ITF 2nd Theatre Seminar: Spaces - Politics and Interventions
Duration: 02:21:19; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 1.211; Saturation: 0.052; Lightness: 0.109; Volume: 0.256; Cuts per Minute: 0.347; Words per Minute: 94.156
The 2nd national seminar held by the India Theatre Forum
intended to address the overall theme of "Spaces of Theatre, Spaces for Theatre" in a wider and holistic manner. It was held between 14 to 18 March 2012 in Ninasam, an extremely special theatre space in Heggodu village of Karnataka which has served as a community centre for over 50 years. The seminar intended to cover a gamut of related topics ranging from the relationship of performing "bodies" to space, to the actual physical spaces of performance, to the politics of the spaces in society , to the new virtual spaces opening up and to the future of Spaces. In other words, the seminar built on the understanding that the act of theatre is always more than simply an act of theatre. To think of theatre and its processes is, ipso facto, to think of its temporal and spatial specificities. However, the main approach of the seminar was not to develop an academic theory of the spaces of/for theatre but to sketch the contours of a "spaciology" of theatre as perceived by its practitioners.
Samik Bandyopadhyay, Pralayan, Sunil Shanbag and CAMP chart a temporal history of spaces and the changing nature of interventions.
Transcribed by Sharvari Sastry.
MK Raina: ...of confronting political space or political theatre. Then we have a group called CAMP. CAMP - Ashok and Shaina. They are going to be talking of what they have been doing in the, on...or what they are doing...I don't know I don't have much knowledge of what they are doing but definitely they are using the internet and other things for that kind of...and? Amongst many other things. And each one has been in the field, and on the ground working, and I think I will request Samikda to open the discussion for us.
Ninasam, Heggodu, Karnataka
Samik Bandyopadhyay: Let me make a confession right at the beginning. For quite a while of the sessions I was attending, I was feeling completely out of place and I found the whole situation rather unreal, almost a piece of fantasy; where it seemed as if in India theatre workers have the freedom to make aesthetic choices, of what kind of theatre buildings they would like to have, what kind of theatre spaces they would choose, what possibilities of stage design, experimentation they had; it seemed as if all these choices were available, and it is only a question of now making decisions, which I found extremely unreal.
As Raina has already said, and as even last evening it would seem, when Sunil performed his play, things are not that pleasant and that sweet and that comfortable in India. And I hate the word "plurality" which is so neutral, I don't like neutral words because we have so many different voices, so many different conditions, so many different cultures. And these are cultures which have grown in different parts of the country, in different communities, in different sections of the people, fairly clearly demarcated and these cultures have grown through histories and memories. These are not constructions, and these go on evolving, changing, developing, gathering nuances, drawing on old nuances, which get re-enkindled and re-vivified. This process we have to confront very seriously. So these are cultural spaces which are also geopolitical, situations in geopolitical spaces, and we seem to be denying and negating all these spaces for these few days that we have been talking here. These didn't seem to exist.
Now some of these issues I would like to place on the table and on which we could also try to bring in experiences from all over the country and from all these different sections of the community. It is not a simple plural society as such. It is much more contentious, conflicting at every point. And the need for resistance...there are processes of domination and needs for resistance and these are contentious situations that are all over the country.
Now one of the problems if we start from there, and we can bring in other problems along, is that every culture from its histories and its memories - histories of oppression and resistance particularly - they create a kind of a taste, a kind of a response to theatre, which is part of the culture of that sector, of that section. And the moment we try to make this culture easily accessible or easily transmittable through out the country or even beyond the borders of the country, we tend to create generalisations, smoothening out of the differences, and in the process, those cultural voices get stifled and get lost in the process. In a kind of a generalisation.
And of course this tension remains, that after all, the barrier of language, the barrier of a particular culture limits the range of access that your theatre is allowed. And theatre will always try to cross the borders and try to reach a larger audience. So this temptation and the tension that is related to it, is always there.
Now how do we face this situation? That remains a problem. Because it's not a question of translating things. There are many solutions to translating a text, translating a language. But how do you translate cultures? I didn't have much of a problem when I saw Sunil's production the first time - I was watching it the third time last evening - because there were certain connections - certain connections of resistance, certain connections of histories where the Marathi experience and the Bengali experience, they converge and they mix. So this was a common ground, common histories create the common ground, and I could respond and I could come back to the play again and again and again.
But this will not always happen. For in the discussion that we were having, I was listening to experiences of directors who worked within their cultures, and cultures which just leave me out, I can't enter those cultures. Cultures with a very strong load of religious belief, and the metaphysics that grows out of that belief. Since I dont't share in that belief I can't get into the metaphysics, and if I can't get into the metaphysics, the theatre often becomes for me, a ritual. And a ritual will always remain a spectacle, its a perfromance out there now, with which I don't relate. Which can be beautiful, which can be aesthetically charming, but it does not become theatre for me because it does not involve me, I don't get into a negotiation with that. It remains an empty, beautiful structure. That is the problem that always comes into place, and how do we confront it?
Forty years ago - and whenever I talk about theatre I talk about memories because I fall back on memories and draw on memories because they enrich my immediate experience of theatre every time. I remember an experience in 1966, we were having a theatre seminar in Delhi an international seminar once again, and the first evening we were having a performance of Gita Govinda produced by the Kalakshetra with Rukimini Devi Arundale presenting the performance. She introduced the performance and spoke about it and we started watching it. I haven't seen anything so dead and dismal like that production. Everything was perfect but it was dead.
And in the interval I spotted, because I had seen her pictures, Joan Littlewood sitting in the third row on the aisle. And I was sitting next to Tripti Mitra, one of our great actresses and we just decided to walk over to Joan and introduce ourselves to her. We went up to her, she looked...I just said "Joan Littlewood", she looked up "how did you know?" I said I have seen your picture on the cover of a book called The Encore Reader, which we were reading at the time and widely circulating in India. She stood up and said, "This can't be your country". I said, "No it's not my country." She said "Let's go out". We walked out. I didn't know Delhi well enough and we just decided, Tripti di and I, we decided to take her to Old Delhi. We took an auto and we drove to old Delhi. We didn't know anything of old Delhi.
We walked through the streets after a point, and at one point - it was October, early October, winter was on, and was about 10:30 in the night, and we could see people lying down on the streets for the night, barely covering themselves up in wraps, inadequate wraps, and Joan was looking at them. At one point she suddenly turned to us and asked "Don't you feel ashamed when you see something like this?" We said "Yes." "What do you do about it?" We said, "We do theatre, all over the country, where we try to address these issues, try to raise the people's conscience, try to raise the conscience of the government which has just come into place, and that's all that we could do."
There was silence for a while, we were walking, then she suddenly, held us over our shoulders, hugged us closely, and said in deeply charged tones: "Don't take me wrong. I'm not setting a judgement on you. We expected such a lot from Nehru, and he let us down. He didn't just let you down, he let us down also." We were walking, pause, and then she asked: "Well, what does a theatre person want at the end of the day? She wants people to watch her and clap. That's all that a theatre person wants. And I know, that not one of these people will ever clap to an actress anywhere. And that hurts me. That is all that I wanted to share with you."
