In an atmosphere of growing authoritarianism, how can we draw attention to performance as a transaction of sensorial agency – the right to be seen, heard, recognized – the right to be palpable? Improvised Futures, edited by Ranjana Dave, attempts to frame performance as doing, as fraught negotiations of agency and identity. As it considers the performative effect of a range of ideas, actions and situations that have shaped society and defined cultural expression since the 1990s, it frames the body as a site of radical imagination. The volume comprises texts and artworks by artists, academics and activists, placing these works in conversation with each other in order to elicit new meanings and connections.
The following excerpt is chapter 17 of the book written by artist and theatre director Amitesh Grover.
As we move towards considering the institutional meanings and gestures that shape performance, artist and theatre director Amitesh Grover’s manifesto offers us a sense of populating architectures with doing, of spaces that resonate with an unceasing flood of actions – plans, plots, designs and structures, and of the ways in which these actions implicate performing bodies. Manifesto-writing is a part of Grover’s creative process. How to Perform a Good Employee informed his work on Kafka’s Castle, where he joined the workforce of a mammoth technology company, going to work every day for six months and performing disruptions within the workplace.
Performed by Amitesh Grover (in collaboration with Arnika Ahldag). Material: 65 low-resolution photography prints on sun board. Photography by Ishan Tankha. This work was commissioned by the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art for the exhibition ‘Hangar for the Passerby’ curated by Akansha Rastogi in 2017. Grateful acknowledgement to Amitesh Grover.
Kafka’s Castle: How to Perform a Good Employee
- Collapse, make it indistinct or intentionally inverted: Turn your chair upside down, place your objects of work in strange relationships to each other, place your belongings between cubicles, atop partitions, glued to glass walls, along the staircase, right next to the fire-exit doorway, in dark squares on the office floor which, somehow, slip through the all-seeing eyes of surveillance cameras.
- Shift incessantly: in your chair, in a meeting, at lunch. Never sit still. Look nervous.
- Explore horizontality: place your body between office walls, on office carpets, on the table in the office canteen, spread it out quietly, slowly, carefully, but surely. Once spread, do not move. Feel the expansion, the breath, the serenity that horizontality brings, especially in environments that forbid it.
- Oscillate between visibility and invisibility. Choose your moments, timing is of the essence, here. Make your body suddenly visible. Explore making your body visible in parts, just a finger maybe, one elbow, how about only exposing your left knee (nobody knows what to do with knees at work). Or, disappear fully, completely, absolutely, as if you were never there. Oscillate between both frequently, mix it up well. Do not let a pattern emerge.
- Ask questions. Inquire, needlessly. Pick out a detail, obsess over it.
- Occupy the company.
- Persevere with useless tasks – dig a hole, then cover it. Walk in purposeful circularity. Stare into your cubicle, into your laptop screen, indefinitely. Take the elevator up, then down, for your entire shift.
- Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate through abstraction. Point towards the process of doing something, remove the unnecessary layers, reduce it to its essential contradictions. Ignore data, hide statistics, talk about what is insignificant.
- Make duplicates when you can. As many as you can. Duplicate files, folders, parts of code, error reports, emails, texts. Encourage others around to duplicate all they can.
- Make speeches. Address your colleagues as crowds gathered in different worlds – in the worlds that have gone past, in worlds that are on the brink of breaking down, or in the promise of worlds that are yet to come.
- Hesitate. Always.