When Ramkinkar was asked whether he privileged sculpture or painting, he said “I ride two horses at the same time”. He rode a third horse as well and this was performance — theatre and song — which he loved with equal passion. The project, 409 Ramkinkars, proposed the aesthetics of installation as a prompt for theatre. And the other way around — theatre as a prompt to conceive an installation.
Just as site specific installations take from architecture the plan and structure of objects in space, theatre is present within installation practice as a performative mis-enscène. The positioning of sculptural forms, the presence of the (spectator’s) body within an immersive ambience; these and many other attributes make installation art and theatre twinned genres.
I proposed to my colleagues in theatre, Anuradha Kapur and Santanu Bose, that Ramkinkar’s third horse be set off on a new journey — and on a road that takes unexpected turns. Or that his boat (another of Ramkinkar’s metaphors) be set afloat on choppy waters. Even as Ramkinkar tested a wide range of linguistic approaches to evolve his modernist practice — often shifting between figurative and abstract bodies — he found support in the Santiniketan ethos. This enabled him to make monumental outdoor sculptures in the space of the university which itself became a performative act with public value. Recognising this, we felt that Ramkinkar’s acuity, his practice as well as his renowned charisma, would do very well within the genre of what is called promenade, or immersive, theatre. At the IGNCA, we used the wide frame of the architecturally diverse buildings and the large garden-compound for this purpose.
Ramkinkar had suggested that the audience, before being seated, should be asked to walk onto the stage and look at his sets. Here, in our project, the audience entered (as if) an art exhibition, and then the ‘studio’ of the artist. Already the exhibition halls with many pillars suggested a spatialisation similar to a stage set. These became ‘stations’ for 12 performance tableaux (based on a range of Ramkinkar’s artworks) enacted simultaneously over a period of about 20 minutes. The spectators make up the crowd that circulates in an art/ theatre mela. In planning the navigation of these disparate spaces, a nonlinear narrative emerged. Here, then, is a vivid interface between the spatial and the temporal.
There is little difference between strategies of installation art and contemporary scenography: the layout of the sets maneuvers the art-object as it maneuvers the fragments of the story. To this purpose, I used the known aesthetics of the found-object and of quotation. I foregrounded process and dismantled the aura by declaring the limited life of objects through the duration of the play — I then retrieved these as artworks reinstated in exhibitions. My theatre colleagues, in their turn, explored the inclusive nature of this art theatre format to represent Ramkinkar: a re-take, an interpretation and an occasion for discussion.
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