Thursday, August 12, 2010

Performing the Desiring Subject: Siridevi Khandaveli’s Performance at Gallery Ragini

(Siridevi performs at Gallery Ragini, New Delhi)

Project: ‘Get out of debt Free, Eat all you want and still lose weight, buy my lucky Lakshmi Dollar Bill’- A Performance by Siridevi Khandaveli.

Where: Gallery Ragini, New Delhi on 11th August 2010

The billboards along the streets and the yellow pages in newspapers scream, ‘Get out of Debt Free, Eat all you want and still lose weight’. The command is to consume; and these minimal articulations generate desire for consumption amongst the human bodies/minds. Often, in a world where woman is still not freed from her body and its object-hood as a desiring entity, these exhortations are mostly meant for the desiring women who are asked to shed their weights, come out of the debts, completely free. While these advertisements give emphasize on consumption sans guilt, it adequately and skillfully hides how the process of subjection is carried on the minds and bodies of women as consuming subjects.

(a display of Laxmi Dollar Bills that reminds one of billboards)

Here is an artist, Siridevi Khandaveli, originally from Bangalore, educated and located currently in the USA, problematizes the relationship between women as desirous bodies and desiring minds. Through ideological subjection, women’s body is often portrayed in advertisements as a desirous object. To counter this ideological position of women, Siridevi uses the very act of consumption in which she participates willingly, thereby proving herself as a desiring subject. Her subjectivity is underlined and highlighted by making her own body as an active agent that participates in the acts of eating, spending and taking an active role in sexual relationship. Food, Money and Sex , as integral to the passion of life, become handy to Siridevi to throw her body into a performative act where she herself becomes the goddess of consumption, gluttony, a revolting subject and a divine presence who blesses her audience with sanctified dollar bills.

(Siridevi's Picture with her dollar bill cutout paintings)

Marsha Meskimmon, a feminist scholar, while woman as a performing subject, quotes Elizabeth Grosz: ‘.. a model or framework in which sexual relations are contiguous with and a part of other relations- the relations of the writer to pen and paper, the body-builder to weights, the bureaucrat to files …sexuality and desire are part of the intensity and passion of life itself.’ (Space, Time and Perversion). Then Meskimmon goes on to say, “such a statement emphasizes the significance of sexuality and desire to the formation and articulation of subjectivity, but neither suggests it is an immutable, foundational truth of the subject nor that it can be limited to sexual acts, per se. As a creative and sensual force, desire is intimately linked to aesthetics; explorations of the erotic as power in women’s art pose fascinating questions of materialization, subjectivity and the dissolution of the opposition between surface and depth.” (Performativity- Women Making Art- Marsha Meskimmon- Routledge 2003)

Here, Siridevi does not indulge in revealing her erotic body as a power wielding tool as in the case of traditional feminist performances. Instead, she holds forth her body’s erotic power as a desiring body, which is active, through the surrogate act of eating chocolate pieces covered in silver foils and dipped in honey. Sex and food is connected in this chain of desire that upholds the power of the woman subject to claim her on consuming, consciously, willingly and politically. The challenge before the artist then is not only to create a parallel between sex and food, but also to draw a demarcating line between the consuming body and a body that consumes willingly, consciously and with counter-ideological purpose.

(Laxmi Dollar Bill Installation- Red)

Siridevi’s performance has a preamble to it. After going through the advertisement pieces regularly and also observing the graph of profit making in the market economy, she wanted to prove her ability to be a part in the production process of wealth and its good use in the society. It was her conscious decision not to be a victim of wealth (the image of an impoverished, domesticated, war affected, migrant yet consuming woman with a desirous body). Instead, finding her interpellated subjectivity has something to do with the divine image of goddess Laxmi, who brings prosperity and wealth, she decided to masquerade herself as goddess Laxmi. Daring the ‘state’ that controls the production of currency, she got her picture printed on American dollar bills and distributed it as a blessed piece of wealth amongst her audience.

