Barriers that embrace: from Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016-17

Musings from my first Kochi Biennale wanderings.

Something as simple as the slow splash of waves against your ferry can meander off into an absent-minded gleeful smile when you are taking in the experience as an outsider, unlike the routine commuters – more familiar, more purposeful. But its when you step out at Fort Kochi that you’ll be surprised how easily you slip into feeling at home.

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Kochi beckons not only artists, writers, connoiseurs, students, tourists and thousands of visitors with open arms during the biennale season, but also fresh ideas that adorn her alongside the wall art from previous years that are lovingly treasures. She flanks you with colourful surprises throughout her humble streets and before you know it she has left you busy absorbing lines, forms and colours, an act of immersing you into art long before you arrive at a venue housing an exhibit. So, the more you trudge past the tree-sheltered boulevards abuzz with charming little cafes, shops, carts, hawkers, pazham pori, birds, goats and cattle; the more she lets you encounter new visuals and , perhaps, have you mentally reorder your list of favourite works all over again, tugging you to experience beyond the prevailing humidity. For the art here feels so raw, and real, unlike my fake silk scarf tied to my bag.

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You will then spot the ubiquitous RGB shades, typeforms made of strokes, and (as our auto driver described it) the windmill-ish icon: the official visual identity of the event, where spaces in Kochi welcome you to the venues you originally intended to begin your art encounters at. You will also find mildly faded hues on some wall sections with peeling paint patches from the previous few events – and between these avatars of fresh and faded visual identity lie visual and textual content to be dissected. (Anyone else who’s a fan of the old-school handpainted type? Surely lots more to love about Kochi with this edition!) What is incredible is this entire mix of elements from the event’s identity coupled with visuals and text forming a strikingly distinct and cohesive visual identity in itself, and seems to function like a lot like a compass at a certain level by letting you navigate into the heart of the place based on how densely populated the bylanes are with them.

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But there is more to the visuals that the walls of Kochi envelopes you with, both at exhibit venues and the surrounding hotels, restaurants and other spaces, beautifully overlapping with the hustling bustling daily life. Which is how she invites to you experiment with how you can document wall art, standing as testimony to the indefinite temporary presence of parked vehicles to people to cattle and birds. So, with the range of photographs that attempt to document the same can often accomplish more than just that – you can always, perhaps, spot the same piece of wall art, but never the same photograph. Can this also serve as a distinct visual identity throughout Fort Kochi, that outlives both the timeframe and the context of the biennale; merging into the thriving life and vigour her streets are alive with? For she has metamorphosed herself into an experience for you so selflessly, while she transcends containing art. You feel, she becomes.