Kochi Biennale 2016 starts,installs art amid cash crunch

Kochi,Dec13:One afternoon recently, Bose Krishnamachari, president of the Kochi Biennale Foundation, is having a chat with trustee V Sunil under a tree at Aspinwall House, Fort Kochi. Their worry is that they are unable to pay daily wagers in cash.

Bose says, “One worker asked me for money to have lunch, and I didn’t have any cash. I felt bad. But the other workers are being paid by cheque, so there is no problem.”

Sunil is in a nostalgic mood. “When we started out, people had to figure out the meaning of the word ‘biennale’,” he says. “Then, everyone began to understand that there is something known as installation art. And the biggest impact was made by Subodh Gupta’s work of a large country boat. In 2015, you came to the Biennale and got in touch with the world. This year, there are a lot of performances. If a poet or a performance artiste tried to create contemporary art, what would that be?”

Sunil says there is one difference between the Kochi and other Biennales. “Art is usually a rich person’s hobby,” says Sunil. “But in Kochi the royalty of the art world, like the head of MOMA [Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York], as well as the Tate Modern, London, move along with the local people. You won’t see that in the other Biennales. It is a people’s Biennale here.”

The autorickshaw project 

Standing nearby is Latvian artist Voldemars Johansons. “I am organising a sound performance which will include an autorickshaw and their drivers who go on their everyday routes. There will be special horns.”

As to whether the heat is getting to him, Voldemars says, “Yes, it is very humid. Back in Latvia, the temperature is close to zero. I am missing the snow. There is a longing in my heart when I saw the pristine winter pictures sent by my wife. But I like both Kochi and Riga [the capital of Latvia].”

Waiting for stuff

Taking a breather in the shade is award-winning Lebanese artiste Khalid Sabsabi, who lives in Sydney. He is doing a 100 channel video work, but he is waiting for the equipment to arrive. “It was supposed to come to Kochi directly from Sydney, but for some reason, Customs have sent it to Bangalore,” he says. “These include projectors, media players, and stands. With the help of volunteers it will take me two days to set it up.”

Helping hands 

And to help him, there are several production assistants, like Vipin Dhanurdharan, Jayesh L R, and Manu VR. “We have been working with the Biennale from 2012,” says Vipin. As for Pinky Sujatha, who has just joined, she says, “I love art and wanted to be associated with the Biennale in some way.”

At the entrance to a building, Guido Wolfram is marking out measurements using a ruler on a wooden frame. He is helping the Goa-based artist Orijit Sen install his work. At one side there is a sign that says, ‘Mapusa Market’. It is one of Goa’s most famous old-style markets, set in the town of Mapusa in northern Goa. “In one room, we will re-create the market,” says Guido. “And in the other, we will put up the Charminar of Hyderabad.”

Upside-down world

The New York artiste Tom Burckhardt’s installation work is made entirely of cardboard. Called ‘Studio Flood’, the image is that of an artist’s studio. “I have decided to turn the room upside down,” he says. “So everything will be upside down. There will be a couple of paintings that will seem to be floating in water.”