And after a while she had this wonderful story about Spaces. She used the word 'space'. I believe that a lot of you would know about Joan's great work, legendary work 'Oh What A Lovely War', which was her take on the First World War, and entirely woven around the songs that the people sang at different points of the war. At the beginning of the war with all the jingoism, with all the appeal to the future of world and the war for civilization; and then the wars, then the songs in which people mourned their dead, then the songs about the personal letters and diaries coming back from the battlefield, and the reactions that they created.
And then the play ended with a celebration after Armistice had been declared and there were balloons floating all over the place, and Joan was telling us, she had been invited to perform 'Oh What A Lovely War' in Germany, next to the Wall. And she planned, she insisted, that the open air site for the performance should be as close as possible to the Wall. She was given that space and she hoped that that night, when the balloons flew, they would cross over the Wall to the other side. And then, Joan ended the story saying "The wind blew the other way that night, and I was so sad, I have never forgotten it."
So for me this is the story of spaces, a British director comes to India, she doesn't have any advice for us, she doesn't have any lessons for us, but she would like to share in the anguish that creates theatre, and from the end of theatre, not from any great civilizational slogan, no slogan of development and progress or anything. An actress wants to be clapped and these people will never clap for any actress in the world.
Now these are the spaces - we have been talking about theatre as a space which brings the actor and the spectator together - only when this connection happens, theatre happens. We have agreed on that, we won't go back to that, but once we are trying to create this connection - if the people, if the audience, how do we reach them? If they move farther and farther away, the forms of theatre, the institutions of theatre, the new conventions of theatre and the new finances that come into place, the space is no longer a space of just an intimate secret private transaction between the performer and the audience. It is a larger space in which the state has a stake, capital has a stake, and the media has its stake.
And there is a nexus operating because the state, capital and media are bent on creating a cultural consumerism. They would like to sell their stuff, their merchandise. And to sell the merchandise, the more you can standardise your merchandise,and the more you can standardise your consumer, the more you sell. Your process becomes simple. The same target audiences, you just change the language of the slogans. And sometimes even in the translations of the slogans, it doesn't go into the other language, it's a strange artefact of a language, rather than a real language, the language in which the slogans go, but the images, and the way the images are built, sold, the barrage of images, the whole mechanisms of images, the thrust of images, and all these together drive, draw your audiences away.
And even when we go quite excited about these proposals of the blackboxes, and the new theatres all over the country, there is the fear. The way it is being handled, the way it is being done, that these would be models of theatre, which would be inhibitory models of theatre which would make demands for a certain kind of theatre that alone would fit into those structures, into those architectures.
The architectures would demand certain forms of theatre to fit into that architecture. So more and more the audience is dragged away from you and one single audience, and one single audience, a standardized audience will be created. The Bombay cinema has been doing that systematically. And the entire history of the regional cinemas, the language cinemas, that developed so brilliantly in the 50s and the 60s and the 70s they are almost on their way out. And the glorification, the valourisation of the Bombay cinema, which can at different points of time even adopt, use and exploit, peripherally, a local voice, a local element and bring it into the larger standardized commodity.
The more we fall into the trap of these festivals, I have to take a Bengali play to a place where nobody understand Bengali, that will leave out the history, the memory not of that language alone, but of everything that has grown around the language. Language harbours, language stores, language collects, language gathers, language nurtures histories and memories. Language is not just a mechanical system, it is much more than that. So you simplify it, you bring in a lot of English and Hindi words into it so that it becomes understandable to the festival audience.
So in the process, unknown to us, and maybe as a means to survive we lose our spaces and we surrender to a space that tends to expand imperialistically and colonizes our cultures, colonizes our theatres; the way we respond to theatre. Something, a kind of an experience to which a Bengali viewer would respond so naturally, so whole-heartedly, would throw herself into it, may seem to be melodramatic, sentimental to somebody elsewhere in another culture, which is a more materialistic, more industrially evolved culture, the culture of the city of Bombay, and the culture of Maharashtra are different cultures, very different cultures. The culture of the Parsi theatre and the culture of the Sangeet Natak are very different.
So there differences allow the spaces, need spaces, and these spaces are being constricted and colonized under a larger culture industry scenario. It's no longer these 'desho-bhasha' cultures, but one single culture which is Indian and therefore can be exported fast enough. In the first programme announced and formuated by the National Knowledge Mission there are heads for IT, for agriculture, for industry, for the chemical industry separately, understandably. There is no head for culture. the first reference to culture comes under the head of Tourism, as creative industries.
And the moment you bring in these terms even - there is a politics around every term, there is still all over the country, in different parts of the country, a tendency among theatre groups which in India are generally non-professional; the groups tend to call themselves theatre groups, theatre ...They try to avoid the word 'company'. There are very few companies in a country. We make a distinction between the old company natakas, and these different natak mandalis, etc. these are mandalis, these are samitis, these are sanghs, there are just groups, without and group, society, anything linked with them; because it is a different culture. The way the people come in to it, what they invest into this experience of theatre making is distinctive. And they would like to keep their differences intact from company or creative industry. And these differences, I think, have to be honoured. These differences meet the different spaces, rather than the blurring of spaces into one Indian generailty. Thank you.
MK Raina: Thank you Samik, thank you very much. You know I think the largest enterprise which is a voluntary enterprise in India is theatre, where there are not much investments coming from governments; these are from your own pockets. And I think that independence of that enterprise needs to be nurtured and kept still the way it is, because there is now as you see the European Union trying to enter the cultural fields of India. They want our (?) lot of money, there are funding, and this question, what he, where he like sort of pushed a bit, little bit into the funding of this. There is funding for any kind you want to do. You want to do Ibsen, you want to do French, you want to do anything.
What is... I have always had this feeling that you know it's like postponing my own work and I am deviating into something else, which is tempting naturally, because we have no money therefore, alright. But we are doing theatre; but also at the same time we are postponing our own anger, our own unrest, our own protest and almost appropriating space where we will never belong to. And the basic element of theatre is resistance, to me at least. Resistance and protest; questioning the status quo all the time and being aware about the facts, what is happening around in various quarters of...of getting appropriated this way or that way. At this point I would like to present Pralayan to come in.
(Pralayan: I have to go there?
MK Raina: Yeah
Pralayan: Thank you Raina-ji. Actually it is really a privilege to me to share the dais with veterans of Indian political theatre. Actually I thank for this opportunity to our fellow ITF members...core team members. I am Pralayan, I am core team member of ITF I thank our fellow core team memebers for this opportunity. See here I am going to read (?) some note what I want to speak. For me it is very difficult to give a comprehensive view on this topic. What I am trying here is to reflect on my experience in fragments.
Ten years ago a European - actually it was a Swedish - European woman who was studying Indian political theatre, came up to meet our group Chennai Kalai Kuzhu. It was a detailed conversation. She asked me, "Where did you perform your plays?" I said, "Street corners, slums, any available open-air spaces." She was astonished and she said, "Do you perform in public spaces?" "Yes, we do perform in public places." "Don't you think that you are intruding into public spaces?" "Intruding? Certainly not! Traditionally we used to perform in public, whether it is the snake charmers, or the street acrobats - the Kazaikkuthadi we call it in Tamil, the monkey-man, they all used to perform on the streets, or on any other available public spaces. It is a centuries-old practice, we just keep that and follow that legacy." She was not convinced but she did not want to contest the argument, and switched over to other topics.
