Nikhil Chopra's proposition at the New Museum


In the second of the New Museum's public forum series of monthly seminars, "Propositions", Nikhil Chopra presented a three-part lecture/performance over the weekend, delivering "Yog Raj Chitrakar and the Traveling Troupe", in sections described as, hypothesis, research, and synthesis.

The image was taken near the beginning of the artist's program on Friday evening, when he offered his hypothesis. Chopra, costumed and performing as a mime throughout the evening-length lecture/performance, is seen playing a flute to accompany the beginning of a video and slide show recording the start of the adventurous and magical story of a road trip to Kashmir, later described to the audience as "paradise on earth".

Chopra regularly tore off a section of brown paper from the large roll seen at the bottom right. He would tape it to the wall, covering the sheet with maps and texts drawn in charcoal, then, returning to the roll, he repeated the process with another sheet - for another page in the story.

This is the text on the sheet seen above:

Yog Raj Chitrakar
(mapmaker and draughtsman)
would like to get the
fuck out of the city,
on the road, making
drawings, dressed like
a fruitcake, chronicles
of the landscape as it
do you want to
come along?
call A 646 346 0333

Earlier he had announced the odyssey with these lines:

destination Kashmir - disputed area [arrow pointing toward his map]
performances from Bombay to Kashmir
on the road six months
from village to village
town to town - chasing

The ambient sound of the video, like the lecture itself, dispensed with any voice-over. It was composed of three or four basic elements: There was the thrum of the engine and smooth whine of the transmission of the truck-like vehicle in which they traveled, and the rhythms of the South Asian songs, both traditional and Bhangra, unwinding from the dashboard cassette player, but this counterpoint was punctuated by the sound of conversations in languages unfamiliar to most in the audience, whenever the party of vagabonds would pause or stop.

Throughout the performance Chopra returned again and again to a carousel slide projector and an old Victrola at the left of the platform stage, changing the still images and switching wonderful old 78 rpm records in harmony with the video and his text drawings.

The musical (and extra-musical) complexion of the evening was a striking change for an artist whose work is usually presented in almost total silence, at least in my experience over the last few weeks.

Barry and I were unable to go back Saturday afternoon, so this post is a completely inadequate account. The resolution of the proposition, the complete story of Chopra's story, has to be left to another. If someone who was able to attend the "resolution" and wants to describe it, I'd be happy to publish the account either as a comment to this post, or, if I'm pointed to something elsewhere, to link to it in an addendum here.