I have pleasant memories of visiting Fort Kochi in 2010, and am intrigued for my return to explore Kerala’s second Biennale. I see a different side to Kerala this time as I’m staying with a local friend and seeing the popular Fort Kochi island transformed to host art works from around the world. I visit 7 of the main venues, and the spaces are very impressive as being pieces of art in themselves. I love the way Jitesh Kallat has curated the work into such an attractive range of rooms and halls. Aspinwall House the main venue and Pepper House are the most pleasing, with some high ceilings, lots of wood and sometimes broken stair cases, and nooks and crannies displaying photography. It is a breathe of fresh air from the many plain white boxes I am used to exploring in many European contemporary art galleries and museums. In the way that I get excited by site specific performance art, for its clever and creative use of space, I find myself in admiration of some of the adventurous and playful ways the work is presented.
A large canvas by HS Harsha from Mysore entitled Punarapi Jananam, Punarapi Maranam, revels in panoramic views of the world, depicting a birds eye view of people, places, and life in a snake like image of the universe. The large factory like space is perfect for holding such a piece that one cannot resist walking up, down and around to appreciate its size and powerful presence. For me it holds similar characteristics to the largest space at the Tate Modern, London, without comparing in size, but in personality.
I visit the Kashi Media Gallery to see Log Book Entry Before Storm by Raqs Media Collective from New Delhi. I’m attracted to the self-description of this group as being “artists, occasional curators and philosophical agent provocateurs”. I don’t try hard to intellectually unravel the meanings behind this site-specific work, partly as I’ve seen so much art today, and I’m feeling hot and bothered during the peak period of heat for the day. Secondly because sometimes I prefer to look and feel my way through art and just let it be and be with me and my senses, not reading all of the decriptions and titles. I appreciate the use of light and sound and enjoy the minutes I spend at Kashi, pleased to experience something that feels energetic, youthful and progressive.
There is a film programme also running through the Biennale so I watch my first ever movie made in Karnataca in the Kannada language called Lucia. The only films I’ve seen from India are Bollywood or Punjabi movies so this makes an interesting change. This 2013 film directed by Pawan Kumar was made possible through public donation via a crowd-funding campaign and the results are really impressive for a low budget movie. Lucia is a drug that when taken makes one’s dreams and desires come true and feel real during sleep, and is addictive. There are many messages though-out the film, some very similar to a typical masala movie including song and dance. The story unravels cleverly flitting back and forth between dream and reality, putting across the message of valuing the beauty and positive side to life as it is, and avoiding destructive drugs for escapism.
It was definitely worth popping to Kerala just for the Biennale for an art fix, and to be exposed to the intellectual and creative work taking place all over India. There’s more to Incredible India than cows, poverty and colourful saris, but so many depths and layers that would take a life-time to discover and understand. Many backpackers, lonely planet lovers and particular young ones don’t even begin to notice. I think this is where my travel addiction has moved on to another stage. Flying through cities and countries quickly no longer gives me the same rush and pleasure that it did. Instead I’d rather spend longer periods of time with locals, and explore the creative sides of places, seeing how natives use performance and visual art to illustrate what their lives and countries are about, realities through their senses.