The third edition of the Biennale, one of the only art exhibitions in India where artists create art for arts sake instead of starting from a commercial orientation where art needs to be sold opens up so many doors in an artists head. Let me start with the locations for the Biennale, Fort Kochi has the most stunning locations- Aspinwall House, Pepper House, Kashi Café, Anand Warehouse – dripping in history and loaded with character – these locations were such a perfect backdrop for the thought provoking artworks.
Art is also a commentary of the times we live in - a recurring theme at the Biennale was the refugee crises and two of my favourite pieces were around this theme. One man’s sorrow is another man’s art – it often leaves me uncomfortable though but it does make a point, whether or not we do something about it afterwards is upto us.
Alex Setons ‘Refugee’ a marble sculpture with a blanket around a nameless , faceless structure with a empty hole for a face that stares at you- a ghost so real, there but not there with no other fault but to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Raul Zurita’s ‘The Sea of Pain’, taking off your shoes , wading through knee deep water to reach the end and be reminded about Galip Kurdis. I felt almost sanctimonious in my sense of tragedy , irritated with the throngs of teenagers taking selfies here, ready to sermonize to them to honour the sanctity of what this installation represented – until my mother stopped me and reminded me, that people laughing and having fun is always a good thing, wherever it might be, and everyone will take away something from here, without my telling them so.
“All countries have flags
but not all flags
have countries. Erased by empires only the fabric is left. Some
recall the beginning
of the world in the sea or the uncertain end of it all
that we’ve seen in life.
and the words are not
few: they are bones and heart,
guts and eyes. All that as it
multiplies and condenses constitutes something
that has a profile: a country with its flag.
The fabric, mostly on a blue base,
The country forever in words. And everything I just
said exists as a drawing exists,
It has a past and a future.
It waves in Kochi’s wind and it reads in present time.
Alicja Kwade’s ‘Out of Ousia’ - I was almost dismissive of this installation until I went around and felt a bit disoriented – trying to look for my image in what I thought was a mirror and wondering why the colour of the tree looked different and then realizing it was one way glass , the image of the silver rock reflecting in the mirror but a mirror replica of the rock peeking from behind the mirror in black. I cant help but write from the description from this work as it was wonderful – “As you circle the work, your view and image of each quadrant bleeds into each other, creating a notional parallel plane where verifiable objects and their makeshift doubles are jumbled and confused. The work becomes about the fidelity about what is being viewed and the apparent memory of that objects other, or mimetic pairing.
Martin Walde’s ‘Multiple Choice’ at Aspinwall House of a wax figure on a chair with an infrared light shining on it –the art involves the audience, activating the infrared when you enter the room, the intensity increasing the longer you stay and threatens the very existence of the artwork. Everyone moves out pretty quickly when the choice of existence stares them so clearly in the face, a parable to important choices that face us in today’s world.
Alex Stegner’s installation ‘ The Pyramid of Exiled poets’ – walking through the dark pyramid with voices of these poets reaching out to you was also an interesting experience.
Of course I always gravitate towards folk art and P Sadanands ‘ 12 lives’ Kerela mural which took him and 3 of his students 6 months to make was a masterpiece and for my simple mind which appreciates effort of labour and thought over everything else this was one of my favourities. He also took his time to explain all the natural colours he used in the mural – I didn’t even know half of these names and just made me realise again what a long way I need to cover in my journey of discovering India’s rich folk arts.
A talk by Dilip Menon, of which I could attend only the last 20 minutes but which left me deeply stimulated – an interesting discussion about Collective identities and where the world is headed, the role of governments and how we would be expected to maybe self regulate at some point . He quoted something which deeply resonated with me – ‘We have a responsibility to the past, not because of a sense of tragedy but because of a sense of utopia, of what the past could be now like developing the negatives of still undeveloped photographs’.
A music performance ‘Nadaswaram’ by the Nemmara brothers also provided some much needed respite to the brain and indulged the ears.
A few films were noteworthy- the short clip of Faroe islands capturing the crashing waves, the feminist dialogue and Inverso Mundus at Anand Warehouse showing a world in permanent dystopia.
A thought that’s been playing on my mind again and again in the last few months has been how the worlds of visual arts and performing arts should work hand in hand and why isn’t more done about this (Our Manu and the Fish collection at Meraki and using dance to illustrate the story were a small step stemming from this thought). And then after visiting Kochi Muziris Biennale where this was done with sublime beauty, I’ve come back in a more informed about our state of the world and fired up with thoughts of what I could be doing about it– how wonderful for art to be able to inspire someone to do that.