CONTAGION: Performance, Space, Community
Curated by: Vikram Iyengar, Sharvari Sastry, Christophe Knoch
Period: 25 September to 17 October 2020

In the wake of the COVID19 pandemic, all gatherings have come to a grinding halt. Human-to-human contact has suddenly become dangerous, spaces and occasions that bring us together are now looked upon with suspicion, and un-camouflaged faces are a rare sight. We have surrendered a fundamental human need and freedom – the ability to gather in the same real space and time, physically sensing the proximity of other bodies, watching and responding to smiles breaking through unmasked lips. In losing these connections, we have also realised how vital it is for us to assemble together, and to have public spaces that encourage and welcome this most human of desires.

The performing arts sector across the world is among the worst hit. A major response has been to go online, and in the rush to do so, we often replace the live with the digital, rather than look at the digital as a new and different space and opportunity we can also turn our attention to. The live experience languishes precisely when it needs us to interrogate what makes it unique, and reimagine why we need it and what it could be in a post-pandemic scenario.

The tactile, visceral, sensorial bedrock of human-to-human contact in real time, place and space is fundamental to the live performance experience. It answers a primal, continuing and collective need for spaces of gathering, spaces of community, spaces of intense and shared feeling, spaces of transformative journeys, spaces of empathy: in short, spaces to reflect on, savour, and rediscover our essential humanity, and infect each other with the best of ideas, ideals and imagination.

This global experience of loss, paradoxically, binds us closer together. As we reckon with these new realities, we are faced with an incredible opportunity to revisit our pasts and reshape our futures by addressing fundamental questions about the human experience and the creative magic of being together:

  • What is it that makes the act of gathering so vital?
  • What is irreplaceable about a live experience, and how is performance a unique manifestation of that?
  • How have we come through historical experiences of pandemics, how have societies survived and evolved, and how is art and performance practice an active player in developing this consciousness?
  • Is performance contagious? Can contamination be constructive and creative? Are performance spaces sites where individual and collective imaginations go viral?
  • How do we reconceive performance spaces for tomorrow in a context where physical proximity has become something to be shunned? How do we learn to come together again with and for creativity?
  • Where do we go from here so that the fragile and necessarily transitory beauty of the live moment survives as powerful and unique experience and memory?

CONTAGION: Performance, Space, Community is a series of 8 online curated conversations and presentations where we invite speakers and attendees to address performance as an art and part of the human act of assembly. The eight sessions feature presenters from across the globe spanning backgrounds of dance, theatre, anthropology, academia, sport, management, business, psychology, literature and more.

The series is imagined and produced by Pickle Factory Dance Foundation, Calcutta in partnership with Goethe Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Kolkata.

Through the cross-sectoral interactions of conversation and performance in the CONTAGION series, we hope to imagine what our space can and should be to serve the artists, audiences and formats of tomorrow without invalidating, forgetting and replacing those of yesterday.