Sitting on a hill, below mountains. The fog is slowly creeping through the valley and turning this little house into a vacuum. It is my third day in Morni Hills (or more specific Badi Sher) and each day I have taken the route down the hill to the river below. I can feel how I’m already slowing down and how the day unfolds without too much concern for production and achievements. This morning we went to a tailor in the village below to fit some trousers for Hapreet (who is the owner of Morni Hills Art Collective). We sat in the tailor’s little room chatting or just watching him work and it took around an hour and a half and the time just floated as the river.
The feeling of being in the hills is tremendous and I have been here with Harpreet, Lekhram and Ram (the housekeeper) and we have eaten, chatted, drunk chai and slept. From tomorrow I will be here alone with Ram for a week or so before Lekhram comes back. Harpreet is going to the Philippines for a performance festival there (I would have loved to have joined him, though my visa does not allow double entry). So Harpeet has been very good in giving me a lot of advice and vocabulary so I can communicate with Ram, who only speaks Punjab (I think) and Hindi, which is what I am learning. I can say a few words and sentences and am super good at counting to 10! I really want to learn just a bit and keep improving, especially after living in Rome and Bratislava and not really learning either languages, so this time I have time and desire to learn.
We have also spoken a lot about art and I like Harpreet’s views, where he (if I understand right) sees arts as a way to spark curiosity and open up for a new way to perceive something. He further see three ways of an artist:
1. Pure freedom of creativity and exploration
2. Find strategies of making money on your art
3. Do whatever necessary to be able to make art
I particularly like the latter, as hardly any artist has the chance to indulge in 1 or 2 or a combination of the two. Though more importantly, what I like about it is that it encourages a broader understanding of art, in which it becomes a practice of living, rather than a practice of art. Art is vital as it is a way, for some, to engage and understand the world around – a way to philosophy and to grow/evolve as a human being. What I love about this is that it takes aware the importance of art and yet at the same time make it as vital as breathing for an artist. I had a conversation with an established artist and she said that she earns money on everything else than her art (workshops, lectures, talks, teacher etc), which appeared to frustrate her a little. However, I see this as extremely positive and something I would like to strive for, because this artist at evolved and become the person she is due to the art she has made – and it is this person (evolved through art) who people wants to teach, give lectures etc. Basically what I am saying is that we must not separate the artist, art works and the person. Her knowledge gained as an artist – through her art -, makes her attractive as a person full of experiences, thoughts, feelings, perspectives and views. Her art-making has manifested in her person – a practical philosopher/activist/living. This view has been confirmed in the practices I have encountered here in India, where eating, sleeping, working, praying, health etc. are all part of the practice of i.e. a Buddhist or sikh – all elements are vital and one thing is not separated from another. In the same way I would like to think of my own role as an artist – it is a practice for me to be in the world, of which I use an aesthetic, conceptual and bodily language to touch my surroundings and the world I move within. Thus performance becomes irrelevant as good or bad, but rather the specificity of a person – with all the experiences, ideas, thoughts and views – in action. Though the art is not irrelevant, it is exactly the body (being) making the art (engaged in art) that becomes significant. To use a nomadic quote, this body and action ‘become the site of multiple connections’ – of multitude processes from within the body and in connection with the environment external to that body.
Though this philosophy must not only be exclusive for the artist, also carpenters, architects and many more, use their profession/expression/language as an engagement of thought, which is activated through their body – a body that is loaded with food rituals, sleep, encounters, perceptions. Their of course then lie a choice in how an individual seek to engage with an external environment and want to perceive the entire spectrum of work, sleep, food, health etc as part of a whole, which cannot be separated. What is important in regards to the artist, in this text, is that I practice art or rather living, where art is a way I learn, understand, expand and express my thoughts and feelings.
