Aspinwall House is a large sea-facing heritage property in Fort Kochi on the way to Mattancherry. The property was originally the business premises of Aspinwall & Company Ltd. established in 1867 by English trader John H Aspinwall. Under the guidance of Aspinwall the Company traded in coconut oil, pepper, timber, lemon grass oil, ginger, turmeric, spices, hides and later in coir, coffee, tea and rubber. The large compound contains office buildings, a residential bungalow and a number of warehouses and smaller outer-lying structures. Aspinwall House will be a primary venue of the Biennale, hosting numerous artist led projects and events spaces.
In 'Touch', Antoni positions the camera in such a way that in one magical moment, as she walks precariously across the frame, the tightrope dips with her weight and the artist ‘touches’ the line of the horizon – symbolically disembarking on a point that seafarers across history have striven towards.
Mani’s exhibits at the Biennale are part of an ongoing series of paintings on cotton cloth called 'Travellers Tales – Blueprints' (2014). The paintings evoke the sails of a ship and carry images through which the artist seeks to map the complex role that dyed and printed textiles played in the history of colonialism in India. They simultaneously draw our attention to historical processes that led to the emergence of ‘high art’ and ‘craft’ as categories defined in opposition to each other.
In creating the imagery these paintings carry, Mani used ‘Kalamkari’, a centuries-old textile painting technique from India that uses natural dyes. As the artist points out, the popularity of ‘Kalamkari’ (chintz) textiles in 17th-century Europe was such that French and English governments outlawed it to protect local mills.
Ahmed’s portraits of these vessels show them sitting on mud banks like beached whales, stilled and ready to be dismantled. All around stretches a desolate landscape marked only by barbed wire fences and the bare figures of labourers whose hazardous job it is to rip apart and salvage what they can from the discarded ships. Metal Graves is thus a portrait of the flipside of exuberant narratives of growth and mobility in a globalised world.
Viewed through the artist’s bleached frames, everything in the landscape stands still, moments frozen in some distant past. To Ahmed, these vessels are relics of the globalised world they helped create; their empty hulls lined up against the Bay of Bengal like grave stones that mark events in history that go beyond the stories of individual ships.
Straddling the two is the central image, depicting 'The Tower of Babel' by Pieter Bruegel and 'Monument to the Third International' by Russian artist Vladimir Tatlin rising from a coastal landscape modeled on Kochi. The two iconic (even if ultimately unrealised) constructions are, to the artist, symbols both of man’s mastery over nature and his aspiration towards an ideal unified society. In inserting the legend of Babel, Patwardhan refers to the centrality of language in human history; as the basis not just of our definitions of home and oneness but also of our ability to interpret and perceive the universe.
The installation consists of a rectangular transparent container filled with water that is positioned behind an opening in a wall. Within this frame, waves move vigorously, constantly altering the surface of the water and the light that filters through it. According to the artist, it is the duality of elements such as light and water, their existence “both as objective entities in thought and constantly shifting phenomena in the world” that interests her.