Performing Site

--- an elective module at the School for Environment and Architecture, Mumbai.

Working in collaboration with architect and artist Shivani Shah, we co-designed and facilitated an elective module on performance as a research tool for architecture students. Together with students we experimented with using the body as a methodology and way of engaging with a site, exploring Jacque Lecoq’s notion of the body being capable of knowing things that the mind is ignorant of. 

Within such a rapidly developing and shifting city, how we interact with the built environment is continually being distorted, reshaped and questioned. The complex conditions that produce a site shape how human life is organised. These conditions become embodied within our daily actions, our ways of moving, how we understand the spaces around us and how we interact with each other. With a curiosity to understand and question these conditions that shape our spaces and our lives, we experimented with an interdisciplinary approach to movement practice. 

Working between the studio and a pubic market place, we explored and questioned the power dynamics between bodies, using our own bodies to map a site as an embodied experience. Through the specific gestures, rhythms and movements that the students gathered on site and the reflections which followed we started thinking about how we understand our bodies in relation to others. Following from Augusto Boal’s work on theatre as a research tool, we used the performance of our bodies to find a new source of information to read a site as a series of rhythms which when played onto our bodies show different dynamics of the site, questioning how we understand and engage with the people for whom we design.

Throughout the week-long workshop students worked in groups to develop embodied readings of the market place, taking the form of four choreographies, creating sections through the site. Students explored diverse themes and questions which intrigued them within the site, including the gendered gestures and movements of bodies, the impact of climate on the body, the exchange of rhythms across bodies and the condition of rest within certain bodies on the site.

This workshop aimed to offer a critical mode of understanding, inhabiting, drawing and engaging with a site. Through this movement practice we can begin to make visible and understand the situated and particular conditions of a site, provoking social debate, and offering tools for architecture students to evaluate and question their current practices.

Just as architectural drawings can represent the site to us through lines and measurements, performance offers us a different medium to map and understand the site. Working in this way, we move away from the perspective from above and the plan view and instead towards a more embodied exploration of a place. This intimate mode of engagement allowed us to examine the lines between the self and the other and the implicated role of the cartographer.

In collaboration with SEA students from years 1-5: Tanisi Kammili, Astrid Fernandes, Kartiki Mahadik, Govinda Agrawa, Shriya Parab, Vinisha Kuckian, Aurea D’cruz, Hetvi Lapasia, Nikhil Ovhal, Ria Shah, Tejal Patil, Foram Desai, Radhika Rathi, Vibhavari Sarangan, Akash Vishwakarma.   

With thanks to Rupali Gupte and Sabaa Giradkar at SEA for helping us put together the workshop and providing the necessary materials and space.

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