Interview // Anindita Dutta: Sculpting Performance



Interview by Alena Sokhan in Berlin; Tuesday, April. 28, 2015

Indian-born visual artist Aninditta Dutta has a remarkable practice that combines sculpture, performance, and installation. Dutta has become internationally renowned for her highly expressive use of wet clay in her performance work, which explores universally human themes of mortality, time, creativity, and social, political and psychological conflict. Berlin Art Link talked to her about her recent show Everything Ends and Everything Matters at the contemporary art gallery Latitude 28 in New Delhi.

Berlin Art Link interview with Anindita Dutta for her performance at Latitude 28Anindita Dutta – “Limitation” (2015), digital color print on archival paper, 60″ x 40″; photo by Yogesh Patel

Alena Sokhan: How did you think of combining wet clay with performance art – was it a natural pairing for you?

Anindita Dutta: The transformation from working with clay as a sculptor to using it as a medium of performance was very slow and natural. While practicing as a sculptor, clay was a basic material that I was used to working with. However, over time, I realized that the kind of mind and personality that I am born with is very compatible to expression with clay. I discovered the medium had bearing on my philosophical and emotional bent of mind. On one hand my works examine temporality, mortality, life and death and on another they express separation, constriction, hurt and loss. All of this comes together with an outburst of energy that requires a cathartic venting.

Perhaps subconsciously I was always looking for material that would respond to these twin sides of my personality, a medium where I could release my emotions immediately and clay responded to that call. Wet clay allows me to express my emotions instantaneously and spontaneously, it pairs and matches perfectly with my temperament and enables me to work for six to eight hours at a stretch, during which I can fully express my emotions and concepts. In the end it gives me peace of mind and makes me feel calm. It literally takes ‘care’ of my overload of energy. In that sense clay helps me find release.

What I also like about working with clay is that it has a character of its own, it’s like a marsh that draws you in, deeper and deeper… working with clay is often like wrestling, it weighs a lot once it is wet and it gives a resistance as if it were a person pushing back at me. It is also receptive to creating marks and textures that I do with my bare hands. As a result a variety of different emotions are created, expressed through this medium.

Berlin Art Link interview with Anindita Dutta for her performance at Latitude 28Anindita Dutta – “Limitation” (2015), digital color print on archival paper, 60″ x 40″; photo by Yogesh Patel

AS: Can you describe the sensations of being in one of your installations, surrounded and covered in wet clay?

AD: Clay transforms me. When I am covered in clay after a while I lose my connection to the social world. I feel concealed almost like no one can recognize me. I am camouflaged within nature and one with it. During this process I become calm and meditative: I feel like I am in a trance, I am soothed. Once I am in this zone, it doesn’t take much effort for me to perform, I can execute what I have planned or what comes spontaneously. Being covered in clay just takes me there.

Berlin Art Link interview with Anindita Dutta for her performance at Latitude 28Anindita Dutta – “Limitation” (2015), digital color print on archival paper, 60″ x 40″; photo by Yogesh Patel

AS: What are you thoughts about the documentation of your work?

AD: Besides documenting my work as a sculptor, when I am operating as a performance artist I set up the camera, I choose the view through the lens so it is the exact frame that I want and then I shoot. I document my performances, with the camera on a tripod, and the performance is executed before a stationary camera. Whether the image is a photograph or a video, the process is the same and so far I have not handed the camera entirely over to a ‘cameraman’. When I am collaborating with a lot of people – and I do more often now – I see myself a bit like a filmmaker, where I oversee the setting up of everything, from the clay ‘set’ to the actors, to the props and finally the camerawork. It is all to get that perfect shot, and create that magical moment which then gets documented. For my solo show at Latitude 28 this April, I will be showing a selection of videos and photographs, all of which have been documented by me.

Berlin Art Link interview with Anindita Dutta for her performance at Latitude 28Anindita Dutta – “Limitation” (2015), digital color print on archival paper, 60″ x 40″; photo by Yogesh Patel

AS: Can you talk about how time affects your work, or how you explore time in your work, since neither performance nor wet clay are long lasting or durable?

AD:Conceptually, a lot of my work deals with the issues of impermanence and transience. Where there is life there is death and it is this duality that I constantly address in my work – everything no matter how grandiose, ends and it is this pathos that I often deal with through my performances. On a practical level I work with wet clay, which I never let dry by spraying it to keep it malleable and wet. This usually gives me about 15 to 20 minutes of performance time and to capture the shot that I want. So in that sense time is ever present in my work. I explore the passage of time both physically as I perform but also metaphorically when the clay dries and hardens leaving behind the remains of the dynamic moment of ‘Now’. It serves my concept well my purpose. Recently, at the Arthur M. Sakler Museum of Art and Archeology in China, I explored some new materials to make my performances, ‘permanent’ installations and sculpture and intentionally one of the works was an hourglass shaped sculpture. One could say I had ‘frozen’ time in a sense with this new work.

AS: You have performed all over the world – what was a memorable place to perform and how did that place affect your work?

AD: I think my most memorable experience was using other bodies in my performance. For the first time in Japan I collaborated with six fine art Japanese students, because before then I always used my own body. It was memorable also because it was really challenging and difficult. Working with strangers in an unknown space in a new country where one does not even speak in the same language forces you to innovate, to learn new things and develop new confidence.

I was shooting two video works, ‘Wrest in Peace’, and ‘A-mazing’ two pieces that made me overcome many obstacles and barriers, it was a learning experience that was rewarding in the end because it worked out well and I enjoyed it. I realized I had the capacity to overcome the barrier of language and work with another body, make them comfortable to trust and touch where one is interacting to apply the clay… it is a challenge.

After this, working with others became easier. During the India Art Fair I moved a step forward. This time I collaborated with five theater trained people and it was mind-blowing.

Berlin Art Link interview with Anindita Dutta for her performance at Latitude 28

Berlin Art Link interview with Anindita Dutta for her performance at Latitude 28

Berlin Art Link interview with Anindita Dutta for her performance at Latitude 28Anindita Dutta – “Flight” (2015), performed by Ismene King, digital color print, 65″ x 60″; photo by Yogesh Patel

AS: How does your work develop and change – for instance, what are you doing differently in your next performance from what you have done before?

AD: Each new performance facilitates growth. As I mentioned earlier, after my experience in Japan I had learnt so many things and grown in so many ways that I attempted an even more ambitious project, which I created at the India Art Fair 2014 that is also titled ‘Everything Ends and Everything Matters’. I attempted a new shape and form, a large spiral maze that is very different from what I have previously done.

Although both pieces ‘Amazing’ and ‘Everything Ends and Everything Matters’ are mazes, the purpose and function of the two are totally different and hence the performance around each work varies. The spiral structure was symbolic of birth and fertility; I have started playing with forms that have meaning in themselves. It signals growth for me. Now I am no longer dependent on existing platforms to create my performances.

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Additional Information

LATITUDE 28
“Everything Ends and Everything Matters” – ANINDITA DUTTA
Exhibition: Mar. 10 – Jun. 01, 2015
F208 GF (click here for map)

Artist Website:
www.aninditadutta.com

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