ASPINWALL HOUSE C & D / LABORATORY & WAREHOUSE

Kochi-Muziris Biennale

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.

Sea Power \ Hew Locke
British artist Hew Locke’s works spring from an interest in power and its representations, and often reveal the ways in which authority perpetuates itself through symbols – whether in contemporary royal portraits or in 19th century share certificates.
Assembled out of a rich imagery drawn from his travels and memories, Locke's sculptures and wall reliefs with their carnivalesque excess only serve to accentuate the malaise they seek to hide. They can often seem like festering rainforests, where layer upon layer of toy guns, plastic lizards and other junk invade and destabilise images of might.
Locke’s works are rich with historical references and the artist is especially interested in the early processes of globalisation and its links to 15th century European marine expeditions. 'Sea Power' (2014) is a tapestry-like drawing on walls illustrating the intercontinental links forged by early explorers and seekers whose voyages on unknown seas left behind a world forever transformed by the encounter.

Made with black cord and beads, Sea Power represents numerous such journeys through the image of Sao Gabriel, the ship in which Vasco da Gama led a Portuguese armada as it sailed into the coast of Malabar in 1498, inaugurating a short sea route to India and, with it, hundreds of years of colonial conquest of the Far East.

Black bead necklaces drip from Locke’s monochrome illustration of this history like cobwebs in an old house, their decay perhaps suggesting that modernity and our present is the slow unraveling of a moment in the past.

Teddy Universe \ Pors & Rao
The collaborative creations of Bengaluru-based artists Aparna Rao and Søren Pors are the result of long periods of experimentation and deliberation, leading to installations and sculptures where underlying technical complexities are masked by sinister humour and an assembly-line aesthetic. In the five interconnected projects they are exhibiting, playfulness and an appeal to the viewers’ empathy exist alongside a keen sense of the uncanny.
'Handheld' (2012-14) consists of two delicately crafted wooden hands holding up a sheet of paper that shakes intermittently as if the arms of the invisible person holding it up are shivering from the anxiety of trying to keep still.

'Sun Shadow' (2009-11) might at first escape a viewer’s attention. What appears on the floor like leftover installation material or a blackened outline of the Sun is one of Pors & Rao’s creatures. It springs to life intermittently and after attempting to ‘rise’ in several convulsive movements, collapses back on the floor as if exhausted by the effort.

Pors & Rao in 'Teddy Universe' (2009-11) use faux fur embedded with fibre-optic lamps to make a teddy bear.

When hung in a dimly lit room, the installation shimmers like an encapsulated view of the cosmos: An entity with no perceivable edge which is here contained within the unintimidating form of a familiar toy.

'Islander' (2013-14) resembles a horizon as viewed through the porthole of a ship. As the installation rocks back and forth, the Sun within this horizonal view also rolls from one side to the other, as if it is unable to escape the confines of the window through which it is viewed.
Harbinger \ Sahej Rahal
Mumbai-based artist Sahej Rahal’s installations, films and performances are part of an elaborate personal mythology he has created by drawing characters from a range of sources, from local legends to science fiction.
By bringing these into dialogue with each other, Rahal creates scenarios where strange and indeterminate beings emerge as if from the cracks of our civilisation, challenging the ways in which we experience time and space. He is best known for public performances he has done in Mumbai, a city of enormous contradictions and collisions which has shaped the playful irreverence with which he approaches art-making.
For 'Harbinger' (2014), Rahal spent months in Kochi, scouring it for objects and ideas that went into the creation of an installation of fantastical creatures, quasi-architectural elements, video and performance.
Sprawled over a disused laboratory in Aspinwall House is an anchor, an ancient blade, an array of astronomical devices, monoliths, visors, ceremonial masks and sci-fi automations with twiddling appendages – echoes of unformed futures in unfired clay.

The cracked and crumbling structures point both forward and backward, to the very beginnings of civilisation and its aftermath.

Detritus from the abandoned sets of films shot in Aspinwall House were repurposed by the artist to create the armatures of his sculptures, giving the cinematic a permeating afterlife in clay.