At the time I did not understand her point completely. Later I realized that her understanding of and attitude towards the public space was different from mine. In the west also, there are street performers, they perform in some public spaces, not in all the available public spaces. If they perform in any available public place, it would have been considered an intrusion into that space, nuisance to the public and hijacking of the public space. But in our context, we think differently. As a political street theatre practitioner I think that we will give performance in any available public space, without hampering the flow of traffic and without creating any nuisance to the public; it is a democratic right.
Can resistant and democratic activities be called as acts of nuisance? Then how do we understand protests such as Occupy Wall Street? How do we understand our political street theatre performances which are happening in our public places? How do we understand our theatrical interventions in the public spaces? In the early eighties, the late Chandralekha, the dancer and choreographer of the international fame read her poetry and displayed posters on the beach of Marina in Chennai, expressing solidarity with the democratic values. Chandralekha and her associates were charged with sedition and humiliated by the authorities.
On January 1, 1988, Safdar Hashmi, theatre activist of Jana Natya Manch was brutally done to death by while performing a street play in Sahibabad near Delhi. Ram Bahadur, a factory worker who was one of the hosts of the performance, was also killed. How do we understand the concept of public space in the context of such happenings? In his book, The Empty Space, Peter Brooke writes that performance can happen in any empty space. And he also emphasizes in the book that no space is neutral.
In India, the neutrality of the acting space was questioned by Badal Sircar in his conecpt of Third Theatre. Outraged by the idea of selling plays to audience, Sircar and his group evolved the notions of street theatre and Third theatre. His search for non-commodified and people-friendly performance spaces has been contested by most of the theatre personalities of his time. In his lifetime, Badal Sircar has a hoard of people trained by him, doing theatre, promoting a particular brand of condom in the cause of, in the name of creating aids awareness. Anything can be appropriated in this market-centric world, and theatre is not an exception. Whether one agreed with him, or whether one did not, Badal Sircar is the one, who for the first time, talked about and think aloud on the politics of the performing spaces.
The Indian theatre community spent a lot of time debating the use of Badal Sircar in the 70s and 80s. But what is not discussed much so far is the exclusivist nature of our performing spaces since time immemorial. From the era of 'Purusha Sukhtham', discriminatory use centering around the concepts of purity and impurity of birth, has not only created the caste and gender heirarchies and oppression, but also segregated spaces into pure and impure spaces such as 'Oor' and 'Seri' in Tamil - that means village and basti, or village and colony. This segregation in the spaces dominates most of our traditional performing cultures. This segregation makes our traditional perfoming wisdom exclusivist without. There is no inclusivist space.
Traditional performances such as Kudiyattam of Kerala, and Bhagavatha Mela of Tamil Nadu are, even now, confined to particular caste communities. There are many more exclusive traditional performances like this in India. Modernity and our modern theatre practices have made some headway in breaking this structure here and there, but generally fail to make these traditional performances inclusive, providing space for everyone who wants to learn and perform them. Most of our urban spaces like auditoriums art galleries today have become out temples of modern culture. But they are in the same centuries-old paradigm. They are the sanctum sanctorum, still operating as the centre of ...the centres of segregation; who have access to the spaces, who are excluded and denied all access to these spaces and the information available there, this has not been discussed so far. For modern theatre practice, so far, by and large, is an urban, middle-class, upper-caste reality. This reality can be defined in some linguistic regions. But this is not enough to change all our reality.
I want to bring something for your observation on what happened regarding this in Tamil Nadu recently. It is believed that traditional Kuthu performances of Tamil Nadu are based only on Mahabharatam stories. But this is not the truth. There are severeal, several off-Mahabharatam stories in the repertoire. Most of these repertoires are specific to particular caste communities. Even if they perform Mahabharatam stories, the version has changed according to their own interpretation. The story of Madurai Veeran is a medieval legend belonging to the Naicker period, that is 15th - 16th centuries. Madurai Veeran is the warrior belonging to the Arunthathiyar community - a Scheduled Caste community, working under a Nayak king as a general - as his general. His affair with a dancer girl from another community irked the other king. He was sentenced to death by king for not fulfilling dutied assigned to him. At his death, Madurai Veeran came to be worshipped as a deity.
This story is performed as Kuthu in Western Tamil Nadu. I saw this performance three years ago. This brilliant and energetic performance was totally confined to the community settlement of Arunthathiyars. The entry of the character Madurai Veeran into the acting space was designed like a procession from the place where Madurai Veeran was seated as a deity and worshipped. The character bore on his shoulder torches arranged in a semi-circular pattern so (?), like that. When the character entered the acting space, with his body dancing to drum beats, most of the spectators got into a trance. Although Madurai Veeran is worshipped as a deity by many communities, this performance is segregated and done only by Arunthathiyars and in their settlements.
Last year central Sangeet Natak Akademi had organised a Kuthu festival and seminar under the title 'Tradition and Transition: Thirukoothu Performances in Tamil Nadu'. Accidentally I was one of the panel members in the co-ordinating body of the festival. There were some like-minded friends in the commitee, and we deliberately included all kinds of, all genres of Kuthu performance in our festival. This Madurai Veeran Kuthu is one of them. Traditionally, Kuthu performing spaces are considered as ritual spaces. This is very caste-specific and exclusivist. Only in this festival was Madurai Veeran performed along with other Kuthu performances.
It was possible because the venue was Hanne and Rajagopal's Kattaikuttu Sangam School in Punjarasantankal Village, Kanchipuram district in Tamil Nadu. It is difficult to imagine this kind of mixed performance in many other villages. Following this example, Madurai Veeran group was invited to perform at the Kannappa Thambiran theatre festival in Purisai village of Tiruvannamalai District. But such sporadic interventions at a smaller level will not change the exclusivist nature of the Koothu spaces. The Hanne and Rajagopal Kattaikuttu Sangam School is deliberately casting women as performers in these koothu performances. But there are no takers for this legacy in other Koothu groups. What I am raising here the bigger questions of our leading reality. It's not easy to crack the nut, but we have to think aloud about intervening effetcively to counter such exclusivist trends in our performing spaces. Thank you.
MK Raina: Thank you Pralayan. You know, Pralayan you said that we are the leaders of political theatre in India. What do you do, if you talk of poverty, talk about suffering of people? That's not political, that's life. And if we are labelled as such, I can't help it but I think that's also (?) people, put you in a slot. And our endeavour has to be to all the time challenge that (?). I..if I am not sympathetic to poverty, you know exploitation of workers, people, then why am I doing theatre? I'm not doing theatre just to satisfy my own ego, and on that point, we come back to...Sunil? Yes, okay.
Sunil Shanbag: This is very embarrasing, to watch your...your efforts to get something happening. Anyway, ok (?) and technology let me down last time. I'll do it, I'll do it, I'll do it! It's still there, it's got a mind of it's own.
