During the recent boom in new museums, the architect Rem Koolhaas remarked that, since there is not enough past to go around, its tokens can only rise in value. Today, it seems, there is not enough present to go around: for reasons that are obvious in a hyper-mediated age, it is in great demand too, as is anything that feels like presence.
One reason performance has returned as an almost automatic good is its promise of presence. It seems to be totally open to its audience: its making is one with its experiencing. - Hal Foster, Bad New Days
The performance art workshop took the Ramnagar Ramleela as a point of departure to analyse the disparate contemporary narratives that mobilise or rehearse the epics, examining the various themes extant in the discourse surrounding performance art and more specifically looking at re-enactment as a mode of 'reading'. Renowned Performance Studies philosopher Richard Schechner has studied this 'performance of magnitude' (i.e., the Ramnagar Ramleela) at length and has noted the mythopoetic aspect of its choreography and dramatic staging. Discerning and analysing the various layers and components of the phenomenon of the Ramleela – from its gestures to props and scenography – formed the enduring thread of the workshop. In preparation for the Benaras trip and during it, we pored over a variety of media that helped us unpack select facets of the Ramleela. Among other things, we concerned ourselves with mapping the themes of re-enactment as well as their trajectories within the ambit of the textual and the moving image – how the basic formula of the plot remains the same while the telling varies according to mode, location, intention etc.
At another level, the workshop proposed to undertake an exploration of various ways of 'reading' and assimilating - how do we read, how do we know? For instance, the best way to 'read' an alien dessert placed before us might simply be to 'eat' it. What are the myriad ways in which performances are 'read' and absorbed? What accounts for the renewable popularity of epics and myths and how do these formulas travel and are reinvented through the changing times? What explains the currency of performance art today and makes it relevant? Is it, as the architect Rem Koolhaas speculates – 'there is not enough present to go around' or is it as Hal Foster argues – performance art is experienced as more immediate in that it dissolves the boundary between its making and experiencing? These are some of the questions that the workshop interrogated.
During the course of this intensive workshop we undertook the study of the proceedings of the Ramleela as a collective exercise before coming together to parse the material not only through discussions but also through performance, using the gathered insights to inflect our individual art projects/practices. In other words, we improvised pieces of documented performance art with the material collected during our explorations of the city and notations made about the various aspects of the collective object of study – the Ramleela – which continued to serve as a beacon in the background, denoting a grand phenomenon under observation, one that continued to inspire the micro-performance projects. The performances that were conceptualised were both independent pieces as well as devices/modes to help unpack the minutiae of the discourse surrounding performance art. The workshop culminated into a 'thesis', parts of which are on view at the Students’ Biennale 2016. It opened with the contemporary dancer, Nikita Maheshwary’s lecture demonstration ‘Making Images Through Dance’ that explored site specificity with regards to movement and gesture. The lecture presented a concise history of ‘how dance is slowly moving out of proscenium spaces and redefining itself on exciting new platforms. From moving into galleries to old architectural spaces to adopting itself on camera, dance is negotiating its way through.’ This was followed by multiple trips to the Ramleela as well as curated walks of Benaras led by Aanchal and Aayush of Roobaroo Walks. Thus, alongside the 'reading’ of Ramnagar Ramleela we also engaged in related activities that enriched our discussions and enabled the immersive space conducive for a body in performance. For instance, a segment of the curated walk exclusively focussed on the performative function of myths, identifying the sites of their deposition in addition to their origins and telos, thereby assembling a compendium of oral accounts in circulation. These archaeologies were subsequently conceptualised, documented, and presented as fictionalised retellings through the vocabulary of contemporary dance.
Acknowledgements: TAKE on art | Staff and students of the Faculty of Visual Arts, Banaras Hindu University | Staff and students of Shiv Nadar University who participated in the workshop | Roobaroo Walks | Hotel Ganges View | Nikita Maheshwary | Sarojini Lewis
stills from the performance pieces that were conceptualised during the workshop.
Stills from the performance pieces that were conceptualised during the workshop.
For more information on the exhibition click here.