7 Highlights from Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016

Art Radar looks at some of the highlights of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

On 12 December 2016 the third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Bienniale inaugurated, beginning 108 days of performance, workshops, ambitious artist interventions and education programming in what is the largest and most anticipated celebration of contemporary art in South Asia. 

Curators past and present: Kochi-Muziris Biennale co-founders and KMB 2012 curators and Bose Krishnamachari (left) and Riyas Komu (right) flank KMB 2016 curator Sudarshan Shetty (second from left) and KMB 2014 curator Jitish Kallat.

Curators past and present: Kochi-Muziris Biennale co-founders and KMB 2012 curators and Bose Krishnamachari (left) and Riyas Komu (right) flank KMB 2016 curator Sudarshan Shetty (second from left) and KMB 2014 curator Jitish Kallat.

KMB 2016: “Forming in the pupil of an eye”

The third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Bienniale is entitled “Forming in the pupil of an eye”, and features the performances and production of 97 artists from 31 countries. Of the 36 Indians on the list, eight are from Kerala. Expanding on his artistic vision at a press conference before the opening, KMB 2016 Curator Sudarshan Shetty said:

The eye is the only reflective organ in the body. It reflects as much back into the world as it takes. ‘Forming in the pupil of an eye’ is not an image of one reality, but a reflection of multiple realities and of multiple possibilities in time. My curatorial approach was shaped therefore as a conversation between different streams and forms of art practice. This Biennale is intended as a dialogue between multiple perspectives and possibilities as it evolves within the space and through the duration of the Biennale and beyond.

In aid of this, there are art projects this year that will involve spaces and individuals not traditionally associated with the Biennale. For example, Latvian artist Voldemars Johansons has changed the horn sounds on a number of auto rickshaws making them ambassadors of the Biennale as they drive around the city while Argentine writer Sergio Chejfec is writing a 88-chapter novel while moving through Kochi.

The Biennale saw more than 30,000 visitors attending the ‘Opening Week’ programmes, which drew to a close on Sunday 18 December 2016. The Biennale will run until 29 March 2017. Art Radar takes a look at a few of the events and artworks that have been unveiled so far.

Aki Sasamoto, 'Memo Random', 2015. December 12, 2016 - March 29, 2017 3rd Kochi-Muziris Biennale TKM Warehouse, Kochi, Kerala, India *performances on December 13 & 14, 2016.

Aki Sasamoto, ‘Memo Random’, 2015, 12 December 2016 – 29 March 2017, 3rd Kochi-Muziris Biennale, TKM Warehouse, Kochi, Kerala, India. Performances on 13-14 December 2016.

1. Aki Sasamoto – Memo Random

Aki Sasamoto is a New York-based, Japanese artist, who works in performance, sculpture, dance and whatever more medium that takes to get her ideas across. Her works have been shown both in performing arts and visual art venues in New York and abroad. Sasamoto’s performance/installation works revolve around gestures on nothing and everything. Her installations are careful arrangements of sculpturally altered found objects, and the decisive gestures in her improvisational performances create feedback, responding to sound, objects and moving bodies. The constructed stories seem personal at first, yet oddly open to variant degrees of access, relation and reflection. Writing about her performance work Memo Random, which Sasamoto presented on 14 December 2016 at the TKM Warehouse, the artist states:

There is an 8 foot deep hole in the ground with a trampoline at the bottom. The cabinet is drawn out of the hole, and the body goes in to jump up and down through the sea level many times.

Naiza Khan portrait. Photo credit: Fahim Siddiqui. Image courtesy Kochi-Muziris Bienniale.

Naiza Khan portrait. Photo credit: Fahim Siddiqui. Image courtesy Kochi-Muziris Bienniale.

