Events

A group show

Curtains come down on the second edition of the three-month-long art exposition, the Kochi Muziris Biennale (KMB) on March 29. When it opened on the evening of December 12, 2014, with a spectacular performance, when the air reverberated with the chorus of 300 chendas beating in unison, an exhausted Mithika Mathew slept dead to the world. As a volunteer assisting artist Navjot Altaf complete her piece - Mary Wants To Read a Book, Mithika finished work only by six that morning. “I was relieved and tired. I slept right through the day and missed the launch,” she says, adding that most volunteers had worked round-the-clock, meeting deadlines.

Vipin Dhanudharan, assisting the Pepper House Residency artists, too missed the Biennale opening. He was caught up with putting last minute touches to the spaces there.

Mithika and Vipin are just a few of the many behind-the-scene volunteers, all in their 20s , who have meticulously put the KMB together and a reason behind its success. Most of these young men and women have joined in as ‘gappers’ between jobs or for the sake of experience. But all admit that they are in it for the love of it.

Fahad T.E., a commerce graduate was introduced to the art fair, KMB-1, as a charmed visitor. All set to join his father’s garment business he changed mind and joined as a volunteer. He was assigned work in co-ordinating KMBs various outreach programmes that are held throughout the year.

Fahad has assisted artists, maintained the works, and arranged the spaces. As an example of his work he cites the complete overhaul of a space in the main venue, Aspinwall that had been used for a film shoot. “A whole year is required to put up a show like this. We volunteers double up as gatekeepers, guides, organising space, assisting artists and running errands,” he says.

Vipin, a self-taught artist from Kollam, was part of the first Biennale. “It’s been an education for me, like going to college,” he says. Assisting artist Subodh Gupta and Anita Dubey in the first Biennale and then maintaining LAVA, a travelling library of books and art films, opened up several prospects for him, he believes.

Manu V. R., also from Kollam, worked with the cultural wing of the Biennale last time, after which he has joined the foundation. “We do everything,” he says simply, meaning that they work across departments and are ready to do any kind of work.

“Work begins with escorting artists to the site. Bharti Kher visited the Chottanikkara temple on work, Dayanita Singh visited the archives department in Ernakulam, Pushpamala went to Gothuruthy. All artists go to Muziris. We do that and other chores as well.”

Curator of The Whorled Explorations, this edition of the Biennale, Jitish Kallat remarks on the role of the volunteers. He says, “The volunteers have created a wonderful web-work of friendly hospitality and information sharing, even as they ensure that the art works in this large exhibition are well-protected, given the huge audience turnout” Vipin says about co-worker Fahad. “As he is from Fort Kochi, his contributions have been extremely helpful. He had to deal with unions, contractors, carpenters, painters and the local people involved.”

Mithika recalls her excitement at the announcement of the Biennale in Kerala, something so close to her home in Kottayam and its plurality thrilled the 24-year-old student of architecture. She volunteered to be a part of the programme. After initially working with artists, Mithika now takes Biennale guests on a guided tour of Aspinwall, which houses works of 69 artists.

After working for a project in DRDO, and later for two years in West Asia, engineer Justin Nelson applied online and joined as a volunteer. His stint here has fired in him an ‘artistic bent.’ Justin believes he is terribly lucky to be working with such big names in art.

For him his current vocation is “pure joy.” Justin explains the daily and weekly maintenance required for Anish Kapoor’s installation, ‘Descension 2014’.

“The installation, a 4x3 metres steel well, sunk 12 feet in the ground where 16,000 litres of water spin at 975 rpm uses a 20 hp motor for the process. The motor is switched off every three hours for 15 minutes, a resin dye has been added to the water and its level is maintained at 15 inches from the top,” says Justin, amazed at the conceptualisation where art meets science.

Abhayan Varghese, director of communications lists the different departments - Production, Programme, Administration, Documentation, and Editorial- that the volunteers work in. They are given accommodation and a daily internship fee. Susan Dileep, 25, quit a job as a journalist and pitched in her talent with the editorial team. She handles the Biennale website and its social media interactions. “This experience has been an eye-opener. There is pressure because I am dealing with journalists who have to meet deadlines,” she says.

Mohammed Ginna, 26, from Fort Kochi, helps in with all the “ground work”. “This is a big thing for me,” he says with stars in his eyes. “When I joined I had to ask everyone about what to do. This time I am telling people what they should do,” he says with confidence gained over the two Biennales. Ginna is overseeing the Collateral Events.

As the parachute jumper who attributed his feat to the men who tied his parachute, the success of KMB also goes without doubt to the contributions of this young, behind-the-scene force.


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