Rakini Devi - The Body as Archive

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The Body as Archive: Critical Path Responsive Residency Rakini Devi & Karl Ockleford

Projection of my painting: Crucified nun, by Karl Ocklelford, The Drill 2019

March 25th to April 19 2019 By employing the body as the receptacle of memory, choreographer and performance artist Rakini Devi will focus on key works that marked her journey in dance. The residency extends her concept of "tradition as transgression", that has been a recurring theme in all her work, and explores the tensions between the sacred and the secular through what might be described as contemporary feminist intercultural performance. Devi's research-led practice suggests that contemporary performance utilising hybrid religious female iconography as performance can transcend and subvert cultural significance to express and embody feminine identity. Her response to the lived experience of living between two cultures (Indian and Australian) has been to create a corporeal language that draws on various rituals and the symbolic, employing the stylized gesture so familiar to Indian dance towards a resolutely contemporary performance outcome. Her performance language is an ongoing dialogue and means of communicating with the society within which she creates work, in a country and culture not of her birth. The "body as archive" residency will include a collaborative process with Karl Ockleford who will contribute video and sound design to the project. The outcome will be a short film, and written documentation of the residency.


Karl Ockelford is a multi-disciplinary artist who works individually and in collaboration across fields of film, sound, installation, photography, and visual design. His work explores improvisation, abstraction, and subterranean themes. His current practice involves sonic experimentations through his solo music project Reluctant Carnivore, personal studies of the interaction of sound/form through cymatics and investigations into forms of sound design and editing with in virtual reality/omni-cinema. Karl's recent collaboration with Rakini Devi in Urban Kali 2017, (Lennox Theatre as part of FORM projects' Dance Bites) integrating film, and sound art into the project received good reviews. The residency was split into the following weeks: Week one: 25th March to 29th March: Rakini Devi solo research and written preparation. Week 2 & 3 collaboration with Karl Ockleford at The Drill: Monday 8th April to Thursday 18th April (including weekends) WEEK ONE: Rakini Devi March 25th to Friday 29th This week was spent devising a schedule as well as reflecting on the works I will isolate and work with. A journal was created with my handwritten notes that I am now transcribing here as a summary of what I outlined during that first week of research and preparation. I created a score of "archived" signature moves relating to each of my works dating from the 1990s. and created a chart that displays dates, titles of the work, the choreographic signature move (that I wont add here), and the influence or motivation of each selected work. Using this score as a starting point I will work on choreographic and staging ideas for the first three days of the second week, that will begin on the 8th April at the Drill. I also plan on recording narrative voice- overs to some of the footage of the short film that Karl will design and collaboratively devise with me. A schedule of each day's tasks has also been outlined as a guide.

These are: 1. 1991 Daughters of Daksha


(1991 PICA with my newly formed company The Atman Project, later Kalika Dance Company) Definition: Dance as narrative /Hindu mythology, creation myths. 2. 1992 Suttee (Widow immolation work first collaboration with Cat Hope) This work involved masks, a Japanese influence of Noh theatre, and was my first feminist socially aware work that dealt with the forced immolation of widows in India, and the culture of shame and worthlessness of the "single" female. Definition: Dance as feminist protest against misogynist atrocities. 3. 1993 Mudrasa (Mudra and Rasa (essence) a word I devised) that focuses on the Odissi characteristic of the tribhangi or three-point bend of the body, influenced by my six-month intensive study of Odissi in Nrityagram and in Orissa, in my guru's home in India. Definition: Dance as pure movement. 4. 1994 Radha & The Elements of Worship Dance as devotional act, using sacred verses from the Gita Govinda, and using Indian classical techniques in abhinaya or expressive dance. 5. 1995 Kali Digambar (PICA) This three-week season was my most powerful and successful work utilising super 8 film, live music, and a strong cast of dancers. Dance as Devotional act and ritual. 6. 1998/1999 Mindimi (The Burmese Princess), PICA. First dance theatre work based on my Burmese mother and matriarchal family. Directed by Sally Richardson, script and choreography by me. Dance as ethnographic performance.

