Monday, December 22, 2014

Game of Death - II

Setting sun rises again!
Want to see me trembling with fear?
Naked, cold, hungry, crying huddled in a corner?
Is that the hunger,  
'Hurt, kill, hurt, kill...'
devouring you forever?

Let’s strip to the skin -
Some layers less of burden
Stand naked...
Why hide the hatred
the seething anger
beneath colorful fabrics
and choke with pretense?
Unwrap those meaningless words
stripped off some book.
Make some sense.

Come, let's play the game of death.
For once don't stop till the very end
Bare it all - tear me apart
with your angry guns and bombs of hate
And I will blast you with my hurt.

Maybe, when we are done with it
we will look each other in the eye -
Without the fear, anger or hate -
in the stillness of a sigh.
We will sing then the silent song
Of death, of hurt, of senselessness
Of immense pain, from years suppressed.

Faraway in the twain
will rise a new refrain
A shriek, that will forever break
The cry of war
And the game of death.

Parvez Imam

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

He Saves The World - 2

The other planet and the being repair shops

Far away in another galaxy hangs a planet occupied by a crazy race (‘race’ because they are always racing against each other).  Their survival depends on ‘greed’ - the life force, something like our sun.  Their power and status comes from the amount of ‘greed’ they can inhale and snatch from others.  The more ‘greed’ one has, the more control on the system one gets.  That makes the ‘greed-y wannabes’ and the ‘greed have-nots’ the subjugated, lesser beings who must work under the greed-rich and also stay at a distant from greed through the morality idea passed down by the saints and high priests who live and preach in these specially designed, awe inspiring, peaceful structures.

The only greed-free places on that planet are the ‘repair-shops’ (somewhat like our hospitals).  This is where the beings are sent when they breakdown either because of the greed of others (somewhat like malnutrition) or because of excessive greed that they can’t digest (something like overeating or food poisoning).  Until recently, the master repairers (kind of doctors) were a respected and trusted lot by all beings because they worked hard to repair the beings before sending them back into the system - the lesser ones to work and the better ones to continue to rule.  The repair shops are kept highly sanitized by a ‘morality spray’ that deactivates the greedvirus and prevents it from causing corruption.  Both, the greed filled and the greed wannabe beings, ensure that the repair shop system works smoothly so they can have an ample supply of fit workers.  The have-nots anyway have neither the means nor any say that can influence any change.

One day however the greedvirus gets force-mutated to resist the morality spray and infects a repair master who is working on a being with a very high quotient of greed.  This being requires an urgent organ transplant but there are no donors.  The infected repair master, under the influence of the greed virus infection, steals the organ from a have-not in the general ward of the repair shop and installs it into the greed-rich being.  The ensuing rewards satisfy the deadly greedy-itch that the virus triggers in any infected soul.  Ever since, the repairer continues to find his release in stealing organs and passing them to the haves to ease his itch.  By the time the press gets the wind, years have passed.  The repairer has turned into a powerful, evil villain supported by the greed-rich beings at the highest echelons of power and politics.  Some have-nots are scared of repair shops while some are still ignorant.  A few good Samaritans (there are always a few of those on  every planet) file police complaints, hold protests and even try to argue on the greed-e TV channels, but nothing works.  Most of the important (read greed-rich) beings are working for ‘development’ (a very important word on that planet) and have no time to waste on the have-nots.
The laboratory of organs
At this point our hero walks in – a street smart, dance heavy, macho man who likes this cutie-pie girl from another slum, whose father is one of the victims of the organ stealing racket.  Now this girl does some sleazy cabaret stuff at a local bar but she is a pious soul who prays to god everyday.  She has taken to cabaret because she wants to extract revenge from the cruel repairer who still visits this gaudy bar.  The hero is anyway born with a mission to kill one evil villain and save the planet so that development (whatever that means) can take place while the have-nots continue to remain as they were so that the haves inch ahead or atleast remain the same.

