At the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, five installations that invite the audience to help create art

From Song Dong's Water Temple to Monica Mayer’s Clothesline, and Vipin Dhanurdharan’s Community Kitchen — these installations at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018 spell inclusivity

Geetha Jayaraman February 23, 2019 09:54:00 IST
At the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, five installations that invite the audience to help create art
  • Right since its inception, the KMB has prided itself on being a “People’s Biennale”. This ethos is reflected in the vision of the 2018 edition’s curator Anita Dube as well.

  • At the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale, inclusion is not a buzz-word, but a principle that runs through several of the most popular installations here.

Art is often accused of being elite and exclusionary. Even art that is taken out of galleries and into public spaces doesn’t always seem truly democratic. Not so at the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale, where inclusion is not a buzz-word, but a principle that runs through several of the most popular installations here.

Right since its inception, the KMB has prided itself on being a “People’s Biennale”. This ethos is reflected in the vision of the 2018 edition’s curator Anita Dube as well.

“My curatorial approach to this edition was the desire to explore possibilities for a non-alienated life,” Dube explained. “I am investigating the various ways in which we can engage with each other. I don’t want passive spectators as the audience. So, it was very organic process of adding projects that are interactive. The Biennale as I see it, is a celebration of coming together and learning.”

Here are five installations that invite audience participation at the Biennale:

Vipin Dhanurdharan’s Community Kitchen

Based on the anti-caste teachings of 20th-century Kerala social reformer Sahodaran Ayyappan (1889-1968), Kerala-born artist Vipin Dhanurdharan ensures that his kitchen at the sea-facing Aspinwall venue is stocked with ingredients aplenty for any casual visitor to whip up something on one of the stoves. “Sahodaran Ayyappan conducted the ‘misra bhojanam’ where people of all castes would eat together — a revolutionary event those days,” said the 30-year-old artist, explaining the concept behind his artwork — which is titled ‘Sahodaran’ (brotherhood) and features an open kitchen and a table to share meals.

Dhanurdharan pointed out that people in villages still practice community feasting. “In fact, community feasting had for ages been part of our culture.”

Dube found that Dhanurdharan’s idea of community dining fit well into her curatorial theme of collaboration and questioning alienation.

At the KochiMuziris Biennale 2018 five installations that invite the audience to help create art

Vipin Dhanurdharan’s Community Kitchen at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale

At the KochiMuziris Biennale 2018 five installations that invite the audience to help create art

Song Dong’s ‘Water Temple’

Chinese artist Song Dong’s installation calls on visitors to use simple paraphernalia to create unique murals (painting with water on a glass wall). Among the most popular works at this edition of the Biennale, the idea for ‘Water Temple’ emerged from Song Dong’s memories of childhood, when he was encouraged to practise handwriting with water, so that paper and ink were not wasted. “I continue to perform the act as a therapeutic ritual that leaves no trace,” said the artist.

The Biennale installation is an extension of this process and ritual, explained Song Dong. “The interactive sculpture allows the same meditation on impermanence in a shared, secular space as a metaphor for the processes of history, lack of communication and alienation that the world is steeped in,” he said. “Even the mirrored floors denote temporariness. The reflection stays only when you are there. When the person leaves the place, it too vanishes.”

At the KochiMuziris Biennale 2018 five installations that invite the audience to help create art

Song Dong's Water Temple

At the KochiMuziris Biennale 2018 five installations that invite the audience to help create art

Aqui Thami’s Sister Library

Founded by artist and activist Aqui Thami, Sister Library is a project that aims to spark conversations around the representation of women in literature.

As part of the Infra-project at the Biennale, Thami is leading a month-long workshop featuring feminism-centric reading sessions, film shows, talks, discussions and art workshops.

KMB curator Anita Dube noted that Sister Library “aptly describes” the Biennale’s two running themes: feminism and pedagogy. “Aqui Thami has prioritised through her workshops and aesthetics that learning can be pleasurable and accessible [sic],” said Dube.

Thami’s year-old project, which has so far travelled to five cities before coming to the coastal town of Kochi, is still evolving and generative. “The idea is to engage in an in-depth reflection on the visual and reading culture prevalent among women,” Thami said. “The library will make people look at the works of women seriously. Readers can celebrate the ideas of women authors. The perception of women will be widely shared. It will help shift some of the general perceptions about women and hopefully bring a change some day.”

Tania Candiani’s Weaving Sound Soiree

Mexican artist Tania Candiani turned the traditional loom into a string instrument at the Biennale. She replaced the strings of a loom with that of the sitar, thus highlighting the way everyday sounds impact humans. For the project, she collaborated with compatriot artist Carlos Chinchillas and Kochi’s Ranesh Reju (guitarist) and Vinay Murali (violin-maker).

About how her work was conceptualised Candiani said, “The idea was to showcase the dying art of handloom weaving in Kerala. We ensured we won’t tamper with the aesthetics of the loom. So we used the same technique and design to reproduce and repurpose to the logic of sound, in order to produce music.”

Candiani thus gave new life and function through sound to an old machine — in this case, the loom. “For me, everything is music. I believe music has the power to quieten everything else. Music has always been a part of my growing years,” Candiani said.

Monica Mayer’s Clothesline

With the heightened visibility of sexual abuse allegations and the activism of #MeToo, Mexican artist Monica Mayer creates a safe space for comradeship to form; people read and respond to each other’s anonymous reflections, as not everyone has the social privilege or security to speak up about injustices publicly. Mayer’s work began in 1978 in Mexico City as a response to what she disliked most about the city.

“In pieces like The Clothesline, participation is fundamental,” Mayer said. “However, the first time I did the piece in 1978, I didn't even have the notion of audience participation. I went to different places to ask women what they disliked about Mexico City, focusing on sexual harassment — which was something I faced constantly. Then I presented the answers as an installation at our Museum of Modern Art.  During the exhibition, women read the answers and spontaneously started writing their answers as well. Ever since then, it (the installation) is always participatory.”

At the KochiMuziris Biennale 2018 five installations that invite the audience to help create art

The Clothesline — Monica Mayer

At the KochiMuziris Biennale 2018 five installations that invite the audience to help create art At the KochiMuziris Biennale 2018 five installations that invite the audience to help create art

Bonus:

The KMB’s Pavilion

The Biennale Pavilion — a space used for film screenings, talks and performances by prominent personalities from various branches of the arts — is now giving visitors an opportunity to present their work, be it in the form of poetry, lecture, discussion, paper presentation, or any form of performance.

At the KochiMuziris Biennale 2018 five installations that invite the audience to help create art

The Pavilion at KMB

According to the curator Anita Dube, through the ‘Pop Up’ programmes at the Pavilion, the Biennale is trying to present a non-institutional public space for conversations — not only for programmed talks and lectures — where there is no hierarchy governing who can speak, what they might speak of, or in which language.

The idea, Dube said, is to make the Pavilion “a discursive, performative, architectural space” where “everyone potentially can be a curator”.

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