The project plan is to develop this initial research project (The Cynics of Rajasthan, 2016/17) through a more concentrated period of development, using walking, and urban exploration as a way of encountering and interacting with ‘the Cynics of North India’. At the same time to explore rich seam of artist-led practice –  experimental, inter-cultural and inter-national by working with other artists – particularly to develop contacts and network in India. I was initially planning a trip through Delhi but was fortunate to be selected for a residency in Puri, State of Odisha, 250 miles south of Kolkata. The plan now is to use this residency and intercultural exchange with Indian artists to develop contacts, and the project, with a period of extended stay in Kolkata and Bengal. The residency is organised from 20 November to December 2, 2018.

Charlie Fox (counterproductions)


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Finally the King of the Dogs makes an appearance – dancing into Puri – a familiar but alien presence, and for a few hours the town is subjected to another spirit; doglike and dogheaded, roaming myopically through the byways of this sacred city.

First the rehearsal:

 

Then the performance:

 

Then the aftermath:

Next Blog Post: News from Kolkata


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Day 1: First light the Dogs on the beach stretching themselves. They take in the sunrise. By mid morning the sand is boiling and the dogs retreat to the shade to pant and keep cool.

I have little time to settle in – the artist residency is in full swing and we have an artist presentation scheduled for post-breakfast  (Tilla Crowne, UK).

In the afternoon we take a tuktuk to Konark Sun Temple: Familiarising yourself with Odisha region – drive along the Gulf of Bengal/ Indian Ocean coastline toward the half destroyed Sun Temple at Konark. An extraordinary temple sight. In the evening we stay with mostly Indian audience to watch the Son et Lumiere.  After the first 5 minutes the spectacle of over enlarged projections palls and I begin to dream of dogs…

 

Day 2: Orientation and Artist Presentations

We are plunged into the heat and soundscapes of the city, not to mention the extraordinary cocktail of odours, familiar and potent. There is no retreat from the cacophony of building and the siren sound system of the local beach temple, gearing up for nights of sacred festivity as the new moon comes. The fog has completely dispersed, beyond the constant hooting and buzz of traffic, the calls of the beach drift over us. We are immersed in a new horizon that shimmers in the hot midday sun then suddenly collapses into a dark band of night where pricks of light appear – torches or mobile phones pinpointing the nighttime fishing-boats.

Making out the sounds of the city, the direction of the beasts, the call of birds, I begin to locate the barks of dogs. Over the whole duration of the residency the call of the city becomes part of this night time vigil, thanks to Matt Scott’s attunement. We sit and listen, begin to hear the city as a musician might – to hear the repeated patterns and calibrate the pitch of the horns from the distant station. Occasionally Matt’s accordion responds to the horn, in kind and pitch. Beyond the station, out there, there are other sounds that haunt our sleep like the echoing judder of fishing boats lost on the moonlit swell.

On this day we are privileged again to hear from another artist (Sujatha Devi, India). I remember this as we were on the beach or perhaps my memory is faulty and this sharing took place on another day. The heat in the midday is intense but there is a sense at nightfall that the heat of summer is ended and winter is coming.

 

Day 3: Visit to heritage Villages – Quilting, traditional Hand-loom weaving, Ceramic village – traditional raku-like firing.

Driving along the highway nothing can prepare you for the encounter with the vast countryside hidden behind the main drag. Walking just 100 metres away from the roadway the quilting village looses its cloak of familiarity and becomes its self –  a rural, somewhat self-sufficient community with its own unique rhythm. The village dogs are curious as the people but show it without studied indifference, wary but sharp eyed. The smell of farming and cowdung approaches us as we walk further, passing a small lagoon, its banks strewn with the debris of ritual miniature candle boats. Yet there is a freshness in the subtle breeze that catches the fauna of the pathways, and draws us on into the fields. Exotic smells for us Westerners and city dwellers.

The countryside everywhere has its own local geography, geology and ecology but the earth here exudes its fecundity in spits of overwhelming scent. There are trees in flower, crushed grasses and herb-like plants that brush against us with their fragrance. A warmth, humidity, rises from the earth. In the distance fields of crops – not rice but wheat like fields, interspersed with copses of fruit trees and other productive trees including coconut palms. But it’s the natural shrubbiness, an unkempt luxuriance that captivates. Almost any of those spaces on the edge of cultivation where native species begin to take hold again – speak directly of the place – without translation or knowledge there’s a familiarity.

