21 February 2015 at 4:30pm

A discussion with Kavya Murthy and Prajna Desai


Kavya Murthy, who works on the sociology of law in Bangalore, maintains a long-standing interest in the natural world. She once studied the behaviour of bonnet macaques as part of a school project. She has also been a performer. The experience of performing has made her interested in the formal and sensorial qualities of Untitled (Human Mask). The film appears to constantly draw attention to the fact that it is staged, and is suffused with context, despite only making brief gestures to Fukushima and the monkey's personal biography. Is the monkey doing as monkeys do? What is the monkey's role in this moment? Is the monkey with agency? Is the monkey without? This thin line between the fictive and real that holds the nineteen minutes of the film together opens up a series of questions about how we can really know where that monkey fits in. Kavya will explore these thoughts through a close reading of her own responses to the film, and by looking at the monkey as an actor.

Prajna Desai is an art historian and writer, who is particularly interested in the narrative integrity of political and social statements in contemporary art. Does political and humanist activism do the issues more good than they do the artists? With respect to Untitled (Human Mask) her concern is also personal. She lived in Japan during the period of the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Beyond the film’s immediate narrative content – the psychological slippage between the stage-managed monkey and its subtle humanity and its relationship to the discourse of the Anthropocene – the film also points up an ethical dimension about the formal relationship between units of a montage. There's a quasi-political conversation about some loose rapport between Fukushima (catastrophe and disaster) and the monkey act (post-humanism) that the film throws up but never tackles head on. Why? And does it matter?