I couldn’t quite muster the energy to get out of bed at 3am to see the start of Nikhil Chopra’s performance at the Whitworth at sunrise, but I did pop in when the sun was at its highest and all of Manchester had congregated in the Whitworth grounds. Chopra’s gruelling 65 hour performance is a reflection on the links between Britain and its colonial past; the Indian artist encourages his audience to connect both the threads of India and Manchester which was once a thriving, billowing city that led the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s.
The dusty, off white cotton engulfed the visitors who followed Chopra in his journey through the gallery. I felt uneasy in the space, I felt dwarfed in this large, empty tent that held a handful spectators and the artist who slowly consumed his lunch. I was unable to pluck up the courage to go up closely, talk to him? Was that allowed? Performance art often has that barrier where the spectator isn’t sure where that boundary is. If it’s not in the programme, no one knows how to act. I start thinking about Yoko Ono’s Cut. Emphasis on fabric was apparent in both, and the progression of the performances were a comment on both us as worker and consumer. Yet, with Ono’s work it was instructed that one was to take the pair of scissors provided and interact with the clothes on the artist’s body. However in regards to Coal on Cotton, “the performance will ask its audience to witness and reflect on connections the lives of our forebears and ourselves, and the actions that drive power and possession”.
We are asked to see, and to reflect; inwardly perhaps. I hope that in the earlier hours of the morning when people have a few glasses of over-priced festival wine down them that someone will test this barrier. Performance is much about the confidence of the audience member, then that of the artist. I find this extended performance to be beautiful and cannot wait to see the progression tomorrow morning.