Alright, very quickly, because we performed last night, and I think that was a...that was really good for us because it just..instead of me trying to explain everything, a lot of it was kind of self-evident, so I'd really like to...if there are questions, and if you'd like to enter into conversation, I'd be very happy to. But what I'll try and do right now, is very quickly try and trace the trajectory, how we got to where we were.
Of course Sex, Morality and Censorship is already three years old, there have been two or three productions after that, but it's not such a...you know there has been no major departure in that sense. So, if you'll just bear with me for ten minutes I'll just bring you up to this point and then later on if you'd like to enter into conversation I'd be very happy to share our journey with you. We set up Arpana in 1985 - okay, that immediately dates us. It was amidst a group of people who were very actively working in theatre - actors - I'd just begun directing at that time. I'd just, in fact, directed just my first play, and we've been working. The only thing we really shared in common was that all four or five of us had worked for different periods of time with Satyadev Dubey.
So we actually came together under him, and then we decided that at some point we needed to be independent, so we set up Arpana, and there was no real thought behind what we were going to do. It was just the fact that we wanted to work independently, and it was almost assumed that we would continue carrying on the kind of theatre that we'd been doing.
But over the years, I think - it took a while, but I think we've kind of found our voice, and I would say that today, in my own...for myself, I'm fairly committed to a kind of theatre which is aware of it's social context. That is really very very critical for me. A theatre that responds to things happening around. Not in a kind of a 'poster' approach, or, you know, not in that kind, but in a slightly more reflective way and we are also fairly committed to working - we are a working theatre company, so we perform a lot, we travel a lot, we perform a lot, there are actors who are performing all the time. So for me it is very very critical that whatever I do, I do within that space. And I'll also explain why even more so as we go along. So that's really the kind of theatre I'm coming into.
For me, text is very important, we put in a lot of effort on the text, performances are very very important, actors are very critical to our theatre, very minimal stage design; we travel light - five suitcases is yesterday's production, you know, it's just that. So that's the style of theatre we do. I quite often - in fact, I've sort of while thinking about this I quite often use the theatre as a canvas, you know, and...in my plays, like you know, theatre history yesterday, or I've done another production called 'Dreams of Taleem' which really...where your major character is a theatre director and his young assistant. So I use the theatre as a canvas to explore larger issues. So in a sense it is also about theatre, it is about our own lives that we try to use on (?) our stage.
In the last eight or nine years, I haven't really been working with ready-made scripts. Weve kind of had an idea and we've turned to writers, translators, musicians, actors, poets, to try and enter into a kind of collaborative process to develop something. And this is not devised theatre; I mean, you know, I have a fear of that term. This is not devised theatre. This is really theatre or a text that comes out of many many months of work, discussion and it is only after that that the actors come into the picture. So you know it is that kind of process. We hardly have a script that I say "Okay, I like this play, let me produce it, or let me direct it". Doesn't work like that. I think somewhere the roots of this approach are in the late-70s and the 80s.
I started working around '74-'75, and this was the period when - I didn't know it then, I only realized later on - that it was the end of a very very interesting beginning in the what was knows as the 'Experimental Theatre Movement' in Mumbai and Maharashtra, and the beginning of a very exciting new phase. And that new phase I think is best represented by what happened at Chhabildas School. Sudhanva made a brief mention of it the other day. Very quickly - a small school hall in central Bombay - Dadar- very close to the railway station - is hired by a theatre group, a Marathi theatre company called Awishkar, and Awishkar then makes that space available to other theatre groups, and I think some kind of historical, you know, circumstances, the time, you know, the seventies, very exciting period - the availability of a performance space and the kind of, you know, a kind of surge in the creativity in the amateur theatre scene, or the experimental theatre scene seemed to coincide at the time, one feeding the other, and within six - five or six years, Chhabildas was a throbbing centre of amazing work.
I mean, you know, it is so interesting that today we talk about the lack of resources, yeh woh, and all that kind of thing, and you couldn't have had a more primitive performance space than Chhabildas, if we look back now. Yet the most interesting experiments that included technology, that included theatrical devices were done there. So it's just a kind of, you know, that's how it was.
But more importantly, I mean, you had, you had representational theatre from all over the country. This was the place where you had plays - done in translation of course - writers from Karnataka, from the North, from Bengal, from East Europe, you know. It was like a melting pot. And, you know at the age of 18 - 19, which what roughly I was at the time, you were exposed to amazing theatrical influences. But beyond that I think, what was it? It was the fact that almost all the key theatremakers at that time were using mythology, were using all kinds of, you know, devices, essentially to look around themselves, to look at society around, critique it, explore it, examine it. And that was really at the root of it. And I think that kind of, you know, that kind of stayed with me somewhere, in the back of my mind.
Well in Chhabildas of course, you know, the movement fizzled out. Again there is no surprise that the whole experimental theatre kind of fizzles out with the coming of liberalisation, you know the seduction of the same audiences by television, by mass media, it was a huge thing. And for a while, theatre - and I'm talking really within the Mumbai context, you know, not much about what else happened everywhere else, though I guess, I suspect that its more or less parallel, there was a slump in theatre production, ok. There was. There was a distinct period where you had very few audiences, there was no space. Fortunately Prithvi came up, the National Centre for the Performing Arts came up, both with own, you know, agendas and politics of performing there, definitely, but at least there were spaces, and there was again an upsurge and though I took a sabbatical for about 6 or 7 years, and kid of didn't do major performances, when I came back, I found that theatre had changed tremendously.
Suddenly all around me there were a lot of, a lot more younger people doing theatre; the takes were much, much higher. It had become really expensive to do theatre. My last production, before I sort of went off, cost me about seven and a half thousand rupees, and then I discovered when I came back that just rehearsal space was going to be much more expensive than that - seven and a half thousand, ten thousand was just your rehearsal space hire budget. But more than that, theatre had just had become yet another consumer product, it had become a product of consumption, within the entertainment category.
And in a way it was inevitable, in a way it was great, because it kind of, you know, also democratized it a bit, didn't make it a kind of, you know, hallowed exclusive activity. Anyone felt they had the right to buy a ticket, walk in and expect to see something, be entertained, which is a, I think it is a pretty good equation to have. But what was worrying is that a lot of theatre people were quite happy to accept this situation. And were quite happy to see their work as products, and imagine then that all you had to do was entertain. That was a bit disturbing for me.
I felt - it didn't feel that, you know, this was the right way to do it. Just like you...just like the growth of multiplexes have created a kind of 'multiplex cinema', we began to see multiplex theatre. And what is it? It's usually pretty well-produced, neat, fair amount of design and production value has now come into our theatre. But it's the kind of thing that, you know, lasts an hour and a half, two hours, you're entertained, you're never disturbed, you're comfortable, it gives you enough time to go out and grab a meal, and you go home and that's it. You know, that's about it. And that was a bit worrying. So I said you know we need to look around and do something else. But within this world and not, you know, have to go out elsewhere.
Large section, large sections, many stories from our lives are not being told, are not seen in the theatre. And I think with liberalisation, large sections of our society have become invisible to us. I've lived in Bombay for most of my life, and always been proud to say that Bombay is, in a sense, of all the Indian cities, one of the more democratic cities, where the taxi driver, the auto driver, the bus conductor, the top corporate executive, all have, share a similar pride of being professional. You can't mess around with the working-class professional in Bombay, it's not possible. The guy, whoever it is, is going to stand up. And to a large extent, this is because of Bombay's very rich working class history. And you hardly see any representation of the working class in our theatre.
