The biennale is only open, not on yet,” says a participating artist. He is being apologetic about the loose ends yet to be tied up on day four. Needlessly so. The visitors in steady flow hardly notice the disarray, if any. By the time you get to Aspinwall House, the event’s main venue, much conditioning has happened, not to speak of some early linguistic crossover.
For a place traditionally open to global cross-currents, where as many as 14 languages were spoken once, one new word is no big deal. The Italian term “biennale” has caught on in the town, which has much to thank Italy for. The place got its first promotional one-liner from the 15th century Italian traveler Nicolo Ponti: “Kochi is a great place to spend all the money you make in China”. Out on the historic lanes and bylanes, the current event has already blurred the border between art and the everyday clutter the municipal town lives with. Its logo, drawn from Kathakali’s characteristic colours of red, green and black, is all over the place — on posters, banners and festoons. Less formally, painterly colour adorns an upturned tree at Parade Ground and is added for good measure to walls that bear much graffiti, some for and some against the big bold/bad biennale.
Art students from Baroda and Ahmedabad are going about their business of mounting installations near the beach or brainstorming at a cafe. The less art-savvy, young and old, are gallantly clambering up near-vertical stairways of abandoned warehouses to tiptoe around puzzling floor spaces of boundless art. There is evident relief once they descend to confront a more conventionally wall-mounted work like Vivek Vilasini’s re-rendering of Last Supper. A Class XI student, forehead smeared with ash, and camera in hand, confesses to no more than viewer interest even as he clicks pious pictures of Sudarshan Shetty’s open-air sculpture titled I know nothing of the end. A most suggestive metaphor for much work in progress all around.
A top organiser, a celebrity artist to boot, is scurrying across installations carrying a long ladder. If the General is leading from the front, a marketing honcho is on the phone getting gen-sets organised to power the one too many video shows. It hasn’t been easy to bring India’s first biennale to the country’s most politicised state. Much organisational energy has been spent in the months