The Ties That Bind, Beirut, Lebanon, 2017

In a panel discussion titled ‘The Ties That Bind’, Forager Collective deliberated on the idea of the Day After – the aftermath of an event, a revolution, a referendum, even a dinner party, when the repercussions of the night before needs to be addressed and accounted for.

We examined the politics of leftover food which has, by turns, been coveted, celebrated, derided, discarded and frowned upon throughout histories in the course of establishing nations and cultural identities.

The talk was organised as part of Sharjah Biennial 13: Tamawuj off-site project Upon a Shifting Platecurated by Christine Tohme, and was held at Ashkal Alwan, Beirut, Lebanon in October, 2017.

 

The Ties That Bind, Beirut, Lebanon, 2017

Forest Object, Oslo, Norway, 2017

In the objectification of Sambrani or benzoin, a product of the forests, the work evaluates the sudden revocation of a tribe’s ability to articulate their identities derived from geography, from professions and access to spiritual reserves. In trying out new identities, the collective tribe and the individual tribal both face the trauma from and burden of originality, with often catastrophic consequences.

Sambrani, a product as ephemeral as modern identities and symbolic of solastalgia, has undergone a change in its object freedom from a commonly collected produce to now being illegal and harvested only from farmed styrax trees.

Through the Forest Object, we contemplate the unstable nature of the hyper-local migrant, the frequent oscillation between memories, identities and geographies – both physical and of the mind.

Forest Object was exhibited in the group show All of the Above, None of the Above, curated by Gitanjali Dang at Melahuset, Oslo, Norway between October and November 2017.

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Forest Object, Oslo, Norway, 2017

Work in Commons, Nottingham, United Kingdom, 2017

At the end of a summer residency at Primary, Nottingham, Forager Collective cooked a meal that derived ingredients from the un-translatable in food that were either inspired by, or were representative of the practices and rituals of Commons in India.

The conceptual meal was preceded by a reading performance of a text work, ‘There Are No Words’ developed in the past week. The performance was in collaboration with theatre practitioner Sooree Pillay. The text referenced language – the “signature” of culture – and its complete inadequacy in recent times to be able to relate the self and the community to the natural world, and examined scenarios of what occurs when appropriate language is wholly absent.

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Whose inadequacy is the lack of appropriate vocabulary?

This meal is reminiscent of a folklorish people. Call it more rustic than the sophistication of social order and structure, if you will. Each dish has an ingredient that I have no way of translating. If it came to the technicalities, there are of course words, but I could not tell you what they actually “mean.”

There are experiences of landscape that will always resist articulation. In this culinary geography, in the un-translatable, maybe we could invent a language without various lines.

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Work in Commons, Nottingham, United Kingdom, 2017

#, NEW DELHI, INDIA, 2017

# was a text work shown in the group show G/rove, curated by Bhavna Kakar and Adwait Singh at Latitude 28, New Delhi, in February 2017

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If land is a contentious, conflicted, inherently political geographical entity, then versus that, landscape is a romanticized, ‘beautiful’ feature that assumes a certain aesthetic appeal, even when such aesthetics are informed by the burdens of history and its consequences. Landscapes evoke the romantic, in the way they are described, in the way people ‘feel’ in the presence of dramatic landforms and in remembered nostalgia where their ‘beauty’ is necessarily exaggerated. Land, on the other hand, is more an agent of economy, status and ownership (or lack thereof), where its beauteous sheen become less important than cold practical concerns.

The tensions that arise from the conflicts, apprehensions and politics between land and landscape, and the manners in which the landscape is pressurized by various agencies to retain its ‘beauty’ encapsulates our thought process here.

The work takes the form of text which, while sounding almost excessively poetic and romantic, alludes to the political and presents an idea that almost juxtaposes the romantic notions referred to in the sentence. These texts are printed as vinyl stickers and stuck on the gallery wall, running close to the ceiling and not at eye level. This positioning is important because when the viewers have to raise their heads to read the text, the words again become distant, unattainable – almost like relating to or connecting with land for most people.

The hashtagged words, seemingly innocuous, point out to the uninhibited use of this internet device by some people, in the hope of bumping up the relevance and popularity of a certain word. While hashtags can be a powerful tool in spreading awareness, the uncontrolled use of it serves no purpose. By hashtagging common nouns, we mull over what is really relevant in the present digital environment. The words which are hashtagged in the text follow the poetic phrases, hinting at word-play and the many derivations and interpretations of the word when read keeping in mind the various tensions that a landscape is subjected to.

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#, NEW DELHI, INDIA, 2017

The Myth of the Day and the Day After: London, UK, 2016

Towards the end of the Politics of Food residency at Delfina Foundation, a conceptual lunch menu was developed during the Markets and Movements Weekend.

This conceptual meal explored the myths and fantasies of consumer choice within neoliberal economies. While developing Manufacturing Purana, a study into the myths that are used to sell ideas and products in the market, we looked into the importance of the ‘day after’. The day after a revolution, a referendum, or even a dinner party becomes important, which is when the repercussions of the night before need to be addressed.