And I tried a couple of times - maybe half-hearted attempts - to see if we could do something, it was not possible, and then I heard that, you know, the young writer Ramu Ramanathan, who was a friend, colleague, whose work I had been watching for a long time, was planning to - was actually researching something about the history of the mill workers of Bombay. And if you look at Bombay's working class history, the biggest chunk really, the biggest kind of, you know, contribution has been from the textile mill workers.
And that time when Ramu was researching it, the, the textile mills were, you know, mostly shut down, and the mill workers were fighting for some rights to, you know, get their back pay, their arrears, get a piece of the land that the mill owners were trying to sell off at huge, huge, huge prices, and this was going on. And through the writing of the script and the research, one by one all the judgements went against the mill workers. So I told Ramu, you know, if you're writing this, I'd love to work on this as a play and he was enthusiastic, and that's how we worked on Cotton 56, Polyester 84, which was essentially a retelling of the history of the mill workers.
So I'll just kind of make a few references to what you said, Samik, because you know, while doing this play, many of the questions, and these are I think, you know, very very important decisions, as you brought up - language, you know, where are you going to perform this, all these things came up. And you said festival, language, etc. Now the natural language of a play like that is Marathi, because that's really the milieu. And we thought a long time about this. But we also sensed that we needed to move out of the theatre only of Maharashtrian audiences. We needed to open this out, because really there are other language speaking people in other parts of the country that sharethe same history, because the mills were there all over the country, cotton mills, that was one thing. But then we said, no. We cannot at the same time ignore the cultural connect of this piece.
So we spoke with Chetan Datar at that time and we asked him - so a Marathi speaking, writing, you know, writer, writing for us in Hindi, using the Marathi syntax. And it's interesting that even today, a lot of people when they say "Oh you know I saw Cotton 56, but I saw the Marathi version, now you do it in Hindi?" And I say there was never a Marathi version. So, you know, to that extent I think we have tried, we have kind of engaged with this question. And sometimes you have to take a practical decision. And I'm glad we did it in Hindi because we were able to perform it all over the country. So I think that was an important thing.
So yeah, so Cotton 56 got produced and we started performing at the same venues. Same venues means Prithvi Theatre, National Centre for the Performing Arts, and we all know the audience profile in these places. So, interesting again, that you force a kind of a narrative which is not part of the space there, and in doing so you have audiences coming and watching that, and the responses are different, I mean, you know, some people see it as a curiosity - "Oh I went and feel good about it" and some people actually, you know, are affected by it in a sort of a slightly deeper way.
You have young people coming the next day, calling up and saying you know I saw the show last night, I went to work and I suddenly realised that my corporate office block now stands on the same land where a mill used to once stand, because the gateway still says, you know, the name of the mill - "Raghuvanshi Mills Compound", except now its a corporate block. So you know it affected people at different levels, and I think it was interesting, it was interesting. It was not rejected. But we were also uncomfortable with the fact that we were only playing to these audiences.
So we worked an arrangement where we could actually travel with the play, and all over, fair number of parts of Maharashtra and make connections with trade unions. So that we could actually perform to working class audiences. Now, you know, it all sounds so nice, that we went out and all, it almost as though the working class audiences are waiting for you to come and perform there. We must have done eight performances, no more, but they were the hardest to organise. The entire working class movement is so fragmented, and so scattered, that the union guys would say, Look we'd love to have a performance, but we can't guarantee that people will come to watch. It's just, people are so demoralised, the movement is so fragmented, but anyway it happened.
The other romantic notion we had was, I told him, you know, we are ready to peform anywhere, in a community hall, you know. And he said, no, workers don't want to see a play in a community hall, we want to see it in an air-conditioned theatre. Why should we be denied that? So you know, a lot of our own romantic notions were shattered. It was a great learning experience. The way working class audiences in Marathwada would respond to the play, they'd respond far stronger to the caste politics in the play. And in Bombay it wasn't that way. So, you know, there were interesting responses. So Cotton 56 was a great learning experience. And its really an example of how we are trying to find, you know, trying to find, intervene and produce stuff that actually sometimes is a bit subversive, sometimes takes audiences on a different journey. Ok.
In the sense of responding to what's happening around, I'd just like to talk a bit about another play we did called Dreams of Taleem, and I brought up Chetan's name before. Chetan Datar, for those who don't know, was a theatre writer, I think primarily for me he was a writer, tremendous translator, because he was very usefully a bridge between Hindi and Marathi - and very important for us to have people who can work with two languages - actor, and he was trying very hard and very successfully to...you know we, a lot of us have a critique about Marathi theatre that it's quite insular, they are quite happy, because they have a very clearly defined geographical space, very clearly defined audience, long tradition, long history, so they are...one of the critiques is that a lot of them are quite happy to stay within that, and really not break out and go.
And Chetan was trying to do that, and he was directing in Delhi, and he was going off to Bangalore and directing, and he was really expanding. And then quite suddenly, he passed away and there was a, there was a kind of mystery over his...the cause of his death, and there was a huge denial among people close to him, and it was very disturbing because for those of us who knew him, and also have been reading his writings, we all knew that Chetan had been battling for several years to come to terms with his own sexuality, we knew that. And the whole denial question was also becoming very important because even in terms of what was happening in our own fraternity and the larger society, the whole business of intolerance, or prejudice, about you know, alternative sexuality was beginning to become very very difficult to deal with. And I felt that, you know, I'd like to do something about this.
So I chose a play of his called Number One Madhavbagh, which is a story of a young working mother, single mother who, you know, struggles to come...it's a monologue, and she's struggling to come to terms with her youngest and most favourite son's sexuality. She discovers one day, you know, in his room things that set her thinking. And this is a play that Chetan wrote and of course he ends it in a slightly different way, he ends it with where the mother, you know, lashes out at the fascism of writers who can manipulate the characters and make them do things, you know, which is unfair, etc. But I chose to see it as something else. I chose to see it as a kind of a groping to really come to terms with this whole idea. And I knew that it might be a very unpopular thing to do, when it came to his own family, because there was a major issue there, but I felt that somehow someone like Chetan, he really belonged to a larger world, a larger fraternity, frankly, I mean it was beyond his family, and i thought if we do it responsibly and we do it honestly, then I think it might actually create some kind of an impact.
So we got another writer Sachin Kundalkar to write a frame story, it's an interesting device we use, you know, play-within-a-play, you know, a young director who is in a relationship with his assistant, he's trying to do No. 1 Madhavbagh, they get an actress, a senior actress, she plays that role, so you know its really about gay politics ten years before and gay politics today, nice dynamic, tension, clash, very interesting. A very risky proposition simply because of what it could do, but I think where personal associations were not in the frame, like when we performed in places like Bangalore, where you know histories of the people involved were not known, the audience received it very well and with tremendous, tremendous interest. But of course where histories were known then it became very emotional. So this was a kind of an edgy, kind of, you know, subversive act, and I sometimes wonder if it was right, but then these are the kind of decisions you have to take and trust yourself essentially.
