Monday, March 18, 2013

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale Experience..

The Muziris-Biennale is coming to a close today . So it is only natural that I spare some time to share some of my thoughts about this great art event that touched the shores of my hometown Kochi.

What is this Biennale that every one in Kochi seems to be talking about? If after all these days, you still wonder about, then read it here. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale gets it name from the famous port Muziris of ancient fame. The truth is, not even many Kochiites knew where or what Muziris was until the Biennale arrived with the strange name. Interestingly, the same information is covered in one the exhibits, which if my memory is right, is named Voices of Silence.

The event had started on 12/12/12 with great pomp and vigour. I was not able to follow most of the developments on this, as I don't keep up with news very actively nowadays. But I was aware that such an event of epic proportions was going on in Kochi and I was looking for chances to go visit it for a long time. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I finally managed to do a 'good-enough' visit, though I must admit, I couldn't catch all the exhibits. sigh..

I will not go into the details of the events or exhibits that you can find in the wiki page or the official website. I prefer to stick to my view, experiences and reaction to some of the exhibits I managed to visit.

Starting off with the main venue, the Aspinwall House. The famous front side(sea facing) was the sure shot attraction.

This was the first piece of art we saw just at the entrance to the Aspinwall house. I don't recall its name and neither was I able to study it in detail. It had something to do with the arrival of explorers through the ports.
The first major exhibit was titled "Dutty Water" by Wangechi Mutu, a Kenyan born artist residing in the US. It is about a concept of purity and dirt and how these are equated to women in the society. To bring her point out,  her exhibit displays a set of ladies shoes connected to a network of hoses carrying dirty water, collected from local canals and the backwaters. The level of complexity and the nature of it set the expectations for us. We knew then that we were not going to be experiencing amateur classical art forms here, but complex and abstract stuff.
"Dutty Water" - Wangechi Mutu

 and the famous "Last Supper-Gaza"

Another interesting exhibit is as shown below. I don't know anyone yet who has figured out what the artist has meant out of his/her work. Any guesses?
These exhibits were followed by the huge exhibit covering the issue of forced evictions and violence in areas of Orissa for mining purposes. A series of footages, full movies, lots of transcripts, notes, photographs and diaries are put together to explain the struggle of the people against the powerful corporations and the corrupt Government officials. The dark room spreads the ambiance of pain of the forgotten people. The artist has used various means like a roster of people who went missing after the protests started, a list as well as full real set of grains used  in the area. It was a painful yet learning experience, being in that big dark room, absorbing the pain and rage of many people.

Then there were some really neat glass paint works and sculptures, which were arouse my curiousity and interest.

Another interesting exhibit was this one  shown below, where a series of speakers were setup in balance, and you are supposed to drop specific spices on it. A sound is played and the vibration kicks up the sweet aroma of the various spices according to the frequency of the sound. The setup somehow signifies the importance of Kochi to the spice trade and its kicking up creates the familiar scene in the everyday spice market of ancient port of Muziris as well.

And this one, where various every-day stuff were hung from the roof and we are supposed to touch them after removing footwear. Each item produces a characteristic sound, similar to the object. For example, a metal plate produces the sound a cymbal, whereas some local shells,pots,bricks etc produces their own sounds, altogether producing a very profound musical experience. There was lot of room for creative music composition and we were at it for a long time :) Must say this was one of my favourite exhibitions there.
 And the sparrow nest, which is supposed to collect all your negative thoughts and the nest is burned out after the exhibits are taken down. Some complex logic behind it, but it was fun to climb up the flight of stairs constructed from gunny bags and stare into the funny nest.