On the way back we find the men who were sewing and quilting together earlier have moved on. They pass us on a motorbike, the bundle of the wedding awning folded on the back. Later as we walk back through the back lane of the village we stop at bushes to collect young henna leaves.

Later we visit 2 more villages – one where cotton is spun and dyed then made into beautiful hand-loom woven saris and cloth.

In the afternoon en route to Potters Village I give a presentation of my recent works – mostly on InspiralLondon https://www.inspirallondon.com/ and walking art practice and relationship between communal art projects and social art practices.

And as dusk falls rapidly we huddle around a raku-style kiln, the open fire burning our thighs with raw heat as the village potters fire simple pots for the Jagarnarth Temple.

 

 

Day 4: Exploring Puri fishing village and beach resort.

Wandering the beach and back into town Rekha has arranged for us all to visit the Ice Factory. There’s a strong smell of fish in the yard and its a slippery few metres up the ice shoot to get to the factory floor. We stand between the honeycomb of rectangular shafts in which the ice is made and watch as a young man eases out another 70 kg block. The ice is weighed at the bottom of the shoot and sold by the kilo mostly to fishtraders eager to pack their polystyrene crates with ice.

The ice is weighed at the bottom of the shoot and sold by the kilo mostly to fishtraders eager to pack their polystyrene crates with ice. Later on the beach we hear from Roja Sanchana (India) – she talks to us about her work, her inspirations and recent personal history.

 

Day 5: Independent artist exploration – Jagarnarth Temple and a Early morning by the fishing village.

I’m up early – tried to make it before dawn – but the sun has already broken from the east and rolls across the beach. In the morning there is still some moisture diffusing the light, a slight mistiness, and the dogs, many thin almost shivering, afraid to open their eyes to see what the day brings. A man in big boots with a big camera lens. The eye is looking for them, searching for the light, out of the shade as the sun pitches higher they come in ones and twos. Hungry and hopeful, picking over the beach food, debris left from the latenight take outs but mainly the leftovers tipped onto the communal midden.  This  artificial dune dump, between the fishing village and the sea where the boats have arrived with their haul, surrounded by crowds of eager buyers, is the place the dogs frequent to find some decent scraps.

Underneath an upturned boat, I turn to find a bloated corpse, a black dog, distended belly, bloody marks on the rear legs. Perhaps the first signs of carrion, scavenging on the scavengers. The smell is covered by a combination of the putrid dump and the sea air. Men squat on the edge of the midden to relieve themselves. Dumps and dogs, and as the villagers say there’s nowhere else to put the waste, but to let it be picked over before running into a thick black treacle, channeled into the sea.

Later we are told that the fisher folk are from completely an other part of India, set up shop on the edge of the beach, squatting in the midst of Puri. Non-Odishian, alien, they follow their own ways and return to their own without learning the Orissa language or engaging in other local communities.

As I leave the beach I am accosted by a women and asked where I am from and then invited to come back later for a meal, of fresh fish. On the one side as she looks to the sea, the sun beginning to warm the air, you can see a kind of picturesque scene – men and woman with crates balanced on their heads, colourful boxes, boys and girls, all crowded round the long thin fishing skips. She is bathed in a soft light. On the other side, a midden of congealed detritus, plastic in varying colours and dazzling packaging mixed with human and animal odure, rotting foodstuffs and broken shards of all materials. A kind of two sided beauty then, the gentle smiling eyes of a hungry dog turned into the snarling of bared teeth.

 

Day 6: Making Dog Mask

There is material for this everywhere, and like a dog I dive into the nearest dumping ground, about 10 minutes from MAT Residency, in front of the building site adjacent to us.  Careful what to pick at but eager to find the right materials to make a start on the project, I start to make a pile of papers and card. A dog prowls warily atop the pile, regarding my work suspiciously.

