Man of the moment

Unlike the last two editions of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2012 and 2014, this time, the entrance to its main venue, the seafront-facing, high-ceiling warehouse, Aspinwall House, has been moved from the front to the rear gate of the venue.

The Biennale’s main venue now opens to a crossroad, allowing visitors to contemplate which direction to follow. “You could start from anywhere, from the right, left or from the centre,” says Bose Krishnamachari, president and founder of the Biennale. “That’s exactly the reason behind why the entrance was changed to give people the freedom, the choice to experience the various artworks in the order they would like to.”

The decision to switch the entrance around was made by Sudarshan Shetty, the Biennale’s Mumbai-based curator and internationally acclaimed artist.

It’s also in keeping with the curatorial theme for this edition, ‘Forming in the Pupil of an Eye’. Shetty says that it stresses on merging multiplicities, the flow of being, the continuous process of creation and of merging together. “You start from where you want and end where you want. Choose your path and go.”

Shetty explains that most ancient philosophical ideas come from one’s physiological being and existence. “The eye is the only organ or part of the body that reflects back into the world as much as it takes in.” So the idea of ‘forming’ or ‘in process’ comes from this concept.

Keeping this in mind, Shetty has attempted to bring in the multiplicity in arts to the Biennale in a way that it’s inclusive within the same space of experience.

For instance, theatre artiste Anamika Haksar is performing at the Biennale, which is mainly perceived as a visual art space. “Anamika had never thought of working in a Biennale space. Her ideas were encapsulated within three hours,” says Shetty. But for the biennale, Haksar has stretched a performance with four artists to four hours and for 21 days. Haksar’s performance-based installation ‘Composition on Water’ engages with memories of oppression. Using texts by Dalit writers as the foundation, the actors interact with the audience, emphasising a speculative outcome.

Haskar is among the 97 artists from 31 countries showing their work at the Biennale. Chilean poet Raúl Zurita’s work ‘Sea of Pain’ has been much acclaimed. Zurita, who was the first artist to be announced by the Biennale, has dedicated his installation to the memory of the drowned Syrian refugees: three-year-old Alan (also called Aylan) Kurdi, his five-year-old brother Galip and their mother Rehan, who were washed ashore in 2015 while trying to escape to Turkey. By combining visual arts and poetry, Zurita invites people to wade through knee-deep water, asking questions like, ‘Don’t you listen?’, ‘Don’t you look?’, ‘Don’t you hear me?’, ‘Don’t you feel me?’.

Other artists chosen by Shetty include architect Rajeev Thakker, fine artists Sunil Padwal and T.V. Santhosh from back home, poet Ales Steger from Slovenia, Ouyang Jianghe, a poetry and installation artist from China, and sound installation artist Miller Puckette from the U.S.

The idea to include different arts in one space emerged from a series of conversations between Shetty and other artists. He jumped into the process, resisting his first impulse to design a programme according to his own curatorial thoughts and practices. “I realised that I need to be more open, which led to the different conversations with people who are seemingly outside the biennale space,” says Shetty.

These artists had different perspectives about being contemporary. “This has come full circle. I had initially discarded my own curatorial brief, but it all came back, especially the concerns that I have been engaging with in my own practice about how to bring in this whole world, which seems to be at loggerheads with the expectations of a contemporary space.”

Shetty talks about the analogy of the seven mythical rivers of India in a constant flow, which may meet or diverge. “I see the Biennale as a process that started a year ago, that will go through the event and spill over,” he says.

Like the previous two curators, Shetty hasn’t charged any curatorial fee from the funds-strapped Kochi Muziris Foundation that oversees the working of the Biennale. “When I was asked to curate the Biennale, I said yes at the first go.”

He has been managing his personal practice with some difficulty, but has nevertheless kept it going. “For me, it’s important to keep that practice on, because as a curator, I feed from my practice and vice versa. Somehow, I see both those things as one. I don’t see them as two different worlds.” Keeping pace with the demanding job, he had to let of go of an ambitious project for the prestigious Swarovski Fund.

But he has no regrets about committing himself fully to the Biennale. “It has been a great exercise to step out of my studio,” he says about his first curatorial assignment. “When would I have ever had this opportunity to get into people’s studio? And [to] be introduced to so many different ways of looking at the world, which has been very enriching.”

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016 is on until March 29

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Printable version | Oct 31, 2020 3:36:45 AM |

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