Kochi, Feb 08: Offering nuanced and varied perspectives on the nature and intent of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB), past and present curators of India’s only Biennale examined its position and purpose within the country’s existing art and cultural infrastructure here today.
“Could the Biennale exist as an ongoing process evolving on its own instead of a structure or are the two the same thing? How can the Biennale reconcile institutions and traditions while remaining an access point for art in itself?” KMB 2016 curator Sudarshan Shetty posed.
The final day of the ‘Curating under Pressure’ conference – an international symposium co-hosted by the Kochi Biennale Foundation and Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan – saw Shetty, KMB 2014 curator Jitish Kallat and Biennale co-founders Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu each provide inputs reflective of their curatorial approaches.
Over a roundtable discussion with Kallat, Gabriele Horn, Director of the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, moderated by Leonhard Emmerling, Programme Director South Asia, Goethe-Institut, at the Pavilion in Cabral Yard, Shetty proposed that the Biennale was one point of mediation between India’s understanding of art and its colonial-era institutions, but rejected the concept of a binary structure with the two at opposing ends.
“Looking beyond such East-West dichotomies, we can see that there is a case for the opposite: that there are different ways to view the system by looking for contemporary meanings to older resonances. But does the system privilege the written and visual over the performative and oral? Can we separate the idea of institution and power?” Shetty said.
Defining biennials as “deliberative, fold-away infrastructure that gathered periodically to cross-pollinate and incubate endangered ideas”, Kallat observed that the Biennale was a “process and device to reorganise art space but bound by the pressure of win-lose or good-bad evaluations”.
Building institutions, for Kallat, brings “organisation, pattern and rhythm to this flux”. Viewed in this light, he said, the biennials are then a “space to reconcile artistic and logistical uncertainty”.
The discussion touched upon such topics as the kind of infrastructure needed to protect art and culture, the foundation of a stable and healthy cultural system and the economy needed to ensure its resilience to layers of pressure and attempts to undermine its purpose.
In response to a comment by Emmerling about whether biennials were reactions to institutions and other structures and if the “exhibition itself was a political phenomenon”, Komu noted that the KMB had been successfully positioned as an inclusive, alternative space for art.
“Over its lifetime, the Biennale has never been a standalone structure. It is complemented by the year-long engagement activities between the KBF and the wider community and through active efforts to take art out into public spaces, nourish the next generation of curators and artists and associate and collaborate with the country’s existing art infrastructure,” Komu said.
Krishnamachari echoed this statement at a later session titled ‘Biennale in Context’ that explored whether biennials could be considered instigators of socio-political change and platforms for exchange of ideas. He contended that setting up the KMB involved “addressing the hurdle about how to bring people into and engage with them in contemporary art spaces”.
“The modus operandi involved conducting art lectures and awareness programmes in the local community and through schools, which is something we continue to do today. It also helps to have participating artists initiate dialogues with the people,” Bose said.
The other participants in the session included Alisa Prudnikova, Artistic Director of the Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art in Russia, Rona Kopeczky, a member of the curatorial team for the second edition of the OFF-Biennale in Budapest and Shwetal Patel, KBF Resource Mobilisation Consultant.
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