According to Rahal, in 'Harbinger', “The promise of precision offered by the laboratory space is met with the possibility of a release where fiction and history collide.”
The earth turns without me \ Christian Waldvogel
Grounded in intricate scientific calculations, yet humorous and contemplative, Christian Waldvogel’s installation 'The earth turns without me' (2010) is a chronicle of his quest to briefly step away from the planet’s relentless rotation. The artist sought to cancel the Earth’s eastward motion by flying himself westward in an aircraft at an equal speed.
The aim was to achieve a stationary state with respect to the Sun, and by converting the cockpit into a pinhole camera, to capture a four-minute static exposure of the sun as proof that the earth had indeed turned for a period without the artist.
The project was triggered by two light box images exhibited here. 'Earthstill', photographed by Waldvogel using an ordinary camera reveals the stars as streaks, blurred by the Earth’s motion.
'Starstill' is a clear image of the stars, captured using an astronomer’s camera that cancels the Earth’s motion.
To replicate the second camera’s effect with respect to the Sun, the artist travelled in a supersonic Swiss Air Force plane flying west at the Earth’s rotational velocity (1158 km/hr in Switzerland). The resultant video of the Earth’s moving surface as the aircraft stood still next to it, a vitrine containing detailed documentation of the entire process and a positive of the exposed film revealing the Sun’s image not as a streak but a concentrated point, constitute Waldvogel’s multi-part installation.

To the artist, the act of resisting something as fundamental as planetary rotation is an allegory for the individual’s quest to resist social norms. The obstacles he encountered while pursuing this eccentric mission (it took him years just to convince the Swiss Air Force to cooperate) mirrors the artistic process itself, defined by the struggle to achieve a view of the world by stepping outside of it.

Background Story: Endless Xishan Mountain Scenery \ Xu Bing
In his series, 'Background Story', Chinese artist Xu Bing uses the play of light and shadow to create works that resemble classical Chinese paintings out of leaves, fibres and other discarded materials. He does this by carefully attaching these materials to one side of a translucent screen which, when viewed against light, creates a silhouette identical to a painting.

Bing’s act of creating these ‘shadow paintings’ builds on traditional methods of art education that put emphasis on copying the works of old masters. Instead of copying brush strokes, Bing here engages in a dialogue with tradition by painstakingly creating works that interrogate our habits of visual perception.

In 'Background Story: Endless Xishan Mountain Scenery' (2014), Xu Bing has replicated in shadows a landscape painting by Chinese artist Xu Ben who lived when the Ming Dynasty ruled China (1368- 1644). According to the artist, he chose this particular painting as its creation coincided with a period in history when generals of the Ming empire, among them the legendary General Zheng He, were making oceanic expeditions accompanied by impressive armadas of ‘Treasure Ships’ to expand China’s influence and trade.

Wood, glass, paper, fishing lines, dried flowers, twigs, fibers \ 70.86 in x 70.86 in x 35.43 ft

The Muslim general Zheng He, a former court eunuch, had been chosen by the emperor to be the commander of Chinese fleets that sailed to the ‘Western Oceans’.
In the seven voyages he undertook, he travelled as far as the Persian Gulf and the East coast of Africa. At least twice his explorations brought him to India’s West coast, where he first arrived in 1405-07, nearly a century before Vasco da Gama, and disembarked at principal ports such as Calicut and Kochi. He died in Calicut in 1433, while on his seventh and final voyage.
Contingent \ Rivane Neuenschwander
Rivane Neuenschwander takes manmade systems for organising knowledge, such as maps or language, and exposes them to seemingly random machinations of nature.Cartographic themes find expression in Neuenschwander’s works such as 'Carta Faminta' (Starving Letter) (2000) and 'Pangea’s Diaries' (2008). In the former, she let Swedish slugs loose on a rice paper, producing through this symbolic collision of man and nature, and between cultures, outlines that resembled continents. In Pangea’s Diaries, millions of years of continental drift are captured in a stop motion video of ants moving food on a white plate, thus telescoping the numerous micro-movements of our everyday lives on to the movement of vast tectonic plates.
In 'Contingent' (2008), exhibited at the Biennale, Neuenschwander fashions a map of the world in honey and then unleashes an army of ants on it. As the ants frantically consume the honey, the continents shift shape and slowly disappear.

