Jessica F Hirst during a performance. (Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh)
IT begins with the body and then through many layers, the action transforms into art, as is visible in the work of more than 50 artistes from across the world, who are part of the second edition of the Morni Hills Performance Art Biennale, hosted by the Healing Hill Art Space. The Biennale, the first of its kind in the country, attempts to bring together on a platform varied artistic philosophies and thoughts, with the vision to explore new forms and expressions, with painter and performance artist Harpreet Singh being the driving force behind the project.
As many as five curators are part of the Biennale, with the artists involved in workshops, dialogues, talks, video and sound projects to create works that are shared with larger audiences in the Healing Hill Art Space, Morni Hills; Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh; Government College of Art; Panjab University and other public spaces in the city.
Guillaume Dufour Morin from Canada is doing the curatorial project titled ‘When Words Become Situations’, as part of the event, and is also co-curating with other artists for performances during the entire month. The idea, says Morin, is to explore what happens when artists play with words and infiltrate a rural Indian community, that of Badisher in Morni. “As part of the project, a group of eight artists, including one from India, explore what happens when performance art is not defined by an action with a start and an end. Instead, the starting point of a performance art intervention is a text, a speech, a dialogue, an experimental literary proposition,” says Morin.
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Guillaume Dufour Morin. (Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh)
Using video performance, photo interventions, sound art choreography, the artists are exploring how rural reality, instead of the usual city landscape or institutional art spaces, can become an experimental playground for critical actions based on words and how to share the experience of these community-based and site-specific works in a city museum.
From displacement to gender violence, wars to bureaucracy, environmental concerns to borders that divide, artists Soufia Bensaid, Alejandro Chêllet, Thomas Geiger, Steve Giasson have used their own backgrounds, cultural contexts and experiences to demonstrate how everything can be art. “Performance art has no limitation, for it is about participation of others and human activity. It reflects the space, time and reality we live in and the Biennale is a meeting ground of so many different people. As curator, I am exploring how contemporary art and writing can be part of the art action,” says Morin, who studied the work of the participating artists to give their work a direction and create new contexts for India and the city they are working in. Morin says his interests are the limits of living poetry, contemporary writings and community based-work in an interdisciplinary approach.
In a video performance, titled Letter to a Rapist, Jessica F Hirst addresses the issue of gender violence, the hurt that never goes away, the damage caused to another human being, raising a debate on consent, masculinity and how one gender feels a right on the other. “I made this before the #MeToo movement and the performance explores many issues that surround us today,” says Hirst. In another performance, artists used theatre, music and performance to talk about the abundance of materials that the environment offers us and our approach to this generosity.
Celebrated artiste Inder Salim, who is also part of the Biennale, is upbeat about the fact that in a small place like Morni, performance art is being nourished. Apart from presentations and workshops, Salim has created a new performance inspired by Manto’s Toba Tek Singh, exploring the concept of division and the many dimensions of the Partition. For Salim, performance art began in strange circumstances, as he moved from Kashmir to Delhi, had no money to buy paints to pursue art, took to photography to only discover it was a more expensive medium. “But a human being doesn’t stop because of a lack of resources and I discovered the body as the medium to do art, starting with small experiments in public spaces. I worked conceptually and then began a new journey.”
Salim talks of the many layers of performance art, and how he can see different approaches to the art here, the social and political themes that find resonance with the audience. The process of creating performance art, says Salim, is both chaotic and celebratory, as there is a criss-crossing between disciplines, “it is a process of discovery, like in a lab, where you can discover something special or not,” adds Salim. The performances and presentations by various artists will be on till November 30