NAE CEO Skinder Hundal reflects on his visit to this year’s Kochi Biennial.
If Venice is the king of Biennales then recently a queen was finally found in Kochi, Kerala. The second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB), was intelligently and sensitively curated by artist Jitish Kallat. Whorled Explorations offers a range of artworks brilliantly presented in a synchronised constellation of spaces, where the gravitational forces of attraction and mathematical ratios of relativity offer a sublime manifestation of equations and contexts defined by Kallat, and expressed through a talented pool of artists from India and across the globe.
Edition two of KMB sets a new precedent, a benchmark for Biennials across the world, breaking the ritual of a homogenised brand, the Biennale, with many unexpected surprises, delights and intellectual points of seduction. The deep relationship between curator and artist is apparent and, in my belief, key to the realisation of great art resonating across the core spaces. This is enriched further by the location and team behind the scenes. Kallat, a celebrated and international artist in his own right, has taken 18 months out of his artistic practice and immersed himself in this labour of love. The setting and location offers significant challenges, and yet the Biennale team manage to overcome them in this positively spirited and revolutionary culture. Somehow they present the art within using seemingly impossible spaces, often abandoned and derelict, in such a way that both art and architecture complement and enhance the layering of knowledge, offering almost a mystical instigation and subjectivity of one’s own truth in defining purpose and intent. The haunting nature of the spaces offer a heightened value in the interpretation and engagement process: they seduce you, allowing a window for you to submit many emotions and senses, leaving you creatively fulfilled and inspired in this ‘surround sound’ exchange.
India’s pioneering biennale, set in the historical fishing village, Fort Kochi, has a context that draws on science, astronomy, cartography, mathematics and social activism. The Biennale offers a re-imagination of our relative existences within time, space and possibly beyond, resonating with both local Malayali cultures and the global tourist and arts consumer-enthusiast who encounter the myriad and brilliant spaces designed especially for the Biennale. It also engages students and young people offering them a strong platform. The cinematic structure especially made at Aspinwall House (the main site) offers a space for regular talks, presentations and a curated film programme of diverse representations. The local ‘tuk tuk’ taxi drivers all seem to be positively engaged with the key sites of the Biennale, offering quick and friendly transportation for the busy serial biennalist where time is tight. Of course Fort Kochi as a place is very pleasant to explore on foot too, the attraction of good food, crafts and markets offering a strong complement to the Biennale which can draw you away, but not for long as the magnetic forces of attraction from the art work swiftly call you back on track!
KMB therefore offers a total experience.
Artist and Curator testimonials:
Logic of disappearance, 2014 – Madhusudhanan
‘I was bowled over by Keralan artist and filmmaker Madhusudhanan’s series of ninety charcoal drawings, Logic of Disappearance (2014). By turns acerbic, grotesque, cryptic, and surreal, the drawings rework the icons of communism in a visual language first perfected in early twentieth-century Europe. Placed near the beginning of the sequence in Aspinwall House, the largest of the biennale’s venues, Madhusudhanan’s work introduces a crucial thread in curator Jitish Kallat’s theme of Whorled Explorations: the history of Leftist political engagement in Kerala.’
Karin Zitzewitz, teaches at Michigan State University, author of The Art of Secularism: The Cultural Politics of Modernist Art in Contemporary India (Hurst, 2014).
Lost No12, 2014 – Ryota Kuwakubo
‘A cute toy train on tracks and found objects sourced locally, create an unfolding kinetic world of magic, as a shining light from the front of the train creates beautifully nuanced shadowy landscapes criss-crossing at various speeds as the science of light and space within time and motion are rationalised by unseen mathematical equations creating a journey that intensifies in slow forward motion and double reverse time.’
Skinder Hundal, CEO of New Art Exchange, an international contemporary art space, Nottingham (UK)
Harbinger, 2014 – Sahej Rahal
‘In a laboratory clinging to the port’s edge, amidst the labyrinths of warehouse spaces of Aspinwall in Fort Kochi, there are hundreds of alien forms waiting to be discovered. The artist Sahej Rahal worked in situ for four months to create a menagerie of sorts. Using locally sourced clay he has fashioned sculptures that vary, in turn, from palm sized to monumental, figurative to abstract, whimsical to downright dark.’
Mortimer Chatterjee, Co-Director of Chaterjee and Lal & Art Historian
The Column, 2013 – Adrian Paci (Albania)
‘This 25 minute film documents a group of Chinese stone carvers transporting a marble block from China to Europe. In an epic process and setting that feels simultaneously ancient and oddly futuristic, the workers use the ship as a workshop to carve the enormous column on route. The film is perfectly presented in a cavernous setting that feels almost as dusty as the ship’s contents.’
Hetain Patel, Artist
Power of Ten, 1977 – Charles and Ray Eames
‘Charles and Ray Eames’s Powers Of Ten captures our collective awe at our place in the cosmos by zooming into cellular existence on this tiny speck of space dust we call home; a planet aligned, perfectly designed for humankind, which – like Jitish Kallat’s Biennale – is filled with delectations, gobsmacking creations, points of reflection, links and connections; I left Kallat’s planet satiated, awed and filled with burning questions about our place in the wider scheme of things.’
Shane Solanki, Artist (and Experimentor at New Art Exchange)
Pythagoras- Ho Tzu Nyen
I am curious about the system and the hidden power structure, like a kid i sat down in front of the curtains and 4 channel video screens and eight channel sound. This kinetic multimedia performance space is mysterious and at the same time revealing something… I am always interested to explore that something.
Sajan Mani, Artist, Kochi, Keralam