This transformation of the map through the chaotic and (to us) completely random feeding choices of clusters of ants is captured in a time-lapse video, in a style reminiscent of natural history presentations. The video becomes the artist’s deconstructed vision of the many accidental movements, both manmade and natural, that have shaped (and continue to shape) the contours of our world.

'Contingent' destabilises the certainty of cartographic constructs and rewinds to an age of voyages and discoveries when maps shifted and changed as ships crisscrossed the seas and disembarked at unknown lands. Simultaneously, it captures the present moment of accelerated globalisation and consumption of resources, characterised by migration and the porous, unstable nature of boundaries and identities.
EARTH PIECE: Listen to the sound of the earth turning (1963/1999) \ Yoko Ono
Japanese multi-media artist, musician and activist Yoko Ono was 19 when she moved to New York with her family as they fled the World War II. A key member of the post-war conceptual art movement in New York, Ono was closely associated with the Dada-inspired avant-garde group Fluxus that was founded in the city in the 1960s. She rose to international fame for her collaborations in both music and anti-war activism with her late husband, the Beatles musician John Lennon.

Ono is also noted for her work as an influential performance artist. One of her early works 'Cut Piece', performed in 1964, is often cited as one of the first instances of feminist performance art in the world. In this, Ono asked members of the audience to cut and take away pieces of her clothes as she knelt motionless on a stage.

Noted conceptual artworks by Ono include a series of works titled 'Instruction Pieces' made up of paintings, musical compositions and even theatre that is meant to be created in the minds of the viewer using only a set of instructions that the artist lays down.

'EARTH PIECE: Listen to the sound of the earth turning' (1963/1999) is one of Ono’s instruction pieces and was first published in 1964 in Grapefruit — an artist’s book of instruction pieces — and later released as a limited edition of signed post cards. Ono’s exhibit at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale consists of reproductions of this legendary postcard that visitors are free to take away.
Punarapi Jananam Punarapi Maranam \ N S Harsha
In his exquisitely detailed paintings and installations, N S Harsha revels in panoramic views of the world. Livened by the empathy and wit with which they are rendered, his canvases often depict what the artist likes to call "bird’s-eye views" — of people, places and ways of living and laboring — and form tiny universes unto themselves.

They often bring together a multitude of human figures who eat, sleep, marry and fidget about in a series of paintings, whether on canvas or sprawled on floors or walls. Among them are: We Come, We Eat and We Sleep (1999-2000), Mass Marriage (2003) and Cosmic Orphans (2006, site-specific painting at Sri Krishna Temple, Singapore Biennale).

'Punarapi Jananam Punarapi Maranam' (Again Birth, Again Death) (2013) is a panoramic view of the universe presented as an infinite loop. It takes its title from a Sanskrit hymn on the endless cycle of birth and death and shows a swirling galaxy of stars dotted with images of the planets of the solar system, all caught in a never-ending procession through space and time.
According to the artist, this 79-feet abstract painting began as a large doodle of the universe capturing its deep voids. The enormity of the painting necessitates a walk along its length that reveals from multiple perspectives the luminosity and complexity of an unfathomable universe.

Acrylic on canvas, tarpaulin \ Approx 12 x 80 ft

Galle Fort; Fort Kochi \ Muhanned Cader
In Muhanned Cader’s works, landscapes are freed from the rectangular frames within which they are usually imprisoned. As he explains, like cartography, the rigid framing associated with the western art genre we know as landscape painting is ideologically linked to colonial era efforts to order and conquer distant lands and people.

In Cader’s works, landscapes take a myriad of alternative shapes, often forming slivers of sea and sky that simultaneously penetrate and float over the surfaces on which they are painted.

Inspiration for this comes from a range of sources: From the shape of found objects to what he imagines was the first frame through which man perceived the world – the mouth of a cave. In the installation 'Galle Fort; Fort Kochi' (2014), Cader once again breaks the conventional rectangular frame, a process he describes as an allegory for the rejection of fixed notions of identity.

Made with graphite on wood, these works employ a range of images and shapes that the artist encountered on the coast of Kochi.

