Why Bangalore artists are heading to the Metro station, Select Bookstore and Russell Market this fortnight – and why you should, too...
Anti-clocks is exactly what it sounds like: a rejection of ‘clock time’, of regimented sections of the day. The 12-day festival, which began on Sunday with a wall installation and painting, seeks to engage people through time-themed film, painting, poetry and music. It is organised by the city-based media and arts collective Maraa. Highlights include City As Darkroom, an exhibition of photographs shot in print cameras and developed in public venues (as opposed to rented darkrooms) and The Blackbox, a live sound project set up at Russell Market. The public is also invited to participate in activities such as poetry readings and postcard-making sessions – all related to one’s perceptions of time.
The festival is set up to mark the fourth anniversary of Theatre Jam, a collaborative platform set up by Maraa. Originally, Theatre Jam was intended to function as a sort of initial push, followed by which, ideally, people would set up their own versions of the Jam in their neighbourhoods. That ambitious goal wasn’t quite met. “No community can be built in a year,” says Ekta Mittal, member of Maraa. So Maraa continued to drive the process, organising monthly meetings.
The first anniversary of Theatre Jam, in 2009, saw Maraa put up a mammoth 30-day festival. All participants of the Theatre Jams through the year could propose an event of their choosing – for instance, an admirer of the Urdu writer Saadat Hassan Manto could set up a ‘Manto Night’. Ekta describes the festival as “crazy.” “It was mad energy,” she recalls.
The ‘openness’ of the festival – and the lack of an overarching theme – perhaps worked since it was the first such festival, but the folk at Maraa were eager to move beyond just a series of events, towards more focused, ‘thematic’ work. “We know exactly how to run events by now...make a poster, send it out on Facebook,” Ekta says. In 2011, in a step towards making the festival a ‘process’ rather than a series of events, they set up City of Pieces, a nine-day festival that invited artists working with film, music, words and paint to explore the many fragments of city life – with specific reference to a fast-transforming city such as Bangalore. This year, they went a step further, and sent out a ‘concept note’ well ahead of time to participating artists.
Through the various incarnations of the festival, there’s been one common thread: the idea of public space. City of Pieces took place at bus stops, Cubbon Park and the St Mary’s Basilica, as well as at spaces of retail such as a bookstore and a mall. This year, the Cubbon Park feature recurs, with Shabnam Virmani performing Kabir. Then, for instance, there’s the postcard-making session, which begins at the MG Road Metro Station, and an open-to-participants storytelling session on mythology.
“We realised that there was great potential in an event held publicly...it’s about having an accidental audience. There’s a sense of coming together,” says Ekta. “When we started Maraa, there was a sense of a lack of spaces for artists.” It was to counter this perceived shortage that Maraa has focused on using publicly available space for the arts. Another reason has been that many important venues are vanishing, or forgotten. This is why they chose Select Bookstore, for instance. “We’ve just forgotten that there used to be Plaza Theatre, India Coffee House...the government has sliced off these places and memories.” Russell Market, with its uncertain future, is also chosen for similar reasons.
One important venue has been the historic bandstand in Cubbon Park, currently dangerously close to collapse. Last year, Maraa managed to hold Shabnam’s Kabir performance despite the risk; this year, it appears more dangerous. And so, they’re holding the performance right next to the bandstand. By continuing to use Cubbon Park as an artistic venue, Ekta hopes that the act will put pressure on the authorities to fix the roof.
“It is not just about Shabnam Virmani coming to bandstand and performing – we would like the Cubbon Park bandstand to be fixed,” she says. Monica James, a Maraa member who is also coordinating the festival, goes on to articulate another crucial feature of the use of public space: access. While, for instance, galleries may largely be free in terms of money, they aren't necessarily ‘open’, in terms of the cross-section of people who visit. “Part of the idea of doing the festival in public spaces is to widen the kinds of people who come, so that they won't be intimidated by the space,” she says.
Visit maraa.in for a complete schedule of the festival. The next event is ‘Meditations on Time and Timelessness’, a reading from novels and poems that toy with notions of time. It will take place at Urban Solace on Thursday at 6.30 p.m.