So that was Dreams of Taleem. Sex, Morality and Censorship you saw last night. That came out of two things, three or four years ago the Prithvi festival did a festival...they dedicated an entire festival to Satyadev Dubey and since I'd worked with him for many years, they asked me to do a kind of an opening show on Satyadev Dubey. And I requested Shanta Gokhale, because she has been watching his work for many years, right from the start almost, and in fact was in the process of writing a book, putting together a book, which is, of course out now, on him. So I thought taht she would be really the right person to set it out, and she did that, she created this entire kind of, you know, flow of ideas, that traced his, you know, his journey in a kind of a non-linear way from when he came ot Bombay in the 60s and right down to almost to the present. And it was just interesting. I make documentary films for a living; I don't make a living from the theatre. And for the first time I was tempted to try out documentary film techniques using, you know, theatrical material.
So with a lot of help and suggestions on the flow of ideas from Shanta, from a couple of people who knew Dubey well, we dug out, over a period of three months, archival photographs, we got in people who had worked with him in the past, and we put together an evening of two hours which contained you know live testimonies, pictures, re-enactments, videos of Dubey's ideas. It was fantastic because people enjoyed it of course, it was a captive audience, it was not a problem, but what was interesting is that young people came up and said that you know, in a sense this becomes a history of the contemporary theatre scene in Bombay from the sixties to now, and we don't know this history, it's fantastic to see it, and that actually stayed in my mind. I said that if we can use this form, perhaps in a more sophisticated way and not look at the journey of an individual, but look at the journey of an idea or an issue, then perhaps we have something here. And the idea came to look at censorship .
And if you look at censorship in Maharashtra, then you can't get away from Tendulkar and Sakharam Binder. So again, excited phone call to Shanta and you know, she of course, again responded very positively and we worked on this for, you know, 8-9 months, like in any, you know, collaborations, interactions, working together, there are differences and we've kind of, you know, gone beyond that. But Sex, Morality and Censorship came I think at a very critical time. And once again it's kind of opened out this entire debate - within the theatre circles, and not just in Bombay, in Maharashtra, and also outside, that it is possible, it is possible to present a theatre of discussion, of ideas, you know of some degree of dialectics and its not really true that audiences don't want to see this - you were all here yesterday, people do respond very very enthusiastically. So that's essentially been the journey.
Since then, I've just done a production called Stories in a Song, which looks at music making in a kind of a ethnomusicological way, in collaboration with Shubha Mudgal and Aneesh Pradhan. So yeah, the collaborations continue, and essentially this is the kind of theatre that I've been doing. Ya. Thank you.
MK Raina: Thank you Sunil. I'll straight ask Shaina and Ashok to take over now and not waste much time.
Ashok: Apologies to Sunil, because, we wanted to switch places but then the baby had to be outside, and now we're last, so. Very quickly, I think, in the next twenty minutes we're going to try and propose a view of space from the point of view of CAMP. CAMP, for many of you who don't know about us, was a group of people who had a studio that was formed in Bombay in late 2007, formed initially by Shaina, myself and Sanjay. I'm trained as an architect and was interested...and have been interested in practising as a so-called "new media artist" - a term that we don't necessarily subscribe to. But it's nevertheless interesting. Shaina has a background in documentary film and a trenchant critique of documentary film; and Sanjay, who as the youngest then, and has been a very enthusiastic and some ways a militant software developer working in the open source world.
So that was the initial group. And we're basically a studio. I think the reason we're here is that we're working across a broad range and configurations of spaces, including, in a sense performatively, and I'll describe and you'll see a little, hopefully, shortly; all the way from you might say, traditional public spaces, to the internet. And a lot of things in-between; but we don't like, necessarily to call it the in-between, and I'll explain why in a second. But the basic problem that we're responding to, very briefly, is kind of skteched out in this little parable or image that I'm going to show you.
So that says in Hindi "Please don't put anything in this well; this is water for everyone to drink." So when the State failed to provide water in a particular north Bombay locality in people's homes, people self-organised to bring the water from a local resource to their homes themselves. So as a result of this kind of self-organisation, the well that you see here is surrounded by about 80 or 90 electric motors; the wire which is coming from each individual home upto 500 meters away, they are sucking out this well. And the problem, of course, in relation to space is that no one comes to the well anymore, there is a kind of displacement networking of the usual social parameters that one understands - the ecology of the village well, and you know, all the caste hierarchies and so on that we're familiar with; and they're layered with another kind of reality, a reality of electric motors, electric supply, another time scale of how people turn on and off their motors which can no longer be monitored because they are doing it from the privacy of their homes, and so on.
So there is this other reality that overlaps, that is not displaced from entirely, but overlaps from existing, physical caste, class hierarchies, and adds to it. This layer that we're interested in dealing with (?) for us is the challenge. Because there is a guy with, for example, the biggest motor, you might say, if I might take a jump here, the google of this particular network situation, who can suck out water a lot more than others because of the size, diameter of his pipe, and the power of his motor and so on. And then, you know, the social life of the well displaces itself and can appear as a kind of private domain in his, arounfd his house where he can safely sell the water which actually happens here...he can, you know, bathe his buffaloes, he can throw parties, he can become a kind of displaced well. There is really no way to monitor this because the normal social conditions by which (?) have broken down and networked; so space is sucked out and reappears in another form.
So what we're saying is that the politics, and the ethics and the creativity within these kinds of spaces have to follow a kind of internal logic. We would have to put our heads down and really enter the water system, really, you know, enter the logic of the electrical motor, the water supply system, you know, from within in a way, and the logic of time and consumption that they produce, which is newly produced in each..this kind of configuration, right. So this is the challenge. And I don't think it can be done very easily from outside. It cannot be done as a form of critique; cultural critique for example. So from here we came to about two points about space as we imagine it.
The first is...you know, suggestions...it's something we'll talk about in detail later, the first point we're suggesting is that, you know, we're not working, and nobody should work in something vaguely in-between digital and physical spaces, real and virtual and so on; this kind of fuzzy space between two well-defined spheres, which is for example quite common a space to work in, and is also celebrated as such, for example in contemporary art. I think the challenge is that there are very many concrete locations, concrete situations, perhaps millions of them, where a lot of action is happening, right, in the contemporary that we are interested in, and the role of art, the kind of art we do is to kind of crack them open, a bit like surgeons or doctors. It needs a degree of precision, it needs us to understand the organs of this body.
For us, these bodies have been cable TV systems, shipping systems, police control rooms - you'll see a bit of this in Shaina's little presentation in a second - watch towers, private homes, institutionalised spaces, museums and so on; I would say this is not site specficity but rather a kind of system specificity, right. So we're interested in avoiding this idea of fuzzy..kind of indecipherability, that is, you know, where we're trying to generate ambiguity. I think complexity in the context is a given, ambiguity is a given, the world is deeply complex, which is exactly why we should not be producing, trying to produce ambiguity ourselves from our practice. I can expand on this later.