2. Naiza Khan – The Journey We Never Made

Karachi-born Naiza Khan’s current body of work emerges from a long engagement with Manora Island and the urban landscape of Karachi and its relationship to the sea. Through a range of media she explores architectonic phenomena such as ruins, found objects and construction sites as well as the nature of public space that surrounds such sites. In this regard, her practice explores a perceptual and textural building of terrain, as it is linked to witnessed political and social realities that are immediately apparent to present experience, but also the challenges to the present posed by the resurfacing of past realities. The work is grounded in Karachi, but references global phenomena. At the Bienniale the artist is presenting her 2016 work The Journey We Never Made, which according to an artist statement

plays with an objective tourist vernacular through representing her long-term engagement with the small island of Manora, which sits in Karachi harbour…For this project, local artisans were given scale drawings of vessels soures from Khan’s photographic archive, and images of historic vessels that have left their imprint on the Indian Ocean in their journeys of trade and conquest.

Padmini Chettur, 'Varnam' (2016). Performance. Image of performance at Kochi-Muziris Bienniale, 2016. Image courtesy Kochi-Muziris Bienniale.

Padmini Chettur, ‘Varnam’ (2016). Performance. Image of performance at Kochi-Muziris Bienniale, 2016. Image courtesy Kochi-Muziris Bienniale.

3. Padmini Chettur – Varnam

Chennai-based practitioner and choreographer of contemporary dance Padmini Chettur premiered her three-hour long performance entitled Varnam at David Hall, Fort Kochi between 12-16 December. Commenting to Deccan Chronicle about the work, the artist stated:

First of all, my idea came with a few starting points. One of which was the growing concern that the larger contemporary dance movement in India seems to have either forgotten the traditions or don’t care about it. There seems to be a kind of mindless adoption of western contemporary practices, bringing it to India and setting up a piece, which I feel doesn’t connect to the country at all.

Padmini (b. 1970) began her training in the traditional Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam. From 1991 she worked with the choreographer Chandralekha for ten years and her own artistic research began in 1994. She departs from the classical repertoire of gestures, posturing and mythical tales, to shape an alternative, no less strict, but very condensed dance form. Looking for complete detachment from her classical formative years, she resists the temptation to seduce, choosing instead, to convince. At the core of her work is resistance. Her work unveils a taut vision that takes the contemporary dance of India, from what it is and how it should look, to radical dimensions.

Chinese scholar Li Tuo details the work that the late artist Li Bo'an put into 'Walking Out of Bayan Har', the scroll painting exhibited at Kottapuram Fort.

Chinese scholar Li Tuo details the work that the late artist Li Bo’an put into ‘Walking Out of Bayan Har’, the scroll painting exhibited at Kottapuram Fort.

4. Li Bo’an – Walking Out of Bayan Har

A scroll painting by late Chinese artist Li Bo’an entitled Walking Out of Bayan Har, and measuring 1.88 metres high and 121.5 metres wide is on display at Kottapuram Fort, an unassailable spot on the ancient trade map and a part of the State tourism department’s Muziris Heritage Project. The work has been reproduced on plastic and stretched out at the fort. The artwork has the quality of a mural painting on paper. KMB 2016 Curator Sudarshan Shetty, whose curatorial vision involves invoking the meaning of tradition and exploring it through fresh perspectives, said the ancient fort was an apt location to showcase Li Bo’an’s work. Shetty was introduced to the artist, who died in 1998, by noted Chinese scholar Li Tuo. “There have been many archeological discoveries in this area. There is a lot of history about China’s relationship with India here,” said Li Tuo, who presented a talk with art critic Lydia Liu on the scroll painting at Kottapuram fort on 16 December.

Art residency 1 & 2:- Visitors exploring works of artists who have participated in the Pepper House Art Residency programme at Mandalay Hall in Mattancherry

Art residency 1 & 2:- Visitors exploring works of artists who have participated in the Pepper House Art Residency programme at Mandalay Hall in Mattancherry. Image courtesy Kochi-Muziris Bienniale.