The day after is the aftermath of the decision, not always positive but riddled with new problems – a dystopia where the likelihood is that promises will not be lived up to. The day after a choice has been made, you wake up to a world more closed – particularly true in today’s increasingly nationalistic and inward-looking political landscape.

For this meal people were confronted with this precise ‘dystopia’: instead of the limitless array of choice provided by the free market they were presented with a reversion to finite options. The contents of menu hidden and referred to by cryptic yet significant numbers.

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The Myth of the Day and the Day After: London, UK, 2016

Unbounded Mono-Tonic by Abhishek Hazra: London, UK, 2016

Unbounded Mono-Tonic invites you into the world of think tanks and strategy summits, an imaginary session called to work through the differences and tensions of liberalisation.

As part of The Politics of Food programme of events, Forager Collective invited Bengaluru based artist Abhishek Hazra to develop a new performance as part of their project Manufacturing Purana. Working across multiple media, Abhishek’s artistic practice is marked by a close yet idiosyncratic engagement with the affective dimension of scientific research. Through enactments and spoken word narrations, his new piece will stage a speculative exploration of the pre-history of economic liberalisation in India.

In foregrounding historical aspects of the post-independence nation state, Abhishek and Forager Collective interrogate the historical amnesia that too often accompanies the triumphal narrative of India’s emerging economic ‘superpowerhood’.

This performance forms part of the Forager Collective’s residency project Manufacturing Purana, which explores the years immediately before and after 1990, when the open market policy was introduced in India. The wider project interrogates how the appeal of myths or a stories behind food products, fads and movements continue to be employed by markets to sell products.

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Unbounded Mono-Tonic by Abhishek Hazra: London, UK, 2016

Manufacturing Purana, on the Blackboard: London, UK, 2016

A blackboard in the foyer space of Delfina Foundation was filled everyday with money that Deepa Bhasthi encountered, both spent and received, during her three month long residency there. By writing them in no particular order, and by removing all contexts as to what these amounts were used for, a scope was created for viewers to imagine their own stories as to what the numbers might have meant.

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Manufacturing Purana, on the Blackboard: London, UK, 2016

Manufacturing Purana: London, UK, 2016

In the summer of 2016, Deepa Bhasthi, one of the founding members of the Forager Collective, participated in a three month long residency on behalf of the Collective at Delfina Foundation, London under their Politics of Food programme. The project Manufacturing Purana has developed into an ongoing longer term one, and is expected to produce a long form essay, apart from other outcomes in the coming months. 

The residency was supported by Charles Wallace India Trust and Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation.

A note on the project from a mini issue of The Forager magazine that was being updated during the residency: 

The very initial idea sprung from recollecting an old book read a decade and a half ago. But that the recollection happened on a road trip to somewhere is a story for elsewhere, not here.

Myths are all around us. In a book written half a century ago, myth is called a language. Barthes is of course as right today as he was in the 1950s. Myth is what sells everything from shampoo to the bowl of berries that makes a snack on a summer day.

If something is organic, handmade, handcrafted, cruelty free, ethically sourced, fair trade, free range and sustainable – sometimes all at the same time – isn’t it a myth that you are buying? Being the sort of person who buys all of the above, even if such a thing has travelled halfway across the world and is laden with immense embodied energy, and thus, excess carbon footprint, is a lifestyle you buy into. Lifestyle itself is a myth that is perpetuated in the pursuit of pure consumerism.

All hail the manufacturing of consent!

Manufacturing Purana is a three-month long project where I try to look into the many myths I consume and encounter during this period, from news – prosaic or breaking – to food to things, objects, products that serve the omnipresent gods of the modern markets. In this miniscule cross section of things and ideas, the mirror is upon events and things and histories everywhere in the world. A “farmer’s market” in India is not too different from the “farmer’s market” in London.

The quote marks are deliberate.

Incidentally, this is the 25th year anniversary of India’s shining new liberalization policy, almost to the date. In the 1990s, there was a utopia that was just on the other side of laissez-faire. These many years later, that is clearly not the case. All too clearly.

There is no utopia. There never was.

Yet, we buy it, all these ideas and isms and lifestyles. We never stop buying. At some point we buy only the idea, and the product becomes irrelevant. The idea is what shapes the markets and our reactions to it and its reactions to what we want to see, and so on.

This idea is the purana, an old Sanskrit word that means a myth, oral, written or both.

Let’s make up some stories now.

 

Manufacturing Purana: London, UK, 2016

Text work: Performed at New Delhi, India, 2015

This text was performed by Meenakshi Thirukode, and accompanied the installation Form 2 from Form 1, exhibited at Exhibit320, New Delhi.

Let us begin with a story.

It shall begin the way all good stories ought to begin. (Do not contend that I am presumptuous, for once.)

