Let the body talk

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Panchkula, April 18 (IANS) Even when there is no lockdown, the most striking feature is the deafening silence. Like someone is waiting in ambush. The drive to the place seems to set a premise — hairpin curves, thick forests, a wildlife sanctuary and several monsoon streams.
Barring some villagers and couples from the Tricity out for a drive and a quick chilled beverage in the car, it seems the place has been abandoned, almost in a hurry. Except a thoroughly bored forest guard, who checks the car’s boot for weapons on the foothills, the stillness enroute the Healing Hill Art Space, situated in Morni, Haryana’s only hill station, just 35 kilometres from Panchkula, is undisturbed.
Established in 2014, HHAS is a peculiar art space, especially when it comes to Performance art. Designed to offer artists an environment conducive to individual and collaborative creative practice, it seeks to stimulate an energetic exchange of ideas between culturally diverse ethos and across varied artistic fields and scholarly disciplines.
While known as a space primary for Performance Art , it also opens its doors to writers, architects, filmmakers and ceramists. In fact, before the lockdown, HHAS did an experimental dance-related project at its dance studio.
Hidden from plain sight, so far, around 150 international performance artists from across the world and around 40 performance artists from India have performed and spent their time during numerous projects apart from two Performance Art Biennales held here.
Established by artist Harpreet Singh in 2014, who shuttles between Morni Hills, Chandigarh and Auckland, the residency is situated overlooking the Badisher Valley as the Ghaggar river winds through with views of terraced farms in Morni Hills.
This year’s program included an exchange project between HHAS and RIAP, Quebec, Canada, in which four Indian and seven Canadian artists would visit each other’s countries. Also, on the cards was the third edition of Morni Hills Performance Art Biennale, to be held in October in which more than forty artists from around were expected to participate. “The lockdown in face of COVID-19 has now pushed everything. We will now need to reschedule,” he says.
HHAS’s primary objectives include promoting interest, awareness and understanding of visual arts in the rural community through engagement with the artist; developing visual arts projects in the countryside, where emerging artists work alongside established ones in a secluded residential campus.
HHAS, which will soon have a printmaking and ceramics studio too will, provides Indian and non-Indian based artists with the opportunity to live and work in Morni Hills for the period of three months.
“The program also organises a diverse range of talks, presentations, performances and open studios as a means to establishing links between visiting artist and the public, stimulating discussions on the artists’ ideas and their work in progress. We generate interdisciplinary projects by working with artists and other professionals who explore challenging social and environmental issues, often involving people from communities,” adds Singh.
Set up from his own funds (“who wants to get into bureaucratic hassles that coming with taking state funding”), Singh has been involved with Performance Art since 1998. “It was while studying in Morningside College of Art in Brisbane. Conceptual art was very strong during those days there. I was quite influenced by the book ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ by Walter Benjamin and by the works of performance artist Teching Hsieh.”
Insisting that this art form is most liberating, as the foremost purpose of Performance Art has almost always been to challenge the conventions of traditional forms of visual art including painting and sculpture, he adds that when these modes no longer seem to answer artists’ needs – when they seem too conservative and too distant from ordinary people – artists have often turned to Performance in order to find new audiences and test novel ideas.
“Performance Art is immediate and sometimes spontaneous. It has a peculiar characteristic of appealing directly to a large public, as well as shocking audiences into reassessing their own notions of art and its relation to culture,” he adds.
Talk to him about the fact that most Indian art schools refrain from teaching Performance Art in their syllabus, and he stresses that this form is a very intense way of ‘meeting’ other people. The possibility of sharing the same space in a given time which is the ‘here and now’, offers a special quality to the meeting.
“I feel that Performance Art is a way to deal with the outside world in direct communication which is mostly body-related. It’s sad when students from the sub-continent miss this as well as other new media art from their syllabus. I believe students have immense energy to vent out their creativity through different mediums. However, most of the art institutes here are stuck with the traditional streams. It’s high time that they overhaul the system and integrate Performance and other alternative mediums.”