Anitha Balachandran

Arts Practice

Grant Period: Over one year

Anitha Balachandran is an animator trained in NID, Ahmedabad and Royal College of Art, London. Her works in animation and inter-media platforms have been widely shown in various institutes and museums in India and abroad including Pro-Helvetia, RCA, Gandhi Memorial Museum, National Supreme Court Museum and NID. She has been the recipient of awards and jury mentions in various film festivals in India and abroad including Estonia, Croatia and Germany. Anitha has published papers on animation, worked on educational projects and illustrated books along with her animation film making career.

Anitha has been working on various commissioned animation and illustration projects but her artistic interest lies in “animadoc”, a genre of animation that explores the relation of animation with documentary. Her project “Intervals and Departures: An animated biography of Abdul Karim Khan” aims to create a body of short animation clips around the life and times of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, one of the founders of the Kirana Gharana. Animadoc as a form is challenging at various levels. The popular perception of animation has mostly remained in the realms of entertainment for children. In recent years it has found some visibility in the form of special effects for commercial films and advertisements. However, it’s validity as an art form is yet to find ground in India. On the other hand, as reality footage finds new currency in the digital age, documentary films that use real footage attain more authenticity. The coming together of these two forms is thus very unlikely since the very idea of presenting documentary material through animation is highly debated. Documentary films have gained such claim to authenticity that it has become difficult now to remind people that what they see on screen is not reality but a representation of it. Thus, Anitha’s attempt at a biography of a music maestro through animation is a very significant artistic experiment.

Anitha has been researching on the life and music of Abdul Karim Khan for some time now, working through the materials she has collated from various archives in India and other web based repositories. However, her experimentation goes beyond attempting to create a series of bio shorts on the maestro who was also one of the early artists to be recorded in India. According to her, “The figure of the classical musician at the turn of the 20th century is a fascinating one to me. With changing economic and political forces, fortunes fell and rose unpredictably. Carried by this tide it was not unusual for artists to witness both elite patronage and penury within a space of years. By recounting the story of one such life, my act of history-telling is to reveal this life as a metaphor for other such lives. I thus plan this as a loosely biographical work, as I do find the personal story a particularly compelling form. Like most biographies I would like to create the impression of an immediate encounter, a sense of a person’s tangible presence. However, the historical time period configures events and visibly provides the context for this work. Notably, the period I’m exploring (roughly between 1900 and 1940) saw the advent of recording technology, the gradual disappearance of royal patronage, the commercialisation of music, and a certain communalisation of public space. My aim would be to examine and reference these historical substrata even as I recount the personal.” Anitha’s is an approach of a critical practitioner who wishes to engage with the history of an artist and his time through the lens of this project. She will be using archival material as the base for her exploration but will take advantage of the creative possibilities of animation to make it come alive and appeal to a more tactile sense of history.

The visual and audio treatment proposed for the animations involves multiple techniques that will push the understanding of animation and ways to deal with historical material. These will include printing out and then hand painting on archival material, putting objects on them and chemically treating them before animation and constructing 3D miniature paper sets using archival photos as reference to create depth perceptions. Using charcoal, pencil and sand to create scenes, the technique will evoke ethereal hand-painted ghosts in photographic images at the same time capturing the traces of the animator’s work inside the body of the work. This is a marked departure from the clean and sanitised animations the market throws at us. These images are rough and edgy, opening up ambiguous possibilities of multiple understanding. Interestingly, this process closely resembles the period in audio technology that Anitha is dealing with. The scratches and noises produced by the recording machinery that early recordings bear are both archival material as well as signs of time. Anitha will use those archival recordings to let her audio design take over the visual pattern. She will also use ambient sound from twentieth century to create a more embodied and phenomenological experience for the audience. Silences will have a special place in her work as the period she is dealing with was in a way more “silent” than today, devoid of traffic, electronic and media noises. Silence will also be a helpful tool to access the interiority of the world of the artist.

Anitha wants to showcase her work in galleries, the archives she will be working with and in various animation schools. Animation is a huge industry in India today where hundreds of graduates join every year, only to work as back-ends for global production systems. Most of them don’t see any independent artistic potential in the form. Anitha thinks if she can show her work to this audience it might trigger new thinking in the animators as well as documentary filmmakers and change the way archival material is approached. For her own practice, this project is of a scale and complexity that she has not attempted before. She recognises that the end results of this experiment may be unpredictable and ‘untidy’ but she is excited about the challenge. For IFA, while this project is a critical journey into animation, it may also open up new possibilities for our Archival and Museum fellowships. Anitha’s experience in working with archival material to make history a more tactile experience might prove to be a valuable contribution to the field and to our understanding of the possibilities of practitioners working with archival materials.