I need a bag to collect the materials so go back to the building site for discarded cement bags. On my return theirs a pungent smell and puddles of urine sprayed across the papers. The dog has come and anointed the materials. Nowhere to be seen I feel pleased that the project to explore ‘Dog/God’ has been blessed by our resident street dog.

 

 

Day 7: Finishing Dog Mask

Another hot day as the sun rises above the roof. I shelter in the shade until midday applying glue to paper and building up the oversized mask. The materials collected seem perfect to reflect the colours of the dog coats, the textures and feel of their street culture.

In the afternoon we have other artist presentations to add to the tales from Sujatha Devi (India), Roja Sanchana (India), Rishikesh Deshmane (India).

Day 8 Preparations for exhibition

Final preparations for public presentation of works from residency. Having missed the first 2 days I’m struggling to finish everything but thankfully the climate means the papiermache dries almost instantly and work can go on late into the night. Everyone is busy preparing works to show in the early evening. After a final presentation by Diana Gurdulu (Italy/Berlin) – sharing her art story and the communal art project works pursued in Berlin we have time to contribute to a rehearsal of Tilla’s performance. Everything looks fascinating and approaches difficult perhaps controversial material especially the voice and rights of women. This resolve will be tested on the public.

The dog – king of the dogs – DOG/GOD is ready to perform something and with the final application of a tongue made from found silver wrapping from China, seems hungry to take on the streets of Puri.

Day 9: Performance Procession and Mobile Exhibition.

Starting from MAT we make our way toward the Station along the main road. First Stop outside a bank. The atmosphere is light, almost festive and seemingly relaxed.

Second part of the procession takes us toward the station. Stop outside a Doctor’s surgery. A crowd quickly forms and there is a lively debate with a cluster of onlookers for 15 to 20 minutes. Then the drivers of vehicles suggest we move on – the crowd has grown and seems to be jostling and agitated. But in a few minutes we are locked in by a brace of mopeds. The occupants of the mopeds seem to be orchestrating a spontaneous protest against the perceived ‘blasphemy’ of some of the displayed works. The atmosphere has turned and three or four men are shouting angrily – others attack the artworks. They then turn on the Indian Artists and the driver of the exhibition truck. We have to leave in a hurry. I am still in the dog mask as we are bundled into a passing tuktuk.

Later in the afternoon we hold a debriefing discussion to discuss the events and fathom what it might mean for all of us. I think we worry most for the Indian artists – Roja, Sugatha, Vimmie and Rekha. But also all the female artists. Very troubling, the ingrained misogyny and anger.

 

Day 10: Moving on to Raghurajpur village, to stay the night at artisan village and witness modern Gotipua Dancing.

Thanks to Seidhar, his father and Rishikesh I am invited to the heritage village of Raghurajpur to see the crafts and craftmanship of the village artists. Most excited to witness Gotipua Dancing* but have time to track some village dogs in the evening and explore the craftshops set up along the main street.

It is a rare privilege to stay the night here and experience the end of the day, from dusk into night, in a rural village. And in the evening thanks to Guri Gangadhar Nayak (Seidhar’s father) we have over an hour of dancing – the boys performing extraordinary choreography, flexibility and grace. Combined with the drums and harmonium the rehearsal space vibrates with Gotipua. But to cap it all the boys perform a final piece – Goddesses turning into Dogs, a delicate Dog dancing. Magical.

  • ‘Gotipuas are young boys who dress as females and dance along  with the decline of Devadasi and Mahari tradition. …The most interesting dance is “Bandha Nrutya”. It is a dance with acrobatic poses and movement. The difficult and intricate poses of the body with supplying of various limbs are known as “Banda” in Odia.’ (Swasti Shree Gotipua Leaflet of Dance School – Director, Guru Gangadhar Nayak)

Day 11: Visiting Papiermache mask making workshops and return to Bhubaneshwar Airport.

In the morning we are lucky enough to enter a workshop where they are pleased to share with us the secrets of the villlage mask makers. Simple moulds, newsapaper pulp and tamarine paste to build up the structure with the final details painted on with thick cow dung paste. We see small and larger masks drying outside and in ten minutes they have found a mould of bear. There are no dog masks, yet, but at least we have a laughing bear. Over half an hour a rough mask appears from the mould for me to keep and work from.

