Zuleikha Chaudhari is Ibrahim Alkazi's granddaughter and her parents are Amal and Nissar Allana. She carries with her an illustrious legacy in the Performing Arts but has nevertheless found her own space. Zuleikha has worked as a lights designer for well-known directors, including the contemporary dancer and choreographer Padmini Chettur. She has also directed her own productions. One of her productions for example, 'On seeing a 100 % Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning', which is based on Haruki Murakami's eponymous short story, is indicative of her interest in experimenting with space and narrative. She takes this further with installation work that is currently on display at Project 88 in Mumbai. The ongoing exhibition, which closes on 26th April 2011, has the young Delhi based artiste return to the island city after a gap of ten years. To read more about Zuleikha Chaudhari's installation at Project 88, please click here.
You have found a niche for yourself in the Performing Arts that is apart from a more traditional understanding of performance. When and how did that happen?
I have been working with light and performance since 1995. In 2003, I did a residency to work on a light installation at Khoj Studios, New Delhi. The residency came out of an impulse to extend my practice as a lighting designer (for theatre and dance) and explore light as a way to articulate and define space sculpturally. Since then I have combined performance and installation.
How do you define the kind of work that you do?
My work is an investigation of the nature of performance. It explores and develops a series of questions to do with the interruption of the narrative structure; how images are constructed and experienced: what is the relationship of the text and performer, what is the dynamic between the performer and the space, how are narratives created and understood, and finally, what is the role of the spectator in the performative experience. Side by side, it is also an exploration of space and the role that space plays in the construction and experience of narratives - whether it is the space of the human body, or the space of the place within which the performance is happening. This series of questions have taken the form of performances and installations.
Is there any particular artiste/s whose work has inspired you to do the work you are doing?
I'm not sure I would use the word inspire - but following are some artists (in no particular order) whose work I respond to and find engaging and provocative: Raqs Media Collective, Praneet Soi, Akbar Padamsee, Pablo Bartholomew, Richard Serra, Mark Rothko, Padmini Chettur, Joao Fiadeiro, Tim Etchells, Sasha Waltz, Christoph Marthaler, Sumedh Rajendran.
You are very interested in exploring the possibilities of space and the visual image in your work. Why is that so?
I am interested in the nature of experience. And so my work engages with the question of how do we experience and how can I create and communicate the experience of experiencing. How can moments be opened up to the possibility of multiple and layered meanings and resonances. My work is as much about an external landscape as it is about internal geographies. It is as much about real spaces as it is about imagined/unreal ones. For me, my installations and performances provide a frame within which the viewers construct their own narratives and images from their experience of the space, text, sound and the performer.
How did you arrive upon the idea of your art installation/performance project which is currently on at Project 88?
Each piece I work on is a development in some way or the other, from the piece prior to that - sometimes directly, often laterally. The idea for this installation developed from my production of SOME STAGE DIRECTIONS FOR HENRIK IBSEN'S JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN (2009) which is based on Henrik Ibsen's JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN and texts by the Raqs Media Collective. The performance investigated the different ways in which text transforms into image. Can the description of an image serve as a mode of its performance? The different qualities and narratives of the texts used in the production led me to think about what would happen if there was no performer through which the text is mediated - if there was only text and space. This developed into a residency at Khoj Studios, New Delhi called Propositions: On Text and Space which was based on texts from the Ibsen production. The ideas from the residency have further developed into the installation at Project 88. Propositions: On Text and Space II is based on a play text by Roland Schimmelpfennig called BEFORE/AFTERWARDS. I have worked on another text by Roland Schimmelpfennig called ARABIAN NIGHT. This was a performance piece which I opened in 2005. ARABIAN NIGHT as well as BEFORE/AFTERWARDS are textually descriptive narratives of actions and experience. They are like looking at paintings and photographs of people and places. I find his writing very challenging. Propositions: On Text and Space II eliminates the presence of the performer in performance and investigates the nature of narrative in text, sound, space and light.
When you work on such projects, how does the creative process unfold? For example you have made use of video clips of Padmini Chettur's work in contemporary dance. You have used audio material that includes different women narrating what appears to be their day to day routine, etc. So, how does this all really come together in the final work that you want to show?
The text 'Before/Afterwards' (for me) reflects people and their engagement with space. The installation constructs a landscape of these spaces that are suspended between the real and the imagined. It responds to the text spatially and experientially. I chose 8 texts to work with from the play. One of these was used as a visual (A Thin Man) while the other 7 were on audio. These texts describe a man who looks at a picture of a pastoral landscape and finds himself within it. He is unable to find his way out and ends up industrializing the landscape. The installation develops the idea of being inside a picture frame. The frames of tube-lights as well as the walls of light explore space as volume and space as outline. The installations starts with 'full' frames - the walls of light and distill themselves through the space. They transform into the tube-light frames, which define space rather than fill it and then become finally just a basic, structural outline. For me this also has to do with the interplay between the architecture of the imagination and the architecture of a real space. The video references two texts from the play - The Constantly Changing Woman as well as The Man in the Picture II. In some ways it also connects for me with the visual text - A Thin Man. Padmini's choreography explores the space contained and created within the body as well as the relationship of the body to the space that it is in. I felt she was articulating space with her movement in a similar way to what I was doing with light. There is a dialogue between the choreography/body and the installation. They extend and transform and develop a spatial conversation.
Theatre by its very nature has been open to experiment. We have heard of and seen experiments ranging from the unique and the audacious to just being merely 'fashionable.' Some new performance such as yours for instance, has a tendency to be deliberately disjointed, fragmented... and, not as easily accessible to interpretations that we are more comfortable with. As a creator of such work, how do you respond to this?
We experience life in fragments. Narratives are of different kinds. Meanings are varied and layered, and to be discovered for oneself.