When she performs in Gallery Ragini, New Delhi, these dollar bills are presented on a wall installation in two different parts along with an enlarged print of one dollar bill with Siridevi’s picture as Goddess Laxmi beckoning people from the window. The wantonness of wealth and its preciousness are implied at the same time.

(Laxmi Dollar Bill Installation- Grey)

Siridevi, robed in a creamy frock and on golden stilettos sits on a raised cushion seat and before her are two similar cushions seating a tray full of honeyed chocolates and another tray containing one dollar Laxmi bills. Behind Siridevi, on the wall, one of her videos, with her own performing subjectivity showing her eating honey-bee images cut out of dollar bills, with crunching munching noise in the sound track. Alternatively, the scene changes into a shower of coins as if from a cosmic rain, while the sound track plays popular numbers with money and honey as basic theme (From Elvis Presley to Lady Gaga).

Siridevi eats chocolate slowly at first, then with an increased pace, then using both the hands she stuffs her mouth with chocolate until she chokes and she shows the symptoms of throwing up. Once she clears herself by puking, she moves around with the elegance of a diva and sells her dollar bills to the interested audience.

In this public display of avarice, Siridevi leads the audience to the other extreme of a critique that frames the notions of a reflexive society (as in Zizek, who says that a reflexive society is one that needs to learn and execute even the most basic things including sex and eating). The performing body of Siridevi, in this sense creates an interface between body and discourse. Sarah Meskimmon says: “ To conceive women’s desire is to explore the interface of the body and discourse acknowledging that desire acts as a process between sensuality and sentience, well beyond the limits of the normative heterosexist descriptions of ‘woman’ as the mute object of (masculine) desire.” (Ibid)

Interestingly, Siridevi does not fall into the rut of conventional feministic idea that a woman’s performing body should be preferably of a lesbian subject. While being a heterosexual, she is able to act upon the above mentioned ideology of heterosexual subjection of women and critique it through the assertion of her subjectivity, which incidentally is a muted subject with no textual inputs other than the crunching munching sounds and the popular songs. The lyrics of these songs could be just pointers but not exactly the voice of the artist with a body in performance. However, the assertion of subjectivity, the highlight on the first person ‘I’ is carried out through her acceptance of the discourse (both heterosexual and the lesbian discourse, where body is liberated as a political tool) that already generates a context for her act. Unmindful consumption exists that’s what makes conscious consumption a relevant and defiant act. Siridevi’s performance, subtle yet powerful it is, links her up with a lineage of performance artists such as Marina Abromovic and Rosy Martin.

A few more pictures from the day of performance:

(The Dollar Bill Print at the Window)

(An audience that braved the torrential rains of August)

(L to R, Nidhi Jain, Manjunath Kamath, Georgina Maddox, Mrinal Kulkarni, JohnyML and Shinod AP)


somudesai said...

Hi, Siridevi, Nidhi Jain & Johny ML.
Congratulations, This performance is very well articulate. but i would suggest if if possible, please try to post a small clip of this performance on youtube ore somewhere. this visuals will really help to connect to this well written blog by Johny ML.

LotusEater said...

"links her up with a lineage of performance artists such as Marina Abromovic and Rosy Martin."
"links her up with a lineage of performance artists such as Marina Abromovic and Rosy Martin."
"links her up with a lineage of performance artists such as Marina Abromovic and Rosy Martin."

Just wanted to see how it feels when these words gather weight. hmmm.... nope, it won't flush.

JohnyML said...

Lineage is one way of being a part of the continuum. I never said or claimed that Siridevi is in the same league. I said, she is a part of the continuum. And it is now her job to claim that space. An critic cannot do that job for you except for flagging out the possibilities....:-)


LotusEater said...

Hi J

Well said. I agree, but by adding the names of these giants in an essay about her work, maybe you are setting her up for failure. Coz the average reader ( art lover) is given a reference point ( by you) around which her work will be viewed. And comparisons will be drawn - and consequently, the artist, most probably ... drawn and quartered.

Good write-up by the way


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