Art is not a soap screen that one applies on one's own windows, so that the world outside looks colourful and complex. The world is colourful and complex, and one has to enter it. You know, one has to cut through the glass and work with it in different, in different ways. The second point is that space, as we are imagining it - and I think this is shared with a lot of other people - is not a fixed thing that you parcel out and sub-divide, but that's a real-estate developer's model of space, right - who gets so many square feet. Things like place, buildings, the kind of processes that we try to initiate, they create their own space, they radiate it like the sun, like the sun radiates light and heat. It's not something pre-existing, but it changes what can be felt where and by whom, right, and that, in a way, it's politics.
So CAMP is obsessed with this kind of idea of distribution - distribution being this question of what can be felt where and by whom within these so-called systems that really define a contemporary moment for us. So our engagement with technology is not about digital alone, but it is about the systemic changes that happen, like in the well's case, as an example. Very quickly, one project that describes a personal obsession, which has been something I have been working with early on in Bombay for several years - I was working with electricity as a medium, right, as an artistic medium. Now electricity is interesting because it is a medium - it allows, it powers other things. It allows other things to happen. And it's like speech, maybe, or other media, right? But also its, its something we've gotten accustomed to as a technology . So I was interested in, kind of, opening it up again. And for several years I began to work with a project which involved also a community of people working with electricity, in this case, street decorators, pandal guys (?) who were somehow able to twist this given networks of electrical distribution and make them sing and dance on the streets, of Bombay in this case.
So partly following them, partly re-inventing their practice, very quick and actually one of the more spectacular examples is the following:
And this is also a intervention case scenario...
So that was someone turning off the street lights outisde GPO and Fort, Bombay
So this a strange large panoramic, somehow movie-like, I mean there's a whole pre-cinematic exchange to this kind of thing, but basically we got permission to do a light work at the GPO in Bombay. We extended that permission to a circle of locations - this is 2005, this is probably my first public artwork of a certain style, that's half the ring - its a giant ring of lights stuck with cello tape, all kind of things, and enter people's homes, come out of them, and create giant panoramic landscape that is stuck on the real city but then is not the same as the real city, right. Anyway the point is that we were - the way that this was possible was that we got permission, as I said, to work with tbis building, the GPO building in Fort, and we used that to really extend it to an entire, kind of verbal landscape which you see here, at night.
And the lighting itself is not - the GPO lighting is what it is on you know, August 15th everyday and many of the houses that you see - a kind of a collaboration between hundred different real estate properties, if you like, are also producing a kind of...are basically putting lights in their house which are then connected sideways, right, meaning that I give electrical supplies coming from the ground to people who have the rights to pay the bill at that location. And this goes sideways - through or across these different people.
I'm going to stop here and pass it to Shaina who is going to lead us through a very very short and in that sense, 'Shaina not typical' journey through another medium, which is video, and how that has evolved through her practice and through the collaborations that CAMP has made possible. And critique of documentary film as performance, as a question of the machines involved, and ultimately as a kind of practice that CAMP is interested in in pursuing in the future. Thanks.
Shaina Anand: Ashok overshot his time, but I think he should've maybe mentioned in that work was that the moving panorama was animated by various people who were turning a hand cranker - I don't know if you could see it because there was a light shining - which was in the centre of this little chowk. There's a kabootar khana in the middle and so you stood there and you could animate that and control it frame by frame, and hence the pre-cinematic reference, because you had scrolls that could move and take you through seasons and China or through a boat in Venice and so on. So that was the pre-cinematic reference.
What it also - and in the sense he's working with electricity, which in McLuhan terms is the "cold media" right, it's the medium without the content, and then you come to the hot media which is video, and so on and so forth - but what's going on there is interesting. You're extending permissions, you may have a little bit of access as an artist or a cultural producer legally, and you chino that, and you take it and you see how it can be distributed to other places and I hope then what (?) said people who, you know who won't get a chance to clap for an actress may, or should, rather. And this redistribution, then, of, like you said, we were talking about - Samik Da said - we were talking about everything you had access to, artists are privileged, so maybe we should shift from the lament to whaht agencies an artist has, and what can we do with that privilege, how can we redistribute it in more provocative and also equitable ways.
So in that sense this example, as spectacular and fun as it is, has a kernel of many of the ingredients of what we do at CAMP. I'm going to take you through a similar trajectory and I will illustrate it with just one ang
of what we do through video, but it may help articulate some of our concerns and practices. Now this is three, a set of three hand gestures or symbols, we know it as pataka, kartarimukha
, or you could also see it as an open palm, full of benediction and grace, a clenched fist, and a peace symbol. But this is also a game, and I don't know if many people know it, it's a Japanese game called Jan-ken-pon, or we may know it as rock-paper-scissors, where it is essentially a game of power dynamics, and power relations, and who can win in this constant flow of dynamics and relationships. So essentially the rock can smash the scissor, the scissor can cut the paper, but that soft and fragile paper can actually overpower and cover a rock. So who wins in this constant, or who can win in this constant dynamic.
I'm just going to extend this dynamic game to very classic, traditional way of how we do documentary film. There's a camera and then slash cameraperson or lens, the machine, the apparatus, there. There's the director who yells 'cut', and there's his subject, full of grace, there, waiting, and offering themselves to you. This is a classic setup, and I think from this configuration it is quite obvious that we can understand the power dynamics and in whose favour that power dynamic is set up.
And unlike theatre and film where you know, the actor is often in that position of privilege and control, in documentray film, that actor / you call them 'subject', very often are not. Firstly they may be, they may come from a position of relative disadvantage, a disadvantaged position, especially in relation to us, basically, the artists and filmmakers who come to approach them or work with them, but also, formally speaking, you know, the camera is going to frame you, it's going to contain you, you're the open book, and we're going to, we're going to exercise all aesthetic and emotional control and try to get out as much as possible. So there is a blackbox here, a blackbox of the camera, and the genius of that author or director, and between them they know what's to be done and the subject has to comply. Very basic, I'm not saying we all do it this way, but this is the traditional setup.
Now the second phase of this project the subject yields, or the actor yields footage, I'll quickly go through this, it's quite obvious. The director is the one who is now in control, and the editor helps put it together, and then you have a finished product, you have an audience and you have the author or director. Now, coming from a film background, I have to ask some very basic, and even ontological questions about this process. Something seemed very wrong to me as a, you know, assistant director and as a young filmmaker struggling to come to terms with this process.
And also maybe it is a generational thing because when I entered this filmmaking world, for few years I had to be subject to watching this ridiculous performance that we do, entering villages and stuff with a beta camera and a boom rod and tripod and you know these skimmers reflecting light, and very soon within that short period in the nineties you have the mini DV camera and you can edit on your own, and something liberating at least happens with at least the filmmaker - you can make truly independent films without patronage from the State or private...what's it...patronage.
But something was wrong with this approach and I think the basic problem is, we all know it, we will say this ad nauseum; it's a colonial male gaze. The apparatus, this gaze, this anthropological eye has been set up by others, but we - just like we transferred all our legality from British to India - we've adopted these forms, and I don't think we as filmmakers - the same camera, the same apparatus, the same mode of filming, why haven't we questioned that colonial male gaze? Anyway, set of problems from which we decided to experiment...
