The time to create

Chennai-based contemporary dancer-choreographer Preethi Athreya speaks about her latest work performed in the debris of a half-renovated, abandoned house

You describe your work in the film, ‘And indeed there will be time…’, as a conversation between space, time and matter. What moved you to create this work?

In the short span of six months, social distancing has left its mark on our bodies. We have become suspicious of our own hands, anxious about what we have touched, where we have leaned or sat, or who has passed by within a foot from us. Feeling alienated from our bodily selves, I wanted to ask what it means to move through space, to partner with surfaces and objects, to move around people without touching them, to feel their fear and shrinking… this film has been a small intervention in time, to perhaps ‘touch’ what is not yet.

Tell us about the space where this work was created

It is a house in the middle of renovation. The invitation to ‘walk through’ this site came to me from Prakriti Foundation. The site had been abandoned, with tell-tale signs of activity suspended midway — scaffolding, cement, tools and personal belongings like slippers and bottles. The film was shot as an impromptu response to the space — an in-between space, in an in-between time and, as such, a sign of the times we are all inhabiting.

The conditions for the creation of art have radically changed in the past few months. What does it mean for you to be an artiste in these times and how has this found its way into this piece?

In one way, the film medium allows a sense of the timeless to make its way into the expression (I thank my colleague Sharan Devkar Shankar for his work here) and it can perhaps be a way to reflect the ambiguity and change. But aside from the piece itself, I find myself constantly occupied with the question of what it means to be a practitioner in these times. One of the most devastating changes I see is in regarding the arts as non-essential in the face of disease, hunger and death — conditions that existed before the pandemic. Artistes in most countries are faced with a denial of the arts as relevant and in need of state support and public patronage. While several online platforms have proliferated, I hold dear the certainty that we cannot replace the role and power of live performance in connecting people and healing a nation’s psyche.

The title of the piece is beautiful, and I am curious to know about its provenance

The title ‘And indeed there will be time…’ is a line from T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.’ Written at the turn of the 20th century, the poem spoke of alienation, isolation and the diminishing power of authority… uncanny how it relates to the times we live in. And what of art? What of the staggering responsibilities that art is charged with? I dare say art cannot change the world… but a changing world can certainly benefit from the practice of art. A nation without its artistes is a nation that has stopped dreaming.

You had said that the completion of the piece left in you a void. But if indeed there will be time, what wisdom would you like to share?

Perhaps it is to do with the times – this sense of hanging in the air, untethered to any reality, that often leaves me (and no doubt many others) unable to ascribe value or a sense of purpose to our ‘output’ as artistes. It all seems to disappear into a black hole. However, it soon occurs to me that we have always been engaged in that which is unquantifiable… and that perhaps it is meant for not just artistes but all of humanity to stay with this uncertainty and deal with the unknown a while longer and not be in haste to ‘fix’ a world that serves our interests once more.

‘And indeed there will be time…’ was filmed by photographer and film-maker Sharan Devkar Shankar and facilitated by Prakriti Foundation. The film is available on YouTube.

The interviewer is a professor

of Anthropology, IIT Madras.

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