At Odds With The Air: A Conversation About the Evolution of Culture with Mallika Chandaria

By Sadia Parveen, Tejashree Murugan, and Ally De Leon

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The 98 Arts Collective is a new immersive content production startup that has had successful shows in Paris, London, New York, San Francisco, and Boston. Their latest project At Odds With The Air — a movement album born out of the COVID-19 pandemic — follows the birth and life of its protagonist “Culture” during these unprecedented times.

The seven-part series of short dance films, or a “movement album”, is set against the backdrop of New York to celebrate its culture and artistic community. It tells the story of  “Culture” as they rediscover their body and engage with the landscape of the moment as it changes. Each part of the series is an exploration of cinematography through the lens of movement.

The project involves extending an open invitation to local emerging videographers, set designers, composers, animators, directors, choreographers, and dancers to contribute. The goal is to represent the start of a modern artistic renaissance. From Virtual Reality to “360” videos, the album aims to enhance the immersive and accessible aspects of the premiere, conveying how this movement can move us.

We at Reclamation Magazine had the incredible opportunity of having a conversation about the evolving state of culture and how At Odds With The Air ambitiously explores it through various art forms with The 98’s CEO and Artistic Director, Mallika Chandaria, who uses her background in movement direction to inform the creation of striking immersive experiences, and enjoys facilitating collaboration across all disciplines and levels of the creative process.

Can you tell us more about your latest project At Odds With The Air and what the title signifies? What, according to you, is the difference between dance and movement, and why does this project fall into the latter category?

Mallika: At Odds With The Air is a visual movement album (a collection of short dance films) that explores the rebirth and evolution of Culture over the past 2 years. It’s the first time that The 98 has embarked on a digital immersive project of this magnitude, and we wanted to push ourselves to overcome the creative restrictions of this moment.

This body of work tells the story of Cultural reincarnation against the backdrop of New York (an international hub of the arts). Our protagonist, a personification of Culture (they/them), undergoes a karmic transformation. Throughout the series, they reconstruct their perceptions of conflict, identity, resilience, and evolution through the medium of movement.

After moving to New York about a year ago, I kept hearing, “Culture is dead” or “Art is dead” over and over again. It is simply not true! Culture and Art will never die: instead, they evolve. The process of reflection required to make and experience art can help us come to terms with these seismic shifts so that we do not cling to the past.

The title of the series captures the absurd notion of fighting something both vast and intangible. The reason that we have titled it a “movement album” rather than a dance film is because everything in this body of work is approached with the idea of motion: the camera, the edit, the sound, the lighting, the animation. Dance is one part of creating the whole experience.

This pursuit is not without fear. I, along with my team, have poured personal struggle and growth into this piece. I think it has made the character of Culture a rich entity densely packed with the complexity of many experiences. We hope that the public resonates with this journey as much as we have. 

At Odds With The Air follows the birth and life of its protagonist Culture during the post-COVID era. As artists who are also entering the post-COVID era, do you or any of your team see parts of yourself in Culture? 

Mallika: I think putting a lot of ourselves into a project like this makes it honest. It’s the difference between presenting something that checks our socially conscious boxes and offering up work that comes from somewhere vulnerable and truthful.

This pursuit is not without fear. I, along with my team, have poured personal struggle and growth into this piece. I think it has made the character of Culture a rich entity densely packed with the complexity of many experiences. We hope that the public resonates with this journey as much as we have.

With the advent of well-developed virtual spaces and the push for increased connectivity online (Zuckerberg’s comments on the “metaverse” come to mind), how has The 98 Art Collective been able to adapt and redefine what it means to be immersed in artistic experiences?

Mallika: Immersion is a feeling. The development of virtual and hybrid platforms has allowed The 98 to take this feeling and translate it across so many more mediums; a concert hall, a Youtube video, a 360° scanned environment, and social media platforms. It has allowed us to scale our services which creates a more accessible way for brands, venues, and small businesses to create meaningful content for their audiences.

