Can we think of place as art if the place acquires the nature of a palimpsest through imprints left by successive ideas, propositions and acts of labour? The first edition of Five Million Incidents witnessed nearly 40 projects staged, realised, processed and/or come to fruition on the premises of Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan through a series of discussions, collaborations and collective fermentation. Could the residue left behind by these incidents affect how the next set of projects takes shape? Or do we, for the new Actants, take ‘degree zero’ as the starting point, assuming the premises are a blank slate again?
As ideas manifested physically in the space over the last 6 months, the incidents proposed and realised also dilated the viewers’ notion of time, space and memory so that an anticipation of what could happen next was harboured. The new projects take on several different proposals to look at how the incidence of an epiphany, mutation or passage could be read in their respective contexts as well as in connection with each other; the soil is fertile and the tillers are at work again.
The Ashoka tree at the entrance to the institution stands wrapped in coils as the sap, salt and xylem flowing through its stem transmits electricity that converts into radio signals. An old experiment, the tree becomes an arboreal transmitter of messages that talk about post-human desires. Arranged with the help of low-frequency amateur radio (also known as ham radio) stations across Delhi, the tree also becomes a post-human entity; it transcends the ambit of the ecological and becomes a technological conduit for the intangible trace.
A fungal garden is set up in a tent-like structure, where the process of fungus growing on mud and hay walls under different temperatures will be observed in real-time. Observation also takes the form of waiting, where an Actant sits atop a two-fold makeshift scaffolding (or machaan) and observes life taking shape in its range of vision. The structure harks to a rural material memory where the machaan would be used as a regular habitation or material premise for informal congregations. The Actant intends to spend a total of 120 hours on the machaan, observing and consequently recording his observations in different media including photographs and videos which are disseminated on social media for common perusal. Observations on protest sites in Delhi also become part of the project, making the waiting point on the machaan a performative space for ideas of time, language and dialogue across physical geographies to play out.
Literature is re-evaluated through visual language as “shade-ism” (an expression for racism as a structural set of beliefs that imbues young, impressionable minds through the conduits of text and rhymes) in formative literature for children is highlighted and then countered through art. A corner (and progressively, the walls) in the Goethe-Institut library is occupied by an Actant as she isolates politically problematic characters from the pages of these books and reinvents them by weaving a new visual language (in illustrations, yarn sculptures and animated videos) through which to read their context anew.
A live rooster on the premises also attracts attention; a coop has been set up, containing Mookoo, and a canvas that the artist (and long-time caregiver of the pet) uses to paint him. By setting up this performance over 10 days, the artist intends to recreate, in public, her artistic experience at home, where her routine accommodates interruptions generated by Mookoo and his need for essentials and affection.
An archival room is set up where the artist—a photographer—displays a fraction of the numerous photographs taken between 1992 and 1998 during his residence in New York. Simulating his lived-in workspace (complete with a scanner, projector, light-boxes, etc.), the walls are populated with intimate portraiture that covers seminal points in the protest history of NY during said period; one can gaze at them at length or meander in their abundance, or play with their sequences on an “edit wall”, building on the last person’s editorial choices. At the end of each day, he gets them bound in hard copy and into a photo-book—a task that has been pending for years given the voluminous nature of the archive and the artist’s intimacy with the content (that erased objective distance). As a multitude of subjects inhabits his archives, another multitude assumes control over its material afterlife.
The adjacent room has a poet waiting for a visitor to enter a space designed to resemble their own room in Bangalore. As the waiting room outside its door is filled with ambient music by Black singers (that streams into the ‘bedroom’ in low decibels), the poet reads out a poem to each visitor (after the latter picks the corresponding serial number at wish and makes themselves comfortable on the bed on invitation), creating a potential incident of intimacy between strangers who share a discreet connection that could only transpire in such moments of shared vulnerability.
A version of the Begumpura Palace (“a place without sorrow”) in Sant Ravidas’ eponymous poem is set up on the premises; it’s a tent covered in parchments of goatskin and covered with intricate drawings. A palace on the move, the tent becomes a symbolic space that espouses Begumpura’s utopic promise of absolute equality amongst persons, which resonates with the contemporary political context in India that has seen a tumultuous rise in communal politics. It is both a habitat and a staging; a day is devoted to a communal lunch, where pulao and a preparation of pork (cooked over 7 hours) is served to visitors in the direction of a shared experience around the meal, and partakes simultaneously in a memory specific to the artist and the politics of food as it is viewed through the lens of caste and class.
Transformations are taking place on site in real-time, as the audience adjusts to and melds with their presence. Mookoo has become a favourite with the regular occupants of the space while occasional visitors crowd him for selfies, which become sporadic bursts of incidents around the subject. The archive room became a space for rumination on the photographs, their contextual relevance and the artist’s hand, while the machaan draws people to sit and relax during the day, sharing meals during lunchtime and overlooking the growing density of illustrations on the library wall. There will be more mutations in the place as its architectonics shrink and expand in accordance with each speculative vision. Realised through collaborations, collisions and occupation of space and time, the projects accommodate moments of pause and reflection in their processes, geared as they are towards—not a definitive exhibition—but a series of propositional relays.
All Images and Video Courtesy: Annette Jacob