PSi#21 Fluid States - India: Rethinking Labor and the Creative Economy, Arting, by Ananda Breed, India Correspondent


Rethinking Labour: Arting

by Ananda Breed

28 February 2015

PSi#21 Fluid States - India: Rethinking Labor and the Creative Economy - Global Performance Perspectives

PDF available here

During the opening session of day two, Sundar Sarukkai referred back to the protest songs from the previous day. Sarukkai posed that within the performance of song that there is the doing of singing and the thinking about singing, noting that these are two different functions. He used the term ‘arting’ as an adverb to qualify the way that art functions as a mode of working. Adverbs are used to add to or to change the meaning of a word. Thus, how does ‘arting’ add to or change the meaning of work?

In regards to earlier debates about how to step outside the all-encompassing mode of capitalism, Sarukkai posed the question: ‘What events allow work to not be a project of capitalism?’ The Indian practice of “seva” provides an alternative perspective to re-think labour and capitalism. It is not about individual production and creativity. People singing and providing “seva” and doing other forms of work is something more than just labour.

In the article ‘The Idea of Work’ (Economic and Political Weekly, Nov. 27-Dec. 3, 2004) by Ela Bhatt and Renana Jhabvala, they challenge the individualistic (and often Western) concept of work and suggest that we can re-think labour using examples from an Indian philosophical context. Bhatt and Jhabvala provide examples of how within various castes identified with specific modes of work, song is used to narrate social and economic relations.  Elaborating on how embroidery extends to the cosmological level, Bhatt and Jhabvala state: ‘The modern economy brings about a mindset of competition, individualism, and a drive towards ever expanding consumerism. On the other hand, cultural and traditional ways of thinking… often [move] in a different direction.’

The possibility of ‘arting’ through the concept of “seva” can be one way of re-thinking labour that actively challenges individualism towards a holistic approach to art work - to labour with non-attachment and to keep needs to a minimum, thus establishing another mode of working that is not directed by labouring for further consumption. The needs of the most marginalised and vulnerable must be at the centre of the work, to decentralise and to focus on local level networks to create new forms of social and economic systems.

However, the form of ‘arting’ presented by Gopal Guru demonstrated the limitation of “seva” when bodies are danced to a level of service that breaks down the body to sacrificing oneself in deference to the demands of the craft. Here, the notion of “seva” is put into tension when human bodies are used for consumption as a product regardless of how that service may have been laboured.

In contrast, the closing of the evening through Maya Rao’s ‘arting’ of the current political state through her performance of The Drip Economy: Ants in His Pants illustrated the ridiculous absurdity of Narendra Modi’s ‘changing hats’ and opened up the possibility for labour as play and the unique undoing of power through laughter.

Copyright –  Ananda Breed  (2015) “Re-thinking Labor: Arting”, PSi #21 Fluid States: Performances of UnKnowing LOG, ed. Marin Blazevic, Bree Hadley and Nina Gojic, Performance Studies international (PSi), 1 January 2015-31 December 2015, available

Tags: Class Labor Economy and Performance  Community and Performance  Daily Life Daily Rituals and Performance   Performance Studies in Asia  Performance Studies in Languages Other Than English  

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter