A whirling city appears on screen, with poles, benches and rooms caught in a slow, surreal storm. Characters are suspended in time. In this immersive performance, The Last Poet, these unbuilt worlds attempt to capture a political moment when a poet disappears, a virus spreads within and amongst us, and our world becomes haunted. The rooms-within-rooms open up possibilities for the audience to navigate the story; no two viewers have the same experience.
Director Amitesh Grover has created a multilayered art form with theatre, film, sound art, creative coding, digital scenography and live performance, inviting the audience to complete the show with its own inferences and imagination. As a digital broadcast available to all, The Last Poet is also an attempt to explore ideas of democratic theatre in cyberculture.
This is one of the works commissioned for Serendipity Arts Virtual, a digital experience organised by the Serendipity Arts Foundation (SAF). It features curated projects, performances, workshops, and talks by curators like Grover, Anmol Vellani, Anuja Ghosalkar and Kai Tuchmann, Veeranganakumari Solanki and Siddhant Shah. The objective is to look at the internet as a medium with unique properties that offer new possibilities for art.
SAF director Smriti Rajgarhia says 2020 has been a journey in understanding how to get people to engage with the arts digitally. “The platform has so much potential. It is lower in terms of costs and makes it easier to connect with people across geographies. Collaborations have also become simpler,” she adds.
The focus is on showcasing the process behind the projects, with not just trying to highlight what the digital medium can do but how you get to it. “Can an audience comment be converted into a performance? How can this audience-performer relationship adapt to technology?” asks Rajgarhia.
Vellani’s project, My Story | Your Story | Our Story, features two performances: one in a live format, the other recorded. The Modern Review, a journal about India’s political and cultural discourse, has fuelled a research project, Text/Matters, which explores print publications past and present. “Our founder patron, Sunil Kant Munjal, has acquired the whole set of The Modern Review. We (the SAF team) wanted to do a project on the journal as an object,” says Rajgarhia.
Serendipity Arts Virtual features several examples of how artists have responded to the constraints of the past year. The themes that came up were unlike any earlier. “There was story after story about a sense of loss. People were unable to spend their last moments with loved ones. Everyone was suspicious of close proximity. And then there were disappearances of activists and poets across the country,” says Grover. “So I started to build on the idea of disappearance, sometimes with the virus growing amidst us and sometimes due to the metaphorical violence.”
Grover started with a simple storyline about a people’s poet who goes missing. In the course of the story, you end up meeting people who knew the poet, some closely, others from afar. These include admirers, rumour mongers, and researchers of the poet’s legacy. Grover then worked with a set of coders who could imagine the world from which the poet had gone missing. The audience never meets the poet, it just hears about his life and how a poet’s curse consumed him entirely. “From this, significant things open up, about how words affect people, the kind of challenges that poets face, and why governments fear them so much,” he says.
SA Virtual can be viewed till 21 December on www.serendipityartsvirtual.com