5. Artist Residency Exhibition at Mandalay Hall

The Pepper House Residency programme is an international residency opportunity for artists from all disciplines to work and collaborate within a studio space situated at the Pepper House, Fort Kochi. The space of the Pepper House Residency consists of extensive studio facilities (for production), the Laboratory of Visual Arts library (for research) and the Pepper House cafe (for dialogue). The residency is structured on the idea of a three-dimensional approach to creativity in which the idea of artistic practice is supported by its two necessary extensions – public interaction and inquiry. Artist and curator of previous editions of KMB Riyas Komu commented in a statment about the residency programme:

We have been receiving good response from other countries for our art Residency project right from the beginning. Many artists from abroad came down to Kochi and displayed their work. As a next step, we will send Indian artists, who will have a short stay in foreign counties and imbibe the culture of the town and display their art work there.

He also added that the project will enable Indian artists to have a wider exposure to international art practices, besides enhancing their artistic skills. The KBF initiative aims to create a space for expression and dialogue for artists and to provide them with a platform to establish and explore new possibilities. Works of Sabine Schründer, Deepa K, Sunanda Bhat, Anja Kempe, Peter Bialobrzeski, Hans-Christian Schink, Jigesh Kumar, Augustin Rebetez, Santhosh Kalbande, Victor Hazra, Mo Reda, Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim and Mohammed Kazem are on display at Mandalay Hall.

Danielle Galliano making his participatory art project entitled Bad Trip at Kochi-Muziris Bienniale. Image courtesy Kochi Muziris Bienniale.

Danielle Galliano making his participatory art project entitled Bad Trip at Kochi-Muziris Bienniale. Image courtesy Kochi Muziris Bienniale.

6. Danielle Galliano – Bad Trip

Italian artist Daniele Galliano presents a series of live paintings near a cashew tree outside his exhibition space in Aspinwall House. Entitled Bad Trip the project involved the artist drawing over non-professional paintings produced by unknown artists. Galliano works on one artwork everyday until the Biennale ends, thus expecting to finish 108 paintings. Commenting about his work the artist said in a press statement:

People in Kerala are as open-minded as people in Italy. Since the faces here are so different, it makes my work refreshing since I’m constantly on a search for new faces and landscapes.

The work is conceived as a kind of travelogue of the bienniale, which reflects KMB 2016 Curator Sudarshan Shetty’s core idea of the creations at the Biennale being in constant evolution. The complete series will be shown to the public at the end of the Biennale but visitors are welcomed by the artist to watch or participate in the constant production of the work.

Click here to watch Rachel Maclean’s ‘Please, Sir…’ on Vimeo

7. Rachel Maclean – Please, Sir…

A multimedia artist living and working in Glasgow, Rachel Maclean uses film and photography to create sickly, candy-coloured worlds filled with ghoulish characters. Rachel has also been selected to represent Scotland at the Venice Biennale 2017. “Please, Sir…” is a darkly comic adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper, exploring themes of greed, class and dependence within a cultural rhetoric of austerity and aspiration. Presented as a dual projection, the characters interact between screens, appearing to inhabit two distinct worlds. Shot entirely using green-screen, the work creates a synthetic, shape-shifting realm in which an Adidas-striped Oliver Twist mugs a Tudor Prince at knifepoint, a pauper steals GBP10 from the pocket of Simon Cowell and a vagrant youth is offered heroin by a well-dressed servant. Maclean is the only actor in the work and mimes to found audio plundered from a myriad of sources, including Britain’s Got Talent, Jeremy Kyle and The Apprentice. The characters wear heavy make-up, prosthetic noses and fake teeth, an appearance that sits somewhere between a Hogarth satire and the cheap-plastic grotesque of joke shop fancy-dress.

Rebecca Close

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Related Topics: Indian artists, biennales, curators, biennials, events in India, news, Japanese artists, Taiwanese artists, Pakistani artists, Iranian artists

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