The 2000's: Change in direction after 2000 Arts WA Creative Development grant to study with Rosalind Crisp at Omeo (studying release based methods) and theatre with Nigel Kellaway. 7. 2001 Australia Council Dance Fellowship and Japan Asialink residency, leading to travel to New York and collaborating with DD Dorvillier, then to Japan for three months choreographing for Keiko Takaya's Dance O1 Company, culminating in a dance work titled


Kyoko No Mudra (The Memory of Gesture) for the 26 -member troupe. 8. 2001 Claustrophobia Perth fringe Festival with Cat Hope's Gata Negra & set installation by Ivan Bannon. Dance as installation and comment on cultural stereotyping. Performed again in Sydney and Tokyo 9. 2002 Woman in Transit (Performance Space) Multidisciplinary showing incorporating my own visual art, video projections, props, spoken word and a final dance segment, an excerpt from Mindimi. Dance as satire/ personal narrative Monday 8th - Saturday 13th Monday to Thursday: Rakini in the Drill devising tasks and choreography in preparation for collaboration with Karl. During these days, I experimented with ideas of how I wanted to approach this "archiving" of the body, and decided that what is of most interest is not to try and "re-create" any of the signature moves, but use them as a starting point for a re-imagining of each selected work, as if I was given the opportunity to restage any of them. How, and what would I change?

20 Illegal Immigrant, Left, image by Heidrun Lohr 2004. Right, image by Karl Ockleford, 2019


Thursday 11th April to Monday 15th April Since Karl's arrival in Sydney, we have utilised each day with tasks that I summarise here: Inspired by my 2004 Woman in Transit photo shoot previously photographed Friday 12th Friday was a day of script recordings of archival text to accompany choreography I am beginning to formulate and which will only be realised in another stage of this project. The script will be used in segments of Karl's edit. 1. Suttee 1992, & 1998 & possibly 2019/2020 This script, drawn from an eighteenth century text by French writer Jean de Tournier during British India describes witnessing first hand accounts of the ritual of Sati, or widow burning in different parts of India. It was the first work I created and presented at PICA in 1992 and my first move towards socially aware/feminist work that focused on the culture of female shame and misogyny that perceived women worthless when stripped of her marital status. Since then I have created other work that centred on widows and the many cultures that censure and persecute women who display independence from the patriarchal social system.

In this new re-imagining of the work, I have also drawn on my own observation on the similarities in the witch trials1 (and executions of predominantly women) 1 Witch-phobia and prosecutions for the crime of witchcraft reached a highpoint from 1580 to 1630 during the Counter-Reformation and the European wars of religion, when an estimated 50,000


to the burning of witches and the practice of burning widows, called Sati or Suttee. Text 1# Suttee text recorded at the Drill Friday 12th. It is also an ancient custom among the idolaters of India that on a man dying his widow can never remarry; as soon, therefore, as he is dead she retires to weep for her husband, and some days afterwards her hair is shaved off, and she despoils herself of all the ornaments with which her person was adorned; she removes from her arms and legs the bracelets which her husband had given her, when espousing her, as a sign that she was to be submissive and bound to him, and she remains for the rest of her life without any consideration, and worse than a slave, in the place where previously she was mistress. This miserable condition causes her to detest life, and prefer to ascend a funeral pile to be consumed alive with the body of her deceased husband, rather than be regarded by all the world for the remainder of her days with opprobrium and infamy. Besides this the Brahmans induce women to hope that by dying in this way, with their husbands, they will live again with them in some other world with more glory and more comfort than they have previously enjoyed. These are the two reasons which make these unhappy women resolve to burn themselves with the bodies of their husbands; to which it should be added that the priests encourage them with the hope that that the moment they are in the fire, before they yield up their souls, Ram will reveal wonderful things to them, and that after the soul has passed through several bodies it will attain to an exalted degree of glory for all eternity. All the relatives and friends of the widow who desires to die after her husband persons were burned at the stake, of which roughly 80% were women, and most often over the age of 40.


congratulate beforehand on the good fortune which she is about to acquire in the other world, and on the glory which all the members of the caste derive from her noble resolution. She dresses herself as for her wedding day, and is conducted in triumph to the place where she is to be burned. A great noise is made with instruments of music and the voices of the women who follow, singing hymns to the glory of the unhappy one who is about to die. The Brahmans accompanying her exhort her to show resolution and courage, and many Europeans believe that in order to remove the fear of death which man naturally abhors, she is given some kind of drink that takes away her senses and removes all apprehension, which the preparations for her death might occasion. In the Kingdom of Gujarat, and as far as Agra and Delhi, this is how it takes place: On the margin of a river or tank, a kind of small hut, about twelve feet square, is built of reeds and all kinds of faggots, with which some pots of oil and other drugs are placed in order to make it burn quickly. The women is seated in a half-reclining position in the middle of the hut, her head reposes on a kind of pillow of wood, and she rests her back against a post, to which she is tied by her waist by one of the Brahmans, for fear lest she should escape on feeling the flame. In this position she holds the dead body of her husband on her knees, chewing betel all the time; and after having been about half an hour in this condition, the Brahman who has been by her side in the hut goes outside, and she calls out to the priests to apply the fire; this the Brahmans, and the relatives and friends of the woman who are present immediately do, throwing into the fire some pots of oil, so that the woman may suffer less by being quickly consumed.