And we inch towards the climax when the girl begins to dance seductively around the villain with two knives in her hands but doesn’t stab him.  The hero meanwhile enters the repair shop, ofcourse after killing a few guards and discovers all kinds of organs pickled in jars waiting for rich recipients.  He orders his friends (they have been there since the beginning and provide some funny moments of stupidity and comraderie) to deliver the organs back to their original owners and even stitch them back.  Then he heads to the farmhouse where the villain is about to force himself upon the girl while she begs him to spare her for god’s sake.  That is when the hero lands in like batman through the glass window.  A fight ensues where the villain almost kills the hero after about fifteen minutes of kicking and fighting.  The victorious villain lets out an evil laugh and throws the girl on the bed.  This is when the hero comes back to life again.  Barely able to open his eyes and stand properly he manages to pull out the spear from the life size idol of god and nails the villain with it.  The police enters in full force with guns and arrests the dead villain.  The girl kisses the hero.  Everything is sorted and life continues as it was.

Text and Pics - Parvez Imam  (Copyright 2014) 
(Un-edited version of the article published in my column in Financial Chronicle on 17th  Oct, 2014)

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

He saves the world - 1

It is a highly convoluted world
It begins with an existence in a highly convoluted world.  Infact it is quite corrupt, discriminatory, fascist, bigot and much more.  Thank god it is nothing serious.  The social structure rests primarily on creating insecurities while talking about security.  Some say it is because of greed.  An inbuilt discriminatory mechanism ensures that only a few benefit from the system and then become the representatives who keep suggesting that all is well.  They aren't lying - all is surely well for them.  Their children aren't starving in a slum.  The upper caste people haven’t taken over their land and pushed them into subjugation unlike some nondescript lower status people.  By the powers vested in them by the system, these beneficiaries also control and dominate spaces where concerns can be voiced.  They have serious concerns about the rising costs of fancy cars, fashion statement, hoi-poloi events etc. etc.  Beside that the good people also drench themselves in ice cold water and apparently that somehow helps the lesser people.  Doesn't matter if a huge population has neither electricity nor a fridge that runs on it nor even enough clean water to drink.

It’s a very sensitive world.  Thousands die of hunger every moment.  The good people hold music concerts to raise awareness and funds (most of which go into staff salaries and half payments to the benevolent artists).  By the way, this is just a film script about a faraway planet ruled by a cruel species of blood sucking aliens.  It has nothing to do with you and me.

Among the rest of the population, some feel too small to understand it all.  Others focus on career and growth, even if that means joining the wheel of discrimination and stepping on another in a race towards another race.  A few mavericks try to take on the system and fail miserably.  They are crushed, confined and punished.  If their thoughts continue to persist, the system turns them into religions, heroes, saints etc. etc.  If this reminds you of Jesus, the man who stood up against a cruel system of his times or Socrates or maybe Galileo or thousands of others through the centuries, it is purely coincidental.  And this is where the quintessential popcorn and cola break comes.

The second part begins with our hero promptly taking off his shirt to display a much advertised x-pack abdomen while the heroin displays her cleavage.  The cleavage immediately offends some of us.  Maybe we should only cast flat breasted women, or even better, force all women to have breast castration.  Then even women will be allowed to bare their chest, like our heroes.  It may become the next big fashion statement and solve all the issues on the planet.  Coming back to the script, our hero learns that the heroin’s father is not only the killer of his father but is also plotting to wipe out two noble souls on the planet - the PM and the CM.  He immediately shares the truth with the heroin.  She breaks down, locks herself in her room and cries on her velvety pink bed.  The hero meanwhile starts destroying all the Casinos and Godowns (filled with drugs) owned by the villain.  The PM and the CM, are about to make a public appearance on an open stage.  The villain has planted dynamites beneath the stage and kidnaps his daughter - the heroin (who turns out to be someone else’s daughter now) - to blackmail the hero into blowing the dynamites to kill the PM and the CM.  For a hero with a loaded pack of abdominal muscles, nothing is a problem.  After a barehanded fight through an army of men guarding the villain, he finally kills all the bad people, including the villain, and releases the girl.  After a long kiss, he rushes to save the very nice, honest and people loving PM and CM and pushes them off stage just when the bombs explode and cars are tossed up on flames.  Thus He saves the entire world.  The heroin comes running to kiss him again.  All is well.