Perhaps we are becoming a part of the “embodied internet” that Zuckerberg often refers to. Although moving content between media creates enormous potential for artists, it does raise questions about “where the line is”. Something like this demands consideration and debate. Our core team continues to wrestle with understanding the consequences of our placement and development within this sphere.

How do you think the role culture plays in our societies has changed over the past few decades, and in what directions do you think it will evolve in the future? How has your multi-cultural background influenced your own perspective on culture? 

Mallika: Culture is the glue that holds us together. It is the “why” and “how” of human connection.

The development of the internet, technology, and media has changed the way we connect on a local, national and international level: giving rise to a shared global culture. The danger around this straddles the blurry line between freedom of expression and “fake news”. In an age where information travels fast and hard, careful regulation around content sharing is necessary in order to shape a healthy globalized culture.

I was raised with a strong value system based on the principle of hierarchy. There are some aspects of this system that I find outdated, but there are others that help me ground myself amidst the noise of global culture. It has helped me gain perspective on how The 98 might use the Internet, media, and technology as tools to enhance timeless ideas and translate them to a relevant moment (rather than relying on them for execution).

The 98 Art Collective recently hosted an immersive show called The Future of in New York. How did it feel to host an in-person event after a year-long hiatus from such events? 

Mallika: It was refreshing to explore a theme that was focused completely on the future. For about 4 hours; to global pandemics, climate change and mental health felt like issues that had innovative solutions. It gave me hope and excitement that so many people had gathered in a space we created to converse about this. For The 98, it felt like a step forward.

Who and what inspires your creative processes at present?

Mallika: Talking to new people is the most inspiring part of my creative process. I aim to be a sponge and soak up as much information as possible — especially from people of different disciplines. It’s interesting how different subject matters can find common ground in the arts. The intersection, for example, between economics, criminal psychology, and theatre, seems like something worth understanding (even if only to satiate curiosity). The pursuit inevitably sparks something original and collaborative.

Part 4 of At Odds With The Air is featuring The 98’s first animated movement piece. Although this gives everyone a deserved break from the protective Hazmat suits, were there any challenges that you faced during the production of the 360° animated movement piece?

Mallika: The greatest challenge we faced during the creation of KINTSUGI (the animated piece) was that none of us on the team had ever done anything like this before. Our animator and sound designer were based in Germany, our 360° consultant was in Spain and the rest of our team was in the US. We had to figure out our own method to best translate a sequence choreographed by our movement director, Dana DePirri, and performed by our star dancer, Nailah Cunningham, to the animated world. The level of coordination to achieve this while staying true to the greater narrative was difficult, but it was worth it.

The 98 has always created our own way of doing things. It makes the process rewarding because everyone becomes a problem-solver or critical thinker. It’s also an invaluable asset to help us stand out as collaborators. Finding a challenge is like striking gold because it’s the opportunity to do something original.

What’s next for The 98 Art Collective during this post-COVID era? Are there any plans to explore Culture through an international lens, considering your incredible roster of international artists? Is there any location you would like to center your next art experience in?

Mallika: We are excited to be wrapping up the At Odds With The Air series and aim to premiere the full immersive experience with a gallery in November. The goal is to use a combination of 360° projectors and pop-out screens to create the full 25-minute immersive visual album experience. We can’t wait to curate the space to be even more interactive and exciting for our audience to wander through.

Over the past 4 years, we have created pop-up shows in Paris, London, New York San Francisco, and Boston. Engaging with the global community is a part of our philosophy as a company. Our decision to film this particular album in New York has allowed us to work with an international mindset and approach our content through a lens of Cultural fusion. We hope that this project resonates with audiences from around the world!

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The 98 is always looking for collaborators and brand partnerships to further their reach since they are a growing business. Please feel free to reach out to them if you are interested in being involved either as a brand partner or a contributing artist.

You can watch BAPTISM+STORMING (part 1 and 2 of At Odds With The Air), THE WALTZ (part 3), KINTSUGI (part 4). Follow The 98 on TikTok and check out their Instagram @98artcollective.