According to Cader, turbulent ocean surfaces being indistinguishably similar, the Arabian Sea he saw in Kochi merged in his mind with familiar seascapes such as that of the historic Galle Fort area in Sri Lanka where his family hails from. Inspired by this ambivalence, Cader in these landscapes frees identity from notions of fixity linked to land. Instead, he envisions a fluid, ever-changing merger of land, identity and history.
Recently, the non-flat-earth paradigm \ Christian Waldvogel
Swiss conceptual artist Christian Waldvogel’s works look at humanity from a distance, seeking to create an awareness about the wider context of our existence as beings inhabiting a sphere orbiting one of the countless stars in the universe. Often grounded in intricate scientific calculations, Waldvogel’s multi-media installations are humorous and contemplative.

Recently, the non-flat-earth paradigm was rediscovered by the artist who found that for a person in Kochi, India’s northernmost point lies 125 kilometers underneath the horizon, a fall that is equal to 15 times the height of India’s tallest mountain.

The site-specific installation, 'Recently, the non-flat-earth paradigm' (2014), is a sculptural representation of this ‘rediscovery’. It depicts the part on the Earth’s curved surface delineated by India’s political border as seen by a beholder situated in Kochi. The curved atmosphere is shown here as an abstract but realistic layer of clouds.

According to the artist, in a broader sense, the work deals with the persisting notional difference between the universally accepted knowledge about the spherical shape of the planet we inhabit and our everyday experience of it as a flat surface.

“It questions the relation between knowledge and experience, or passive and active vocabulary, and so challenges the adequacy of our intuition,” Waldvogel says.

Descension \ Anish Kapoor
Anish Kapoor’s sculptures confuse the boundary between the space of the object and the space of the viewer. His early pigment works titled '1000 Names' (1979-80), seem to emerge half formed from the floors and walls of the gallery. From interventions in architecture to the construction of works that fill, distort or disrupt the space they inhabit, Kapoor began to think of emptiness as the concrete state of objects. He has explored this language of emptiness, of form and formlessness, throughout his work in the last 40 years. Kapoor’s objects sit uneasily and have unstable boundaries; between interior and exterior, between object and non-object.

'Descension' (2014), a water-vortex Kapoor is exhibiting at the Biennale, follows from a language of form that the artist first began to explore in the work 'Descent into Limbo', exhibited at documenta IX 1992 — a cuboid building that contained a circular void in the floor descending into complete darkness.

'Descension' destabilises our experience of the solidity of the ground we stand on. It builds on Kapoor’s concern with non-objects and with auto-generated form. In its state of flux and motion, 'Descension' confronts us with a perpetual force and a downward pull into an unknowable interior.
Fear \ Sissel Tolaas
Sissel Tolaas is a Berlin-based artist and researcher who works with smell and its potential to communicate. Tolaas uses Headspace Technology — used by perfume makers to analyse and reproduce smells — to create scents that are deployed in a variety of projects.
'Fear' (2014), her installation at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014, is an extension of a 2005 project titled 'Sweat Fear/Fear Sweat' for which Tolaas created a database of sweat smells produced by 20 men around the world who suffer from a phobia of bodies. The sweat was collected using devices which absorbed the perspiration produced by the participants as they experienced fear attacks. The smell profile of the sweat molecules thus collected were then analysed and chemically recreated by Tolaas in her Berlin laboratory. Micro-encapsulated combinations of these smells are part of Tolaas’s installation at the Biennale for which she painted them onto the surfaces of stones collected from Kochi, many of them ballast stones that are relics of Kochi’s maritime past.

Ballast stones are used as weight to balance cargo vessels and are discarded once a ship is filled with cargo at a port. Stones thus discarded by vessels that docked in Kochi centuries ago can still be found scattered around its waters.

Tolaas’s installation functions as a distilled smellscape. The stones, when touched by visitors, release the microencapsulated scents they contain, evoking undercurrents of fear and violence and the tales of many labouring bodies that have left their imprints on this coast.

Maurits Script \ Wendelien van Oldenborgh
Wendelien van Oldenborgh uses the process of shooting a film as a trope in her works to orchestrate confrontation and dialogue between people and viewpoints from disparate points in history.

