The last time I saw Rehaan Engineer, I glimpsed his red underwear. Last night when I saw him in the distance, he was wearing a Superman t-shirt. Hmmm….
I’m not stalking Mr. Engineer, as much as I’m tempted to. In fact, I could have been in a room with a bed in close proximity to Mr. Engineer and listen to him murmur as only he can about his past love affairs. However, my Bengali genes with commitment to good art encoded into the DNA, won over my oestrogen levels. Rehaan Engineer performing “The Bedtime Stories” from 10pm to 6am or a smattering of good art and then the comforts of my own bed … tick tock tick tock… I picked the bed without engineering. Damn.
For the past ten years, Khoj in New Delhi has been fighting the good fight in the world of contemporary Indian art. They’ve promoted experimental art which has sometimes been awesome and often been weird enough to qualify for comedy or bad enough to give people a Pavlovian reaction to the word “experiment”. It isn’t Khoj’s success rate that makes them stand out; it’s the fact that this collective of artists and thinkers are doing their best to promote the idea of intelligent, non-commercial art. It isn’t art for art’s sake or for the market’s sake. It’s art for their ideals’ sake, or at least it tries to be. Khoj is trying to create a critical mass in this country where there are no degrees in art history and art schools give students themes like “Christ on the Cross” to work with (this is in MS University, Vadodara, which is considered the best one in the country). The artists who have been part of Khoj in these past ten years may not all be good. Few, if any, are auction scorchers. But their works have been fun challenges for the viewer. If not anything else, it’s made for great anecdotes for those odd moments when you stand in a group and find no one has anything to say.
To celebrate the fact that Khoj has survived ten years, it’s organised the country’s first performance art festival, titled Live ’08. It’s a week-long bash being held in galleries across New Delhi and artists from all over India and some from Pakistan have come to do their thing. There are also the requisite number of white faces required to give an event in India its credibility and gravitas – Da Motus (Swiss), Steven Cohen (South Africa), Fred Koenig, JC Lanquetin (French), Boris Nieslony (German), Doug Fishbone (American) and so on. Mr. Engineer, with his “The Bedtime Stories”, is one of the participating artists. Other names, in no particular order, Sonia Khurana, Nikhil Chopra, Inderjit Salim and Maya Krishna Rao.
I’ve missed the following performances so far (in order of appearance):
Nikhil Chopra (not too miffed because I can’t imagine he’d have something more exciting than the three-day performance he did in Mumbai recently)
JC Lanquetin (slightly scary photographs which makes me think it could have been interesting)
Zuleikha and Manish Chaudhari (near naked writhing bodies that “create a physical language which translates text into a series of visual registers”; definitely missed collecting some anecdotal banter there)
Da Motus (lime green body suits, gas masks, acrobatics… they could be the mutant Blue Man Group!)
Fred Koenig (didn’t see his full performance but did glimpse a bit of it which makes me think this might have been interesting)
Rehaan Engineer (sigh…)
Varsha Nair (has done interesting things in the past looking at the idea of home and displacement which I understood and liked; I think she did this routine where she creates a drawing by walking around sticking construction tape on the floor)
Artmaharaj and Mrs. Manmeet (the brochure shows them kissing on a park bench with thought bubbles showing the kissers aren’t focussed on kissing but on Frida Kahlo and Ram Kinkar Baij – wow! Did you know people don’t always think about the other person when kissing? Omygawd! More helpfully, the royal blog has some pictures from Live ’08)
Asmina Ranjit (artist from Nepal, educated at the University of Tasmania and Columbia University; I’m frightened just reading her bio. There’s no way I’m intelligent enough to understand what she does by pouring paint on herself – see pictures in Artmaharaj’s blog – or playing with stuffed toys)
IngridMwangiRibertHutter (how can you not want to see an artist with a name like that? His work explores “the intrinsic fragility of human existence”)
Mehr Javed (if the whispering crowd is to be believed, this was the best performance so far. Young Pakistani artist sits on a chair which is placed in a circle. She is wearing a gas mask to hide her very pretty face. Attached to the gas mask are goat lungs. Real goat lungs. Her performance involved blowing her breath into the goat lungs and then sucking that same air out, making it seem as though it’s the goat lungs that are keeping her alive. I’d like to see how Greg House would react to Ms. Javed)
Sonia Khurana (the last thing I saw of hers was a little video with her prancing about naked. I have nothing against nude fat people, especially since when I’m wearing no clothes I’m a nude fat person, but Ms. Khurana’s adipose and cellulite told me as much about “the dynamics of identity” as my adipose and cellulite does – nothing)
Doug Fishbone (sad to have missed this because his little bio was made of words that actually made sense to me – so rare in art)
But I did catch some stuff which, of course, deserves a post of its own.
To be continued…