Where this blog is meant as a place to write about my travels and thoughts, it has equally become present to me that I have a need to consciously pay attention to a stirring question within myself. The question is somewhat banal and overly philosophic, however also practical and I think very interesting. I have reached a point where I am satisfied with my achievements, yet without losing desires to expand my knowledge. This means that I feel the need to spend time on what I want to do and what is important to me, both personally and what direction I want to take and use my art. While being here in the Hill I have had many ideas in regards to curating events and being in India has inspired me a lot, as well as affirmed the approaches I use are right for me. Now I just have to spend some time shaping these ideas and find the bravery (or feel the right gut feeling) of bringing them into life. This I will do by walking, writing, reading, climbing, eating and breathing… it is in my body and I know it is slowly is surfacing and just have to give it time and thought.
On a personal note, this also means that feeling what is important for me now and following those needs, such as spending time outside and less on the computer. I came with the desire to be inspired by the world and that I want to take serious (a note to myself, I guess).
Anyhow, enough of all this. I also have to unfold my travels so far in text.
Kolkata was, as described earlier, an overwhelming experience that most have covered the whole spectrum of emotions, because it was my first weeks in Kolkata and that the city is so chaotic.
Notes from 29th Jan (on the train from Sealdah Station, Kolkata to New Delhi station):
“Rolling further and further away from Kolkata towards New Delhi train station. It is my 20th day and I’m almost back to where I began, however, only shortly as I will take the first train to Chandigarh to meet Harpreet Singh. Perhaps it is also time to look back at the days in Kolkata and the intensity experienced in the city, let alone being my first weeks in India.
It is impossible to think of Kolkata and not think of the traffic and the roads covered by highway roofs, where even more cars are speeding and horning their way through tis polluted jungle. Is Kolkata beautiful? Only if you include it all! I mean you have to surrender to the entirety of the city, with busy roads, small lanes, street sellers, homeless, traffic, colonial buildings, the river, the plastic shores, the ghats, the smell of urine, dogs, rubbish, shit, roof terraces, black-smoke puffing boats, constant noise, wonderful music, trees, cows, gods, weed, rice, curries, roti, naans, dut chai, being white, unwanted photos, taxies, uber, autos and busy people, chilled people, happy people, hand shakes, nodding heads, miscommunication and of course art.”
Performance-wise I managed to do three performances, which you can find documentation here:
1: performance in Victoria Memorial
2: Breath / Break #9
3: Breath / Break #10
Being part of KIPAF was both a wonderful way to place both my feet in India/West Bengal and on the other hand a bit frustrating organisationally. I loved their idea of spending many days to get to know each other, however, a little more structure and ambition could have been nice. One of the other artists suggested that they tried to avoid the word professionalism, which I think was quite poignant (you can be anti-structure and institutional and yet be professional in the execution). Anyhow, I spent a lot of time with Nanxi and Rokko and I enjoyed our talks, jokes and screaming at the constant sound of car blowing their horns!! And also got to know Alexander from Sofia, Bulgaria, who I found very encouraging to chat with as he has a wonderful way of perceiving things, which challenge my thoughts. And he has demanded that I come to Sofia, so I’ll look forward to that.
After Kolkata, Rokko and I went to the Ganges Delta, south of Kolkata, right to the edge, facing the Bengal bay. The calm, compared to Kolkata, was well needed and we enjoyed fresh fish and on our second day we walked along the beach till there was hardly any people – only a few fishermen checking their nets. One came over and showed us a crab he had caught – it was very angry and was pointing its one claw at us, as a big fat “fuck you”. Though spending time at the beach was amazing and putting our feet in the water was golden. It was really like a desert, just sitting in the middle of nowhere, doing nothing…
Here are some of the photos, taken by Rokko
And I almost forgot – we saw a snake!! it was at least 2m and we both freaked out a little and after that we “saw” snakes everywhere!!!
On the third day, I had to leave early in the morning with a bus directly to Kolkata. Firstly I have never seen such a calm bus driver. Secondly I have never experienced such a crazy driving bus driver. The amount of head-on collisions I though would happen is beyond me and with the bus-horn down for 5 hour solid, it was an experience that literally blew my head apart! Though nothing happened and I arrived easily to Kolkata, yet I’m still amazed of the driving consensus drivers have on the road. So much chaos and traffic and cars, autos (tuk-tuks), bikes, people, cows etc everywhere and still everything flow more or less, and I’m yet to see an accident (though I hope not to see one). In Kolkata I knew my way, which was great and on my way to the train station – to go to Delhi and then Chandigarh – I had a long needed haircut. The salon is quite cool, where shaving (with knife and foam), haircut and massage are offered and you sit in these old chairs, which reminds me of the 50’s. Really nice and good haircut!
