Instruction-based Art



Artist residency at O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana, India

‘What common perception trivializes and misses, an artwork apprehends in its irreducible essence.’


In these present volatile times, where each moment is a struggle for survival and one gets entangled in the mundane, how can a slight shift, a soft utterance, a temporary happening change the course of our obsessive routine?

As part of my residency at O.P. Jindal Global University, I did an instruction-based art project- occurrences that renders the mundane space through a process of sending instructions; thereby inserting events and creating experiences to disturb a person’s monotony. Here, the BA students at Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities were the participants and received instructions through e-mail over a month. They were made to alter the environment of the art studio space, using the material as well as non-material elements of the space. It was arranged, re-arranged- adding, subtracting, juxtaposing elements and altering it as per the instructions. 

The meaning of each instruction got multiplied through various interpretations of the words, accumulating with every occurrence. The final exhibition included a range of media, that were primarily a collection of documentation of the occurrences, standing as witness to the events experienced by the students.

Through this project, I slowly gravitate towards a withdrawal from the tangibility of an art object, into an accumulation/ collection of intangible experiences. The intention of occurrences to speculate and linger around these inserted hybrid chain of events, to be conscious of their crucial role in life. It uses the possibility of change/ happenings in routine as a tool for defamiliarization. Also, the emphasis on an inserted event/change at the same time maintains that the ordinary enables the extraordinary, while the unusual delves on the usual. My role fluctuated between an artist and a curator, and the line became blur. This project challenged and gave rise to many questions: where is the line between art and life? Can something so intangible as an experience be collected? What is my role and where does the ownership lie when others are contributing to the process of making?

Coverage of the show

Looking for the Profound in the Ordinary – Reflections from Sonam Chaturvedi’s Art Exhibition ‘Occurrences’ at Jindal Global University by Asmita Singhvi, University of Oxford. Read here

Instruction I/ 


Break the space into two equal parts without making any sound. Document the audio-visual silence.

Two students sent a video, silently moving the furniture and maintaining coordination without uttering a word. 

Instruction II/ 


Create a center of the space, where everything is connected to the center, either emerging out of it or gravitating towards it. What would be the center?

A student sent a video of her standing off-centre and shouting to create this centre, her centre: 

Instruction III/


‘what would you do 

if left alone 

locked in a room 


at the same empty walls 

the clock getting weary  

of passing through 

the same numbers 

and you don’t ever 

want to leave the room   

it is yours 

it is you’ 

Make the space personal, bring intimacy into it. 

Add an object(s). 

I received the documentation of their activities in various forms. A student responded through a poem:

‘What I leave behind??   

Sole burnt imperial sheet. 

An act of concealment. The smoke with my favored daisy. 

With my conscious. I leave the Ashes.

What I do not leave behind??

A tiny unburnt piece of that burned imperial. 

Impossible to read the organization, marks, contour. 

Grey Now!

Why to leave it behind? Why not the leave it behind? 

To kindle most of it? Carry a bit to accompany me?’

The above poem was printed on an imperial sheet and displayed.

Two students responded through a gesture by leaving a lock of hair, a part of body, and became one with the space. They documented the act through a GIF.

image 2

A student sent a video of making the space intimate by reciting and repeating a line of a poem thus, leaving the poem through her voice into the space. She reads, ‘There is a blue bird in my heart that wants to get out’ by Charles Bukowski, a German-American poet.

Instruction IV/

Bring change in the monotony of another person.

Send a picture with a flower in her hand, and your experience from this encounter.

A student responded through a photo of Parvati with flower and a text narrating how she felt through this whole encounter.

The didi in the pictures above is Parvati didi who is currently working at the construction site for the upcoming pool at O.P Jindal Global University. This instruction was exceptionally new for me because I got the chance to interact with someone who is not a permanent worker in this college and has travelled all the way from West Bengal, just for the construction of this pool. Parvati didi has been out of her house since the past two months and this is not uncommon for her. She says she has no choice. She is compelled to move out of the house for two or more months as West Bengal alone is not able to provide her with enough work opportunities. She has one son who stays in the village but she says he is old enough to take care of himself. When I asked Parvati didi if I could click a picture of her with a flower in her hand, she was extremely shy but seemed happy with the idea that she will be holding a flower. There was an instant smile on her face once she held the flower in her hand and the difference between the two pictures above says it all. It would seem bizarre that such a small, insignificant thing like a flower could bring a change in someone’s mood but as I witnessed, it can! A short conversation with her and the exercise itself made her happy and broke her monotony of coming in, working, and leaving. It was a wonderful experience talking to her and I hope she remembers it and cherishes it as much as I will.

Instruction V/

About time

Have a discussion in the studio around these questions:

What is time?

What does it mean to you personally?

Can you capture the present? If yes, how?

What does timelessness mean?

What would be the alternatives of linear clock-time?

How can we weigh time through emotions?

How would you describe time in dreams?

Discuss about the present times we live in and how you feel about it.

One student took this photograph and another responded to the questions on the basis of the photo:


What is time?

Time is a permanent change. 

What does it mean to you personally? 

Time for me is a relief. 

Can you capture the present? If yes, then how?

Yes, you can capture the present, through the medium of photography. A photograph has the ability to capture the present and preserve it for the time to come. 

What does timelessness mean? 

People are constantly evolving and changing and new experiences slightly change you. So timelessness would be anything that’s constant in your life even with the constant chaos that is there in one’s life perpetually. 

How can we weigh time through emotions? 

I believe time can easily be distorted by emotion. For instance, one could feel like time passes excruciatingly slowly when in pain but extremely fast when happy.  

How would you describe time in dreams? 

One way of seeing it would be that dreams are the absence of time. With no constraints or handle on reality, dreams have a way of either stretching time or reducing it to mere fractions. 

Discuss about the present times we live in and how you feel about it.

In our current setting, time is more of an illusion. With the fast pace of life, every moment acts like a fleeting memory. While activity and routine tend to be more comfortable, one does crave the existence of a space devoid of time. We attempted to reflect that in our art piece where we pondered upon the idea of time coming to a stop for even a minute and the impact (or non-impact) it would have upon us.