(Un-edited version of the article published in my column in Financial Chronicle on Oct. 10, 2014)
Text and Photographs: Parvez Imam (Copyright-2014)

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Clean the farm. Pluck the weed.

Clean we must what must be cleaned.  And also the cobwebs in the dingy attics that seem so far away - as if in a remote abandoned house in some fairy-tale or a painting.  There is something so immediate and so within about these seemingly hidden spaces that makes them come alive like the bizarre events in a painting by Bosch.  The slithery, not fully formed yet complete in an evil way thoughts, lying beneath the cobwebs are always ready to devour another - as if the only purpose of their existence is wiping away the existence of every other thought, both within and outside one’s head.  We certainly have a lot to clean.

Every little weed needs to be weeded out.  Weed, the unwanted and dissimilar plant that sprouts amid a planned crop in a farm.  For humans it is something like a lower caste / class person hanging around in an upper caste / class revelry or we trying to claim our existence in the midst of another culture or ethnic and lingual congregation.  The weed is usually plucked away, so the farm can maintain its manicured, mono-cultural look and provide only what the master desires.  The forest however has no weeds.  Everything co-exists.  It may not look as planned as a farm sprinkled with pesticides, but that is where life flows and grows.

Our love for clean and nicely laid out things is evident in our human farms as well.  For example let’s look at the high-rise farms and tightly packed slum farms where different grades of humans are planted within spaces that define their worth.  Each breed has a separate space with every member subscribing more or less to the same thought. It won’t be long before all behavior gets mechanized into well-practiced drills that will follow what has been injected into each head.  What a peaceful society it will be then.  No conflict at all because there won’t be another thought to fight with.  Just one clean thought, one structure, one caste, one class, one people in one space and one master to rule and think for everyone.  He will decide how to live and you live like that.  You will be told when, what, where and how to eat.  Follow the drill and you will be allowed to exist.  There will be no dissent for there will be no space for it.  In other words, no weed shall ever grow in the human farm.  The clones will be peaceful and tolerant to their brethren with no need for interacting with another breed of clones.

A journalist was recently manhandled in New York by an educated, progress and development loving, tolerant crowd.  The world knows that tolerance has been our virtue for long.  It is there in our books.  It is there in our history.  Just look at the partition of India.  The reports of a few hundred thousand murdered, raped, maimed and missing, and the ensuing hatred till date, is a minor collateral damage that some journalists took fancy to because they love creating stories.

Our tolerance towards crime against women is also well known.  Recently when a teenaged Dalit girl was raped by some upper caste boys in a village (place it wherever you like and it is likely to turn out true) the tolerant village authorities, the important upper caste gentry and even the police tried to convince the Dalits to be tolerant.  But they decided against that and have been protesting for last two years, even when the boys involved have been granted bail.  They must learn to tolerant and accept a peaceful way of life.  One should not stand out like a sore thumb or a weed amid the cleanliness-loving people.  We know a weed must be plucked out and if that requires force, then so be it.  The nation must be kept clean at any expense.  How else will we march towards a super-power status otherwise?  Poverty, hunger, homelessness, discrimination etc. etc. can be dealt with once the cleaning and weeding is done.  Meanwhile, those who clean the toilets and gutters must continue to do their task quietly.  Ofcourse, they need to stay away from the clean and tolerant people, in their own separate quarters - the slum and ghetto farms.

Text and Photographs: Parvez Imam (Copyright-2014)
(Un-edited Version - Published in my column in Financial Chronicle on Oct 03, 2014)

(All material on this blog is copyrighted! Sharing of complete articles or their links, without editing, and with due credit, is allowed for non-commercial purposes only. For publication or any other use, please contact the author.)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Choices in a Marketplace

It is about noise and it is about selling!  What else should one expect in a market place?  So much to be sold - thoughts, self, body, soul…?  Every interaction a transaction!  One is curious to know whether the person just met fits in the same circles (of thoughts and rituals) and a potential addition to the clan and the network?  Isn't it insane to stand alone when only a community can provide sanctity and sanity to one's thoughts?  Yet there’s always a mad person roaming around in the market.