'Maurits Script' (2006) is a double-channel installation that connects a little-known moment in Netherland’s colonial past to its present political landscape. The film dwells on a hybrid group of people, nearly all of them migrants to Netherlands with connections to erstwhile Dutch colonies, as they read out a script assembled from accounts of a brief period from 1637 to 1653 when the Dutch West Indies Company colonised North-East Brazil. Incidentally, this was also the time when the Dutch East India Company was making gains on the Malabar Coast, culminating in the conquest of Kochi in 1663.

Oldenborgh films the participants within the Mauritshuis in The Hague, a building originally built by Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, the governor of Dutch Brazil. By placing a mottled group of migrants dissecting a grey area of Dutch history within the Mauritshuis, now museum and a monument to Dutch national history and pride, Oldenbourgh performs a critical intervention on the building’s triumphal architecture and what it represents.

Seated in a hall of the Mauritshuis, the ‘actors’ read personal accounts by Maurits and others. As one person reads, the remaining members engage in a free discussion of the contents of the script, including references to the cultural complexity of Brazil, Dutch attitudes towards the indigenous people and Maurits’ complicity in slave trade. Before long, these discussions lead to debates on migration, ‘integration’ and racism in modern Netherlands – subtly illuminating ways in which the legacy of colonialism continues to animate our present.
Independence Disillusionment \ Kader Attia
In works that draw from his interest in a wide range of disciplines such as history, anthropology and philosophy, French-Algerian artist Kader Attia explores hybrid terrains such as those that lie between western and non-western modes and between what we call tradition and aspire to as modernity. In recent years, his research has focused on the idea of repair as a fundamental principle in human development: A concept, he argues, has been conceived differently in western and non-western societies.
Attia’s exhibit at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 is 'Independence Disillusionment' (2014), an installation that explores the complex legacy of colonialism in the Middle-East and Africa. It is made up of a series of 26 paintings that depict stamps from different African and Middle-East nations.

Released soon after these nations achieved independence, the stamps carry images — of space shuttles, moon landings, heroic scientists — that reflect the utopian dreams of these countries as they lunged towards the promise of modernity.

To newly independent countries, man’s explorations of space, a new frontier, represented the ultimate expression of modernity and the possibilities of freedom.

Read alongside the state of conflict and human suffering that we identify with several of these regions in the present, Attia’s paintings become an indictment of the failure of modernity. The utopian visions they carry only serve to mark absences. They capture the disillusionment that followed independence in countries where it brought little respite and newer forms of oppression and hegemony.

Oil on canvas; 26 elements \ Approx 15.7 x 11.81 in (each)

I have only one language; it is not mine \ Mithu Sen
Mithu Sen, in her multi-media installation 'I have only one language; it is not mine' (2014), engages with the idea of “radical hospitality”, exploring in the process the limitations of language and the possibility of dialogue outside it. For the project, Sen spent several days at a home for minor female orphans and victims of sexual and emotional abuse in Kerala, interacting with children as the alter-identity ‘Mago’ – a seemingly homeless person who speaks in gibberish, does not understand the concept of time and is in a state of transit between two unknown places.

During this unscripted performance, Sen sought to surrender her body to this group of children who became her host. According to the artist, she placed herself in the situation as if she and the children themselves were all fictional, seeking to make herself the subject as much as the inmates of the home. According to Sen, the interaction was an attempt to understand the complexity of the construction of domesticity, family and relationships.

The performance was documented on video by the artist, a house mother at the home and the children, who intermittently took the camera into their own hands. The manner of documentation evolved in the course of the project, Sen said. A video and sound installation assembled from this footage, along with “remnants” of the performance and other related elements, form her exhibit.

Reflecting on the work, Sen writes: “I believe language imposes a strange and alien logic that tells us not to smell poetry, hear shadows or taste lights. Escaping this rigid framework, this project seeks not only to locate communication outside the narrow alleys of comprehension, but also tries to envisage dialogue in a way that cannot be read, heard or understood.”
Vara/Thira \ K M Vasudevan Namboodiri
Affectionately referred to as ‘Artist Namboodiri’, K M Vasudevan Namboodiri is a legendary illustrator, artist and sculptor whose influence on Kerala’s popular visual culture is unmatched. It is Namboodiri’s illustrations that form a visual parallel in the ‘Malayali’ imagination to the worlds depicted in major works by writers such as M T Vasudevan Nair or V K N that have shaped the state’s literary landscape.

