Curator Jitish Kallat wanted to turn Kochi into a pier from where artists would view the world. For some artists at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale the city became an edifice, with its heritage, myths and even odour
The German artist is known for her work with smell and its potential to communicate. Predictably, her installation functions as a distilled smellscape. It takes forward her 2005 project titled Sweat Fear/Fear Sweat for which Tolaas collected sweat smells produced by 20 men around the world, who suffer from a phobia of bodies. Devices absorbed the perspiration produced when they suffered fear attacks and the smell profile of the sweat molecules were chemically recreated by Tolaas in her Berlin lab. Combinations of these smells were created for the installation in Kochi, where Tolaas has painted the mixture onto ballast stones that are relics of Kochi’s maritime past.
Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama meets Mahatma Gandhi. Sheikh brings together the two icons looking across a mappa mundi, a medieval hand drawn map of the world. Through them he depicts the story of colonisation — Gama’s arrival in Malabar in the 15th century, leading to the European scramble for India and Gandhi’s fight to oust the British from India.
Cader saw a semblance between the Arabian Sea in Kochi and the seascape of the historic Galle Fort in Sri Lanka, where he grew up. “The turbulent ocean surfaces are indistinguishably similar,” says the artist, who has brought the two together in the installation Galle Fort; Fort Kochi. Known to rid the landscapes from the rectangular frames, he has the Kochi shores in graphite on pieces of wood designed in shapes he
observed on the coast of Kochi.
The Chennai-based artist invites viewers to travel back in time to the 52 CE, when the apostle St Thomas arrived in Kodungallur, leading to the establishment of first churches of India. Perciyal addresses the rich imagery of Christianity in Kerala. The various portrayals of Mother Mary — from the image Thomas is said to have brought to those established by numerous followers — are cast in incense made of natural ingredients such as bark powder, gum Arabic, aromatic herbs and spices. Installed on the sea front, the work is expected to respond to the environment, illustrating constant change.
Lifted to its current position by the Mappila Khalasis — traditional dockyard workers from the ancient port town of Beypore, located 180 km from Kochi — Gigi Scaria’s metal bell on the Kochi coastline represents time and mortality. Hoisted on poles and converted into a fountain that sources water from the backwaters, the installation Chronicle of the Shores Foretold also refers to the ancient folklore that a
European ship bringing a large bell for a church sunk off the coast due to the weight of the bell. During an annual church festival, the emergence of these bells from the water is celebrated. “It is a tale children in Kerala grow up with,” says Scaria.
The 2007 Turner Prize winner has filmed three workers erecting a scaffold on a beachfront, paying homage to the human desire to map the world. In Construction Site, Wallinger films the Kochi horizon in a frame resembling paintings by modernist masters such as Rothko and Mondrian; the horizontal movement of the water and wind is juxtaposed against the vertical structure assembled by workers.
The 21-year-old is the youngest artist to exhibit at the Biennale. “It’s an honour,” he says, standing before his work — a wall where each brick is painted with his observations in Kochi. There are chillis hanging in one and lemon in another, meant to ward off the evil. The love for seafood is evident, as are the city greens and huts.
The tapestry-like drawings with black beads depict oceanic links forged by early explorers in the unknown seas. The British artist’s work Cargo represents numerous such journeys through the image of Sao Gabriel, the flagship of Vasco da Gama’s armada on his first voyage to India in 1497-1499. The discovery of this short sea route to India subsequently lead to its colonisation and of the Far East. The compass of black beads is suggestive of the geographical conquests.
Researching on Kochi, the multimedia artist stumbled on the finding that according to the “flat world paradigm” for a person in Kochi, India’s northernmost point lies 125 km underneath the horizon, a fall that is equal to 15 times the height of India’s tallest mountain. His work The Non-Flat-Earth Paradigm spread on the floor is a sculptural representation of this “rediscovery”. “It questions the relation between knowledge and experience,” says the Swiss artist.
KM Vasudevan Namboodiri
His work is the reference point for how drawing should be for most mid-career artists in Kerala,” says Jitish Kallat, introducing the work of the veteran. The series Title is a glimpse into the life and streets of Kerala, from the churches and lush greens to huts, fishing nets and monuments that are relics of the colonial era.