There are 3 parts to this reflection on my squeezed escapade in India. Firstly I include a poem I wrote when I was sitting in the departure gate of the airport, waiting to fly back to England. I get a bit lost in words and sounds at times, so I’m not sure it’s easy to understand, unless you know the context of my inspiration. I dilate/dilute my poem by copying down here sections from my diary, which I wrote during the 2 days of the symposium. These 2 sections contain a simplistic narrative of an adventure I had, and then a more philosophical deliberation on my part in the symposium at the Goethe Institute. This symposium and the concurrent exhibition were called “Crisis and the Making and Unmaking of Sense: Art as Schizoanalysis”, organised by Khoj International Artists’ Association.
- Pure perceptions
The smog tugs
my throat in
a yurt (of sorts)
a sort of
that toys with
grids that lead
instead to boys who
glue their eyes
to gushing buys
and see my white naivety
a state to shove believing with
above their toil.
A royal boil
begins to itch my throat
They sell me rotten apples
and drive me through the rubble.
In-credible, a fib,
unstable, a rib
bounces and renounces
my body’s defences
as I lurch across the track.
A fact backed when
around the bend
floundering my senses
But then I arrive.
air and through
holding my inebriety.
Instead of lurching,
Here the sun
from tomes of blown up dens
cannot subsume the oms
from green and grown refrains.
amidst the new creation
defies the chronic,
This is our task.
We slip through,
ripping their cloak,
nipping through the boundaries,
staking out founded steeds
for a brand new reality.
Grand, astute, a fluke?
Not quite, more like
a great hike that breaks
the strokes of broken lives
and strives to set us free.
2. My adventure
Last night Lleah (who has dyed her hair pink) took me to somewhere in central Delhi. It was very intense and a crisis evolved. Before it did we had a highly stimulating set of sensoriums/sensoriae, which erupted from the trip to this crammed, chaotic market. We went on the subway first of all, which was a pretty intense experience in itself. Talk about crammed. So many dark, smelly men, wet and whet with sweat and pounding the inadequate space too close to me. One man placed his left ear on my lips. As my breath banged his warm skin, and our bodies touched, clammy and condensed, I immediately gasped, aghast at this ghastly unwanted intimacy, and retreated (as much as was (im)possible, given the restraints (im)posed by the lack of space). Soon it was our stop. The station was similarly crammed full of people. We went up the stairs. So was the street.
Undeterred, excited, I followed Lleah and we began to explore. Neither of us knew where we were going. We followed out noses. The odd pong barred the route – urine, mould, dirt. In fact, each olfactory stimulus enhanced the overall sensorium, since it made the journey more authentic.
We wandered randomly through the streets, undeterred by the aggressive rickshaws (‘autos’) and motorcycles beeping and cavorting their horns and accelerators, bombarding through the space.
The streets were lined with market stalls. Most were selling colourful material and fabric, bangles or fruit. I took lots of photos and videos, really enjoying this adventure.
After a while we decided to return home. We found a rickshaw (after one we’d rejected due to excessive charge) and climbed aboard. By now it was rush hour and the streets were crammed with beeping automobiles aggressively meandering around each other, noisily trying to overtake and ignoring any semblance of order posed by lines, lights, regulations, or policemen blowing vociferously into plastic whistles.
Then, before we knew it, a motorcycle cruised past at huge speed, and snatched Lleah’s purse, which she was holding on her lap. It flashed past and away, irretrievable. We urged the rickshaw driver to follow, and he went down the other side, the wrong side of the road, dodging rickshaws etc., trying to catch the villant. Violence. Shock. Fear. Lost. The motorbike went away and we could not follow. The purse was gone and we were unable to retain it. so we ordered the rickshaw driver to take us to the police.
At the police station Lleah formed a complaint. We had to go to another police station to do this, in the same—evidently dangerous—rickshaw that we’d lost the purse on before. I was scared and clasped my own bag so closely to my chest. The next police station seemed “helpful” in inverted commas, but Lleah’s purse (passport, all her money, credit cards and iPhone) was irretrievable and she had nothing. The police did nothing and were quite intimidating. They gave us each a glass of water and tried to insist that we drank it. Now pure water here is poisonous so that was a pretty shifty gesture.
I was melting into patheticism, if I’m honest, by this moment. I gave Lleah some money and asked the police to get me a taxi to return to KHOJ, where I was staying. At first they did not want to get me a taxi and said I should use a rickshaw, this same rickshaw which had brought on the situation. I refused, and eventually a taxi was called. I got in and we drove off.
