It is quite in accordance with expectations not to notice the performances that sum up a day’s life. And we obligingly give a go by to the parts played by the maid who absents herself innocuously over the whole of the week or of the neighbour who positions himself just behind that sliding window and pretends not to be there. Finding art in the mundane gestures of everyday life is perhaps the most naive manner in which performance art can be described.
So when artist Anil Dayanand took the passersby on Manaveeyam Veedhi in the capital city by surprise this weekend, many mistook it for a street play. “There was no concrete idea about how it was going to turn out,” says Anil, one of the few performance artists yet to make a mark in the Indian art circuit. “Anything that is part of ordinary life could be interpreted as a performance. I was looking for something ordinary to evolve on its own and just took some threads and candles with me. In sometime, we had a group of people who had balloons tied around their waists and moving in a circle,” he says.
The concept of performance art took shape in the post-modern era along with spin offs such as installation art, conceptual art etc. It had its rudimentary beginnings in the Dadaist art which subverted the conventional mores of aesthetics to create an ‘anti-art’ movement representative of the horror-stricken psyche post World War I. In contrast to Installations, performance art is essentially staged in lieu with theatrical elements. At the same time, it also defies the frame work of a theatre performance by jeopardising the aspects of time, space, plot and the actors-audience binary. The body becomes a dominant theme in the performances by Anil. He also explores the thin border line between public and private space. “My own body often acts as a catalyst in stimulating performances. The whole show is actually conducted by the audience themselves who get involved without being conscious,” he says.
As an illustration, he points out the performance he filmed at RLV College of Music and Fine Arts, Tripunithura last year. Anil, who was engaged in a residency workshop in the college along with New York-based artist Noah Fischer, invited students to brand him with ink. “Well, there was this element of ice-breaking between teachers and students. There was also the ecstasy of intruding into the very private space of one’s body,” he says. Anil has also experimented with the ‘shock and awe’ aspect of the art from, often described as anti-theatre for transcending spacial and temporal dimensions. In a performance held in Delhi, Anil had the viewers’ curiosity to peep through a secretive slit on display translate into voyeuristic tendencies latent in the society. “They would peep at my photographed hind illustrated with derogatory words in Hindi,” he says.
A performance need not have a script while it can also be choreographed to bring out a certain idea. Some of the most controversial performances on the international scene, like that of American artist Chris Burden, has invited scathing criticism for its bodily intrusion that often stretched out to the grotesque. The underlying concept has been to render the impossible frigidity of the age viable to communication. Anil was invited to do an installation in the company of sculptor Jeevan Thomas at the recently-held CPM Part Congress at Kozhikkode. As part of the event, he staged a performance that again invited the audience to paint on his white t-shirt.
“Most of them painted the hammer and sickle while others painted Marxian quotes and the like. At the end of the event, the organisers wanted me to interpret the video and I said they could very well describe it as ‘ningal enne communistakki’ (You made me a Communist). Now, that was double-edged, as it could, at the same time, be positive and critical of the political movement’s history.” Anil finds that the art form’s lack of popularity in Kerala is gradually giving way to acceptance. “Many fine arts institutions are holding workshops and events these days and art students are increasingly viewing it as a powerful communicative tool. It is extremely viable as an art form since it is not subject to the rigid rules of theatre.”