Visitors from outside the state and the country talk about their impressions of the Kochi Muziris Biennale
By Shevlin Sebastian
Photos: Ajna Laville; Daniel and Monique Schuh; (from left) Elizabeth Sowmya, artist Gigi Scaria and Cilara Jacob. Pics by Ratheesh Sundaram
The slim and serious-looking Ajna Laville listens raptly to a media interview of Yuko Hasegawa, the chief curator of Tokyo’s Museum of Modern Art. Ajna is a research assistant, as well as a guide, at the Kochi Muziris Biennale. So when visitors come to the art festival, Ajna takes them around and ensures that they see all the sites. “There are 69 artists at Aspinwall House,” she says. “It takes about two-and-a-half hours to see all the works.”
Interestingly, Ajna never gets tired of seeing the exhibits. “Every time I get a different perspective, thanks to the people I accompany,” she says. “They find new interpretations which I had not observed earlier.”
Ajna, incidentally, is of mixed origin. Her Thiruvananthapuram-based father N. Rajendran is a Malayali, while her mother, Maryse, a Kathakali dancer, is from France.
Like her mother, Ajna is also interested in art. She has just completed a six-year course in the History of Art and Animation at the State Institute of Art in Urbino, Italy. Once the Biennale is over, on March 29, she is planning to go abroad for further studies in art.
Standing nearby are the French couple, Daniel and Monique Schuh, who have seen both editions. "The first time is always more exciting and amazing,” says Daniel, a retired physician. “However, in this edition, I have been disappointed with the many video installations, especially the one where an American speaks in English, without subtitles, for more than 10 minutes. It was a boring and uncreative performance.”
But yoga teacher Monique did like a few works. One was a video installation of artist Neha Choksi called 'Iceboat'. “It is a moving meditation on global warming, as well as a reflection on life itself,” says Monique. “I visualised the boat as our own life in which we need to row constantly in order to stay afloat and move forward. We are rowing to meet death which is inevitable at the end of one's life. It is almost like we are rowing steadily only to meet Death....or is there something beyond? The lady in the video was beautiful and looked like a queen.”
The other work which Monique enjoyed was called ‘Bubblegum God’ by Goa-based artist Subodh Kerkar at the collateral show called ‘Janela’. Inspired by Moia sculptures from the Chilean Polynesian islands, it was created by Subodh using an old catamaran from Thiruvananthapuram and a bubblegum from the US. “It is a satirical depiction of the human race's journey, from the Inca valley to the Bubble Gum civilisation," says Monique.
Meanwhile, the Bangalore-based advertising professional Cilara Jacob sits on the ground at the back of Pepper House, and stares mesmerised at Gigi Scaria's 'Chronicle of the Shores Foretold'. This is a large stainless steel bell, which hangs on a grilled iron structure, and sprouts jets of water through various holes.
“Art and nature have combined so well, with the Arabian Sea as the backdrop,” says Cilara. “And this continuous movement of water, through the holes in the bell, signifies life. Art is part of nature. The blending has been done so well by the artist.”
When she is informed that Gigi is present, she gets up and rushes to meet the artist. Then she takes an autograph and gets herself photographed with a smiling Gigi, by her friend Elizabeth Sowmya.
A freelance journalist, Elizabeth is also enjoying the Biennale. “Compared to the first, the scale is bigger this time,” says Elizabeth. “It has heightened my artistic sensibility. And the Aspinwall House is such a unique place to have an arts festival.”
The Mumbai-based Smriti Nevatia leans against a wall of the Pepper House and stares intensely at the bell. She is a curator of the film festival, 'Our Lives to Live', which is sponsored by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television.
“Today is my fourth and last day,” she says. “Before I left for the airport I wanted to revisit the bell. I am enjoying the sight of the small boats, and the bigger ships passing by, and this bell on the edge of the water. It has made a deep impact on me. It makes you very appreciative of the kind of space this is. I have fallen in love with Pepper House. It is so beautiful. The way the works have brought alive the colonial and local histories is so stunning.”
Later, as she sips a cup of coffee, a smiling Smriti says, “This Biennale is fabulous. I have had an enriching time.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)