Arts Review Substation

Review: Declutter Me! by Grace Kalaiselvi

Letting go and moving on, one object at a time.

According to Japanese decluttering consultant Marie Kondo, the key question one must first ask before deciding to keep or toss a physical object is “Does it spark joy?” But often, that is a query that leads to even further doubts – how do we know if it sparks joy or not?

That is the question at the heart of Grace Kalaiselvi’s Declutter Me!, a unique theatre performance that enlists audience members’ help in her decluttering process. Playing as part of The Substation’s SeptFest 2022, Declutter Me! takes the form of a unique, one-to-one video call performance on WhatsApp. After selecting a single box, over the course of 20 minutes, Grace tells the audience member about her personal history with the items contained within, and by the end, asks for help in deciding if she should keep or throw the object.

Despite a few technical difficulties, the act of a video-call turns out to be an intimate, personal experience that forces the audience member to stop, sit down, and really watch and listen to Grace’s story, such that one does not become distracted. We are given a choice of one of three mystery boxes to choose from, giving us a relatively simple stake in the matter, but the real draw of the experience is Grace’s detailed tale of her history with the object.

In our case, Grace linked the experience to Indian culture and phenomena, explaining about astrology and fortune-telling, with symbolic images and predictions made about her life that never came true. There is a sincerity behind the casual tone she adopts that makes us feel for her, and even behind her smiles and laughs, there is a sadness in not being able to live up to these ‘expectations’ that others had of her, and a weight behind the words that makes us realise the importance of this object she holds, and invested in how the decision to toss or keep it will have a sizeable impact on her mental and emotional life.

At the end of the performance, we engage in a 10 minute conversation, away from the scripted parts, to get to know each other and debate over the final decision. Despite being enamoured by the story and thinking of it as an example of an object that should be kept to remind her of the past, I also came to realise the burden it held in spite of its size, and suggested parting ways with it by its end. Culture and memory both grounds you and roots you, but it can also be the thing that holds you back, and Declutter Me! succeeds in giving us a glimpse into that concept with a personal story and its intimate, experimental form.

Declutter Me! runs every Saturday and Sunday of September 2022 across various timeslots, via WhatsApp video call, as part of The Substation’s SeptFest 2022. Tickets available here

SeptFest 2022 runs from 1st to 30th September 2022 across various venues in Singapore. Tickets, lineup and more information available here

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