Let us see now what is the practice along the coast of Coromandel when women are going to be burned with the bodies of their deceased husbands. A large hole of nine or ten feet deep, and twenty-five or thirty feet square, is dug, into which plenty of wood is thrown, with many drugs to make it burn quickly. When the hole is well heated, the body of the husband is placed on the edge, and then his wife comes dancing, and chewing betel, accompanied by all her relatives and friends, and with the sound of drums and cymbals. The woman then makes three turns round the hole, and at each time she embraces all her relatives and friends. When she completes the third turn the Brahmans throw the body of the deceased into the fire, and the woman, with her back turned towards the hole, is pushed by the Brahmans, and falls in backwards. Then all the relatives throw pots of oil and other drugs of that kind, as I have said is elsewhere done, so that the bodies may be the sooner consumed. In the greater part of the same Coromandel coast the woman does not burn herself with the body of her deceased husband, but allows herself to be interred, while alive, with him in a hole which the Brahmans dig in the ground, about one foot deeper than the height of the man or woman. They generally select a sandy spot, and when they have placed the man and woman in the hole, each of their friends fills a basket of sand, and throws it on the bodies until the hole is full and heaped over, half a foot higher than the ground, after which they jump and dance upon it till they are certain that the woman is smothered. Suttee in India by Jean Baptiste Tavernier. NB.This text was read live during my work Disturbing Elements (Melbourne, LA Mama, Carlton Courthouse, 2009) with projections of my own paintings on Suttee


photographed and designed for stage by Japanese filmmaker Mayu Kanarmori as part of an Australia Council Creative Development grant. The (newly recorded) text will be used either as a score for live performance and new choreography and/or as part of a video performance installation. For this residency outcome it may be edited into the footage shot at the Drill, where my own paintings of crucified female saints as well as woodcut medieval images of witch burning have been projected onto my body.

Text 2# Radha script recorded Friday 12th at The Drill: This script was performed during my 1994 dance production of Radha and The Elements of Worship, (PICA) with my Kalika Dance Company, and was the text for my solo. The aesthetic and motivation of the work was to explore and celebrate the element of Bhakti (or devotion) in Indian classical dance tradition. The dancers' solos were al accompanied by verses from the 17th century classic the Gita Govinda. This text was recorded for an idea for a gestural segment for video that we will shoot on the weekend. Radha Her body is the glowing touchstone of mahabhava -the highest state of love Radha’s silken garment is her modesty her body is delicately painted with the saffron of beauty and the musk of glowing sringara rasa (amorous mood) her ornaments are fashioned of nine most precious jewels they are her trembling tears thrilling stupor, sweat, stammering, blushing, madness and swoon Her garland is prepared from the flowers of a select assortment of aesthetic qualities, and her garment is freshened with the pure subtle perfume distilled from her exquisite virtues She wears a bright mark of good fortune on her forehead her ears are adorned with the glorious sound of her lover’s name she reddens her lips with the betel leaf of intense attachment the guile of love is her mascara she wears on her heart the necklace of love’s separation


weighted with a swinging pendant fashioned of the paradoxical feeling of separation in union she reclines on a couch of conceit in the chamber of charm her breasts are covered with the blouse of anger and affection adorned in this way, Radha offers the nectar of sensuality,

Text 3# recorded on Friday 12th at The Drill: The central piece of my 1998 work Mindimi, (The Burmese Princess), was the sequence depicting my mother’s harrowing trek from Burma to India during World War 2, which was performed as a dance movement piece overlaid by a voice-over recording of my mother speaking in Burmese to tell her story. The spoken word track was woven into a haunting sound score, specifically commissioned from composer and sound artist, Cat Hope, with whom I have had a twenty-three year collaborative history, and who was influential in my experimental dance explorations through our many projects, beginning with Suttee (1992). The text accompanying this section, Mindimi Trek, was scattered throughout the sound score with pauses and punctuations lending the choreography rhythm and resonance. It is also an example of how I structured choreography using spoken (recorded) words as a textual-rhythmic sound score, rather than a literal “enacting” of the narrative. Hope's sound score specifically for this section titled Mindimi Trek won her a music award, and my fifteen-minute dance segment was performed at various festivals as an independent solo work under this title. Mindimi Trek toured to Tokyo, Toronto and New York, and was last performed in Melbourne at Dancehouse in 2007. It is the only segment that stands alone as the strongest part of the entire work, due to the development of the dance vocabulary and physicality that in my experience successfully integrated "abstract" movement with my own idiosyncratic dance vocabulary. The script is an example of autoethnographic performance and my integration of text and movement. At 23, my mother walked from Burma to India trekking for six months She was fleeing the Japanese with her husband of two months Six hundred children were sent ahead of parents to safety Only six survived People would awake in the morning to find their loved ones dead Three months into the journey, my mother became a widow


