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


Rethinking Labour: Place and Rupture

by Ananda Breed

27 February 2015

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


The concept of Fluid States was introduced at the beginning of PSi 21 in New Delhi by dramaturg Marin Blažević as crossing between shifting oceanic grounds of the seas that separate and bind territorial margins to problematise boundaries and remap relations and limits of un/knowing. One of Blažević’s provocations was based on how we perform acts of unknowing and how we become aware of our unknowing. A stated concern of the conference was to shift global concerns to local problems, focusing on the intra-cultural, and to be situated in place.


Rustom Bharucha, the curator of PSi New Delhi’s Rethinking Labour and the Creative Economy: Global Performative Perspectives, emphasised that instead of being a site of a ‘blockbuster mega conference’ that Rethinking Labour was determined by place. The institution of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi served to launch the PSi event through a performance by JNU students and activists who performed worker’s protest songs Lal Salam (Red Salute) and Hum Bhai Mazdoor Kisan (we are workers and farmers). One PhD student, Amita Rana, stated that JNU is known for the strength of its student movements and a history of being anti-establishment. This context, then, set the tone and tenor of how labour and performance was framed and contextualised through the actual location of PSi 21 at JNU.

In response to Blazevic’s introduction to PSi 21’s Fluid States – Performances of Unknowing as uncontested bodies of oceanic waters, Bharucha questioned the glamourisation of ‘flow’ stating that we must be aware that boat people and varied groups who are trying to cross between borders and boundaries are not in ‘flow’; they are drowning. The analogy was raised to provoke the notion of economic flows and globalisation within the creative economy as a reminder that there are also disjunctures, blockages, ruptures and a lack of flow or fluidity. Rustom’s provocation to focus on place and rupture versus site and fluidity framed my extension of this discourse through the presentation by Soumyabrata Choudhury and artistic practice of Maya Krishna Rao.

(Image: Ananda Breed, JNU Wall Art)

Several presentations at the conference linked labour to the immaterial production used within the globalised economy. Choudhury created an extenuation of this argument through an example that within the Indian context, the Balai caste is obliged by law from the Manusmriti, the Sanskrit book of Law that lays down rules for all caste duties and obligations, to “serve without resentment”. Similar to modern capitalism, this service is by consent without resistance.


Although, later in the afternoon session on the creative economy, Jon McKenzie illustrated how the literacy of digitalisation could be used to subvert the war machine of academia’s increased withdrawal from research outside of a Cold War economy, the metaphor of ‘dancing with the devil’ was used to illustrate how one must conform to the same symbols and codes of capitalism to create different kinds of performatives.


Within these presentations, there was an all-encompassing discourse of performance and labour as capitalism. However, I think it’s worth emphasising alternative narratives that emerged during the course of the day that pushed against the instrumentalisation of labour and performance as a hegemonic and hierarchical construction. Choudhury noted that although there is the myth or image of all-encompassing flows of globalisation and capitalism, that there are ruptures to the mechanism that creates the dominant discourse.


Here, I switch to a conversation with one of India’s most eminent performance artists, Maya Krishna Rao, who noted the need for ‘floating’ and to be in a state of ‘unknowing’ to create something anew.


“It was during the time of the brutal bus rape of Nirbhaya (without fear) and the whole of Delhi and the nation was in shock. We didn’t know what to do and so we walked. We walked and we walked. From when the rape happened on 16 December until her death on 29 December, we walked. On 30 December, I was in the middle of rehearsals for a comedy piece entitled ‘Non-stop Feel Good Show’. But, I couldn’t work. It was as if I had something stuck in my stomach and I couldn’t move through it. Then, in the middle of the rehearsal, I got a call from JNU. I was asked to come tomorrow. I wanted to say no, it is not the way that I create work. But, what came out of my mouth was ‘yes’. The event – the rape of Nirbhaya – shaped the work. The event created the form. In the evening of 31 December at midnight, I presented The Walk. I performed in a different way than I would normally. I took a script in hand and I gave someone my phone to record. The feeling was that it wasn’t performance in the traditional sense. I was not performing – it was not about me performing. It was performance with Nirbhaya. I wasn’t there as a performer, I was there for Nirbhaya.


The description of Rao’s work that shifted into a new form of creative practice and emplacement challenges some of the former arguments made within the conference. Here, the event created the performance and Rao’s relationship of the work shifted. The focus turned to the necessity to create space for something to happen.  I move from Rao’s description of The Walk to a follow-up conversation with Choudhury:


“An event like Nirbhaya created a demand to make a response due to the intensity of what happened. The disorientation makes one lose direction for a moment, then one intervenes due to one’s own feeling as an obligation. It is a moral or existential obligation. One isn’t able to go back to former practices. The production of work, then, isn’t just artistic because it is about fundamental existence. The example of the Balai caste and servitude within capitalism is based on a kind of pre-obligation that is already embodied.  Something has to happen – an event – that creates a rupture in what you take to be as given. One is displaced, confused, and the chain breaks. Then, you create something out of the rupture. It cannot be a planned break, this was the mistake of communism. Capitalism is only capitalism through the subjectivity of people who believe in the myth of capitalism versus the reality. There will be moments when the flow is broken like the Wall Street crash and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Thus, we see that capitalism doesn’t work in its entirety. An event provides an impulse to do something about it.”


The quotes from Rao and Choudhury focus on rupture, the impetus of labour to move in new directions as an alternative to capital. Choudhury stated: ‘It is often when we are called to act on behalf of those who have the least amount of power when the greatest innovation and change can occur.’ If the notion of rupture is used within the analogy of the monolithic workforce of contemporary times in which performance is subsumed within labour as a totalising force, then the event would serve as a wrench in the wheel. Rao stated: ‘It is within the pause, when I don’t know what is going to happen that something new is created.’ In this way, the ‘unknowing’ becomes a pre-condition to go against the flow, to work outside capitalism’s assimilation of creatives into the creative economy and to generate further questions pertaining to unknowing and undoing the means of knowing.

(Image: Ananda Breed, JNU Wall Art)

Copyright –  Ananda Breed  (2015) “Re-thinking Labor: Workshopping”, 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  

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