Movies, books, educational qualifications, art works, status and even life is marketed and pushed, starting much before it is even released.  Pre-marketed - supposedly big - names connect with it, depending on which league it fits in.  Everyone wants new, promising recruits in their collection to carry on the legacy.  One is told what to expect.  Meanings and abstractions (supposedly held within) are laid out.  Now one must appreciate and see what everyone else too seem to see.  The bottom-line of this preparatory exercise is that one must begin to ‘feel’ it is ‘different’.  If we do not see what we are supposed to, there is hardly a space to communicate in the great din of the marketplace.  You are subverted into becoming a seller even to challenge the very notion of selling.  The noise thus drowns any dissent to the notion of selling – be it politics or the politics of elitism in another domain.

Noise matters.  Non-noise doesn't work in the market.  When the sellers sell the earth as the center of the universe, you better see the sun revolving around it.  It is sanity verses insanity, where sanity is the noise - the heard, accepted, revered and even feared because it dons the robe of the sane and sits on a pedestal.  It may be too sane to be true but that is how it flows in a bazaar.

Everyone must be sold.  Every thought of the sold must be sold as profound.  If you don’t sell, turn into a product or an ‘anti-product’ product.  Non-products won’t do.  Produce noise.  Carry your flag on your shoulder so you can be branded and graded.  Join the catalogue - how else would a buyer know you.  And who is a buyer but another wannabe product who must buy so he / she can copy or join those who have similar products (like the Harley, Enfield or any other club).

A product must be chique.  It must be made to appear different, even if it is the same in its functionality and premise as the oldest shred of a loin cloth.  Noise changes perceptions and public memory is short anyway.  History books are littered with stories of wars, treachery and cruelty but the essence evaporates easily.  Every present and future war is sold as a brand new, never before product - only those who really deserve to die will die in ‘this’ one.  Collateral damage is natural.  The noise sells it and we buy because there can’t be so much noise without some truth.  The sun must have revolved around the earth before Galileo stopped it with his black (or white) magic.

There is a lot to sell in the market place.  That’s why the noise.  It’s a carnival.  Sell if you can, as much as you can.  Sell every thought of your clan - the only way, the only truth.  The market has only one religion, one slogan – sell.  Every seller is a priest, each from a different tradition, a different clique.  And each religion must be defended because it has to be better than the other.  Only heretics or the insane question it all and stand alone.  The sellers must dutifully drown them (and their voice) within the deafening noise of marketplace.  Why do the insane always dwell upon the unimaginable?

Text and Photographs by: Parvez Imam
(The Un-edited version of a piece published in my column in Financial Chronicle newspaper on 26th Sept, 2014).

(All material on this blog is copyrighted! Sharing of complete articles or their links, without editing, and with due credit, is allowed for non-commercial purposes only. For publication or any other use, please contact the author.)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Performance Arts and the 14 Rooms

A Prelude                                                                   
That, a fair is about selling and buying and sellers and buyers is not a mystery.  That fairs have also turned into a point of convergence for fun, socializing, exploring and eye-warming window shopping however may create a sense that there  may be another motive behind it.  Yet I believe , that the purpose and guiding principles remains deeply ingrained in the buying-selling, even if they may create a feel of being otherwise.  I write this not with  any sense of judgment but rather a reminder to myself (and to other similarly naive beings) who tend to get lost and carried away by the scale and grandness of things, which quite often is designed to do that by triggering awe and sway people off their feet into believing in the necessity of whatever that is.

Art Basel is certainly a grand fair in the art world with a mix of everything, for almost everyone who has
The Signboards
anything to do with arts.  This year (2014) the fair has a new exhibition, ‘14  Rooms’, curated by two well known curators Klaus Biesenbach and Hans Ulrich Obrist.  The ‘14  Rooms’ (an evolution from the 11 Rooms at Manchester International Festival in 2011) featured at Art Basel for the first time as a grand new entity that seem to rest on the rise and the commercialization potential of performance arts. 

A room each is assigned to fourteen artists from the art world that seemed confined to North America, South America and Europe, but for one artist from China.  Prominent, shiny signboards placed all around Art Basel venues yelled out the star cast: Marina Abramovic, Allora & Calzadilla, Ed Atkins, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Damien Hirst, Joan Jonas, Laura Lima, Bruce Nauman, Otobong Nkanga, Roman Ondak, Yoko Ono, Tino Sehgal, Santiago Sierra, Xu Zhen.  Beside these, there were two more – John Baldessari and Jordan Wolfson.
The press and invitees at the 14 Rooms preview
A rectangular structure, constructed in the middle of a huge exhibition hall at the Messeplatz, had seven cubical rooms on either side and a large space in between for visitors to wander around and ponder.  The wall, infront of the entrance to 14 Rooms, within the larger confine of exhibition hall, displays the archive of an idea proposed by John Baldessari in 1970 - to exhibit a cadaver as an art work.  Alongside are the emails written in 2010 - an attempt to realize the proposal for the 11 Rooms at Manchester International Festival.  The emails were a back and forth communication between multiple agencies to explore the ethical, medical and legal possibilities of the venture.  With this unrealized proposal on death as a prelude, one enters the 14 Rooms hall.  The mirrored doors, that one pulls open to enter each of the 14 rooms, reflect our own image as we approach this world of performances in rooms.

The Performances / Works
If art is about raising questions, beside selling and buying, 14 Rooms does that in multiple ways.  There are questions that the works trigger and questions that 14 Rooms raise as a concept itself.  What is a performance?  What is it’s origin?  What is the ‘medium’ of a performance - the body or any and everything else except for the body?  If the medium is the body, then whose body - the artist’s, who conceptualized it or another person’s, who ‘copies’ the act?  Can a ‘copy’ of performance provide the same meaning?

Outside Marina's room
Marina Abramovic performed ‘Luminosity’ in 1979, where she sat on a bicycle seat jutting out from a wall at a height, legs outstretched and spread apart, feet supported by two planks on the wall below while her outstretched arms move up and down sideways, like a bird flying in slow motion.  A beam of projected white light creates a rectangular frame around her making it look like a painting plastered to, yet jutting out from, the wall.  The audience has to look upwards as she positioned herself about five feet or so above the ground level.  14 Rooms, replicates it exactly except that the artist herself is not present.  Instead three performers do it in rotation.  Bruce Nauman’s ‘Floor-Wall Positions, a set of 28 body positions where the artist remains in touch with both the wall  and the floor simultaneously, was performed by him 1968.  Joan Joanas did her ‘Mirror Check’, in which she examines her naked body through a small mirror, in 1970s.  In 2014, a set of hired performers enact these pieces at 14 Rooms.

Diaspore - Otobang Nkanga
Performer lies suspended in Xu Zhen's Room
Ed Atkin’s ‘No One is More Work Than Me’ had a graphically generated talking head displayed on a flat screen, continuously trying to ‘sell’ his presence while a masked performer sits next to the screen trying to engage, interact and at times disengage with it.  Otobang Nkanga’s ‘Diaspore’, a progression from her earlier work, had upto three performers (all of African origin) on a floor designed to look like a topographical map, holding a potted ‘queen of the night’ plant on their head or shoulders while singing or talking to it with numerous references to uprooting, longing and resilience among others.  Roman Ondak’s ‘Swap’ began with a performer bringing a single item into the room to engage the audience in a swap.  The process of swapping continues till the last day leading to multiple swaps and interactions that occur during the process.  ‘In the blink of an eye’ by Xu Zhen features a performer fixed in an almost impossible posture with the entire body bent backwards from the knee as if suspended against gravity.  All these pieces - seven of them - use the ‘body as a medium’ and some were even performed earlier by the artist him/herself.  Yet at 14 Rooms the artist remained absent from 3.5 meters high, 5*5 meter rooms, designed by the celebrated architects Herzog and De Meuron.

