A place of performance is a venue which lies at the intersection of every social dimension that has been adversely impacted by the pandemic: performance, congregation, rituals, learning, expression and spaces & opportunities for them all. Architecture – on ground/ in practice – is a slow medium and, notwithstanding the stop-gap interventions, takes time to exhibit change, particularly because two of its main protagonists – society & capital – are very stubborn in their resistance to change. However, having spent two entire cycles of seasons in physical incarceration due to the pandemic, perhaps we are now in a position to directly deal with the question of our spatial response to the condition, even if it is within the hypothetical realm of a project.
Funded by IFA as an Art Practice Project, this opportunity is very special. It is neither contained in the domain of institutional academia nor in professional consultancy. Both bring restrictions of quantitative evaluations – grades and budgets, respectively – which can be detrimental to the pursuit of discovery. However, the project can also benefit from belonging to both domains in being propelled by academic rigor & freedom, while being self-regulated by the pragmatism & distance necessary in professional service, respectively. The project, therefore, is conceived as a studio/ residency with a unique pedagogical framework of encouraging participants to discover their embodied individuality within an intimate collective, while engaging with multidisciplinary processes to create six diverse places of performance.
APPLICATION & SELECTION PROCESSES
The studio/ residency was open to senior students (4th year onward), recent graduates and professionals of architecture, urban design & interior design. It is essential that aspirants should be either practicing or earnestly interested in a performing art form, such as theater, dance, vocal or instrumental music, story-telling, martial art, Yoga etc.
As part of the application, aspirants shared a short response in text/ graphic narrative/ photo/ audio/ video to each of the following:
- Demonstrate your practice or interest in a chosen performing art form
- Share recollections of your earliest experience of performance
- Share examples of forms of theater & performances unique to your region or community
- How has the pandemic affected the daily and occasional rituals practiced by you/ your family’s/ your community?
- Share examples of thriving or abandoned spaces/ places in your neighborhood/ city which you think have the potential of becoming a place of performance
- What is your idea of Spatial Design Practice?
- Why would you like to participate in this residency?
Shortlisted applicants were interviewed, following which selected candidates were invited to participate in the eight-week program.
The studio begins with questions of the shifts & continuities following the pandemic in participants’ individual, domestic and communal patterns of practice and desires. This is intended to expand the definition of performances and their relationship to spaces. The anchor of personal experiences, however, is intended to keep the scale of this expansion relatable. Along with the recording of the said observations, the participants are required to carry out some other documentations within the first fortnight of the program. One is the memory of their earliest experience of performances in terms of cultural context, nature of congregation and the physical setting. The other documentation is of site of intervention within their own neighborhood/ hometown/ place of upbringing. Participants will also be encouraged to identify and document existing places which carry – in addition to some built-form – the potential of becoming a place for performances – either due to their popularity for congregation or from being abandoned. Each participant is also expected to identify forms of theater & performances unique to their region or community to help them imagine the inhabitation within the place that they design. All Documentation will be multi-media in terms of text, sketches, drawings, photographs, video etc.
Following this beginning, participants will arrive for the 4-week residency in New Delhi and move on to smaller design responses, and finally design a place for performance. The clues that the studio will follow are of the disruption of rituals – mundane as well as sacrosanct – and the disruption of breath. While the reference to the body in deriving or relating to architectural form isn’t uncommon, it is perhaps more critical now to ask, “How does this architecture breathe?”
Considering emphasis on the following, this studio will predominantly employ the workshop format
- Emotional presence rather than intellectual rigor alone
- Embodied responses and embodiment of processes
- Intimacy, intensity and spontaneity of engagements
- Structured and frequent challenges to individual work through group engagements
- Breaking the project down into shorter task or design time-frames of a week or fortnight
- Explorations & diversity in application of methods and mediums
The Design Residency is imagined as growing out of each participant’s personal & communal moorings. Remembering one’s earliest experience will be as important as imagining new possibilities and reflecting on processes & the self will be as important as observing examples & phenomena. Participants will be working in diverse & dynamic configurations: individually, in pairs and in triads through the course of the studio, which will significantly depend on inculcating the art of conversations. Participants’ intellect and intuitive predispositions will be both fostered and challenged in writing, spoken & graphic narratives and embodied processes of theater & movement. The studio output, thus, is not exclusively architecture. In addition to continuous discussions with peers and the facilitator, participants will also benefit from the three reviews with a pair of senior mentors scheduled intermittently during the course of the studio. Further, there will be input lectures/ workshops and a seminar with experts/ senior creative practitioners. Weekly/ fortnightly briefs will keep the participants informed about exercises, activities, deliverables and reviews scheduled for the studio.
PROJECT COORDINATOR’S NOTE
I am a New Delhi based architect, designer, creative practitioner & educator with a couple of decades of experience in cultural production and a decade long engagement with creative pedagogy. I have been a visiting faculty at CEPT University, NID & Anant National University in Ahmedabad and SPA, TDV & IIAD in the NCR. I am the founding partner of the multidisciplinary firm Design Pendulum and run hands-on multimedia workshops on creativity & emotions by the name image:medium:actor.
Our relationship to architecture is not unlike that to our parents. On a normal day, we see architecture without looking or look at it without really seeing. We feel it just as we embody our parents. Even spatial design practitioners and educators tend overlook this fundamental nature of our engagement with the built environment: from the corner of our eyes and the hair on our skins. Indeed, it is a very difficult dimension to pay attention to or talk about; you can’t see it or hear it, how do you share it? But then, if we understand that most of our communication is non-verbal and not necessarily always in focus, then we begin to understand our relationship to architecture as that of inhabitation: occupying, displacing, dividing and bringing together space.
Theater and, in extension, play, have helped me incredibly in facilitating students to perceive this embodiment of spaces and personification of buildings. I categorise inhabitation (which, of course, includes movement) into solitude, intimacy, congregation and transaction. Although these categories, just like any other, are not watertight compartments and created only for understanding, they allow one to remember, observe or imagine the multitude of emotions and narratives that a space is then capable of accommodating, enhancing, subduing or subverting. To remember, observe or imagine the inhabitation or the making of spaces is the contemplation on or experience of the theater that takes place within.
With regards to an appropriate response to the context of the pandemic, my own understanding is that theater and the place of performance will have to now preclude openness in conception, through processes and in execution. The courtyard, I feel, will be the counterpoint to the blackboxes that proliferated recently. People will seek open spaces to both perform as well as experience performances.
The threshold spaces – for the myriad dramas before and after a performance – will be as critical as the space of performance, if not more. Mobile refreshment carts will replace beverage centers to allow for physical distancing, sanitization and rapid testing booths (or even ones’ for vaccination) will replace the box-office, and washrooms will be scattered instead of being centralized. The words disposal and disposable will have to integrate recycling: cutlery, packaging and excreta, all into compost.
Since theater experience has been turning increasingly insular, particularly under the pretext of control on lighting & acoustic, moving out of the enclosed spaces provides an opportunity of reconnecting to the questions of Why do we need communities? Why do we need theater? And what is the inherent relationship between the two?