Reflections on Creative Development with NSW Artist Arjunan Puveendran

Over the past few months, thanks to the support of the NSW Government through Create NSW’s Rescue Restart program, we were able to kick off a series of developments with a cross-section of talented and inquisitive NSW-based artists. We recently spoke to Arjunan Puveendran, a musician trained in South Indian vocals and percussion, as he reflected on the process of developing his new work Mriytu between the 9th and 13th of June:

 

 

You have a long history in Carnatic music but recently you’ve also been collaborating in the theatre and festival space on a number of cross-cultural projects. Can you tell us a bit about your current practice?

My passion lies in exploring the place of Carnatic music and Bharata Natyam dance which originally hail from South India, in contemporary Australian society.  Whilst trained as a Carnatic vocalist and percussionist, I look for opportunities to position and recontextualise these art forms in other mediums.  I still engage in conventional presentations of Carnatic music.  In recent times however, my practice has been focused on exploring diverse ways of sharing these arts and associated traditions by collaborating with musicians, dancers, theatremakers and storytellers including cross-culturally.  The projects are often underpinned by a conceptual framework, such as the exploration of parallels between our treatment of women and of the Earth.

Your project is tentatively titled Mrityu. Can you tell us a bit about what it involves?

‘Mrityu’ is a Sanskrit word meaning death.  I was fascinated that it was a cognate of the Latin word ‘mort’, which has entered common parlance in European languages (rigor mortis, mortician and so forth).  The project is centred on how we come to terms with death.  It is the ultimate paradox: a moment of tragedy and grief, whilst also a pathway to releasing us from bondage to earthly suffering.  My intent is to explore that consternation through music, movement, ritual and spoken word.

 

How did you come to explore this idea? What drew you to the concept of exploring death through music and dance?

My own discomfort in grappling with funerals – especially the fear of losing loved ones – juxtaposed with my understandings of the Hindu philosophy behind the soul’s detachment from the body. I closely observe and seek knowledge about rituals performed in my cultural communities.  I was drawn to find ways of weaving the rituals, philosophies, emotions and words from funerals I had attended together in a performative work.

You’ve recently completed your week long development. How did you use the time?

I was privileged to be given openness and flexibility by Performing Lines in this development.  I had the fortune of working with Amrita Hepi, a sublime contemporary dancer and choreographer.  We started the week sharing our own ideas and experiences with death and loss, but also exchanging knowledge of our respective art forms.  However, that process became more malleable so that we tried many different modes of collaboration whether they involved voice or movement by either or both of us.  The week was interspersed with reflection and guidance from dramaturgs Victoria Spence and Jiva Parthipan separately.

What do you think is the value of the creative development process for artists?

Setting aside time to engage deeply and wholly in your creative practice and projects is a rarity amidst a busy world.  Whilst you may not emerge crystal clear about your ideas, the development process creates physical, mental and temporal space to delve deeply in many different directions.  I also learnt the value of being able to try many things in a development, so that you will have large volumes of material to work through and discover gems later.  The best part of my development was entering it with a loose idea preconditioned by my practice and experience, and to emerge unshaped and re-shaped after engaging with other practitioners – so that I could look at my concept with a vastly different lens.

 

And finally, what are the works you’ve seen recently that have really excited you?

Heartland, an exquisite showcase of music and connection to country by William Barton and Veronique Sirret at Sydney Festival.  Modern in Motion, the exhibition of Margel Hinder’s sculptures at Art Gallery NSW as a display of the constant kinetic energy that moves the universe perpetually.  And finally, I’ve Been Meaning to Ask You at Parramatta Riverside for being filled with life-affirming questions and leaving me wholesome and hopeful.

 

Click Here for Arjunan Puveendran’s artist profile.

Click here for Amrita Hepi’s artist profile.

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