An exciting and ongoing partnership project between our Department of Theatre Arts in the S N School of Arts & Communication and the Wimbledon College of Arts at the University of the Arts, London is on Scenography in a digital age: a comparative study of the impact of new media on contemporary Indian and British performance practice.
Bringing together nine people, four from their side and five from ours, this project is a great opportunity for all of us, particularly the two students involved. The project leader from the Indian side is Professor B. Anandhakrishnan, Dean of the SN School who says the prime objective of the project is to develop a trans-national, inter-disciplinary discourse that will enhance understanding of contemporary performance culture in India and the UK. And, incidentally, a cross-fertilization of ideas: the image above is of the props from a scenography workshop at the UoH, done on the campus by one of the Wimbledon college students.
This partnership will investigate the impact of ‘new media’ on performance in India and the UK. It brings together two recognize centers of excellence to create a cross cultural research platform at the interface of fine art and theatre. In the UK, lines between these two approaches to performance have already been breached as new technologies blur the boundaries between established traditions. Increasingly in India, plays and fine art installations use video and digital projections that merge the theatrical and the experiential under the umbrella of performance. This project seeks to conceptualise and understand how these new mise-en-scenes are affecting traditional ways of making and viewing performance in our respective nations.
Rustom Bharucha (in his book Theatre and the World, 1993) argued at the end of the twentieth century, ‘[at] this point in time, one can say that technology has not yet co-opted the ‘visionary’ possibilities of seeing assumed by our spectators…’ . Does this still hold true at the beginning of the twenty first century?
Describing the viewing habits of European and American audiences, Arnold Aronson (in The Power of Space in Virtual World in Performance Design) says, “The increasing ubiquity of the World Wide Web and its particular visual aesthetic is what most spectators associate with performative imagery’’.
Using the ‘scenographic’ as a frame of reference, a broad term that encompasses all the elements that contribute to the composition of performance, this joint research will compare how digitalisation and electronic media have been absorbed into our respective performance cultures and begin to develop a set of criteria with which to analyse and respond to these changes. By sharing perspectives on this new materiality of performance, this partnership will contribute to a better understanding of the way each culture views the other and, in the long term, build capacity in our institutions through the development of joint masters and new PhD programmes.
The project is for 18 months and during this period there will be four seminars and a series of practice sessions focussing on digital arts and scenography. Two events will be organised by both the institutions. The first is going on now, from the 9th to 16th September 2013 at Wimbledon. Two of our students will be staying back at Wimbledon to work with colleagues there.
Great opportunities here, thanks to the UKIERI– this project is one of the select ones funded by them as a Thematic Partnership. And congratulations to the SN School on being Wimbledon champions!