Saturday, June 4, 2016

Conversely Conversed: Anil Dayanand on Understanding Performance

Anil Dayanand, LOVE HOLD, June 6, 2013, an interactive collaborative performance
with Pari Baishya at LA360 Gallery, Trivandrum 
Anil Dayanand is a multi-disciplinary artist presently based in Jaipur. With a formal training in sculpting from Trivandrum Fine Arts College and Delhi College of Art, Anil Dayanand’s works comprise a wide genre of formal choices, including detailed figurative painting, drawing, new-media, community-based projects, sculpting, video installations and research-based, cross-disciplinary collaborations that breaks the boundaries between studio and non-studio art practices. Anil has also been actively exploring the field of performance art since its maiden days in India along with his contemporaries Sushil Kumar, Inder Salim and Shantanu Lodh.

It was in the early 90s when nudity was not a frequently used tool for representation in performance art; Anil took up this challenge and performed nude for the first time for a video installation which was showcased in Lakshminagar, Delhi. Since then Anil has been a visible name in the genre of performance art. The unique fusion of conceptual understanding and practical manifestation in his work makes it intriguing for the spectators. Here he speaks to Samudra Kajal Saikia about his journey and understandings around performance... [Mridupankhi]

Understanding of Performance:
BYWAY, video installation 1994, Laxmi nagar, NewDelhi, pic. Imtiaz Ahamed
For me doing performance can be any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer's body and a relationship between performer and audience (interactive element). There for me has always been the element of the unexpected in my works. Could I have foreseen that ladies in the street would touch me, and interact with my being, myself, to contribute or engage with my work? Of course not. I accept that my body, my emotional charge, or neutrality, created a space where that invitation was conveyed, and an audience felt complete trust, without instruction, to participate. This always highlights to me, that the ordinary person, wants to engage, wants to participate in society, in ways that they have not been able to previously. That gives me hope, that the ordinary, unheard member of society, feels heard through my work, and it empowers them to join in, and for them, be seen and heard too. In a recent piece that was not especially political, the audience came to the floor to touch and smell devotional flowers, they took money from a pile of coins, for no reason, than the invitation allowed them to experience that curious moment, and they found themselves joyously reciting poetry to each other. I could not have scripted a show in that way, and they could not have foreseen their own participation. I enjoy the permission that real performance art affords the audience.

Anil Dayanand

On Impossibility and possibilities of Documentation:

In the early days of performance, there was little or no documentation possible. The obvious downside of this, is that many pioneering works are lost when we now try to collate the history of our art-form in India. On the upside, it meant that performers created their work with no ulterior motive, not seeking fame or glory, and leaving their ego behind, they just pressed on and used performance to educated, surprise, and in many cases activate and stimulate social and cultural change.

Anil Dayanand, Performance at Kochi Beach for "Artist Without Boundaries", 14th Dec. 2012
Social Span:

Time and space specific works are indeed designed to be ephemeral as you state. But, as I mentioned above, many performances have touched upon important social issues, and touched many of the audience in a way that is more humane than a work of art hanging in a gallery that they would never visit, nor understand. The performer, uses the body, and the now to express silence that cuts through the visual and for that moment, the audience is touched deeply about a social issue that has long been overlooked. In a recent show I held at a Kabir festival, the audience were academics and expecting to discuss beautiful ancient Kabir texts. My visuals juxtaposed ancient couplets with ironic but pressing social issues that included Aids, Homeosexuality, Hunger, Injustice and Rape. Were Kabir's couplets prophetic, that we stupid humans may not ever learn, or were his writings the wake up call that we so callously ignore again and again in our human pursuit of fame and fortune?

Anil Dayanand, "Those who are not corrupt may spill the muck over me"...
performance at Sarai 17th Sept. 2011. Photo credits. Pari Baishya

The ephemeral nature:

The ephemeral nature of the actual site performance can be packed up in minutes, the stage is never a theatre set with costumes and lighting or pre determined script, and yet, the passage of work, can leave a lasting impression with or without documentation. One thing that is becoming evident in modern works may be a change for the worse for the essence of the performance, but create something more spectacular for documentation purposes. Students may be tempted to move away from pure communication of an idea, and instead, because of video, and live stream facilities, may create their works to be more camera friendly. Thus, more of a spectacular show. We see greater high tech amenities being incorporated, an immersion into intriguing sound and lighting backdrops and with this comes the obvious need for sponsorship and money to pay the way. It may be important for us all to remain without the props and simply and powerful disturb the peace without so many new shiny toys to help us tell the story.

Anil Dayanand, "Small is Big", A date with Anila Begum

The sense of the immediate Now

Many of my performances have been about personal versus private space, gaze, touch, intimacy and voyeurism and my part is to be a catalyst to instigate the viewers to explore these notions for themselves as they arise. In a recent performance at the International Theatre Festival in Trichur, Kerela, this was an amusing interplay of human instinct and protection of personal dignity. Whilst the audience were keen to document my private space, when the cameras were turned on them, to document their private moment, feelings arose for them that were unexpected, playful and of course the irony was much enjoyed by all – the real issue of performance was revealed in startling clarity, Who is the performer? And who is the audience? The sense of the immediate Now, create this demarcation that confuses and delights, and this is a complete break from the traditional model of theater, where the audience is passively entertained. I love to interact with the audience, and each of my pieces that have been important have had strangers, literally find themselves fully engaged in the work without prior arrangement. That is the wonder of the work, not having the answers, neatly prepared, and not knowing what will come next.

Great performance art like a wonderful sculpture proposes a simple study of human emotion. A paring away of the script, and purple velvet curtains of traditional theatre. What the audience experience is an urgency of expression through a very sensual art form. The body contorts itself, and displays, fear, laughter, disgust, and all the 'rasas', in a reduced time frame. It calls for the audience to be alert, and feel their own body reactions, without the distraction of elaborate story, script, characters and of course, glossy theatre brochure, all of which are entirely distractions or decorative ornamentation.

The relationship between performance and documentation is one that hopefully does not focus solely on the performer, but really captures the spirit of the audience. Capturing their moments of awakening, recognition, is as vital to understanding the piece as simply capturing the 'actor'.
I am thankful that I have collaborated with photographers that have not focused on 'my show' and tried to keep the body of work faithful to the setting, the people, and the evocation of the inner space that work or idea created.
Anil Dayanand, "You Made me Communist",
at 20th CPM Party Congress at Calicut, March 31, 2012

Tracking History:

Perhaps this 'new' form of performance can be considered pre-dating our modern times, so influenced by the West. and can be better understood when looking at the ancient traditions of story telling in Indian culture. When we glance at an 10th Century Indian sculpture, we do not compare it to a European 18th Century Renoir and we are not interested in the price reached in an auction house. I feel similarly that performance art cannot be critiqued or compared to a dramatic director and cast led performance shown to an elite well dressed ticket paying audience in the suburbs of New Delhi.

There are many that do not 'get' performance, and simply state it is not Art. What is art? If a performance can touch another in a stirring of emotion, or wonder, or agitate the grey matter on an issue forgotten, or just indeed present a pure form of ethereal beauty, I, together with the myriad performance artists around the world, reiterate, our work may not always be understood, but it is indeed Art. Some Art is ugly, some is not well constructed, some astonishing, and much ground-breaking. So, to can be said of Performance Art and I salute you in your endeavors to document the work that is happening in India.

Anil Dayanand, "Those who are not corrupt may spill the muck over me"...
performance at Sari 17th Sept. 2011. 

Anil Dayanand (to Samudra Kajal Saikia) on 2nd March 2015

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