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Kochi Muziris Biennale!

I had read about the "art explosion" happening in Kochi since first news of the Biennale started appearing in the papers last year, but was not particularly interested in it. That was till the week before last when I came across this post in Chai n' Spice, Sunita Mohan's delightful blog. I was hooked the moment I saw her wonderful pictures and when I read that she had come all the way from Mumbai to take in the art exhibition, I felt a twinge. The twinge grew into an itch when I saw that the biennale would conclude on March 13. Within a day or two, I had made an appointment with one of my dearest friends Tessa who lives in Kochi and we decided to have a "girls only" day out in the lovely environs of Fort Kochi (not because our DHs refused to have any thing to do with art, oh no!)

So last Sunday, instead of sleeping in, there I was on the  6 a.m. Shatabdi train to Kochi. My art viewing started when I was on the train itself, catching a vignette of the dappled waters of the Anchuthengu lake through a lovely frame of coconut trees and distant hills and colored by the lovely rising sun. Within four hours I had met my friend and her cousin and we were crossing the Venduruthy bridge into Kochi. As we trundled along the narrow roads and gasped each time another bus passed in the opposite direction almost skinning our bus, people were thronging the several churches on the way to their Sunday devotions. By the time the bus reached its final destination, the Fort Kochi bus stand, we were the only three passengers left. A few questions led us to the ticket booth for the biennale.

For those who intend to go there, the official biennale site is useless when it comes to what to do and where to go. So here's the lowdown. Tickets are available at the Aspinwall venue in Fort Kochi as well at the Durbar Hall venue in Ernakulam. These are the main venues and here is a list the others - except Pepper House and Moidu Heritage building

The Aspinwall House has the largest number and variety of exhibits. We took almost 4 hours to just have a cursory look at most of the exhibits there. Word of warning: wear your most comfy pair of shoes - there is a lot of walking and step-climbing involved. We got our tickets and the mandatory map of the northern tip of Fort Kochi where all the venues except Durbar Hall are located.

For a Sunday morning, we were early and there were only a few other art enthusiasts. The very first exhibit was Done and Dusted: a video installation that was described thus: (sorry for not capturing the English version here)

The inside was too bizarre to describe. There were two huge suspended inverted copper cauldrons into which the faces of two elderly men were projected. One simply kept rolling his eyes from time to time and the other sneezed and yawned alternately. In the intervals between eye-rolling and  the rest, a table with sundry objects laid on it between the two men vibrated so hard that we were sure the things would fall off. We were at first a little scared and then startled into laughing aloud. I hope the artist was not anywhere near us, he would have been flabbergasted to see his interpretation of the "discrepancies in archeology" and his depiction of the "confusion engendered by the questioning of our origins" being subjected to irreverent laughter. It was a good thing that the artist's interpretation of each exhibit  was given alongside most of the works, because we couldn't make head or tail out of most. For example, take this huge intallation that covered a whole wall:

I loved the technique - you can see what I mean by looking  at this closeup:

The  "pixels" are pictures of shop signs and these were used to create the pictures in mosaic fashion. The bottom of the painting looks like a classic painting. My interpretation of the piece was "the job was so tedious so i stuck them all up higgledy-piggledy after the first few rows". This sent my friends into a paroxysm of laughter that caused an earnest young man with an official tag to ask me very seriously if I had got the meaning of the work. I sincerely hope it was not the artist!

But then there were some that took our breath away by sheer beauty and simplicity like this gossamer web - who cared what its meaning was????

I was overjoyed to see Vivek Vilasini's famous "Last Supper - Gaza" in the repertoire!

Now that's MY idea of high art! 

An installation of "post card paintings" that had absolutely lovely prose on them was another favorite of mine. I wish I could have each of those postcards to read over and over.

And this would be a splendid idea to try in a garden:

The insides of the shells were painted in different hues, punctured and scored to make patterns - I could have spent a whole morning under them, looking at each shell and watching the sky through them...

Obviously I cannot show you all the things that I loved at the biennale - you have to see it for yourself. I will post more pictures in subsequent posts. You can see more pics of street art and the exhibits at Pepper House over at Chai n' Spice.   

Let me leave you with some more pointers if you intend to visit the biennale:

1. Carry plenty of water. There are water dispensers at the Aspinwall House, but nowhere else.
2. Try to have food at mainland Ernakulam - the Fort Kochi eateries fell into two categories: grossly overpriced and simply gross.
3. Photography is allowed everywhere, videography is not.
4. Try and watch Gitanjali Rao's "Printed Rainbow" a Cannes prize winning short film in its entirety. Don't miss it.
5. Don't be confined by the artist's interpretation of each piece - make up your own interpretations, don't be scared! Don't take the installations too seriously. After all one of the purposes of art - if it has any purpose at all - is to entertain!
6. Catch the government ferry to and from Ernakulam and Fort Kochi - lovely! Cost - Rs. 2.50 per person each way!!
7. Keep your eyes open when you go about - lovely paintings jump out everywhere - not just the main venues - see what I mean?

As I took the evening Shatabdi back to Thiruvananthapuram, I was treated to yet more displays of the works of the Greatest Artist of All. Isn't it wonderful that we Malayalis can have our fill of nature's beauty by just taking a 3 hour-train ride! Wow!


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