FEB 27 – It will be impossible for most to ignore the claustrophobia that is wont to creep up when they find themselves enclosed in a small, squarish room confronting a blown-up projection of a video in which scenes and colours flash and change at an almost epileptic frequency. The experience of watching Humanimal, a 47-minute performance by Lora Dimova and Ana Gutieszca, as its recorded version is being screened at the Gallery Mcube in Chakupat can be a testing one in this sense. The screen flashes disturbingly as combinations of red, black, yellow and white create startling images of death and degeneration. And the music—a droll, monotonous, mechanical-demonic screeching-chanting sequence of sounds—keeps assaulting the ears all the while.

I couldn’t help myself as the nausea kicked in, and was much relieved when the performance, and the video that had recorded it, came to an end. Gutieszca, as I have since come to learn, is a Mexican visual and sound artist whose work “deals with drawing, and its deconstruction into sound in performance art” while Dimova is a Bulgarian multidisciplinary artist who “explores possibilities of physical transcendence, psychic orders and disorders, alternative existence, and other body and mind matters” in her art. No wonder then that their three-quarters-of-an-hour-long video proved a challenge to watch, much less in a sufficiently peopled room that was also rather insufficiently dimensioned for the purpose for which it was being used.

That Gutieszca and Dimova are out to disconcert their audience is evident from the start, and their Humanimal is powerful, even transcendent. I wonder, though, how many of us in Kathmandu have the patience and visual-aural education to view it in its entirety for what it is. It is easy to read the video as a commentary on the animalism that humanity is so vehement on denying in itself.  But the nuance of the performance, the significance of its full 47 minutes, might end up lost here, as it was on me. And because the two-hour succession of seven performance art videos—being screened simultaneously at Lalitpur’s Mcube and in Finland’s Helsinki-based Third Space under the Made in mind | Nepal-Finland Screening Project banner—begins with this video, Humanimal sets something of a claustrophobic tone for the entire viewing experience. The sense of being closed up in a small room with nothing to do but look at the screen in front of you and listen to the sounds blaring out of a set of speakers set in its corner—no matter how easy or difficult that may prove to be—leaves the viewer feeling robbed of a choice.

A sense of being closed up lingers even as the much easier to watch, but less easily comprehensible and more political State of Nation IV, part of a performance series that the Messianic Research Centre for Visual Ethics (MRCVE) started in 2010, follows. As recorded at the GlogauAir Contemporary Arts Centre in Berlin in 2012, State of Nationa IV analyses, according to the official Mcube and Third Space introductions, the “fundamental localisation of nationalism, and takes detailed action to reveal its basics”. What nationalism in our time is, the artists seem to be purporting here, is a long thread of cultural-commercial symbols that have as much value as the waste that comes out of our rear ends every morning; nobody would want to touch that thread. MRCVE has such an absurd-hilarious way of articulating this statement that their assertion still seems fresh close to a century since humanity’s faith in nationalism and rationalism was irreparably shaken by the great world wars.

The “brutal sounds and harsh movements” of Sabotanic Garden follow next with a recording of their 2009 performance of Hever. Their work is introduced as having “neo-folkloristic and ritualistic influences (that) crash with twisted humour and a free-space oriented physical approach”. The carefully constructed manic intensity of their performance does not belie this introduction, but then again, the video is something of a challenge to get through. At 43 minutes long, it is something Nepali viewers are certainly not used to, and one feels like one needs to be on a certain plane of hyper-consciousness if one is to come close to communing with the performance. The very nature of the exhibition space—the screening space, rather—does not help much either, and the issue of how we in Nepal might learn to better access such art is one that needs serious pondering.

Performances by the Nepali artists—Jupiter Pradhan, Saurganga Darshandhari, Prithvi Shrestha and Manish Lal Shrestha—are much more accessible to viewers here. At close to five minutes each, these performances are what the Nepali public is most used to viewing, and because they deal with issues that are close to home, they are much easier to access as well. Jupiter Pradhan’s F_air_are_ear Play, recorded in December of 2011, and Manish Lal Shrestha’s Rebirth, recorded in February of 2014, stand out as the better conceptualised and executed of the four, while Darshandhari’s Politics (performed in December 2014) comes across as the weakest. Prithvi Shrestha hovers somewhere in between as his Sound (also performed in December 2014) fails to deliver on the promise of its central concept: the association of life with sound.

In Darshandhari’s video, shot at Bouddha’s Taragaon Museum, the artist comes across as going through a series of motions whose significance does not carry through to her actions. As she throws a bunch of colourful feathers in the air and rubs her hands and feet in red vermillion and gold dust by turns, the glaringly obviously symbolisms of these colours (red rebellion and gold greed would be one) do little to transform ‘action’ into ‘art’. Pradhan’s performance, on the other hand, is a joy to watch. As the gold-faced, sharp-nosed Brahmin of Nepali politics and governance (the Bahun Baje who is simply everywhere), he delivers a powerful pastiche that is not just relevant to our time but also ingenious in how cleverly it has been crafted. Shrestha’s Rebirth is pretty straightforward in its execution, but the artist’s use of movement, light, sound and colour give this performance a character that does its central premise more than fair justice. As the artist struggles on the floor, inside a bright, red, cumulous cocoon that he cannot find his way out of, it is as if he is performing the dance of creation; the temple bells chiming in the distance and the light of the hundreds of candles around him only complete this dreamscape.

Gallery Mcube and Third Space have gotten together to screen these videos with the intent of “presenting works strongly bound to each other through the notions of personal and collective freedom”. While these notions are more easily accessed in some videos than in others, this first of what will likely be more Nepali-Finnish collaborations, I think, serves to introduce the Nepali public to contemporary global performance art. The genre is not as easily recognised as ‘art’ here as are paintings and sculptures, but as a form that emerged exactly because more traditional ones proved insufficient in ‘expanding the boundaries of art’—something our contemporary artists seem to be endeavouring to, it will be interesting to see how it will come to be accepted and understood in Kathmandu.

Screening begins at 1 o’clock this afternoon

by Rachana Chettri/ The Kathmandu Post


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