Performer. Practicing artist. A performance artist who draws on both personal and collective cultural history in his work.
Spare the labels. JUST WHO IS NIKHIL CHOPRA?
Having had a western centric education in European art history, Chopra views his performances as a form of storytelling that intermingles familial histories, personal narrative and everyday life.
What will the audience expect to see in Give Me Your blood and I Will Give You Freedom?
In a 50-hour performance that will take place this weekend, Chopra will be transforming a white canvas into landscapes of black ink in expression of the 1943 bloody fight for freedom in India against the colonial rule. This particular choice of medium is because Chopra thinks that ink will have an interesting resonance with the audience here in Singapore, and because the initial raw materials of ink originally came from India. Looking further, ink also alludes to blood and in a sense he has replaced blood with ink, fulfilling the visual impact of the performance’s title.
How did the ideation of Give Me Your blood and I Will Give You Freedom come about?
Always on the lookout for places of intersection between two cultures; the one he came from and the other where he performs at, Chopra uses Subash Chandra Bose as this point of intersection for India and Singapore. Bose was in Singapore in the 1940s on exile from India, recruiting soldiers to fight for India’s freedom from British rule, on the brink of World War II. Known for his controversial politics leaning towards fascism, Bose is indeed an interesting figure, but Chopra says that he will not be in the persona of Bose, and only Bose’s conflicted politics would be applied as a clue, a backdrop or as a point of reference throughout Give Me Your Blood.
With the help of Ms Noorlinah from SIFA organizing committee, we at the Ridge had the fantastic opportunity to ask Chopra some questions we have about his work.
What have you learnt from your past performances and how have you incorporated those learning points into this latest piece?
Doing performances is part of my practice. The more I do the more I understand what this material does and how it functions. What have I learnt? Every performance is – because it is lived, it gets absorbed not just consciously in your body but also subconsciously. You don’t know what you actually learn in school. You think you only learn one thing but there are so many things happening – real life gets incorporated and accumulated – they become part of you. So when I’m doing a performance I’m not just going back to past performance as things I learn from but going back to my entire life as much as I need to but to use all the experiences as a material palette to dip into – I’m a sum total of all those lived experiences.
That said I will always give myself something new to discover in a performance. I will always have an element of surprise sitting in a corner and I’m really interested in how I’d react to that surprise and how I charter the unknown. And that is a reflection of our lives. We will never live the same day again.
What are the difficulties that you have encountered so far in executing life performance art?
(The first would be) working with a medium that is fairly new. I find myself having to explain what performance art is. I often find myself having to negotiate with audiences, that don’t quite know what they are saying. (Another difficulty would be to) generate the kind of critical dialogue that I’m interested in generating.
Is there a routine “day in your life”?
First thing first – I do not like routines. If I start to fall into a routine a) I will reach a place where I’m not being creative – b) I feel I’ve submitted to automaticity because that is so comfortable.
I don’t like discomfort but I think a certain amount of ambiguity is where a certain amount of creativity lies. The moment I start to fall into a routine I try to break it. I have 2 little children now, 6 year old and 1 year old and they need a routine. So my routine is only centred around them in the sense that they need to get dressed to go to the school, at least my boy does, breakfast needs to be made, he comes back from school, my daughter needs help with her shower every day, her apple sauce needs to be just right. Family life does demand a certain kind of rhythm. I am much more interested in rhythm than I am in routine. They happen to me in ebbs and flow. My routine is in production to production. I will make up to, about 6 performance piece a year and leading up to these pieces there is a certain kind of rhythm that one needs to create to take to a performance. The production demands that kind of rhythm – pace picks up and after a performance, I usually give myself a down time to unwind from that rhythm but it is not a routine.
Why is it not a routine? Engagement is within a rhythm and routine is almost automatic. Rhythm cannot become a routine. (The) rhythm of life is what I am interested in – as opposed to routine of the body and the routine of the day. Routine implies consistency without rhythm. Routine is flatness and no modulation.
(And) no there aren’t any hours specifically that I give to my craft. But every project requires a certain kind of engagement with a certain aspect of my craft – so leading up to the performance, I’d start getting into the research, site visit, getting a good handle on the actual material I’m working with, for example, yoga and breathing.
A tip from Ms Noorlinah from SIFA Organizing Committee on watching the performance
Since the ticket entitles its bearer multiple entries into the performance, her recommendation is for the audience to attend the start of the show (where something spectacular is slated to happen), come back again the next day and then catch the last two to three hours of the performance on 17th August 2014. In other words, visit Give Me Your Blood at least three times throughout the 50-hour performance. This way, one can easily see the transformation of both the space as well as Nikhil Chopra himself as the performer.
Give Me Your Blood and I Will Give You Freedom plays out from 15th August 2014, 7pm to 17th August 2014, 9pm. For more information on ticketing, visit www.sistic.com.sg
Images courtesy of Nikhil Chopra