She paid a boatman who slipped her husband into the river in a makeshift shroud No one would bury the diseased The murdering monsoons rained death My aunt-to-be was the eldest sister bringing her two young siblings to India They did not survive the three months My aunt and mother met and journeyed together Sisters for life My mother gave up all her possessions for food When she became my mother Food was never tastier when prepared by her Every meal a feast of love My mother originally set off with 20 garments in a bundle, including her beautiful Mindimi costume Along the way she had to discard everything one by one She also had to shave off her knee length hair Which became matted and infested When she came to be my mother I played in the long black curtain of her hair Which reached the ground as she sat and combed it dry I grew up in all my mother’s curves. Devi R, 1998. Mindimi exemplifies my performance of culture as flexible, fractured, fragmented, and constructed. My mother's stories, experiences and constant guidance throughout my life inevitably influenced my interest and attitudes towards women. Her patriarchal upbringing in a tradition that accepted women as inferior in many ways contradicted her own formidable status as the matriarch in our family, ruling with a gentle but firm hand. The work was also an acknowledgement of my mother's many journeys not only during the war, but her consequent displacement in India and later Australia, where her journey finally ended. I have accessed my archival material (from Sydney Uni) to be included into the edited film.


Saturday 13th April & Sunday 14th April: Video filming Both days were spent videoing segments using my selections from my own art work as well as images from medieval woodcuts for projections onto my body. This process included over 400 images being photographed, as well as video footage for Karl to edit in the next stage of his collaboration, which will be processed in Melbourne over the next few weeks. The outcome we are aiming for is a short docu/style art film titled The Body as Archive. The residency is focused on the selection and experimentation of ideas and the mainly visual content, so music composition is not part of the process, though existing soundtracks from our collaborative work may be used. For my rehearsals and inspiration, I have been listening to Hildegard von Bingen's Canticles of Ecstasy and more. The text on Radha was also videoed several times, focusing on hand gestures.

Monday 15th April Illegal Immigrant part 2 on the pier at Rushcutters Bay - a short movement piece was videoed as well as a photo shoot as part 2 of our Thursday shoot. The "dance on the pier" is being converted into a black and white graphic novel -style film segment that Karl has started working on. The day was also spent collating recordings and going through the hundreds of images for selection, which I did, after which Karl had to process each large raw file


in preparation for his editing process, image above of a screen shot from the video. Tuesday 16th April I have arranged to visit Amanda Card at Sydney Uni in order to access my performance archives that I had stored before I left for India in Dec. 2018. I aim to select a few items of archival material to give to Karl before he leaves for Melbourne in order that he can integrate some of my early works into the mix, which will give context to the archival concept and theme of the project. The afternoon will be spent reviewing some of the material as well as videoing some ideas Karl has about filming some choreography of mine that I developed earlier in the week when on my own in the Drill hall. Archives @ Sydney Uni Having met with Dr. Amanda Card today, and retrieving some of my archives to digitise, we also discussed the possibility of participating or contributing to a program initiated by Dr. Card called "Activating The Archive", which may take place some time over the coming months. This afternoon, Karl is setting up a video shoot to be filmed from the top of a ladder for a movement piece from Urban Kali that he has an idea for integrating into one of the many videos and photos he has taken over the last few days. Our last couple of days will be spent collating our documentation and planning our order of segments of video/imagery and texts that will be integrated into our film/doco/art film titled The Body as Archive (though we may change the title later).

Concluding the residency at the Drill Going forward from ta his residency, I have recordings that I can rehearse movement to, and structure of newly devised choreography and performance concepts to be developed further as stage three of the archive project. The work Karl and I have initiated during this most welcome and important part of our project, facilitated by Critical Path's Responsive Residency program would not have been realised to this extent without the financial support and space provided in order to develop and experiment with our ideas. We look forward to sharing the outcome of this residency at some stage during Critical Path's program of events later in the year, in the form of a showing/sharing of the film and discussing any aspect of our process. SPECIAL THANKS Claire Hicks and the staff at Critical Path Amanda Card and Richard Manner @ Sydney University, Department of Theatre & Performance Studies.