a random fisherman
 The following image is from the exhibit, "the voices of silence" which covered a lot of statements and recordings from eminent as well as random people from all over the world commenting about Kochi, or similar travel experiences, " in their own languages". So mostly it was undecipherable to us common people. Nevertheless, the concept of each of these statements, set as parchments prepared on pieces of gunny bags, in a dimly lit room produced a wonderful experience to behold.
 The following piece, from the "Laboratory" is another noteworthy exhibit. Each such piece of art is worth dwelling upon for a lifetime.
There are more and more exhibits, each of which requires lot of time and understanding to completely grasp the artists' motives. Some did go into our heads, but most didn't. For some we were able to enjoy the artistic beauty without understanding the deeper concepts, whereas for some it was easier to understand the deeper meaning than appreciate the art itself.
It would be big pain to put up pics and explain even the selected few works here.
Hundreds of perfumes lit up at once using liquidators..olfactory overload!

Overall, I felt there was a huge variety in the topics covered by the artists. Economy, history and humanity were the most commonly explored topics. But there were always some odd ones out which touched upon religious stuff, random works of experimentation which made no sense, photography, great works of video, and ideas that seem so weird to normal people that you would shun them in real life.

Artists from all over the world, putting up their works without much of an explanation of what it means. Many exhibits were like this and evokes your intellectual curiosity and makes you think beyond your limited understanding of the world and imagination to depict stuff that might be out there for anyone to react to.

An art performed on the algae on the walls. What innovation!

Funniest exhibit

An exhibit,equating five mega weapons to Panchabhootha

It's only when you read the explanations at the exhibit, or maybe in some cases just sit around for hours together thinking hard that you are able to get closer to the plane at which the artist had prepared it. That feeling gives a big sense of achievement, because we are not talking about regular small time artists working on routine stuff. We are talking about highly innovative individuals who break conventional forms of expression to aptly represent their feelings about some concept that made them react.
Art, according to me is a reaction to the full range of stuff all around us, ranging from the very positive to the very negative. Everything is art when man tries to make sense out of stuff and tries to share his feelings with others. Art is all around, art is in each one of us in various forms. We just need to be able to detect it. And for me, the Bienalle was an eye-opener in all forms. It showed me stuff I enjoyed and understood which made me happy, and stuff which I find repulsive and didn't really understand. Sometimes while casually clicking a picture of the exhibit, I would feel a stronger connection with the exhibit. Sometime things just happened outside me, but I still was at awe at such twisted expression of artistic feelings.

After running around various exhibits with our brains working overtime, we finally had to succumb to lack of time and exhaustion, leaving just one main venue out. To cover all the exhibits with judicious time allocated for each exhibit would take a week completely. Nothing less from the first Biennale in India and widely claimed to be the most successful one in the history of Biennales. It really was a treasure trove for artists(whichever form) and lovers of art, or rather human beings.

Some random shots outside the main venues which are not part of the exhibits, but certainly part of the Biennale experience in Fort Kochi.

And remember, these and more were part of random graffiti on somebody's walls. I can only imagine the appreciation the local people have for the artists to allow for such activities :) That is one thing I am very happy about the Bienalle being in my hometown. The people have welcomed it with warmth and lots of support. We too were wandering out, searching for the Bienalle spot when we were guided by local shopkeepers 'without being asked'. Now that is a new experience for me in Kochi.

Being a Biennale, it is bound to be held in the next location in another 2 years. But those who missed this event when it came so close, tough luck. There was lot of time to catch it :)
and finally some random shots not associated with art, but just the surroundings of Fort Kochi :)
Our ride for the day..


I still wish to say lots of things about the Bienalle experience, but I shall stop here forcibly. Ciao


  1. Truly, the Biennale was an experience in itself. The most interesting times were the ones we spent scratching our heads to make head or tail out of the concepts the artists' had portrayed.
    Loved reading every line you wrote. :)

  2. Truly, the Biennale was an experience in itself, many a times too difficult to convey in words and you have done a great job of it. :)

  3. thanks a lot for your kind words Bhavya :)

  4. This is such a KIDU post !! Wish I could visit too !! Beautiful photos and great write up !!

  5. Wow! Loved going through this..never knew of this..thanks for sharing.