'The Kochi biennale could reframe india's relationship with past, present and future' | art and culture | Hindustan Times
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'The Kochi biennale could reframe india's relationship with past, present and future'

art and culture Updated: Dec 21, 2014 15:43 IST
Hindustan Times
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From graffiti on public walls to installations on the beach, Kerala's commercial capital has seen an explosion of crowds and colour as the Kochi-Muziris biennale comes to town. Already, 25,000 have visited the eight venues. A ground report from India's biggest art show.

Here's some behind the scenes action at the biennale.

'We are still battling power cuts, voltage fluctuations'

Shyam Patel, 30, a computer science engineer with a master's degree in art and design, is head of production for the Kochi-Muziris biennale. In the midst of battling power cuts and offloading shipments, he took time out to discuss the challenges of staging the biggest art show in India.

* What would you say was the biggest challenge in staging this time's biennale?
One major production challenge is the frequent power cuts and voltage fluctuations. They have caused us considerable delays.

* Which has been the most challenging art work to install?
Without a doubt, that would be Anish Kapoor's Descension. It took 50 labourers seven days to dig the ditch for the 3-metre-deep, 3-metre-wide, 4-tonne whirlpool. You see, his work was located very close to the sea - that's how he wanted it. So when we were digging, we also had to be really careful not to go too deep and flood the space with seawater. We actually called in a structural engineer to help. Kapoor very kindly paid for the shipping and part of the installation too.

* The cash crunch has also caused delays, with some works still not installed…
Yes, Singapore-based artist Ho Tzu Nyen's work, which required four-channel HD video, eight-channel sound and an automated curtain track, has still not been installed - also due to fluctuations in power supply. Like many artists, Ho Tzu has contributed his own equipment to help. We are just concerned that we will plug in his expensive, complex equipment and voltage fluctuations will kill it all and perhaps cause a collective short circuit. And we can't risk that. Overall, wiring has been a big hurdle. The main venue, Aspinwall House, had no electricity. The entire 6-acre plot had to be wired, and the roof refitted with terracotta tiles to ensure there were no leaks - or the art could have been ruined.

'The Kochi biennale could reframe india's relationship with past, present and future'

Anish Kapoor, 60, the UK-based artist considered one of the most influential sculptors of his time, is one of the biggest names at the 2014 Kochi-Muziris biennale. This is only his second appearance in India - the first being in Mumbai and Delhi four years ago, where his installation of a cannon that shot red wax at a wall caused quite a sensation. This time around, his contribution is Descension (below), a 3-metre-wide, 3-metre-deep, 4-tonne vortex, complete with gushing water, installed at a warehouse near the Aspinwall jetty. Created in keeping with the theme of the biennale - Whorled Explorations - Descension is meant to destabilise the visitor's experience of the solidity of the ground she stands on. Excerpts from an interview…

* This is your first site-specific installation in India. Can you tell us a little about how it took shape?
Descension is a work I had thought of and made models for 20 years ago. It wasn't realised for different reasons and this seemed like an ideal situation, given the space, especially the sea outside.

* You say it is not an aesthetic proposition. Could you explain?
I was not really trying to make a sculpture at all. I was trying to see if we could make a phenomenon. Something that you have heard about, a whirled cortex form. It's as if we all know it already and now we see it. Nothing new. Not a sculpture that proposes a proportion. Simple and as straightforward as possible.

* Why did you decide to participate in the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris biennale?
This is fantastic. What Bose, Riyas and Jitish are doing is absolutely unbelievable. Already from the last time it has a certain momentum. In India, let's just say we have a great long history. We are not good at the contemporary. We don't really have confidence in it. What this biennale is proposing is that the contemporary is important, that it can have an audience, and that matters to how India sees itself, its future and its relationship with the past. I think Jitish has, quite cleverly, made this project into a reassessment of the post-colonial engagement.

* Is that part of why you think a biennale is important for India?
Things like [the biennale] are part of the process of helping us educate ourselves about how people are thinking, why they are thinking as they are thinking. Why is something a work of art? Is it a work of art? Why not? That process of questioning is a very a curious but also a very powerful one. I think it is something from which we grow. As artists, we all spend our lives contemplating stuff (laughs). We need more people to do that, frankly.