Unlearning the Habitus

The sight of an analogue billboard on the roadside today would catch one off-guard; there’s no moving image or neon light screaming out at the eye. There’s only a series of letters from the English alphabet, arranged in different permutations everyday over a hundred days to create phrases, quotes and sentences—legible instructions, and continuous in a ritual of change, where bodies are engaged by routine to arrange the letters across the board. The phrases speak to everybody and nobody in particular, and stand as seemingly absurd provocations for the reading eye; one could rehearse them in a private navigation of precarity.

Each phrase begins with a verb and intends to incite action; there are no periods on the board. The Actant has produced the text from his rehearsal notes (or what he calls “micro-systems of knowledge”) from dramatic performances over the years. He calls them “velocities” in their intention to create movement, and function as counterpoints to static occupation of the body in space. A rehearsal unpacks what is internalised by the body and dismantles it to create a new set of dispositions; the notes then become trigger-points for accumulative instances of dismantling. 

How does the text feel on your eye, tongue and skin? The regime of the body accommodates the phrase and rehearses it to effect a change in temper. How do we see the world under the condition of an instruction? What is the nature of the mark it leaves on the performing body?

The board—a public entity—conveys a private intent, and takes over the road as a spectacle as well as non-event, where the text becomes a visual stimulus with perhaps persistence in a rote whisper. The board interacts with the onlooker on the street as it looks outward from the premises of the institution, while exciting active iterations in the direction of political critique. In effect, the board looks at power, and invokes palimpsests of gestures that form the historical body while holding their weight in text for the span of a day. Its voice is banal, prophetic, sarcastic; reflecting, meditating or observing as its knots disentangle and re-emerge as new skeins.

With its words as “spontaneous choreography” for the everyday, the board stands as an open book, and the phrases a phantom text, leaping across membranes and hosts in a cycle of learning and unlearning its habitus; there’s no settling the dust.

This podacst is an interview conducted by writer Najrin Islam with Actant Amitesh Grover about the process and culminating project by the latter titled ‘100 Velocity Pieces’. The work consisted of 100 different phrases mounted on an analogue billboard that overlooked the stretch of the Kasturba Gandhi Marg, Delhi from within the premises of Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi between October 21, 2019 and February 29, 2020. 

Cover Image: A phrase for the billboard, formative stage
For more information on the project, follow: https://amiteshgrover.com/100-velocity-pieces

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