printing after reticulation- giving the print the rough texture of  a canvas; Pindrawing on films, that won him Cinematographer Balumahendra's praise and a place at FTII, Pune.

Samiran added that , the richness of many of these techniques now are easily reproduced by photoshop. It takes one back to questions raised by the movie Tim's Vermeer. 

Artists and Articulations

Artists and Articulations

I got to attend a workshop titled Thinking art, as a part of the Kochi Biennale and on these sidelines we got an opportunity to interact with artists and understand their works firsthand. We were a group of around forty members from a wide background put together by the able Sundar Sarukkai.  I wish to share some of these articulations here. Some of them were deep philosophical investigations and others very practical thinking and some very scientific in their temperament and approach.

Bob Gramsma

Bob in his installation had gorged some earth out, filled the pit with concrete and let it dry and then lifted the solid concrete mass to a certain angle and left it at that. Viola! He claims to have created space and hits upon our ideas of architecture.

While sharing with us his motivations behind creating this massive installation, that had to brave a heavy down pour during its crucial stages of installation, Bob was candid in articulating his philosophy of space.  Bob believes that our philosophical obsession with understanding space comes from the Foetal disconnect we had with space.

He reasoned out that the foetus in a womb has some sense of continuity with respect to understanding sound, smell, etc through its interface with the mother, but unfortunately left crouching in the safe havens of the womb, and left to grasp by itself, a measure of this profound space it is thrown into on birth.

It is this discontinuity that Bob thinks is the reason we are enamoured by space. Bob has attempted to create, show and demonstrate space in the drama of this installation.
Bob’s another sweet observation related to an incident with his Daughter. He described how when she was asked to sketch a cat, the figure resembled just any child’s scribble, while when she was asked  to dig a cat figure out of earth and Bob tried casting that mould, he could get amazingly close to real features of the cat. This is another thing that set Bob thinking on our perceptions of space.

Technical challenges and adhoc solutions are integral part of any installation. In Bob’s case the installation is supported by around 8 stubs of coconut trees buried in the ground to support the concrete mass balanced at an angle. When asked about covering up the concrete with earth, Bob averred saying that he did not want to deceive his Viewers, reflecting certain ethics at work, for us to ponder over.

Miller S Puckette

Miller, a mathematician by training had an installation of sounds, where he reconstructed a varied and diverse range sounds from simple sinusoids on his computer through a software he had designed. You had to feed the software certain inputs and produced a host of sounds.

It was interesting that Miller’s presentation followed, after the stage had been set by a very moved Kabir Mohanthy recounting the valiant effort of Zia Mohiuddin Dagar (14 March 1929 – 28 September 1990) in reconstructing the Rudra Veena over a period of eight years and how it was not being talked about by the informed public. ( this valorising struck me as being romantic, add to this Kabir's tendency to preface even his briefest observation with an unrelated anecdote or incident. For instance this talk about Dagar was appended by quite an elaborate recounting of his tryst with Muhammad Yunus)

It was even more interesting to contrast Dagar's effort and the possibilities of reproducing the sound of the rudra veena through MSP's software, in the context of a movie on Tim's Vermeer, we had earlier watched, where in an uninitiated Tim goes on to reproduce a classic Vermeer Painting armed with nothing but a bunch of scientific techniques, temperament and perseverance.

While interacting with us it was interesting when Miller was asked about his views on  copyright issues, Miller surmised that he was okay with people being asked to pay for a live performance to cover the expenses involved, but for what can be copied and reproduced, he thought not fair to pay for. 

Gary Hill

Gary Hill is a video artist. He broke many grounds in the course of his very open discussion about his art with us. It was very instructive when he revealed that a video artist, unlike a film maker, doesn't think in terms of images. He thinks in terms of ideas, quite clearly demonstarted in his video titled 'meditations'.

Gary Hill's videos are marked by a poignant and disruptive use of language and text, demonstrated by his use of the text ' for everything which is visible is a copy of that which is hidden' in his work Frustrum and the performative and interactive work of Withershins wherein he takes language, gender and biblical constructs. 

Gary was eloquent about sharing his inspirations in Robert morris'  Box with the Sound of Its Own Making and the creation of Klein Bottle with the image of its own making. The creation of another work inspired by Tony Conrad'sFilm Feedback.

While i was curious about his Literary influences, Gary identified with the writings of Maurice Blanchot and Paul Ryan's Video mind Earth mind.