The Kochi-Muziris Biennale In the eye of the beholder

Aleš Šteger, “The Pyramid of Exiled Poets”
Aleš Šteger, “The Pyramid of Exiled Poets” | © Katerina Valdivia Bruch

The third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale opened its doors on December 12th, 2016. Brought into being by the artists Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu, the exhibition is being curated once again by a local artist, Sudarshan Shetty from Mangalore. It combines literature, performance, dance, theatre and music with fine arts.

“It’s my biennale!”

“Are you here for the binal?” (sic) is the question most rickshaw drivers first ask. Since its first incarnation in 2012, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale has made a name for itself as the “People’s Biennale". Riyas Komu, co-founder and Director of Programmes, describes it as an “active social force.” He emphasizes its focus on works relating to practice and site-specific projects, where you can see the artists with their works on site. Komu would like to point out that art should also be understood as a creative process.

A new way of art mediation

The extensive program, which unfolds over the course of an entire year, concentrates on initiatives for art education and mediation, for example ABC (Art By Children). The children’s programme is meant to encourage creative thought and art appreciation in school children and it is being offered in 100 schools in 14 districts in the state of Kerala.
 
Another initiative is the “Student’s Biennale,” which presents selected works from 55 art universities nationwide. The background: In 2015 and 2016 there were student protests and strikes happening at various art universities in India, an expression of a crisis in educational institutions. The installation “80 Days of Strike” by students from the College of Arts and Crafts Patna is a response to this. It consists of a bamboo structure in the form of a canopy adorned with newspaper articles, images and colourful straw fans. The work recounts the 80-day strike at the art school, which ended with its director's resignation.

On site residencies

The Pepper House Residency is also part of the programme. Supported by the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, among other institutions, it invites both local and international artists. The exhibition at Mandalay Hall includes works by former bangaloREsidents Peter Bialobrzeski, Anja Kempe, Hans-Christian Schink and Sabine Schründer.
 
Anja Kempe’s installation “Inner Grid”, made of a bamboo structure and three videos with hammocks that hang in different places in Fort Kochi, allegorically depicts what it feels like to be in a foreign country. According to the artist “It’s an ambivalence between physical presence and withdrawal. An approach to a foreign place, a different culture, a different view of the body” .
 
“The Current. Convening #2” by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Academy also took place during opening week. A variety of artists, curators and art experts gathered in the Cochin Club and discussed the meaning of oceans, as places of migration, of exchange and of international law. To this end, the legendary, American artist, Joan Jonas, gave a multimedia lecture-performance – a sensitive homage to the sea and life in the oceans – at Vasco da Gama Square.

Poetry amidst human misery

Chilean poet Raúl Zurita was also inspired by the sea. He created the comprehensive installation “The Sea of Pain” out of sea water and poems. The work is dedicated to Galip Kurdi. He is the brother of the  young boy Aylan Kurdi, a refugee from Syria, who drowned off the shores of Bodrum in Turkey, while trying to reach Europe. Whilst visitors casually step into the water and contemplate the writing on the walls, the work revolves around the idea of a life-threatening journey at sea.

Poetic and inspiring is the kinetic installation “Calls” by Japanese artist Yuko Mohri. Electrical circuits, but also Japanese folktales about deceased people and their spiritual presence, are the sources of the delicate work comprised by found materials, magnets and filaments, which create sounds in the blowing breeze. Here, a connection between the physical world and the spiritual world is suggested.

The role of art in society has been the leitmotiv of the Biennale since its founding. The book “India’s Biennale Effect: The Politics of Contemporary Art” gives a hint  on the Kochi-Muziris Biennale’s impact on India's and the global art scene. Its interest in putting different communities in contact, including a wide-ranging audience and engagement across the country, makes this biennale original and worth watching.