 

Day 12/13/14/15: Kolkata

Kolkata Dog Culture and Inspiralling the city.


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Arriving in India after 22 hour flight is always disorientating but I find myself in a taxi from Bhubaneswar airport, 2 o’clock in the morning, talking to the driver about World Hockey Championships, Cricket and PM Modi. The streets are empty and only the dogs, guarding their territories, at crossroads and lit-up junctions appear from out of the thick fog. It will take over an hour to drive to Puri but I cannot make out much of the countryside, so  I enjoy the conversation and keep an eye for the Odisha dogs.

I arrive at MAT Artist accommodation around 3 o’clock having already established the state is a favourite of Modi’s with a nationalist cleaning agenda – to keep the sites and beaches clean. In the morning I’m made aware that foreigners (non-Hindus) are not welcome in the temples and sacred sites. The small cavern temple tucked in behind the MAT building is out of bounds but we can watch activities from above. Occasionally kids can be seen circling the outside, grappling along the walls as a dare or entertainment. Thankfully when I arrive in the early hours our host Basan is up to let me in to the room. Tomorrow we start a tour of the historic and heritage artisan villages that surround Puri. Looking forward to sleeping…

In this dream – entering Jagarnarth Temple, guided by a pilgrim map and spirit of Diogenes we find ourselves stooping in front of the Dog shrine, a hidden sanctuary to one side of the main temple complex. No one stops here, and there are no elaborate offerings or dressed effigies or statues, just a kind of silence from all the hubhub and shoving. The sounds of the car horns, the hoot of the trains, the cries of hawkers and general agitation of traffic has dissolved. We are with the dogs, sniffing the air, sensing another place. From the ground up we prowl and prance, transforming the space with our lightfootedness.


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Puri is a sacred Hindu city in the state of Odisha, on the eastern coast of India. Formerly part of Bengal, the state has its own language and keeps alive many traditional crafts and skills.

 

The first few days of the Puri Residency – Lead Artist Rekha Sameer with local guide – will take us to explore the city and its beautiful environs – particularly the Sun temple at Konark.

 

We will also be exploring the heritage villages centred around Raghurajpur – visiting local artisans, sharing skills and techniques with local artists. Raghurajpur is also known for unique dance form – called Gotipua – and other indigeneous art forms that include ceramics, hand-loom weaving and detailed handsown patchwork. In the second week artists will work on their responses to Puri’s rich art/culture and exchange artistic practice.

“Representing traditions to Building Traditions

Historically, heritage or cottage industries have been largely associated with the rural small scale family production unit with skills and knowledge handed down through generations. They use locally available materials to expound local myths and stories. Whilst globalisation brushes many cities with the same stroke and colour, cottage traditional crafts insulate itself in a bubble by focusing on the local. Could this be one of the many reasons, it is dying in many countries? Other reasons for its diminishing scale are mass machine production, environmental and climatic pressures and an increasing number of youth lost in the global digital space. In order to survive and revive itself, a shift needs to occur within the indigenous crafts industry. The focus needs to shift from not just representing traditions but to playing an active role in ‘building’ traditions through incorporation of contemporary stories, imagery and values as well as the adoption of new materials and innovations. Exchange of knowledge and energy between the local artisans and rest of the world is important. By allowing respectful appropriation and inculcating new approaches, its cultural traditions and skills will not just have a chance to survive but to grow as well. A confluence of myriad groups such as the crafts people, the artists, the art market, government and the general public results in a mutually enriching platform beneficial for all involved.

It is the aim of artists’ residencies such as 2018 Puri Art Residency to facilitate this synergy on an national and international platform. Puri Residency aims to bring together International and Indian artists and introduce them to the temples and unique crafts and art traditions of Odisha. Artists will be introduced to skills such as palm leaf carving, stone and wood carving, pata chitra and tassar painting, paper maché mask making, ganjapa playing card making, dhorka metal casting and cow dung toy making as well as dance forms such as Gotipua and Odishi. It is my hope that this exchange will be mutually rewarding and allow for a worldwide dispersal of local knowledge and skills and reinvigorate the local crafts industry.” Rekha Sameer (2018)


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