Kochi Muziris Biennale 2020 will open on December 12

As the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s news from the art world: the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2020 will open as scheduled on December 12

Although COVID-19 has led to cancellations of all major events across the world, the Kochi Biennale Foundation has affirmed that the fifth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) will open as scheduled on December 12, 2020.

Despite being one of the newest art biennales (the Venice Biennale began in 1895 and KMB in 2012), the event has made a mark in the global art scene, drawing visitors from around the world to Kochi: almost 1,000 visitors a day was recorded in its 2016 edition. This year, the pandemic has brought to sudden halt all behind-the-scenes activity required for a show of this scale, involving 11-14 venues comprising heritage warehouses and spice godowns. With six months to go, and with the pandemic showing no signs of abatement, the organisers and artists face a massive challenge.

Kochi Muziris Biennale 2020 will open on December 12

The Janata Curfew announced on March 22 led to a delay in releasing the list of participating artists by nearly three months. Usually the release is marked with fanfare and artist visits. Such events through the year keep the momentum around the biennale going. This year, the introductions have been delayed by nearly three months. Shubigi Rao, curator of KMB 2020, sees the process and the coming together of the art expo in this pandemic-riddled year as “potentially a healing process.” Luckily, she had completed the task of travelling around the globe to check artists’ works and select them. Luckier still was the fact that her conceptualisation inherently imagined a scenario that the world currently is up against.

Shubigi Rao, curator of the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2020

Shubigi Rao, curator of the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2020   | Photo Credit: Kathein Leisch

Over email from Singapore, she says, “It is inevitable that the curatorial vision will be informed by the global pandemic crisis and the fault lines it has exposed. To quite an extent.I had already been thinking about ways in which artistic labour (practice and discourse) can be critically informed by regional and global concerns. Here is a shared opportunity to spotlight particular issues, and the way we, as a species, assign value to short-term gains and diminish the vital importance of environment and other species, of community and kinship.”

Project revival

Artist Jitish Kallat, curator of KMB 2014, says he is “charmed by the resolve and confidence” of the foundation to announce the opening of the next edition as planned, knowing fully that this will be a complex and deeply demanding undertaking. Over phone from Mumbai, co-founder Bose Krishnamachari, who has been in touch with museums, galleries and auction houses through seminars and social media, says that the KMB has the support of the Kerala Government. “[The Government] sees it as a revival project, one that will build people’s confidence and reboot tourism. KMB will be held in its original timeline of four months in accordance with the health guidelines issued by the Government. We are looking at all possibilities in design that ensure social distancing.”

Kochi Muziris Biennale 2020 will open on December 12

Adding that he gets phone calls from small shopkeepers , restaurant owners, volunteers, former staff and people connected with the KMB, Krishnamachari says that this points to the dire need to hold the event, which supports the local economy.Gautam Das, Assistant Director, Programmes, KMB, states that the list of participating artists will be announced soon. “There is a slight modification in the contracts of all international artists to do with health insurance,” he says adding that those projects that required site visits as an essential component have been modified. “The timelines had to change as international travel has not opened and uncertainty prevails. We are also looking at November as a time when artists arrive and begin their work.”The Biennale also works on several parallel projects like the ABC (Art By Children) programme and the Student’s Biennale. Says Gautam Das, assistant director — programmes, KMB, “The programming activities in Kochi, including residencies, workshops and the children’s programme have been put on hold. We are changing the format of some workshops so that they can start online.”

Best practices document

The Biennale organisers are folks at the Biennale are keeping a close eye on the government’s SOPs regarding large gatherings and events, which will be issued shortly. The International Biennale Association (IBA) along with other art bodies are also putting together a best practices document for large-scale art exhibitions. “The Yokohama Biennale in July and the Design Biennale in Istanbul in December are being held as scheduled. We can learn from them and are in touch,” says Gautam. Meanwhile, to connect viewers with artists in non-studio environs, the KMB has issued the Lockdown Series, based on a simple question — what are artists creating during the lock-down? “The idea was to share with our online community how artists continue to work during such a situation. We wanted viewers to see the artist in a non-studio space,” adds Gautam.

While the shortlisted artists are, perhaps, gearing up for the big event, the main venue, the colonial style Aspinwall House, which would have been abuzz with activity, lies shut, overgrown with weeds, devoid of electricity. Looking back at the turn of the year in January, Shubigi was almost prescient when she wrote, “The ability of our species to flourish artistically in fraught and dire situations, this refusal in the face of disillusionment to disavow our poetry, our languages, our art and music, our optimism and humour, is a stubbornness to be celebrated.” She adds: “The communities that come together to make this happen are to be celebrated. This is what I hope to foreground in this edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.”

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 1:10:59 PM |

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