The question that emerges therefore is ‘who’ is engaging the audience and with ‘what’?  Is performance about a connect between the artist, through his / her body, with the audience (as suggested during the infant days of this still young child to segregate it from the other more defined performance acts)?  Or is it about creating a ‘concept and storyline’ (as in advertising or film world) and have others perform it, even when the work could be performed by the artist?  Is this the influence of the theatre or the film industry where the one creates products, as also in the more established and  establishment oriented visual arts?  With Marina particularly, this approach becomes somewhat ironical in view of her earlier work ‘The artist is present’ and even more so when one reads here recent interview (published on May 12, 2014 in the Guardian), where she re-asserts, “The medium is the body”.

The ‘Body and Performance Art’ connect has been a given since performance began to emerge in the West as a ‘new’ and ‘different’ art form in the art arena.  14 Rooms is certainly about ‘bodies’ but not of the artists whose works are featured and whose names shine prominently on all ads and displays.  The confusion continues in the catalogue that instructs, pre-warns and informs one what to expect.  The foreword by Sam Keller (Director Fondation Beyeler), Marc Spiegler (Director Art Basel) and Georges Delnon (Director Theatre Basel) ends with a note of thanks to the visitors for “transforming the instructions of the fourteen artists into a milestone moment in the history of performance art.”  The very next write up, ‘Curators in Conversation’ (with a reference to the 13 Rooms at Sydney in 2013) mentions, “It’s not called 13 Performances because it is not thirteen performances.  It’s not called 13 Artists because that would be irritating.  It’s not called 13 Sculptures because that could be misunderstood.  Instead it’s called 13 Rooms”.  The curators further elaborate on their intent of creating an exhibition that is replicable and can be reproduced later by any other curator and set of performers.  They bring in an analogy to music notations that allow classical music pieces to be reproduced and re-performed.  Thus their conscious decision of having “always a human being or more than one person, but not the artist him- or herself.”

That should lay to rest the expectation of the artist being present at the 14 Rooms even if they are still alive and kicking.  The curators’ vision also makes sense of the other set of rooms, some of whom have no performers at all and some with more than one.

Large queues recurred outside this room
Yoko Ono’s ‘Touch’ was a pitch dark room where one could see nothing.  Visitors often ‘touched’ another person accidentally or felt the walls.  She succeeds in taking away the visual sense and force the visitor to shift to other senses, in her quest of addressing the question of touch as a taboo in the society.  Gonzalez Dominique-Foerster’s room with an instruction etched on the mirrored door ‘enter one by one .wait’ triggered much curiosity and expectation of an encounter with the unknown.  No wonder there were huge queues at this door.  Inside, the room had a carpet and a small mirror hanging on the wall where you see yourself as you turn around to face it.  With nothing more there, one tries to exit the room only to realize that it can not be opened from inside.  The visitor must seek another person’s intervention to unlock the door from outside and escape their own presence, unsure of who performed what.

Damien Hirst had look alike twins performing similarly choreographed actions under two dot paintings of his.  At the first look both paintings appear similar, just like the twins.  A closer inspection reveals different colored dots and sequences in each, just like the twins exhibited differences every once in a while.  Allora and Calzadilla’s Revolving Door is designed to involve about 10  performers at any given time, moving like a revolving door in pre-choreographed sequences.  The audience could enter and interact with the various patterns of the door, some which allowed the visitor to pass through while the ‘barricade’ piece forced anyone in the way to move along.  Laura Lima’s ‘Man=flesh / Woman=flesh’ required a person with physical disability to lie inside a very low roofed structure.  The audience had to bend or lie down on the floor to look inside.  Santiago Sierra’s ‘Veterans of the Wars of Eriteria, Kosovo and Togo’ had war veterans standing in a corner facing the wall.  Tino Sehgal’s piece  involved two gallerists competing to create a sentence using one word at a time.

