We think of space as static components that bodies discover, name, move through, rest in and generally occupy. Through regular transits, the space acquires patterns of habitation that consolidate themselves as routine and expected. The movements become predictable and the space acquires a oneness. What happens when a new body foreign to its patterns enters the space and disrupts them? How does the movement of the new body, its limbs and meandering trajectories re-calibrate the routine? Are the regular occupants destabilised with the interruption? Is the space provoked?
A body rolls over on the staircase, absorbed in a dedicated repetition of the act.
In a classroom, three female bodies stand beside each other while slapping their own foreheads with water out of a bowl in an act resembling a ritualistic invocation.
A body bends over the banister, unsure about where to head with its limbs next.
“Hi!”, yells a body frantically through a glass window in the library to its readers, who are caught off-guard at this sudden animation.
A pair of shackled hands extends itself from under the lockers to the unsuspecting student/visitor.
When a space is ascribed a function by its occupants, it submits to familiarity and banality. Actants Anubha Fatehpuria and Vikram Iyengar from Pickle Factory arranged a series of short-lived interruptions in the space of Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan with a group of young movement practitioners to rupture this routine and test the invisible limits of institutional ascriptions.
Each interruption occupied a spot in the building frequented by the institution’s students, which included corridors, security-locker areas, classrooms and libraries. The Actants thwarted the expectations harboured by each of the spaces, as their movements and voices departed from the composure regularly seen in institutional spaces. Reactions veered toward mild acknowledgment, vocal remarks and gestures; the student looks both aware and wary of this new body in their midst. It is strange, awe-inspiring, embarrassing and amusing.
Do visuals linger?
Will their senses take the sights home?
A series of infra-red sensors lines the main pavement; they detect the movements of the passer-by, who is then expected to interact with them through varying movements which, in turn, dictate the frequency and direction of the resulting sound. Actant Ameet Singh, through his project, ‘Metro Sonata’, has attempted to sonically replicate the soundscape of the Delhi metro system on the lawns of the premises.
The passer-by stops in her tracks, raises her arms and attempts to interact with the sensors while also animating them; it is a reciprocal process. Arms go up and travel sideways into a curl as the feet remain stationed between yellow, magenta and blue lines drawn on the concrete lawn (in keeping with the corresponding colour-coded tracks in the Delhi metro). The politics of this articulation is motivated by a sensorial vocabulary that materialises itself though intended and/or reflexive actions of the body. The body contorts to create the noise. Other bodies pick up on the cue. Patterns are rehabilitated.
We take the library for granted. The books are arranged in neat orders, classified in accordance with a universal coding system; the reader only needs to detect the call number and pick up the required book for use. The energy of the space is shaped by this act of directed movement around the library. Actant Nilanjana Nandy has occupied the library space in the Goethe-Institut where, with the help of a few collaborators, she is covering all the books with newspaper (with no identifying labels), in effect, homogenising all the literary texts and requiring the reader to pick out each book and look through the covers to discern their titles and content; the premise invites chance and accident. The team comes in daily and occupies a specific table. Thus begins a long day of cutting newspapers and using them to wrap books in the library—one by one, shelf by shelf, everyday.
The occupation of the table by the Actants and the daily exercise in wrapping causes inconveniences of accessibility for the students, who subsequently become aware of the former’s routine presence in the space. The reader’s trajectories around the library alter course, and books are sometimes left upside down on the shelves after brief spells of browsing. The reader undoes the task only momentarily; norms require that they put the cover back for the next browser/reader. Somebody tears through the paper cover over the spine to read the title; asked to slow down, time tests their patience. An unaddressed tension looms in the space.
The body knows it’s regulated, just as the book on the shelf was by virtue of routine. The body admits interruptions, just as the content of the book is discovered accidentally by a reader. The content may be a stray browse or immediately revelatory; the act creates a space for this mishap to realise. The space of the act distends to accommodate the new body—whether a cover, an intangible sensor or a new vocabulary of gestures.
But the new body never settles; it barges in, provokes and disappears. They were all temporary insertions in a primarily institutional space. Did the intangible axes of routine alter? Did they leave traces?
Or were they lacerations in the sensory thickness?
All Images Courtesy: Annette Jacob