Very short projects that will take you through some of these concrete things - the first one was in 2004 and it was a TV channel set up inside Russell market in Bangalore. So it's an enclosed market, about 5000 people living and working there, and for us the market posed as a microcosm of the real world, because there's everything there - there's people, there's caste, there's religion, there's commerce, there's money being exchanged, there are heirarchies, there's love, despair, whatever. And into this microcosm, we forced a utopia. And you can do this right, in acting, you can create things, you can perform a utopia and the utopia simply was "Kya hota agar Russell Market ka apna hi TV channel hota?"
What would it be like if the market has it's own channel in which the people of the market were the commissioners or the clients, they were also the stars and they were also the primary audience. And a very interesting experiment unfurled in the course of the month where a group of students performed their duties in the service of this community who dictated where things would be shot, what was to be shot, whether they need to be matched, cut and synced with Vijay or Rajnikanth or Munnabhai, or whatever
Their wish. And the entire process, which in my earlier slide are very distinct, compartmentalised things - the shooting, the editing and the screening of the final film - the whole proces got opened up in this month and came full circle. And yet, we didn't shift too much of the agency, we merely collapsed the three stages and extended them as one open one. This is another project in 2006 where the lens or the single cameraperson is totally done away with, or recedes quite drastically, so now you've just done away with one of the forces or you've split it in that sense and the editor and the author - all three of them recede, and something else happens where the subjects can determine. So this is live, in that sense.
I need sound.
So essentially, what happened, or what happens, and we do a series of these over a month in an area in Delhi called Khirkee Village, which is where KHOJ is located, as Zuleikha mentioned yesterday, you know, urban village in Delhi. But essentially they are four very cheap, readily available CCTV cameras and they are placed on top of the TV and there's nothing involved here besides just a creative rewiring - you have the cable jack in your TV from where you receive audio and video which is your which your cable walla gives you, how does he distribute, of course now you all have those Sky TV whatever dish things, but in the old days, or even now, for us you get the internet and the cable from these tars that are swung roof to roof, then a little splitter box is put, then it goes into six more windows and so on. So we essentially laid this autonomous network to connect people in neighbourhoods up to 200 metres. They are looking into their own TV screen and sitting where they do, where they do to watch TV.
So this led to a certain kind of confidence, a certain desire to perform, and this is very different from an image where you contain, where you frame. you could have framed a lot more of them and done an interview about what it means to be a migrant Nepali community working as domestic help in India, women and so on and so forth. But suddenly there is no containment, the screen has split, the image is radiating outwards instead of in, certain fundamental shifts happen and these are significant to us. And also the comfort of the TV, which...
Here is another iteration, there were several, some, with various groups - whether it was the upper caste landed elite, wther it was migrant community, whether it was both coming in confrontation together. I'll play you a little other clip to show you.
This is basement sweatshops. So a series of - and these were long - the Nepali women for example, stopped when one of them had to go off to work at someone's house at 4:30. In this case, they wanted it on the entire shift, because naturally there were only moments where they would perform. At other times, one guy would, had a tape deck which was beaming Bengali songs, so they would re-distribute that by shoving the mike, at other times one had a radio with the cricket, and so on. And at other times when the supervisors were not there they would share and converse. Now I hope you're seeing - in the first one something was unpacked, here things were, these dynamics were sort of moved.
Now there was also use of CCTV equipment which at that time was being available at Lamington road, these small cameras for 500 rupees, and these are familiar. This grid is now very familiar to us, we see them in grocery stores, in airports and banks, wherever we go, because in the last 5 years, since that project, there's been...there's CCTV everywhere slowly coming into our country. And yet, we don't know what happens with these images, we are not advocating for privacy or data protection, that's a whole other thing. But these spaces are contested spaces, and one needs to intervene in them as artists somehow, and as Ashok said, transform the, create something, trouble something.
So now I'm going to jump to the UK which is the country with the number...the highest density of CCTV cameras. I believe it's close to two million. Like one for every eight people or something. So you can imagine how many blackboxes, which is now the control room, which nobody knows where they are, nobody knows who's watching and how that happens what is this second world, this virtual second city where all our lives are being played, being watched and those are, I mean that CCTV control room is the dark space of the deep state, which we have no control of, and what controls us.
So, in 2008, as artists, we managed to get access to CCTV control rooms in the UK. Again, a very interesting possibility. Does it only happen because I'm an artist? Ya I have to get iris-scanned and finger-printed, and hope to get my visa before I go to the UK, but suddenly something opens up which is completely closed from the public eye, because we demanded it by way of our invitation to do...make some art. Once we had these permissions, we re-opened the CCTV control rooms to members of the general public, by posting open calls in universities, in wherever, around the city. And over 40 people signed up, and all they were allowed to do was come in and spend one hour each in the control room. And that one hour became their space. And something happened. Whether they chose to perform, whether they chose to watch, whether they wanted to converse, whether they wanted to look at what happened. So I'll just play you a 1 minute clip...
I just want to say these are processes, and for us the process is what's extremely important. Mind you, we're also entrenched in the art world, which means we do show in galleries and museum spaces, but none of the works are designed or tailormade to happen there. This for us, this one hour with X person for us, is the artwork. Or those two hours for the Nepali women - that is, that hereness, that life, that performative moment is the first and most important concrete stage of the artwork. Of course later, for example the CCTV stuff, all the footage is put on our online pad.ma archive. People have annotated it, urban researchers are using it, essays have been written out of it, the subjects themselves have copies. Same with (?) screen enough times there. But yet, of course I've compiled DVDs which get installed somewhere, and that travels as my work.
So we are not, I mean, but what's important here is the first act, and what happens then. Short two minute clip from another project, because it connects in this stream of things. It's a project in Palestine, actually in Jerusalem, (?) Palestine, and here of course we were addressed with twin problems - one is how do you make an independent film from the Palestinan point of view in occupied Jerusalem, and secondly how do you not make, how do you not fall into the pitfalls of those representational dilemmas and make a victim film, because that bare life condition is not just often something that the director wants so that you can see the plight of people and so on, but that bare life condition with something like Kashmir or Palestine has worked itself into the psyche of people as well, they have to perform their own victimhood because that's something that is a peculiar problem in the condition that has happened. So these were the two problems we went in, which is my act of filming a) kaise kare? but b) it cannot or should not be the cause of yet more trauma.
One pan tilt zoom camera, which is these dome cameras you may see them airports and hotel lobbies, and you actually, that what they were using from the control...basically in the control you have keypads, and you're panning, titlting and zooming and you're controlling. In the case of those control rooms, there were hundred cameras, but we managed to smuggle one of them in through the Tel Aviv airport and in this project, 8 different Palestinean families in Jerusalem mounted the camera to a position of vantage, often their own chats or rooftops or balconies.
In some cases the Palestinians were evicted from their own homes, they were on a neighbour's property, and spying or watching what was going on with the new occupants, you know Israeli settlers in their homes, and so on. This feed - I'll just give you a bit of technical thing, so you'll connect also what went on with Khirkee - the feed went live into their television sets in the safety of their homes, or sometimes they were living in tents, where they controlled all this pan-optic (?) they could see their city, they could see far and wide, they could see into their own homesand so on. So again, a very short example of something that was much longer and
So it's a family that's been evicted from their home
That's just another installation. I'll end there and I'm sorry we overshot a bit between Ashok and me.