What artistes can do to save the planet

‘Detritus’, a multiform performance, highlights the urgent need to switch to sustainable art practices

August 25, 2022 04:58 pm | Updated August 27, 2022 11:58 am IST

From Paramita Saha’s ‘Detritus’

From Paramita Saha’s ‘Detritus’ | Photo Credit: Rajat Mitra

Art is often a space to imagine and re-imagine our reality and future. Climate action, the ecological crisis, and issues of waste management have often brought together art and activism. ‘Detritus’ is a unique multiform contemporary performance that attempts to re-imagine the process of art-making to make it sustainable. For instance, do we think about the waste generated during rehearsals, can the costumes, props and sets be repurposed, what about the carbon footprint generated with frequent travelling for rehearsals and shows?

“Sustainable art practices lead to shifts in the way we think about our ecological systems and how we relate to our environment and planet. With ‘Detritus’ we tried something different, the waste generated over several days of work before the performance has been less than 500 grams. We haven’t used elaborate sets, or new props, instead we repurposed materials and things from our own homes,” says Paramita Saha, who has conceptualised and curated the work.

“It proposes a lightness of being and living in a world that is overburdened by what we consume and discard.” With participatory elements, the work invites the audience to reflect and consider community action.

Two big questions

he vision and premise for the work opens up two larger questions for the art world. While many art works are themed around a cause, does the process of art-making itself support the content or cause? Secondly, working intensely with a theme such as this, can be deeply transformative for the artistes involved, but how can that be shared with the audience? To address this, the team of ‘Detritus’ decided to include rehearsal notes, dialogues, preparation, and behind-the-scenes reflections of the work for the audience when the show premiered at a contemporary art gallery in Kolkata.

The work brought together two choreographers (Surjit Nongmeikapam, Prashant More), a dramaturge (Diya Naidu) and six performers (Amitabh Srivastava, Pintu Das, Sangram Mukhopadhyay, Ujjayee Banerjee, Srestha Das Choudhury, Madhyama Halder) and has been produced by Artsforward. The music is by Karshni Nair and the costumes by The Burlap People. The creative collaboration began during the pandemic with discussions, observations and impulse sessions online between the performance team and professionals working in the areas of ecology, community work and research.

‘Detritus’ inspires an environmental movement through art

‘Detritus’ inspires an environmental movement through art | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Nobina Gupta of Disappearing Dialogues, artist-scholar-researcher, facilitated discussions about the East Kolkata Wetlands and their significance, ecology, indigenous and natural technologies of purification, precarious conditions of wetlands and its communities.

Paramita Saha

The team also received inputs from Marc Rees (Wales, U.K.), a creator and curator of installation and performance that artistically responds to place and community. He led them through activities that mapped their emotional connections with various landscapes. In-depth discussions around green policy, consumerism, art and activism were also explored and found their way into the movement vocabulary of the piece.

Rising from the debris

‘Detritus’ is traditionally organic debris that is assimilated back into the ecosystem through decay and decomposition. But it also signals the problem of waste, remnants and accumulation of objects. The piece leaves the audience with an invitation to reflect, take action and be stakeholders. It also nudges artistes to rethink their creative processes, and for sustainability to be absorbed into the artistic ecosystem as a consistent practice.

The author is a Delhi-based arts researcher and writer.

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