Art in the bylanes of Fort Kochi – Biennale 2018

Strips of cloth hang from a ceiling. Each one tells a story of loss and hope, of desires and aspirations. They are stories of people whose lives were touched by the Partition and the small room in the by-lane of Fort Kochi came alive with the whispering from their lives.
Two full days of traipsing around the delightful roads of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry, I had managed to cover the Kochi Muziris Biennale Venues consisting of 9 main venues, 9 student biennales and 7 collateral projects ; all dotted along the bylanes of Fort Kochi.

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Postcards from Home

This year’s curator was Anita Dube, a well known artist and art-critic and as was evident from the concept, a lot of focus was given to showcase themes on feminism, the queer community, the voices of the marginalized in the society and the impact of Kerala floods.For those who intend to visit the Biennale, I present some of my favorite pieces, lest they don’t miss them and for those who cant visit, this is a short journey into the powerful experience that’s the Biennale.

Each art installation invites the viewer a peek into the very depths of an artists mind and one has to listen carefully and let the feeling wash over, to let the wisps of thoughts floating around seep in into your being.Many art pieces felt so intensely personal that for a moment, a pang of guilt washed over me, as it felt almost like I had tread over forbidden territory.

One of my favorites was the ‘From the far Side of the moon’, which is a black and white 13 minute animated movie by Radenko Milak (Aspin Wall). It depicts the bleak vision of the world in the nuclear age. As I sat in the small dark room , the black and white imagery was transfixing and brought forth the chilling bleakness after a nuclear explosion. There is no linear narrative, as the scenes change rapidly, interspersed with fragmented interview of Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb.

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‘From the far Side of the moon’ – Radenko Milak
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‘From the far Side of the moon’ – Radenko Milak

Stories of exploitation featured among many. ‘The Clothesline’ by Monica Mayer (Aspin Wall) featured the harrowing stories of sexual harassment of women. The messages displayed as anonymous postcards from a clothesline. It was heart breaking to read the stories of several women who were as young as 4 when they were exploited. A different take on women’s plight was ‘Guerrilla Women’ featuring a satirical but hard hitting realities on the inequalities faced by women in today’s world.

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‘The Clothesline’ by Monica Mayer

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Guerrilla Women

Yet another exploitation story was one which again featured a clothesline – Sue Williamson’s ‘One Hundred and Nineteen Deeds of Sale’ (Aspin Wall). The artist discovered transaction records in Cape Town that account the enslavement of Indians in the 17th century, who were brought to Africa by the Dutch East India company. She sourced the linen traditionally worn by the working class and then inscribed the details the information from the archives.The shirts fluttered idyllically in the sun and only as I drew near that I realized what they depicted. The years seemed to compress and the physical cloth bearing the details of each slave made the past almost tangible.

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‘One Hundred and Nineteen Deeds of Sale’ – Sue Williamson

One of the most touching installations was ‘The World of Dew’ by Chandan Gomes (Aspin Wall) where the artist found an old sketchbook of a deceased girl in a hospice in Jaipur and he journeyed all over India to click photographs of the places she had imagined in them, but probably never been to.

 

A hard-hitting installation was Canes of Wrath by B.V.Suresh which showcases the rise of sectarian ideas and communal violence, all using the environment created in a single room. This is an installation, where no picture would do justice as one has to stand there absorbing the sight and sounds and let the feeling wash over you. This was a great artistic success, as in that room, there were no words necessary to communicate the feeling experienced by the artist.

The Srinagar Biennale in TKM Warehouse was a very moving piece, showcasing the plight of common people in Kashmir. The mute photographs were windows to a people living on hope, despair and finally a resigned helplessness.

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The Abandoned Houses

 

 

 

One from Hina Aarif was heart rending as she writes –

“With every child you murder,
with every scoop of the shovel,
with every shroud covered with this soil,
With every body under the sod,
With all my people wailing helplessly.
I swell up in rage,
I swell with strength,
I swell with the deadly rush of fearlessness
with every bullet in my chest
with every grain of soil slipping out, my fear escapes too.”

xxx

I liked the little treasures I unearthed in the student biennales and the various collateral projects.

‘Thought is also matter’ was a collateral project ideated based on Candace Beebe Pert, an american neurologist’s discovery. She established a positive link between what we think, what we feel and what is happening to our bodies.Her research revealed that neuro- peptides, chemical messengers created by most cells in the body, dictates what we think and feel. Neuro-peptides is also matter and thereby, thought is also matter came forth. All the installations here, in some way capture this ephemeral essence. I liked one installation the best, which is a room filled with various disjoint pieces of terracotta hanging from the ceiling, as if caught in a moment of time , yet swaying to an ethereal music.

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The International Photography Exhibition, also a collateral project, is also not to be missed. It features the stark photos photographed by Giles Clarke based on humanitarian and conflict issues. A small severely malnourished child standing on a hospital bed in Yemen , an injured soldier with his face horribly disfigured raises a hand in salute from a hospital bed in Yemen, the Gang cages of El Salvador – each photo is a story in itself and sucks you into different lives. For that moment in time, you experience a small part of the world they live in and shudder.

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There were so many more thought provoking pieces , that to cover all the ones I liked exhaustively would be beyond the scope of this post. In those two full days of Biennale, the concerns of the everyday life seemed very far away. Its hard to do justice to the experience of visiting the Biennale through these handful of pictures which convey a two dimensional depiction and does a very poor representation of the immersive experience, that it is otherwise meant to be.However, I leave you with a small collage of some pictures.

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By Juul Kraijer
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Resilient Bodies in the era of resistance – Prabhakar Pachpute
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Ajay Desai
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Festival – Bibekananda Mondal

Walking along Fort Kochi , is itself a refreshing experience with small cafes and interesting alleys. 

1-IMG_20190124_150054948Au Revoir !

#kmb2018

 

 

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Of talking rooms in Kochi Bienalle

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
in broadness.. 
..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.
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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.

 

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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.

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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..”

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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12 stories by P.K.Sadanandan – A mural painting depicting the 12 families born to a woman of the “pariah” caste
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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.

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