Before long it was evident that this bedraggled taxi driver did not know where we were going. Soon we were lost, in the middle of nowhere (after travelling at speed up the motorway). The taxi driver jabbered away in one of the multitude of languages apparent in India. He did not speak English. He stopped the car, left me alone in it, and wandered off to speak to a fat, bearded man who was sitting in an armchair outside his house. The driver eventually came back and we were off again. He turned around. Kept stopping and turning around. I became increasingly scared, and did not know what to do. I had no one’s telephone number and my phone wouldn’t seem to work anyway.
I shouted pigeon English at the driver and he shouted his Indian nonsense back at me. No sense. The Crisis and Unmaking of Sense. Then, suddenly, I recognised the street and so it was fine. I stopped the taxi. Refused to pay the extortionate fee he proposed, I paid a lesser fare, and walked to KHOJ. I found, then, that the door was locked and I couldn’t get in. I had no key. Shit. It was late by this point and of course I was on my own. All I could do was bang on the door and shout loudly, hoping someone was there who could let me in.
Someone did. And then I ate cereal and milk. I forget about water being poisonous and drank it neat from the tap. Fuck. Oh well, I was fine. Phew. What an adventure!
3. A more philosophical debrief of the symposium, and my own intervention
. . . So it’s bumpy now, because I’m on my way back home in a taxi to Delhi airport. I wend my way. Yesterday (the second day of the symposium, the day after the above adventure) was terrific. I showed my film and made my intervention. I was so brutally honest about my experiences because they could be applied critically to the overall trajectory of the symposium, which was: schizoanalysis and the making/unmaking of sense.
In basic terms the symposium and exhibition presented artists and thinkers who demonstrated different ways of perceiving and reacting to the world, in response to a crisis that is both social and psychological. This concerns psychosocial trauma, the effects of genocide, the disappearance of lives from history, and the false rewriting or superimposition of a history that is fundamentally hegemonic, selective, exclusive and hierarchical.
The point we made at KHOJ was to show how stating a different truth to the one superimposed and falsely fixed by history can de-legitimise the structures of power who control it. This is agency. We cannot reverse genocide. We cannot prevent trauma. But we can build a rhizome of utterings, rememberings, representations, which secure our different identities and, collected, can provide healing and retaliation.
The symposium tried to install this agency through a schizoanalytic framework, one which dismantles the fixed, teleological, catastrophic logic of systems of power. We founded a way to state and respond to the pits of hell and torturous atrocities installed and advocated by these mutually destructive—whether totalitarian or capitalist—forms of power. Making art, thinking through making, and sharing what is made, resists and decentres. It provides healing. A rhyzome of possibilities.
My own part to play in the symposium was highly insignificant. I felt like an ignorant, spoilt child – from the West, where, although we are hyper-consumed and dictatorially controlled by capitalism, we know nothing of the atrocities suffered in other parts of the world (represented at the symposium). However, I have experienced my own atrocities. My own genocide, which fortunately I was able to free myself from. I make art. This provides a process of retaliation from my demons, a process of sense-making, and a process of healing. What I do with art can be applied to other situations, since it is not just individual, or confined to me. It is social.
I showed my ”Touché” film (viewable on my website, under ‘Painting Film’. Then I explained how I’d made it, and discussed how it showed a different perspective of the world, which consists of my hallucinatory visions. I developed this subjective narrative through a schizoanalytic appraisal and applied my thoughts to a critical as well as clinical register. Leon Tan, whose film (made with Virlani Rupini) was shown in the exhibition, asked me questions, and talked about his own work also. Together we discussed how art can promote healing in situations of psychosocial trauma, particularly using Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas about and their methodology of schizoanalysis.
Pooja Sood, who runs KHOJ, said she would have liked to have put my film in the main exhibition, and I had some great responses to it, both during the symposium and afterwards. I connected with several artists, who said that they also have visions. We began to discuss what larger intervention we could manifest together, as a result of the insight and openings uncreased and set free here, floating and yet grounded, beneath the soil and grains of dirt, spit and detritus, and growing reams of shoots and bulbs from the multiplicity of roots that spread across the many corners of the world. I mean, the symposium had a global audience. Participants came from all around the world. The world – its corners don’t trap or confine, we are set free by the agency of the frisky roots which take us to and from them, skipping through time zones, nations and boundaries, spreading hope and clasping hands with friends along the way.
By the end of the symposium I felt surrounded by these friends and so stimulated that the pores in my skin began to ooze with synaesthetic shivers. Hair-raising, but with the comfort and security of company by now, unlike the adventure of the previous night, I settled into this expanded sensorium.
After a rousing, celebratory booze up (or diet coke spritz, in my case)m we confirmed our vows of fraternity and agency. Pooja drove Navjot, Ana and I back and I went to bed. Tumbling thoughts and sensations pervaded the ends of my consciousness as I lay down to settle, safe and secure on the wooden bed. Hypnogogic visions mutated these cerebral happenings and soon my mind was wound with skipping images of hope, release and joy.
This is what I found in Delhi.