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Artistic spaces that defy genres

  • A niche set of experimental spaces that foster creative collaboration across genres and disciplines
  • Not all are housed within permanent structures. Some are temporary, making a sudden appearance only for a couple of weeks

Audiovisual journey ‘Dastaan Live’. Courtesy: Oddbird Theatre and Foundation
Audiovisual journey ‘Dastaan Live’. Courtesy: Oddbird Theatre and Foundation

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At Oddbird Theatre, a black box space housed within a refurbished warehouse in Chattarpur, Delhi, a unique collaboration seems to be taking place—one which transcends art forms and time frames. Sound and light designers, musicians and scenographers can be seen engaging with the timeless works of yesteryear poets such as Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi and Pash.

As lights flash on stage, one can hear traffic sound, interspersed with percussion beats. Giant walls behind the stage transform into a screen on to which everyday scenes from Delhi are projected. Titled Dastaan Live, this genre-defying act presents an audiovisual journey through the city, and of ordinary people who have led extraordinary lives.

Produced by Sandbox Collective—a group of 12 artists, this multidisciplinary experience, on view till 21 April, presents a mix of theatrical narrative, live music, archival footage, and more.

Today, Oddbird—founded in 2016 by former advertising and marketing professional Shambhavi Singh and Akhil Wable, who had a background in technology and product design—forms part of a niche set of experimental spaces, that foster creative collaboration across genres. Take, for instance, Table Radica, presented there on 13 April. Based on the life of playwright Habib Tanvir, it was an immersive community table experience with food, documentation, found footage, theatre, etc.

‘Table Radica’, an immersive community table experience. Courtesy: Oddbird Theatre and Foundation
‘Table Radica’, an immersive community table experience. Courtesy: Oddbird Theatre and Foundation

The antecedents of such a concept can be traced back to experimental theatre villages, such as Heisnam Kanhailal’s Kalakshetra Manipur and Ninasam in Heggodu, Karnataka. Just like these alternative-theatre hubs, many of the new-age collaborative spaces are located far from the urban milieu—tucked away in forests, sleepy little towns by the beach, villages high up in the mountains. So, there is Karma Yatri Travel and Art, or Kyta, set in the picturesque village of Kalga in Himachal Pradesh’s Parvati Valley. Founded by Hashim Qayoom, co-owner of travel agency Karma Yatri and curator Shazeb Shaikh, the initiative brings together Indian and international artists to produce collaborative work in a span of five weeks, between September and October.

“Kyta started in 2014 to make travel more meaningful. There needed to be more ways of connecting with the local community,” says Qayoom. A chance meeting with a group of artists in Delhi led him to realize the potential of Kyta as a collaborative space. Since he didn’t have an arts background, he sought out people who did, and chanced upon Shaikh. Together, they created the programme, with the local community at the heart of it.

One has seen some interesting projects emerge from this tiny hamlet. The most striking of these is An Allusion To A Cloud, a project first helmed by Delhi-based architect Ameet Singh in 2014. “Ameet created a three-dimensional screen by cutting strips of translucent material. An image, taken in the region, was projected on to this. Every layer caught on to the image, creating the effect of a cloud,” says Qayoom. Singh approached a Brazilian sound artist, Fernando Visockis, who was also at Kyta at the time, to create a track that evoked the effect of sunlight passing through apple trees. The artist took on the challenge and installed light and motion sensors on the trees. The electrical impulses from these were converted into digital sound signatures, and a track was created. “Last year, we had a French artist who was fascinated by insect patterns. He worked with a Kullu weaver to create shawls based on those patterns,” says Qayoom.

The collaborations at such spaces, which are seeing a lot more takers of late, are not restricted just to seemingly artistic disciplines, but extend to activism, philosophy, social justice and mental health. At Tatva, Goa, for instance, artists can be seen engaging in creative dialogue with mental health professionals. Creative expression, in the form of exhibitions, performances and readings, emerges as a result of this dialogue about emotional and spiritual well-being. Started by psychotherapist David Stanton and psychologist Kripi Malviya in 2016, Tatva is an ideal space for anyone who wants to test his or her creativity.

“It is sought by those who are sensitive to their internal world,” says Malviya. The length of the therapeutic residency for artists varies according to the individual.

“These creative synergies are very organic. Last year, a French photographer and an Indian electronic musician were at Tatva at the same time. They weren’t able to hit it off immediately and both had certain blocks,” she says. However, regular sessions over time saw them entering into a creative dialogue. “They now have performances planned in both France and India,” says Malviya, who is in the midst of the collaborative programme, Sorge, open to artists of all genres till May.

However, not all experimental spaces are housed within permanent structures. Some of these are temporary, making a sudden appearance for a couple of weeks, to be dismantled and taken somewhere else—in a new format and style. A stark example of this is the School of Everyday initiated by contemporary artist Mriganka Madhukaillya, which moved on a nomadic trail through Guwahati, often reclaiming public spaces. The idea was to create an alternative platform for an imaginative reconstitution of culture, media practices, research and critical thinking.

“A lot of us, living in the peripheral zones, don’t have access to art history. So, we invited 22 artists and art students to engage in a conversation about theatre, philosophy, activism and ecology, based on everyday lived experiences,” says Madhukaillya. He is also now planning a similar initiative—based on the summer and winter school format—in a forest to look at the intersection of disciplines and ideas. Similarly, a couple of years ago, the town of Payyanur, in Kerala, became the centre for a unique theatre experiment helmed by director Abhilash Pillai. One could see practices such as Theyyam, magic and acrobatics come together with puppeteers and contemporary theatre practitioners to present an interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Tempest. Titled Talatum, this was presented at Serendipity Arts Festival Goa 2016.

“A space, which is ever-changing and movable, starts to draw from the soil, the sights and smells of the location. In a few months, I will be collaborating again with circus artists and different practitioners to imagine performance spaces within informal setups. And also, ways of finding livelihood for circus artists,” says Pillai, who is also an associate professor of acting at the National School of Drama.

The rise of these alternative platforms also reflects the changing nature of the audience. “Some people used to come for theatre. But, over time, they have started attending electronic music performances as well. People are becoming more genre-agnostic,” says Shambhavi Singh.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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