Random Randal: Made in Kerala is an installation and performance by New York artist Noah Fischer in collaboration with Elisa Soliven, Anil Dayanand and the Students of RLV College in Kerala, India. Fischer was invited to RLV College by adjunct professor Anil Dayanand along with dean Sidharthan Kunjan and professor Bipin Balachandran who also curated conceptual dimensions of the project. In Malayalam the native tongue of Kerala, ‘Randal’ means lantern. For an intensive week-long workshop which coincided with the “Transtrends” pan.-Indian art forum, students at the RLV College endeavor to construct ten large bamboo, cloth, and coconut-leaf lanterns. In fact, these light-emitting bodies functioned beyond the realm of sculptural objects as an envelope for performative social experiment. Since students from many diverse linguistic regions of India had gathered in Kerala for the Transtrends forum, curator Balachandran and Fischer decided upon language confusion as a central theme, and Fischer concocted text games with the students, generating a Tower of Babel-like multi-lingual archive which the students carefully transcribed into hundreds of potato stamps. During Random Randal, the cities of Kochi and Tripunithra converted to hunting grounds for lantern-making materials – revealing such treasures as weavable Malayalam celluloid films and bountiful fabric, as well as the traditional bamboo and coconut leaves: used to re-imagine the lantern as thatched dwelling (and sparking intense debate about Colonial perceptions of Indian “primitivism”). Amid a program of text games, discussions, expeditions and intense periods of labor, ten bamboo lantern skeletons emerged; vessels for the ensuing light and activity.
Random Randal peaked with a choreographed “Happening” involving hundreds of participants. Students in small teams circumabulated the large central space of the visual arts building at RLV College of Art, energetically stamping text from the archive onto white cloth- all the while dancing, shouting, ringing bells and parading the bolts of cloth like ever more densely printed banners for a non-existent territory or political party. Simultaenously, a group of traditional Carnatic musicians and dancers pulled gestures from the syntax of their traditional Kathakali training to insert an overall elegant flowing movements into the experience. In fact, this represented the first time that Carnatic music/dance students had collaborated with visual art students at RLV college; a school architecturally and culturally bisected into visual and performative arts. Across between traditional folk festival, student bash, and one of Alan Kaprow’s Happenings, this event also contained solo performances such as artist Anil Dayanand’s body-art contribution. Dressed in simple white clothes with his bald head clean and shining, Anil inserted himself into the ink stamping process; a human incarnation of language confusion, and by extension, taking his place alongside the lanterns-in-process as multi-textual light emitting body. As Mr Dayanand slowly walked around the perimeter of the space, getting stamped all over face and clothes, he became a symbol for crossing visual and social boundaries; a magnetic planet orbiting within the overall experience.
For the final stage of Random Randal, the finished lanterns, now stretched with the printed fabric, thatched with coconut leaves and other found materials, were armed with powerful 220 volt light-bulbs and hooked up to a custom electrical switching system. Thus, the cavernous multi-story central space (which was perhaps a main subject in the project) reconfigured into an interactive light-show-hall. The lanterns were hung randomly with the largest hut-like lantern hung low in the center. Beneath this, students placed a large spinning platform. As lights flickered, disorienting the entire darkened space, students indulged in joy rides on the platform, underneath the majestic central Randal, woven from an old Malayalam film bought at a market junkshop. As critic Shivaji Pannikar, watching the action commented- “this kind of art can cure a lot of alienation and pain… this kind of art is good for the society.”
Reflecting back on Random Randal, it is clear that the printed text in Malayalam, Hindi, Bengali, English, and other languages stood for connection rather than confusion, perhaps even pointing to a universal language apart from the spoken or written word. This new idiom is defined by the syntax of collaborative effort, vocabulary of experimentation, and perhaps most of all by the grammar of play. Perhaps as well, in a current climate dominated by the emergence of online communities and cyber connections, Random Randal can be seen as a manifesto for human connection through physical collaboration, rhythm-based interaction and hands-on spirited activity. Random Randal, at heart, was an unmediated experience- a mirage of art, transnational camaraderie, play, and light.