Kochi

Pepper House wakes up to art ahead of KMB-20

Australian artist Jane Skeer with her installation at Pepper House in Fort Kochi where she was resident for a month as part of a residency programme organised by Kochi Biennale Foundation.

Australian artist Jane Skeer with her installation at Pepper House in Fort Kochi where she was resident for a month as part of a residency programme organised by Kochi Biennale Foundation.   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

The works will be on display at the Residency show held as part of the Kochi Muziris Biennale getting under way on December 12

Making herself comfortable on the apron of Pepper House’s window overlooking the Kochi shipping channel, artist Jane Skeer says she was fearful of making the trip to India.

“I had heard terrible stories about what India was going to be, but my experience has been just the opposite. Kerala isn’t India and the people are wonderful,” says Ms. Skeer on her month-long residency offered by the Kochi Biennale Foundation at the Pepper House, a 16th century dockside warehouse that has retained its character.

On the top floor of this sea-facing building is a site-specific installation made by Ms. Skeer using a mix of photos taken on the phone and material, mostly discarded, collected by her from the heritage town.

“Australia has got no history,” she says, marvelling at the quaint town’s historical past. Her routine in Kochi comprised setting out on walks before daybreak when she would record the morning choruses on the streets. With an eye for detail, she would stop by a rundown house to capture its worn-out dual-tone wall, a cheap handbag hung on nail defining it; a batch of gas cylinders kept in the street in a certain formation for distribution; a man in an orange shirt carrying on his head a stack of used blue cement bags; step ladders of varying heights with old pieces of furniture stacked against them and the like.

As the day grew hot, she would perch on her favourite window by the sea to watch ships laden with cargo move by. The similarities and differences in freight handling, not just the marine cargo, in India and Australia is one of her areas of interest. In fact, Ms. Skeer had done a project earlier drawing on goods handling and transport back at her place. “The way bundles are tied is different here,” she says.

Tiny moments and minute details are what draw her attention, using which she re-presents the daily life of a place. Be it the regular gas cylinder (not because she’s from a place that’s grown past the gas barrel era), the colourful cement bag that’s used even as a container for growing plants, the fish basket or the oil drums (she clicked over 500 pictures of them in Kochi) she is drawn to all of them. “I wish I could put a strap around them, pick them as they are and hang them on the wall,” she laughs, pointing to a picture of an orderly batch of gas cylinders.

Her art is reversible too, as material used in her works can be pulled out for daily use. At Pepper House, with its orange walls, blue cement bags with their rims rolled out to resemble flexible containers are arranged in one room against the wall while in an adjacent hall, bags in saffron, white and green frump a picture of Indian nationalism amidst myriad images of Kochi’s living environs.

Having turned into art in her early 50s after taking a university course in sculpture, Ms. Skeer, 55, calls it a ‘life-giver’ and her sojourn to Kochi, she wrote in her diary, helped her explore the relationship between “us humans and our environment”. The project, begun in Kochi, will be completed back in Adelaide.

Artists exchange

Artist Sabyasachi Bhattacharjee, resident artist at Pepper House, and Kerala-based visual artist K.R. Sunil are also flying to Adelaide as part of the artists exchange.

Mr. Bhattacharjee’s work at Pepper House is a collage done on a 100-ft-long cloth with a height of 10 ft. Diverse images projected on to the cloth in segments of 10 ft are traced out by him layer upon layer to create a composite work which captures the chaos of the day.

“The concept is that there’s a sub language every 10 km apart – a dialectical variation. As one who works with animations, he will have an animated video projected on a blank portion of the cloth. The marking cloth he uses was also used to create banners for the anti-CAA protests, adding another dimension to the work, says Mr. Bhattacharjee, who works between Baroda and Agartala.

The third of the Pepper House residents, Jasmine Nilani Joseph, a Sri Lankan Tamil artist born in Jaffna but grew up at a refugee camp in Vavunia, worked on ‘house and home’ as a sign of ‘property’. Sketches made by her of abandoned houses in Kochi and the strife-torn Jaffna will be scrolled for display on bangle holders in special jewel boxes as ‘show pieces’ rather than items for use.

The works will be on display at the Residency show held as part of the Kochi Muziris Biennale getting under way on December 12.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 5:41:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/pepper-house-wakes-up-to-art-ahead-of-kmb-20/article30975246.ece

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