The journey went to Sealdah station, where an 18 hour journey lied ahead, with food and sleeping reservation, so quite comfy. Here is a photo of what it looks like. However, the journey became much longer, as fog, which is notoriously known to delay trains at this time of year, extended our journey with nine and a half hours, which there was nothing to do about other than accept it. Instead it gave me time to speak to my fellow travellers, who of course are quite curious of what this white guy is doing. Here it is also worth mentioning that it is odd to be exotic here. I mean people come up on the street and without saying hello, asks for a photos with you, whereafter they leave. It is both strange and a bit uncomfortable, firstly that I don’t really like to be on photos and secondly that their interest as nothing to do with me other than I’m white. Now I can only guess how it must feel to have darker skin in Europe!! Though a strange thing did happen in the train. There was a 7 year old boy, who just starred at me when I was reading, eating, talking etc. and not in this hidden way, as he full on and obviously starred at me…! I’m still to figure out how I felt about that other than uncomfortable… Though we spoke in the train and spoke this and that. One man said “why say we need his much money before we can do something or we need to be this age before we will get married or have children? – just do it and don’t predict the future”. A logical idea, I thought. However, with the delay I was missing my change to get to Chandigarh with train and was a bit unsure what to do, though lucky for me the people in my carriage were kind to help and a young man, who was going to the bus station (to got to Meerut, where he worked in the military as a truck driver) guided me there and got me a bus ticket to Chandigarh. I was very happy to go directly to Chandigarh and not have to wait in Delhi somewhere. However, as my previous bus journey, this one was also crazy. Completely pressed together in an over full bus, with luggage g up the middle aisle and with yet again a crazy bus driver, made the experience an experience! We left Delhi at 23.30, so it was natural to try to sleep, but what a bumpy ride, where I would jump in my seat at times and with the negotiation of the people next to you and with window open, it was unfortunately an uncomfortable affair. Though I did manage to sleep a little and arrived in Chandigarh around 4 in the morning, which was meant to be 3, as far as I understood (and maybe I misunderstood). This meant that Harpreet waited almost an hour for me and when I got hold of him, we were at two different station. I felt quite bad, as it was so late and would disrupt his sleep. Though he seemed to be relaxed about it (and knowing him for a few days, I’m sure it is okay as a one off).
So my first day in Chandigarh I stayed at Harpreet’s parents house, where he and his family also live (wife, daughter and son). A very kind a sweet family, with a big dog. Grandfather who is very tall and grandmother who is tiny, but very smily. Harpreet took be to the Art College (where he took his bachelors) and to the art museum next to it, where Lekhram guided me around. I particularly loved the shawls from Kashmir and other that was folk made (women would sit together and sow them, while chatting, so as a communal activity) and the miniature drawing and painting. Both super detailed and so easy to indulge oneself in. Lastly I also enjoyed the paintings of Le Corbusier, who also was one the main architect behind Chandigarh (first begun-visioned by architect was Albert Mayer) as a City (it has a string resemblance to Milton Keynes’ urban design). Harpreet also took me to the Rock Garden, which is an overwhelming up-cycling project, which took place over several centuries and now covers 40 acres. It was begun by one man – Nek Chand -, who illegally began to built the garden and kept it a secret fro 18 years before it was discovered (which is quite an achievement in itself). It has a feeling of walking through something ancient, despite it was begun in 1950s. I could attempt to describe, however here is a link to photos, which says it all (and yes, everything is made, placed and constructed – everything!!):
Now in Chandigarh, sitting in one of the many beds, which from September will be hosting artists, dancers, residencies etc. more description and photos of it later, though so far, here is a photo by Rokko (and others of His and Nanxi Liu’s collaborative performance), who were here a couple of weeks before me.