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Cosmic space to marry historical remnants at Kochi Biennale

Posted on Aug 24 2014 | IANS

By Shilpa Raina, New Delhi, Aug 24 : The historical and cosmological will be amongst the recurrent themes at the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. More than 80 national and international artists will share their work, engage in conversations and participate in multiple programmes during its marathon 108 days in the Kerala port city of Kochi from Dec 12.

Spearheading the art spectacle - the second biggest in the world after the Venice Biennale - this year is artist Jitish Kallat who has donned the curatorial hat, letting "one decision procreate another decision" and activating multiple-venues through artistic interventions in a varied range of media,
exhibition formats and sensory stimuli.

For the theme of the biennale, Kallat, who was born and is based in Mumbai with ancestral roots in Thrissur, has been inspired by "two chronologically overlapping
but perhaps directly unrelated historical episodes in Kerala".

"The 14th to 17th centuries was a time when the Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics was making some transformative propositions for locating human existence within the wider cosmos," Kallat told IANS in an interview during his recent visit here.

"It was also the time when explorers such as Vasco da Gama arrived at the shores of Kochi in search of spices and riches. These maritime voyages revised the known
geography and somewhat altered the course of history, animating some of the early processes of globalisation," he added.

On accepting the curatorial role, Kallat took to the streets of Kochi and walked through many lanes and bylanes, exploring what he calls "the glossary of signs around Kochi" with which we can look out at the world today to understand it better.

"The past has refused to completely retreat; it stays alive as a residue in aging architecture, ruins, cultural practices, legends and beliefs" he added, while talking about Kochi that will transform into a creative congregation during the biennale.

It was these absences and presences that captured his imagination and Kallat said the exhibition will bring together artworks that "picture versions of the world
referencing history, geography, astronomy, time and myth interlacing the terrestrial with the celestial".

"The artworks will not be about history. The past is only invoked for its potential to animate the present. Art works might take you to different moments in time or different places," said Kallat.

Ever since Kallat was selected the artistic director and curator of the biennale last November, he has put his personal projects take a back seat. He has
multiple exhibitions going on at the moment but none of these are with new works as all attention is directed towards the biennale.

While the final list of artists participating in this biennale is almost complete, Kallat admits funding is a mammoth task.

"It is a huge struggle," said Kallat.

"There is very little funding at this stage but the Kerala government has been very supportive, becoming a major patron of the project. An exemplary participation of the state in the field of culture" he concluded.

Usually in India state governments are at an arm's length when it comes to art, said Kallat, who hopes the project will invigorate Kochi and cement its place in India's art landscape.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at

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