Thursday, May 31, 2012

…I love you, I love you, I love…

 “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

The anticipating event for dacoit Ratnakar’s transformation to a holy sage and the greatest poet of the ages - Valmiki, the creator of the first ever epic of India Ramayana, was a playful word game. Narada asked Ratnakar to enchant the name of Rama, the lord. But since Ratnakar was a dacoit he could not utter the name, instead he was saying Mara (dead). Narada then asked to utter that only, but repetitively for a longer time. After saying Mara Mara Mara Mara … the word started sounding Rama. It is perhaps the first example from literary history for the transformation of meaning of a word caused by repetitive utterance. This transformation is multilayered, a transformation of sound stood as a motive for some other transformations, even greater, even farfetched. 

What happens when you repeat the same words for multiple times? The meaning transforms, you will feel it losing its meaning, or you may realize opening up a set of meanings beyond a pre-existent meaning. Words and phrases, altogether carry a complex network of etymological history. Moreover they are complex by themselves for the contextual complexities. Still, we accept some certain meanings for some certain words and phrases.

Sometimes a spoken thing - a word, a sentence – a sound, does not stand for the meaning it actually used to contain within it. From the grave instance of transformation from Mara to Rama, we can look down to some very ordinary everyday games available at any corner on earth. For instance, in our schooldays we used to say “Ahile Bihu” in Assames that means the Bihu (the grand spring festival of Assam) has arrived. Yes, now you can also try this. You just utter the two words, Ahile Bihu, for a number of times and you will realize that you are actually saying “I Love you”, the sound is like that. 

Manmeet Devgun, Delhi based performance Artist was doing a similar thing. She was saying a particular thing repetitively, for innumerous times, as much as she could do so, unto she gets exhausted. She was saying I Love you. The performance took place on 18th February 2012 at Shranddhanjali Kanan, Guwahati as a part of the R. A. P. E 2012 (Regional Art, Performance and Events) activities initiated by Kankhowa and BlackRice.  


I love you, the sentence can be taken on two grounds. It is very much personalized assertion that a person wants to say to a very special one, not to anybody on earth just like that. Similarly, this is the most desired sentence that one wishes to hear again and again from the mouth of the most beloved one. On the other ground, this can be read as one of the most cheapest and most uttered phrase in the commodified mass which we most often come across in the gift items, greetings cards, facebook and other viral postings, popular film songs and so on. Manmeet choose the sentence from a very personalized grounding. She is a single mother, a separated woman, and some memories from her past (or lost) love life cause her to make a decision for this performance.

While doing the performance she kept two evidences besides, a song from a popular Bollywood film being played in loop and an embroidered cloth done by her depicting her and her beloved in an intimate moment. The two clues or evidences are equally strong enough to ensure from what the thought emerged up. The song was from the Salman khan and Bhagyashree starrer film Maine Pyar Kiya. The sequence is like that, Salman Khan, the protagonist came from a foreign country and thus he is a ‘smart’ guy and he was willing to hear ‘I Love You” from his beloved Bhagyashree’s mouth. But since Bhagyashree was native young girl she was shy enough to speak up those words. So, an antakshari, a game of song singing in a chain-response started where under some circumstance, at the end of the song Bhagyashree started singing “I Love You”. This very portion where Bhagyashree was saying “I Love You” (sung by Lata Mangeshkar) was in a loop in the entire performance of Manmeet. Manmeet’s concern about choosing this song was, every time you meet your male partner he wants to hear “I Love you” from the other partner. It is a common phenomenon. After saying it so many times what the meaning it actually does carry anymore?

The embroidered cloth with the artist's personal and intimate memories
We can trace some common aspects from Manmeets’s other performances also. She is also a poet, and she plays also with words along with visuals. In her most recent performance at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Delhi, she started writing some sentences upon some straws and installing them on the ground of the museum. Again it was a non announced performance from her side. She was not expecting a huge crowd or audience, participators physically active or loud accessories like light, sound or make-up or costumes. All her performances are intimate in nature and the representation of the self remains an incessant undercurrent for all. Though working with personalized feelings or the self representations she has the ability to transform the self representation to a larger level of discourses. The issues of identity as a single woman, the pain and sufferings in a masculine social order remain a connoting element in her performances.

stills from the performance at KNMA, written statements on straws

I Got Balls, a photo performance, self representational and assertive

a work in progress
Well, we talked about the artists personal history, the two referential add-ons and the contexts. Now let’s talk about the most important parts of a performance - the space and experience. The event took place on an open arena inside a park Shranddhanjali Kanan, in Guwahati. The park was dedicated to the national heroes (that’s why named as Shraddhanjali, tributary) but most commonly attributed as the best suitable place for the young lovers and couples for a pleasant evening walk. So it was a place where the phrase "I Love You” was seemingly up in the air. Initially Manmeet was planning to perform this at a private corner, with a bit closed audience since it was something very private to her. But after some discussion and under circumstances it took place at an open environment, where people were observing from distances. She got to use a microphone for what the utterance of “I Love You” was echoing across the park. If it were in a closed space it might have given a different experience, but here we found a varied but valid and contextualized experience.

At the very beginning people were not getting what was actually happening. Here are few reasons for that which are interesting to observe. Generally speaking Manmeet prefers not to announce a performance prior the happening. She just starts it and she tries to deal with it from her individual engagement instead of trying engaging the spectators. Secondly, though there was a number of art-professionals, art students-teachers-writers present at the moment, still it was a common public place. It was not a regular art practicing space like art academia or gallery or museums.  As a public park many ‘common’ people were roaming there where it was a difficult situation to expect a proper attention to the performance as an event. Thirdly the open arena, the raised platform, the semi circular sitting arrangement, the artificial lights and sound systems - all were objects for the phenomenal cultural practices. Clearly the space was more suitable for an entertainment event than a personalized, intimate “serious’ “art-performance”. Again another important part to observe: the Assamese people as a whole more inclined to the entertainment sectors - dance, drama and other visually, literally and musically ostentatious performances. “Art-performance” is an unfamiliar practice out there. So it was an obvious situation where people were very curious about what was happening. What the nonsense happening, why a woman standing alone on the platform shouting I Love You for so long? People had no clue. As the performance proceeds, people started being calm and sit and see what happens next. But nothing was happening next. The thing was just going on, the reiteration of I love you was just going on a longer time and somehow people started thinking and realizing the multiple meanings they could discover. Progressively the ambiance was soother, after saying so many times the phrase I love you either lost its sense totally or it explored so many senses that no sense was embodied anymore. 

Gradually Manmeet was getting exhausted saying the same thing again and again, for several times, in various tones. When she got totally exhausted, she stopped saying: “I cannot say it anymore.” Yes, here another sense embodied.

Samudra Kajal Saikia, May 31, 2012, New Delhi

1 comment:

  1. An interesting play of words to explore meanings within oneself and outside, the transformation that goes through the meanings and the contexts of words that are so much established with a single dominant sense.