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Partly inspired by the thinking of Gilles Deleuze, the dynamic that has driven us can be summed up in the following way: construction of a platform from which we can work in three distinct directions – artistic creation, thought generation and social action –, working together in these three areas almost in the one gesture, without letting one override the other two. For when artistic creation today consists in disposing of differences, combining them to produce original potentials (aesthetic effects), the notion of social action changes meaning: in order to expand the possibilities of heterogeneous combinations, it is important to put different human worlds into contact – and, as a result, to nurture social links. Similarly, while thought generation – through the reinvention of terminology – promotes continual questioning of practices, it requires, to attain a level of relevance, diversity in points of view and experiences; here again, “others” are necessary. In short, the conviction that inhabits us at Trimukhi Platform is that in order to produce art and thought today, with quality, rigour and relevance, we need diversity, human and social diversity.
Things started rather simply in 2008 when I directed a performance in collaboration with fifteen Santhal musicians, dancers and actors, a performance initially staged in the tribal village of Borotalpada (240 km to the southwest of Calcutta) and later presented, with the support of the Indian Ministry of Culture, at Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre and Jadavpur University. But rapidly, things started moving to a new scale. In 2010, a village assembly decided in favour of the construction of a cultural centre where projects such as the 2008 staging (in other words, projects to do with contemporary practice of the arts) could find a forum.
To take time to examine the issues that this type of collective desire raised, we organised, in January 2011, at Modern Academy of Continuing Education (MACE), Calcutta, an international internal seminar. We gathered academics, artists and social workers from Mexico, India and France to listen and speak to us, and, by speaking to us, to enrich our views, to widen our horizons. Women from rural, tribal and semi-urban areas of Bengal were also invited: their testimonies and analyses helped us to not lose sight of the concrete realities in which we wished to be inscribed.
Discussions lasted five days, preceded by three days of discovery-visits (families living in the street, Muslim and Christian families, the untouchable district, the red-light district and the village of Borotalpada) to offer more practical elements to nourish theoretical reflections. Following this seminar, it was decided that the construction of the cultural centre would be accompanied by the seeking of an administrative status for Trimukhi Platform, which thus became a non-profit organisation, two-thirds of which would be made up of Santhal villagers from Borotalpada (about fifteen families).
Set up on a voluntary basis, the construction of the centre took several years – especially as some damage was caused by the passing of a cyclone in 2013… But cultural activities started as of autumn 2011. Apart from visual-creation workshops (two by a Mexican and one by two Colombian artists), I suggested that we continue the festival that I had previously organised in Mexico City: the Night of Theatre. The Indian event would reproduce the Mexican one on one point: directors and choreographers from Europe and Latin America would be invited to work on the spot for a few weeks with artists from the host country, and together prepare performances presented on the Night. (In Mexico, creations were then restaged during the season.) In the Indian event, what changed, from the perspective of our guests, was that collaboration was developed with actors and dancers who were also tribal farmers; from the perspective of our spectators, what was different was the organisation of the festival, not in a cultural hotspot in a large urban centre, but on the periphery, in a remote village. In February 2012, we had proof that there was meaning in our wager: some sixty urban spectators, after 5 and a half hours of travelling, by train then bus, mingled with the public from the tribal zone (around 300 persons). Ever since the Night of Theatre has been held every year.
Decisions on activities to launch and artists to invite continued to be taken collectively. Similarly, the evaluation of activities gave rise to group meetings. But we still needed more autonomy. We understood this while reflecting on this problem with a French anthropologist (Marc Hatzfeld) and a Colombian choreographer (Sandra Goméz). Using the pretext of an agreement signed with the Barcelona Institute of Theatre (allowing us to welcome Masters students for their practical internships), we launched an innovative pedagogical programme: giving twelve young villagers (who, apart from having the right leanings, would soon play active roles in the life of the community) the tools and knowledge enabling them to carry out, in the cultural centre, with rigour and responsibility, all the singular projects to which they aspired.
We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into. It was a matter of meeting concrete needs in certain domains, stimulating creative capacities in others. The first session, ten days long, took place in July 2014: Spanish lessons, analysis of artworks, vocal training, microphone handling, sound exploration via the body. The second session in December included a writing workshop, awareness-raising on health problems namely drinking water (at the request of the young people), English lessons, production of live performance, elaboration of a twelve-month cultural programme. The third in May 2015 covered computing, initiation to Internet, an online anthropology workshop on “poetics of the land”. The fourth session was held in October: conclusion of the anthropology workshop and sound exploration through Santhal musical instruments. The contributors – artists, university professors, university students – came from France, India, Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela.
This programme – aiming not to teach but to stimulate, not to train but to catalyse – is as efficient as it is joyful. As long as they begin to stand out, desires take shape and art becomes more relevant and effective. For example, for Essay on Seasonal Variation in Santhal Society, the show on which we have been working from December 2015 to January 2017, I was collaborating with a 15-year-old Santhal girl (whose first experience in theatre with us dates back to 2008!). Part of the text was written by two villagers aged 24 and 16. The same goes for the video filming of rehearsals and the use of computers during the performance.
Together, we are coming up with original setups such as Try Me Under Water – Reshaped Landscape, a nocturnal itinerary in the countryside surrounding the village, punctuated by minimalist interventions (beams of light on a field, faces projected onto a tree, bicycle crossing a path, bodies entering water), which reshape the landscape and the contemplative experience the audience have of it. With the support of the Alliance Française of Bengal, Jadavpur University and MACE, a new staging in Kolkata of Bachchader Experimentum, our previous performance, confirms this intuition. The latter was presented for five successive days in five different public spaces, which, far from being a handicap, proved to be a source of constant aesthetic innovation.
So we have not stayed in the one spot. It was necessary for movement not to be limited, for it to go further. This is how the project for professionalising our young team came to light : We intend, with the support of cultural institutions all over the world, to prepare twelve young Santhal villagers, each with their own speciality (such as contemporary dance, literary writing, video or theatre direction), to become art professionals with access, if they so wish, to international perspectives. It is not academic training that is at stake, but a social innovation gesture. The core of the issue lies in listening to desires, singularities, in such a way as to support each and every person in their blossoming – supporting them, thus, with attention and rigour, means being their contemporary, in the etymological sense of this word.
We set ourselves seven years to achieve this.