The Fuschia Tree
Editor's Note.
Per-form: to carry out with adherence to a prescribed style. Herein lies the bewildering aspect of performance art: that whilst it appears to subvert the Aristotelian pyramid of theatre, devoid of narrative or apparent technique, it also subscribes to it.
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By Veeranganakumari Solanki
The Performance – Dance? Theatre? Drawing? Reading? Concert? Gallery / Museum?

The Audience – Spectator? Performer?

It is all Staged.

Four strangers sit around a table reading four scripts for the first time into four microphones, taking up the role of a single character, each unknown to the other three. There is a preamble with specific reading/stage directions to link these four different stories, in varied contexts, resulting in new, as-yet-unspoken, narratives.

Sanity is just an excuse to cling to a world that is known. Prayas Abhinav’s art work – We are all schizoid - echoes a Theatre of the Absurd performance, where the viewers become the participants sitting on The Chairs, self-conscious of their voice echoing through the microphone, into the speakers of the gallery. The other gallery-goers, also victims of this loop, listen in, disconnected from the direction in which the unknown narrative is proceeding. One character gets up and leaves, another stranger takes over to read that script and the narrative of the performance changes. It seemed to be a play rehearsal where different viewers interacted with the artist and the story lines assumed arcs of their own - but it was no rehearsal - it was a performance; a performance unique to itself each time – with no control or constant.

Traditionally speaking, a performance would imply a rehearsed theatrical act or choreographed dance with almost no room for impromptu improvisation or else a structured surrender to chance. However, the contemporary definition of performance has evolved to include not just dance and theatre but also contemporary performances in galleries, museums and public spaces with unrehearsed actions – nothing right or wrong. There is a disconnection of the context of this kind performance from the rehearsed definition of performance; but despite this changed perspective, the body and the public are engaged in an act of art-making, thus retaining its tag as a ‘performance’.

Early performance art was dramatically theatrical with staged performances and endless hours of rehearsals. While contemporary theatre and dance still demand dedicated hours of practice, there is a sect of this genre that responds to the spontaneity of situations. Stand-up comedy is one such example that is based on the actor / the performer staging his performance around the audience and in a way involving them in the performance as well. Similarly, some performances by contemporary artists performed in an art space or public space involve the viewers to become a part of or interact with the performance / artwork, as in the case of Prayas Abhinav. Then, there are artists like Monali Meher, Nikhil Chopra and Vijayendra Sekhon, whose performances result either in the creation of an art-work or are ephemeral, with the viewers as witnesses similar to those in an auditorium watching in appreciation, a lit stage.

Another kind of performance (that one may not identify as a performance just yet) is the type where the viewer is compelled to engage with the work to experience it, thereby subjecting themselves to becoming a temporary performer for the artwork as intended by the artist. Shilpa Gupta and Zuleikha Chaudhuri are two such artists that explore the relation of the performing viewer and art. Shilpa Gupta’s Shadow Box series evoke a child-like performance in the viewer (regardless of age), resulting in flailing hands, frantic movements and complete isolation from everything but their shadows. Zuleikha Chaudhuri on the other hand creates installations within a space with minimal arrows and instructions for the viewer, to choreograph the viewers to precariously perform their way through her work with total concentration like a dancer focusing on the rhythm for the perfect performance.

The Performance* is transient, taking on, dissipating and challenging defined boundaries, rehearsals, meaning and the actions to make one a performer. The dancers, the stage actor, the artist, the audience, are all a part of the performance.

*Note: (The internet tracks the visitors on this page – making you a part of The Performance)

By Veerangana Solanki, a curator living in Mumbai.

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Illusion: Seeing Beyond Seeing
Meaning: In Search of Significance.
Melody: A Different Tune
Rhythm: Ordering Time

Dhrupadi Ghosh is an old friend of mine. We have often had long sessions of adda late at night, discussing her dream projects since her college days at Santiniketan, where she majored in Sculpture.