Sand is Vishwanadhan's medium at Kochi art biennale
Seated under a jackfruit tree at the landmark Aspinwall House and waiting for his work of art to arrive for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kerala-born artist Velu "Paris" Vishwanadhan quips: "At the moment, I am the installation."
Indeed, he is! For, a bevy of journalists have lined up to speak to him about his own self, his art and what he has planned for India's first biennale that has drawn around 80 of his contemporaries, some young and some old, from around the world.
"Sand has always inspired me and sand it is now at this biennale," Vishwanadhan, originally from Kadavoor in Kollam and now based in Paris, told IANS, speaking about his work as others went about their chores.
"Sand" is also the title of his installation at Aspinwall House, a sea-facing property built in 1867 that, in a sense, represents Kerala's long trading history, having served as the office for an English firm dealing in pepper, coconut oil, timber, coir, coffee and rubber.
Explaining his original work of 1976, which he is somewhat replicating at the biennale now, Vishwanadhan says he collected sand from 17 places in India and made a cube each with them as a tribute to the country's rich cultural, historical and mythological memories.
The places he collected the sand from for his work included Dwarka, Porbandar, Dandi, Somnath, Mumbai, Kannur, Kanyakumari, Puducherry (Pondicherry) and Chennai.
For him, sand also represents history. "Every grain has evolved. Every granule has formed after the elements - wind, water, fire - have worked on it through time immemorial."
A rebel in his teens, which eventually led to his expulsion from college, the 72-year-old, soft-spoken artist says this time around, a sand cube depicting Dandi will be brought to the centre of the installation.
"Dandi is now the central point of my work. It is a point of resistance," he says, alluding, perhaps, to the sea-facing village in Gujarat that Mahatma Gandhi selected as the venue for his Salt Satyagraha against British rule.
Vishwanadhan says after he was expelled from college, he had a chance to visit Paris in 1968 and some art enthusiasts - who had seen an installation by him at the biennale there a year earlier - offered to set up a studio for him. Since then the city has been another home, which he makes with his artist-wife Nadine Tarbouriech.
Those visiting this port town for the biennale, which began Wednesdy, will get to see some more facets of Vishwanadhan's life.
A 90-minute film on him and his work shot by celebrated director Adoor Gopalakrishnan, including the artist's own productions, will be screened during the three-month event.
(Arvind Padmanabhan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)