The conceptual framework of this set of works necessitates the use of ‘other’ performers, in synch with the curators’ vision, where the artist acts as a director or instructor.  Together, the collection pushes us to think about the associations that have been built overtime around performance arts.  Do we need a more encompassing term like ‘live art’ or something else, to address these time-based, experiential works?  Is the 14 Rooms a challenge to the academia and critics, who label and tie concepts within the frameworks of definitions that keep getting narrower in a supposed search of an assumed ultimate truth?

Defining or Limiting?
Laura Lima's work
Personally, I am very comfortable with the idea of ‘no labels, just a flow’ or at best loose and overlapping labels, that can allow one not only to breathe but stretch and jump  around too.  The apprehension that unless we define something properly it will not be academic enough, or may lead to confusion, rests merely on our definition and understanding of confusion from a seemingly market-based approach which actually allows a much larger collateral damage to pass by unnoticed.  It is these narrow definitions that divide health care, which concerns with a living human body, into numerous departments and specialties, each focusing on tiny organs and parts of  the body, forgetting the being in its totality.  It is such definitions that segregate health, poverty and food in the administrative departmental structures of governments.  And it is precisely this approach of narrow definitions that pitches art against science and so on and so forth needlessly, as if knowledge comes in man-defined compartments.

While labels tend to confine and frame thoughts, as well as people, and condemn them to specific roles and visions, they are of some use to academicians; in furthering researches and encoding large processes and events into shorter phrases or just a word.  They allow exchange of ideas and communication within the academic fraternity much faster while maintaining a ‘we know more / better’ kind of sense too.  In case of performance art, the child that is yet to completely conform to norms and that continues to assert its identity as a free-ish form, it seems to be that in-between kind of time of push and pull before the animal gets tamed, claimed and framed by the institution in a precise definition.  It is that wild, unpredictable and ephemeral nature which makes it an exciting form in the present time.  And the same properties become a reason of discomfort for the establishment that struggles to find a common ground to address and claim it.

The End or a Beginning?
Ed Atkin's piece
Most of the works at the 14 Rooms, barring Ed Atkins’ and Santiago Sierra’s, were reproductions or slightly evolved versions of previous performances of the selected artists.  Was it then mainly a historical archive, and if so, of what, since the curators reject the term ‘performance’?  Sifting through these questions, one walks out of the 14 Rooms inner hall into the outer to find a fifteenth room, the ‘Epilogue’ as the curators suggest, pushing the boundaries even further to reckon with the digital age.

Enter the room and a woman-like machine dances infront of a mirror, with it’s back to you.  What apparently freaked out many visitors was that it looked them in the eye through the reflection in the mirror.  The tete-a-tete with a human-like non-human by Jordan Wolfson makes one wonder what next.  Even the term ‘Live Art’ goes for a toss now. 

The show that began with thoughts of displaying the dead, ends with a non-human dance. Certainly no other ‘label’ could have suited these rooms more than ‘14 Rooms’ itself.  What remains circumspect though is the purpose of this exercise. Is it extending Art as a practice or a mere entertainment for the crowds that could be encapsulated in a more-evolved-circus than just a circus.

Art and artists (like any other knowledge domain or people who question) are known to challenge existing notions and evolve beyond the given boundaries every now and then.  If nothing else, the 14 Rooms exhibition has certainly managed to trigger some amount of confusion.  The ephemeral, that has been considered a hallmark of Performance Art, and formed the essence that posed a challenge to the market-driven art world, vanishes at the 14 Rooms even from the works that were once labeled ‘Performance art’ and considered ephemeral.  Is the basic premise of 14 Rooms therefore resting on containing and packaging Performance or Live Art into tangible products for the market that had long struggled to make sense of it or is it really a push for its form to expand beyond the clutches of conventions and definitions?  I would love to believe that the tilt is towards the later but then, is not a fair is about buying and selling and buyers and sellers, ofcourse along with some fun and entertainment too?

Parvez Imam
(The writer was involved with photo and video documentation of the '14 Rooms Workshops' led by the Art Education Team of Beyeler Foundation.  The workshops were held from June 16-20.  The photo-documentation evolved into an exhibition of selected photographs at the same venue and ran from 17th - 22 June, 2014.  The above article is a result of the same project )

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