As I entered the small empty room I saw the glimmering words flowing down the walls and the voice echoing the words.
"... Doctor nurture me from narrowness to broadness
All the sound all the dawns all the waters
rise and pass
..Unharness our days
Let all boundaries be distant
so we can wander far
in our unknowing "
The words of Sharmishtha Mohanty from the poem “I make new the song born of old” written for the Bienalle was mesmerizing.
Aspinwall had come alive and each room invited you to occupy it’s space for a brief period of time and to be a part of the narratives of different artists. The third edition of the Kochi Muziris Bienalle curated by renowned artist, Sudarshan Shetty and showcasing 97 artists from 31 countries is an extravaganza of contemporary art. The rich gamut which includes diverse forms of visual arts, installations, videos, dance and music is a treatise on a dialog of art and contemporary ideas and social issues.
It’s no easy task to describe the Bienalle in simplistic language, so I will attempt to show you some of my “experiences”, which is an infinitesimally small fraction of this art festival.
As I walked through the longish room in Aspinwall, the knee deep water splashed against my legs.It was meditative, sobering and painful as the artist Raul Zurita had intended it to be. “In the Sea of Pain” inscribed alongside the walls was a continuing dialog to where it culminated.
Words inscribed at the end of the room was poignantly painful and brought an embodied reality to the war on terror.
“Refugee” – the dehumanization and the reality of our times. At a stage when the crisis threatens to engulf the world, this marble statue by Alex Seton was iconic in its representation of rootlessness and homelessness. A faceless existence unified by its disconnectedness to society.The statue by itself was a marvel in fine arts weighing almost 600 kgs, it gives the illusion of emergency blanket like material, however it’s the empty space under the hood which speaks to you about the angst and the dehumanization.
Then there were rooms which talked about life in Kashmir through a series of photographs and artifacts. Of people living through disillusionment, loss, pain. Of hope and survival.
I entered a room and the room had photographs of the same man standing in front of different doorways, constricting in both space and uniformity. Endri Dani from Albania showcases the sameness with which large groups of people are forced to live under totalitarian rule, through his photo series. A small notebook in the center of the room had this to say “..while Vitruvius claimed that the center of center was to be found inside the human body(the navel), the rulers of Albania had clearly decided that the center of the center had to be located outside the body – namely in the ideaology..”
Talking of communism also reminded me of this magnificent scroll by a Chinese artist, Dai Xiang.A 25-meter long panoramic,photographic scene, it was a satirical take on politically charged subjects and contemporary society in China. As I walked alongside, the story seemed to unfold in delightful snapshots across the scroll.
The medium through which narratives are shared with the audience are myriad and unbridled in the contemporary art form. And the whispering voices of the poets as I walked through the windowless passage inside “The Pyramid of Exiled Poets” by artist Ales Steger, appeared disembodied and yet strangely personal as they seemed to connect across a different space and time. The artist says that “The pyramid was modeled as a tomb, as resting place for the cast out, for those poets who have been exiled and disappeared from republics and nations for centuries”.
You can hear the whispering voices of the deceased poets while walking inside the pyramid.
Alas, there’s hardly anything I can present on the wonderful video and sound arts that were exhibited, for language would be sorely incapable of filling the void between the visual and the written.
However,one of the most breathtaking works for me personally, was a movie video, “Inverso Mundus” by a group of Russian artists. It was an interpretation of the sixteenth century illustrative genre “inverse world” depicting daily scenes of life inverted and off-kilter. I was transported to a magical world of fantastical creatures, where all rules were upside down. Alas my words would fall woefully short even if I were to attempt to describe the manner in which it was orchestrated.However here’s a small trailer I did manage to find.
The Bienalle was enriching in so many different ways. Each room and artwork required me to slow down, mull and “feel” the experience of what the artist was trying to communicate . It was also imperative to leave behind mundane compulsions of time and the general baggage of restlessness and hurry that plagues most of us these days. Entering each room in the Bienalle was like opening a door in the mind and sometimes you realize there are no doors.