“Creatively befriending uncertainty!” | Verve Magazine
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December 12, 2014

“Creatively befriending uncertainty!”

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

There are great expectations from the second Kochi Muziris Biennale. Its curator, contemporary artist, Jitish Kallat, speaks about the entity that has risen organically through the intent and imagination of the artists

Kochi Muziris Biennale Whorled Explorations
Days: 108
Artists: Around 90. On show will be works by Bharti Kher, Gigi Scaria, Dayanita Singh, K G Subramanyan, Pors and Rao, Sudhir Patwardhan, Julian Charrière, Sarnath Banerjee, Prajakta Potnis, Nikhil Chopra, Benitha Perciyal, Pors and Rao, Francesco Clemente and more.
Countries: Around 23
Venues: 8. Aspinwall House, Cabral Yard, Pepper House, Vasco Da Gama Square, David Hall, Kashi Art Gallery, CSI Bungalow and Durbar Hall

Two years ago, in December, the first Kochi Muziris Biennale opened its doors to the public. At that time, it was a relatively unknown entity, being India’s first artist-led contemporary art biennale and was held, not in the major art centres of the country, but in the coastal town of Kochi in Kerala. When, three months later, the curtain came down on the eclectic event – nearly 400,000 visitors had arrived from distant places in India and the world – they had congregated at the KMB to see the artworks from several countries that had been displayed over a varietal of spaces for more than 90 days. Art aficionados were already looking forward to the second edition of KMB.

This month, the KMB (December 12, 2014 to March 29, 2015) is all set to raise the curtain on a plethora of artistic offerings. There are great expectations which stem not just from the success of the first KMB, but from the reputation of its curator, one of India’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, Jitish Kallat. And, taking the previous initiative ahead there is a formidable line-up of artists at this year’s KMB.

For the first time, Kallat is donning the hat of a curator – a role, that he tells Verve, is extremely satisfying
and challenging.

How has Kochi inspired your curatorial choices for the KMB?
The choice of Kochi as a venue for the biennale has activated a new site on the art landscape in South Asia at the southern tip of peninsular India. Kochi’s rich history offers a unique orientation and a glossary of signs that inspire the making of art. Also, unlike so many other places, a lot of the local audiences are citizens engaged in cultural, social and political processes, which more than compensates for their lack of exposure to contemporary art.

What has your involvement entailed – in terms of time, dialogue, travels interactions?
Since Nov 2013, the process of curation involved six months of incessant travel and dialogue with artists and thinkers in various places around the world. This was punctuated with time spent in Kochi to reflect from the ground and engage with the site, as well as meet artists in the region. Since July I’ve mostly been based in Kochi. The biennale is a snapshot of a journey in a sea of possibilities.

What would you say is the strength of the biennale? And what were the challenges in pulling it off?
The challenges are mostly connected to not having enough resources to execute ideas. I feel the strength of this biennale is its fragility. Unlike several events in the art world that are heavily funded, institutionalised and sometimes over-administered, this one has arisen organically from the ground through the intent and imagination of artists. It has been a process of creatively befriending uncertainty and doing what we can with what we have.

What were the thoughts that guided your curating of the second KMB?
Two chronologically overlapping, but perhaps directly unrelated historical episodes in Kerala, became my points of departure.

The 14th to 17th centuries were a time when the Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics was making some transformative propositions for locating human existence within the wider cosmos. It was also the moment when the shores of Kochi were closely linked to the maritime chapter of the ‘Age of Discovery’. The maps changed rapidly in the 1500s with the arrival of navigators at the Malabar coast, seeking spices and riches. And within the revised geography were sharp turns in history; heralding an age of conquest, coercive trading and colonialism, animating the early processes of globalisation.

A reflection of this navigational history, as well as a shift of one’s gaze deliberating on the mysterious expedition of our planet Earth hurtling through space at a dizzying velocity, where none of us comprehend its direction or speed, were two prompts made in my letter to artists. The seemingly unrelated directions of these suggestions were intentional; one was a gaze directed in time, the other in space. These have become the co-ordinates of a project, which is non-linear and layered.

Is there any connect with the first edition – that was driven by Riyas Komu and Bose Krishnamachari?
I felt, early on, that the 2014 edition of the biennale must return largely to the same venues and let residual memories from the previous edition filter through. To that extent, it continues to speak from many of the same spaces even as it articulates a different narrative.

Being an artist yourself, how have you fitted this mammoth responsibility into your schedule?
I took an instinctive decision to cancel all exhibitions where I would have to commit new work. Having cleared my studio commitments for 18 months, I could dedicate all attention to the biennale.

What has been the basis of the selection of the artists?
I began with a small, core group of artists whose work for me became the nucleus of the project and animated its core ideas. Thereafter the process of inviting artists has been primarily one of responding to the biology of the project which is a shifting field – and every invitation greatly alters this constellation of signs.

What would you say is the important connection between creating and curating art?
As disciplines, curating art and making art are versions of the same fundamental intention – to understand our existence, either through the work you make as an artist or through the work of several artists when you curate. If, in a studio, you set afloat questions in solitude, here, as a curator, you conduct the inquiries through an expanded format along with fellow practitioners, co-creating the project in dialogue.

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