Thursday, November 11, 2010

Automatic Telling Machines (ATM): A Performance of Murali Cheeroth at Sandarbh

Memories and imaginations get entangled in the performances of Murali Cheeroth. Magic and reality go hand in hand in his gestures. Illusion and lived experiences interface in his words and performative deeds. Murali Cheeroth is a painter, video and performance artist based in Bangalore. His performances are interventionist in nature, theatrical in execution and discursive in content.

(Murali Cheeroth)

In Sandarbh, Murali Cheeroth comes to meet the young artists. He comes prepared to perform before them. He covers his head with a black hood and moves amongst the camp participants and visitors. He wears black clothes and of course, he is mourning the death of our beloved poet, A.Ayyappan. ‘Automatic Telling Machines’ is the name of his performance.

(Late Poet A.Ayyappan)

Murali appears before the audience with three minimal architectural forms tied to his head and hands respectively. He takes the seat in the middle of the lawn and before him there is a tray with two identical wrist watches, one egg and a candle in it. Murali’s assistant comes forward and light up the camphor filled miniature homes. While the fire goes up in the air consuming the innards of the ‘homes’, I recite a poem written by the late poet, A.Ayyappan titled ‘To My Pall Bearers’.

(An assistant setting fire on Murali's head-home)

This has been pre-planned. The words cut sharply through the cold air and the aromatic flames fill up the nostrils of the audience. Murali gets up and walks around. He takes down the house from his head and he keeps the burning houses in the three corners of an imagined triangle on the field. The memories of rituals come to him. He removes his hood and puts into the fire. He removes his reading glasses and puts it into the fire (actually he does not. Like a magician he puts it back into his pocket).

(Murali with Burning Houses and Murali burning his hood)

With a heart laden with poetry and a pair of eyes that showers the drops of compassion Murali walks forward to pick up the plate with his contemporary ritual objects; the watches and the egg. “I have a secret to share/which is not in my will/with those who bear my coffin’- Ayyappan’s words reverberate from the deep forest behind the viewers. Murali wants to share a secret with the people who are around him.

(Murali performing)

Murali picks up the watches from the plate and tells the audience as if he were explaining a linguistic dilemma; the sign is not the signified. In the process of signification, the real meaning is lost. An image/object detached from its memories and context, bears the meaning of something else. A pipe is not a pipe for Margritte and Foucault. For Murali a watch is not a watch. ‘It is not a watch. It is an automatic telling machine (ATM)’, he tells at the faces of the viewers.

(This is not a watch...this is an automatic telling machine)

Automatic Telling Machines are the temples where the banks retail blessings for those who have the right cards and the right passwords. These are the modern ways of worshiping the gods of prosperity. These booths represent the watering holes of richness; the emblems of commerce. Watches tell you time. But for Murali they are not watches. They are memories. They are the ATMs that recount the memories of your ‘rich’ life once you enter the right password.

Murali’s performance is a password. He transcends his body and act. These watches are closely associated with his life. They appear and disappear in his life as if they were objects with their own lives. The egg, the artist says, what a shape! Read the egg not as an egg but as an automatic telling machine in its literal sense. Eggs are the forms where all stories are hidden.

While walking around with the burning memories, Murali asks people about the definitions art has gained in history. Four from the audience are already prepared. They read out definitions given by famous artists and philosophers. Murali responds to these definitions with spontaneous outpouring of ideas and words. And even he calls them ‘Automatic Telling Machines’. Art and automatic telling machines. Does art dole out money?

Murali laughs and screams. He like a modern time Diogenes examines the faces of the people in the candle light. He looks like an image from Fuseli's oeuvre. His face reflects too many emotions. Home is homelessness. In his childhood, Murali had seen his thatched house burning down several times. Each time a crow or a rat brings a lit wick from the lamps of the near by temple, one can be sure one of the houses is going to go up in flames tonight. It had happened to several times to Murali’s house.

A surreal vision, isn’t it? A rat bringing fire to burn up a house. But the rat does not mean it. It lifts the wick from the lamp for sucking the oil from it. But it can burn up people. Simple pleasures of the thoughtless rendering masses of people homeless, jobless, territory-less. Are you preparing war machines, man? Murali’s performance is a pointer to these vital issues of political dispossession of people.

Murali comes back to the centre stage. He picks up the homes, destroys them, screaming. The one on the left has only burnt partially. Murali tries to destroy it using it all his strength. He shivers and scowls. He uses all his might to destroy it. And he does destroy it while chanting out all what he felt whenever he witnessed his home getting gutted by the rats. Then once it is done, he retires to peace and tranquility.

Murali is the shaman of Indian contemporary art. His shamanistic art of post capitalist world will be recognized if not today, tomorrow. 


gayatri said...

thank you for sharing and being our eyes and ears in the event.

vidya said...

Wonderful performance !!!
Thanks to Johny for the beautiful naration.