Thus it shall begin once upon a time, long, long ago. We will talk about the fluidity of time today. So long ago might just as well be yesterday. Or the week before, in this hurried zip-zip-zipping carousel of time we never get off from. How flimsy and clumsy it is. Space, that vague idea that we carry around, ever pushing, ever morphing into things and people, ideas, restrictions and prisons, open air and what nots, that space is fluid too. So this mystical space we seek and demand and carve out and keep undefined, hence subjecting it to instant, constant change, can be that room of my own in the upstairs, with the window lined in rosewood, or that vast, fountain ink coloured expanse that I call the mid-April sky. With fireflies competing from the ground up, perched all over the mango tree that has never borne fruit in all the thirty one years that I have lived.

Maybe it is phantom expecting, this tree. It is a thing, this phantom thing. Really. That huge belly that women sprout and describe it weirdly like bun in the oven, stork above the house or eating for two, that belly, once the bundle pops out, it must just lose steam and deflate and fall back, folding skin upon skin. No? Does the space that was earlier there and is now no longer left feel empty or non-existent or just… Nothing at all? Would that be a void or something unthought of? There might not be that time to think about silly things like this. Perhaps the memory of what the old space was is a natural state to revert to. Perhaps the space is inconsequential, irrelevant when a new being, that bundling of supposed joy creates new spaces, taking away all concepts of spaces you had in your previous form. I cannot imagine answers to concerns that concern the spaces of the body this way, for can you tell I have not baked any buns or biscuits?

They say that when something is there for a long time and then suddenly is not there, you can still feel it there, like a phantom. Like an old grand love affair, often illicit, that is buried in the backyards of selective memories. I read a story that went like that once, about phantoms and lots of other imaginary things that the brain makes you think you have or feel or be.

This time and space business is…like the idea of god that parents employ to teach their children to be good and kind….omnipresent, omnipotent, omni- other stuff. Can’t escape these damned ideas. From negotiating with a lover or spouse or child or boss or both, or either, to those damned conflicts they pose in the recesses of the unfocussable busy busy busy mind, time and space are…huh…what…who goes there? Damn damn damn. Terming it fluid is giving it leeway, giving yourself leeway to make it what it is, what it can be, or letting it be the way it damned well wants to be.

Sigh.

Can’t escape these things, accursed that we of this two-legged mammal species are, with our elaborate rituals and routines and practices that we repeat and repeat and call our space or tradition. Strip all this society and evolved and intelligent crap away and like DNA, it simmers down at the bottom of the darkened pan to this: you start from here and end there, in every second of everything you do. In the interlude, the droplet of water that drips to the edge of a hair strand after a hot shower in Delhi’s wicked winters has the ambition, the potential to be a mighty river. Cauvery with a K or a C or Nila or Yamuna. The river always, somewhere, joins the sea. All along its turns and tricks, you and I and that one over there, and you too, will end up designing rituals, for, the sturdy, dependable mountains, the contemplative rivers and elastic blue skies rake up the primeval.

Don’t call ritual religion please. In the manner of an ideal separation of state and religion hoped for, yearned for, ritual is not dharma. I hear stories of your visits back home, when every evening my rival river draws you in to watch the sunset together. To be that plum hued sky over dimming shimmery liquidy gold, emerald fields and thatched huts like some cluster ring setting, that is your ritual. Mine? Mine is to do with the mountains that bend over and hush and whisper indulgingly over my backyard. We are mountain people. Our ritual making is like that.

In my head or in the words that bleed out of it, in the physicality of a movement, in the practice of constant transportation, in the micro space allowed for a water-drop to flow from just here to just there, in every dreaded change, just before the actual physical shift or the mental rebalance, there comes an interlude, a suspension, a freedom, a potentiality that has the markings of a great beyond.

Now these interludes: spaces between the words as I type these words out, spaces between where something starts and just before the something that has started ends up in another space, these suspended, unnamed events, occurrences, times, let’s talk about those. We can conduct the ritual of coming back to other things later. There might be time. We will make space. We can employ fluidity.

Let’s mull over for now, or meditate, if that’s your thing, on this in-between when anything is possible, when that thing, whatever it is, is suspended in freedom and unrestrained by properties inherent in it when resting and stationary. It is free from the spot where it is born, it is not yet chained to where it will be placed before it is born again and chained elsewhere and so on and so on. In this freedom, in this third space of dissent, in the taverns and watering holes and the L-shaped corners of meat markets or road bends before steeple/spire/gopura/domed institutions, in here is where probably lies the magical, elusive potion of grand ambition.

Where a drop of water can be a river. Where a word can become a masterpiece, or a swift slaying sword. Where a summer leaf can become the azure tropics. Where a kiss, flimsy and like cinnamon dust on a cookie, can be the entirety of a sordid affair. Where in a grain of sand is a whole city built.

 “I was within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

 

 

Text work: Performed at New Delhi, India, 2015