Kochi Biennale – 2016-17 — The Sum does not add up the Parts — Thoughts on a Trip!

Q-What is ‘art’?
A-A popular definition says – ‘Art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.’
The ‘visual arts’ as a term covers – music, drama, film, photography, dance and performance arts.

Q-What is the Kochi Muziris Biennale?
A-Muziris is the ancient name of a port that existed in Kerala in an era gone by which had strong connections with Egypt and Rome. The Biennale called popularly as KMB was the brainchild of contemporary Kerala artists – Bose Krishnamachari and Riyaz Komu and had the backing of the Kerala government. Modelled on the Venice Biennale, the first edition was held in 2012. The third edition is ending in a couple of days.

All my friends who visited the place – went on and on about the place and put it up on a pedestal that my interest was piqued. So before the Aadhar card turns mandatory for booking train tickets via IRCTC, I booked tickets to travel to Kochi and just my luck, a day before I was due to travel, I had a bad fall and hurt my foot, with my right foot swelling up. As even walking became painful, I thought I have a bad sprain or worst case a hairline fracture of sorts. Started a bit early from office on Thursday and saw a doctor who gave medicines and said there was no fracture. Worked from home on Friday hoping all along that the leg would heal in time. I was not going to waste my chance on a solo-trip because of my foot. Thankfully pain came down substantially and with a pain-relief medicated strip covering my leg fully, I took the risk of travelling. The biggest plus, we have a neighbour, and the lady who worked earlier in a hospital gave Amma the insulin injection.

Train left at 10:30 PM sharp from Central Station, by about 11 AM, I was in Ernakulam South Junction, walked out, took a bus and headed to Fort Kochi. Bus fare – Rs 13. Got down at Pattalam Road stop and walked to Paul’s Home Stay where I would be staying overnight. Comfortable accommodation and a courteous family manage the property. Shout out to Deepan and Bragadeesh who stayed there earlier and recommended the place.

A quick bath, change of clothes and a snappy bus-ride to the Fort Kochi stop, from there another five minutes stroll down the road to Aspinwall House, tickets at Rs 100 a person and I explored the renovated building, which used to be a trading house for spices, coffee, tea, etc.., in the pre-independence era. Since friends who already visited the Biennale had posted a fair number of photos, I had a clear idea of what I would be viewing and to a fair extent the surprise element was gone.

I will be honest, if art is creating paintings, sculptures, etc.., I am a big fat zero and the struggles I faced to complete my Botany and Zoology record notebooks in high-school remain proof of my drawing skills. A lot of stuff went just way beyond my head, there were passages of explanations, there were poems, animated videos playing, all in different places of the property. Everywhere the young ones were busy taking selfies and it was becoming just damn exasperating to actually focus, relish and savour the fragrance/feeling of art for art’s sake.

I scribble stuff that I pass on as verse, a DSLR or a fairly decent smart phone camera lets you shoot photographs, does it qualify as art?

As I walked and walked and explored the sights and sounds of the old Jew Town area, I just had two thoughts that kept coming back!

What is art? Who is an artist?

If the idea was to promote local art and artisans and artists – why bring in so many people from abroad to feature their work here and half of it can’t be understood by the general public!

Why not promote the work of local artists? India has some great fine arts colleges, works by the staff and students needs proper coverage, not a name’s worth token gallery space.

TM Krishna concert and a concert by Thaikkudam Bridge complete the festivities.

Well organised, good opportunity for sales at the cafes like the Kashi Art Gallery and Cafe. Sell cakes and pastas at a price that’s not too high, nor too low, generate good business for local shops, autos and the premier heritage hotels as well as the small back-packer hostels and homestays, everyone gets a share of the money-pie. A good initiative indeed!

As I said, I do not understand art, the concepts, the ideas, portrayed.

A painting or a sculpture should hold my attention and I should understand what it is all about without a two-page guide to what it is all about. I guess art-loving people know a lot more and they can relish the experiences that the Biennale offers.

I am a commoner, I just visited as a normal tourist. I was left with a feeling of emptiness at the end of it all. Art did not inspire, elevate or nurture joy in me. I was left with a vast void and I realized that the entire premise caters to two diverse categories – those who understand the intricacies of art and cherish the place and the other group that goes about posing and clicking selfies. I felt like Trishanku or rather a shunyaku who could not fit in any bracket.

See you two years down the line, hopefully, I might grasp a drop’s worth of learning about the ocean of art!

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