In a packed hall of Queens Museum, New York, in March 2015, the audience was amused when visual artist Mithu Sen confronted them in gibberish. With a child on the floor, she posed serious questions, shouting in spurts and murmuring a few words, evoking a sense of curiosity.
The screening of her performance Tongue That Won’t Stop Wounding, which was brimming with emotions of restive anger, left viewers seated at the Amphitheatre in India Habitat Centre as curious, on Thursday evening. “When somebody speaks in an unknown language, one looks at tones, hand movements and body language to interpret meaning. How else will you know if the artist is angry, excited or happy? ” said Deeksha Nath. Her curated show “Apophenic Talks: An Enacted Conversation” was the final installment of the curtain raiser for the 6th edition of ILF Samanvay, the annual Indian language festival, which begins on November 5.
Offering the essence of language in varying formats, performance artiste Amitesh Grover took the reins and kick-started a discussion, with dramaturge Arnika Ahldag and Akansha Rastogi, senior curator at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. “Apophenic Talks is based on the idea of hyperlinks. While visiting a wiki page, clicking on the hyperlinks takes the reader to a related site which may not be contradictory but offers something different and takes you on a journey. So we came up with the format where even if we were to repeat this talk on language, we will have to come up with other connections and ways to say these things,” said Grover.
He referenced art historian James Elkins and his book Pictures and Tears, in which Elkins browses through visitor’s books across galleries in France and delves into comments by visitors, who spent hours crying in front of paintings. “There is no other account of what made these visitors cry. What was in those works? It unveils a slow language that unfolds in front of artworks if you give it time,” said Grover. Rastogi shared anecdotes of her grandfather, a moneylender, who recorded his financial transactions in a language nobody could decipher. “To understand it, you had to learn it. Since I was a girl who couldn’t take up the profession, I was not initiated into this language,” she said.
American artist Ken Feingold’s art installation comprising two talking heads was Grover’s muse. “Feingold worked with a hacker to collect sentences from the internet, beginning with ‘I’ and ‘You’. The talking heads replayed these findings. Their dialogues remind us of conversations shared between lovers,” he said. There were sentences that said “I love you”, “You make me feel so good” and “Now you see why I start fighting with you”.
The audience were free to weave in their own experiences at the talk. An attendee revealed how during childhood his constant demands for money from his mother were never met when he kept pestering her. “On the days when I kept quiet, she would voluntarily give me money.”
Nath said the idea of the talk was to create multiple conversations. “Usually artistes present themselves to the audience but there is no space for the audience to bring their own experiences. This format is like having a public conversation, while giving an insight into the artiste’s interests, practices, research, history and memory,” she said.