Art by the sea

different strokes

Art by the sea

Like the pupil in the eyesThe Lord resides inside.Ignorant do not know this fact
They search for Him outside.
 — Kabir

On December 15, 2015, the first artist at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016 was announced at an event in Town Hall, Ernakulam.  Interestingly, the name was not that of a painter, sculptor, installation artist or filmmaker, but of the 65-year-old Chilean poet, Raúl Zurita.

KMB 2016 is titled ‘Forming in the pupil of an eye’. Sudharshan Shetty, curator of the third edition of the biennale, has, in several interactions with the media, indicated that his curatorial approach is shaped 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.” Unsurprisingly, therefore, when the third edition of KMB 2016 got
underway on December 12, 2016, the line-up showed a mixture of writers, dancers, poets, musicians and theatre professionals sharing the Biennale space alongside a host of visual artists.

As in the previous editions, the 108-day extravaganza, touted as the largest celebration of contemporary art in South Asia, is set across a dozen venues in Fort Kochi- Mattancherry and Ernakulam. The focal point and largest venue of KMB 2016 is Aspinwall House, a massive sea-facing ex-colonial warehouse, where the works of more than 50 artists are showcased. Other venues include Cabral Yard, Pepper House, David Hall, Durbar Hall, Kashi Art Café, Kashi Art Gallery, Anand Warehouse, TKM Warehouse, Cochin Club and Kottapuram Fort. KMB 2016 will draw to a close on March 29, 2017, before which several lakh people from all walks of life are expected to visit it. 

Here is a list of seven artworks which I found to be highly engaging, intriguing and thought-provoking at KMB 2016.

Farewell, Spring and Autumn Pavilions (video installation, 2015); Artist: Wu Tien-Chang
The Taiwanese artist is known for combining virtual and real elements of video to showcase diverse audio and visual effects. His four-minute video features a masked sailor in vulgar outfits waving goodbye. Garish theatrical effects, magical tricks and handcrafted props surprise the viewer even as a popular old Taiwanese song matches the sailor’s bouncy steps. “I try to use black humour to gruesomely reflect the pseudo-authenticity of history and broken subjective identity,” says Tien-Chang, who was born in 1956 in Keelung (a port city) in northeastern Taiwan. “On the one hand, I reveal Taiwan’s regime changes and historical memories over the past century; on the other, I project my romantic aspiration for the future.”

March, 25 2015 (video installation); Artist: Caroline Duchatelet
In the slow-moving but spellbinding video, the French artist focuses on the famous 15th century fresco painting ‘Annunciation’ by Fra Angelico in the hallway of the monastery of San Marco. The 40-minute video records the passage of the sunlight, at dawn on March 25, from the darkness of the night to the bright explosion of the first rays of sunlight that strike the angel and then the Virgin. As critic and professor of cinema Cyril Neyrat points out, Duchatelet’s daybreaks do not recount the history of an image. “They dwell on its prehistory.” 

Lena 2009 (video animation / 11.55 mins); Artist: Éva Magyarósi
In this work, the 35-year-old Hungarian artist creates a dream-like atmosphere blending personal history with fictionalised storytelling. Magyarósi, who has a degree in animation, creates an engaging visual diary about the mysteries of the
female soul, the body and its emotions. Lively and colourful frames pass by
seamlessly narrating a simple tale, one which is embedded with philosophical
interrogation about love, time, memory, loss and longing.

‘Dream Stop’ (installation with 31 embedded cameras); Artist: Gary Hill
The title of the work is a play on words: it could denote a place to catch a dream; or a warning to stop dreaming! The hypnotic and interactive installation blurs the lines between realism and fantasy; its large, fragmented and misshapen frames raise questions about technology, its possible (mis)use in surveillance, and overall socio-political conditions.  

The Pyramid of Exiled Poets (a mammoth structure built from wood, bamboo matting, mud and cow dung cakes; 2016) Artist: Ales Stegar The Sloven artist’s site-specific construct is one of the most conspicuous works of KMB 2016. Popular among the visitors, the Pyramid draws the unsuspecting caller into its haunting dark interiors in which strange disembodied voices of poets speak, moan and sigh. The pyramid is meant to represent a tomb for cast-out poets; and “a tribute to those who have lost their lives and homes for airing their writings.”

The Sea of Pain (installation with seawater and eight canvas panels; 2016); Artist: Raul Zurita
The poetic intervention pays homage to Syrian refugees, in particular to Galip Kurdi, brother of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy whose deceased body was washed ashore on a beach near the Turkish resort of Bodrum on September 2, 2015. Zurita ’s temporary waterbody with ankle-deep seawater beckons the visitor to wade through it slowly, while his minimal but lyrical writing on the wall asks a few poignant questions: “In the Sea of Pain, Don’t you listen? Don’t you look? Don’t you hear me? Don’t you see me? Don’t you feel me?”

Inverso Mundus (multi-channel video installation; 2015); Artists: AES+F
The Moscow-based group’s gripping narrative is made up of ‘absurdist scenes from a medieval carnival appear as episodes of contemporary life’. Set on a 60-feet wide screen, the multi-channel video props up incredible visuals, soulful music and unexpected sequence of events in a world which seems to be in a state of permanent apocalypse. AES+F has its presence at the Aspinwall House as well. Its ‘deadly’ photo-installation, ‘Defile’ (2000-2007), features a series of life-sized photographs of seven deceased people dressed in high-end fashion clothing. This rather unnerving installation strings together several seemingly implausible themes such as mortality, glamour, temporality and hollow consumerism.

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