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Buzz at the Biennale

That a faux tiger skin,placed upon an old Kashmiri carpet,lay stretched out at the entrance of the 54th Venice Biennale,is not a coincidence.

Emerging artists make an impression at the India Pavilion of the Venice Biennale,in the absence of biggies

That a faux tiger skin,placed upon an old Kashmiri carpet,lay stretched out at the entrance of the 54th Venice Biennale,is not a coincidence. The Biennale was an ‘India hotspot’,as it showcased a whole pavilion from India,at the Arsenale,for the first time. Interestingly though,the ‘tiger rug’ does not belong to the India Pavilion,but is part of the larger Biennale titled,‘ILLUMInations’,spread over the Giardini and the Arsenale,and conceptualised by director Bice Curiger. Opened on June 7,it will continue till November 27.

“If anything,the Pavilion was not predictably Indian,” says curator-critic Ranjit Hoskote,who consciously did not pick big names,like Subodh Gupta,Bharti Kher,Jitish Kallat and Atul Dodiya,to represent India. Instead,he chose emerging talent,off-set by a classical favourite — Zarina Hashmi. The line-up included sculptor-painter Praneet Soi,who is Amsterdam based-Kolkata born; mixed media artist Gigi Scaria,who is Kerala born but Delhi-based; new media artists from the North East called The Desire Machine Collective,and New York based printmaker,Hashmi.

Hoskote believes it was a risk worth taking. “The aim was to extend the notion of India and its artists in today’s global world. It was a critique of the nation-state as something unitary or territorial. You can be located anywhere on the globe and be Indian,” says Hoskote.

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While gallery owner Peter Nagy agrees with the curatorial premise,he did have one critical point: “It looked good and the choice of artists was relevant,but with the cacophony that is the Biennale and the rather small space that was allocated to the India Pavilion,it made it difficult for the show to stand out. Perhaps a single artist,with a solo presentation,would have worked better,” mulls Nagy about the rather small 250 square meters allocated to India,which logically could not have housed works by Gupta,Kher or Dodiya.

Ashok Vajpeyi chairman of the Lalit Kala Akademi,and one of the co-hosts of the government sponsored India Pavilion,admits that the Rs 10 million budget was not enough to set up a large pavilion. “It was our first time and logistically we were working on a very tight budget — what with the rental alone coming to 60 lakh a month,till November. However,while the Pavilion was more intense than dramatic,it attracted a lot of international attention,” says Vajpeyi. In fact,the Biennale Foundation has offered the Indian government a permanent pavilion space for the next 20 years,with the possibility of a discount. “Economically,that makes sense,so we are concentrating on building up our presence next year,”

says Vajpeyi.

“Our pavilion was next to Argentina and the space allocated to each artist ensured good representation. My video installation was in a simulation of an elevator,titled Elevator from the Subcontinent,” says Scaria. The sensor-based interactive work holds up to seven people,and gives the impression of opening out onto a parking lot,a typical middle-class home and a gym,each supposedly on a separate floor.

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Art lovers anticipate the Istanbul Biennale,which will showcase fresh talent from Turkey,but the Indian presence at this Biennale isn’t confirmed. “The government will not participate,” says Vajpeyi,even though it’s more cutting edge than Venice. “Biennales like Istanbul,Havana,Guangzhou and the modest Dakar,in Senegal,have been interesting because they are off-centre. However,Venice has been a productive space,questioning the idea of nationalism,”

says Hoskote.

First published on: 20-06-2011 at 03:45:55 am
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