Namboodiri is best known for his dreamy, sinuous female figures, popularly known as ‘Namboodiri’s women’. The artist has also made forays into cinema: In 1974, he received the Kerala State Film Award for ‘Best Art Director’ for the film Uttarayanam (Directed by G Aravindan).

In 'Vara/Thira' (2014), created for the Biennale, Namboodiri offers fleeting glimpses of Kochi through a series of drawings that unfold like a mindscape of the city where the past and present collide. Monuments that are relics of the colonial era, along with street scenes, waterways and markets, appear in these drawings.
Also presented are a suite of portraits that signal their subjects’ identity through clothing and hairstyles but retain a degree of ambiguity, allowing viewers to project their imaginations onto them. On viewing these drawings, one perceives the artist’s forceful, calligraphy-like marks consolidating into form before unraveling yet again into an abstract play of lines. Elsewhere, by letting a few drops of water flow over the drawings, Namboodiri returns the dry ink into liquid form, creating small bursts of blue that emerge out of the dark concentration of lines.
Akashathille bindu shunyakasham (A Dot in the Sky is a Void Space) \ Sachin George Sebastian
Sachin George Sebastian creates intricate, lattice-work-like sculptures by cutting and folding paper. Having grown up in a quiet town in north Kerala, Sebastian, in many works, reflects on his relationship with metropolises such as his adopted city, New Delhi – a chaotic, alienating space that nevertheless holds an allure.
'Akashathille bindu shunyakasham' (A Dot in the Sky is a Void Space) (2014) is a largescale paper installation that is at once sculpture and drawing. It is a reflection on the two interlinked themes that recur in the Biennale – the human history of travel and exploration that has expanded our view of the planet; and the enduring mystery of an expanding universe and our place in it.

As Sebastian suggests in his title, every dot we point to in the sky holds behind it infinite swathes of space that we know little about, voids against which we have built up Earth-bound systems of knowledge.

Olefin sheets, archival ink, light source, shadows \ Dimensions variable

On entering the installation space, the viewers confront a paper wall with a doorway that divides it into a lit ‘day side’ and a darkened ‘night side’.

On the wall are visible thousands of holes through which light filters into the darkened interior, creating a spectacle within that resembles the starlit skies that guided early explorers on their oceanic expeditions.

Seen against the light from inside, the wall reveals watermark-like drawings that reference ancient modes of mapping the Earth and the cosmos. According to Sachin, the viewer’s passage to the unlit interior of the installation marks a journey of discovery that here runs contrary to popular notions of a progression from darkness to light.
Biproduct \ Khalil Rabah
Palestinian artist Khalil Rabah’s absurdist creations are reactions to the harshness and tragic absurdity of everyday life in the phantom state of Palestine, where a fragmented community has for decades lived in a continued state of siege. Through elaborate fictional scenarios that he creates, Rabah seeks to produce parallel narratives for a people and a nation whose history has been consumed by the ceaseless conflict with Israel.
His projects include 'United States of Palestine Airlines' — a fictional airline that points to travel restrictions that restrict Palestinians from accessing the rest of the world except via Jordan and Egypt — and 'The Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind' (2003–ongoing), a portable institution that is presented to audiences through an enthusiastic monthly newsletter detailing its various activities aimed at documenting Palestinian flora, fauna and other artifacts.

'Biproduct' (2010) is a multimedia project by Rabah, a part of which is presented at the Biennale. The print on display shows an aircraft carrier in the shape of Gaza strip that Rabah conceptualised. On the deck of the ship are farms producing tomatoes and strawberries to be made into strawberry jam and tomato paste by a factory on the ship.

If the image of the aircraft carrier reminds one of frequent US interventions and posturing in the Middle East, the hyper mobility of this farm-factory stands in stark contrast to Gaza strip where restrictions imposed by Israel curtail the export of agricultural produce, including strawberries and cherry tomatoes, to markets outside the strip.

Photograph \ 60 x 90 in

Mary Wants to Read a Book \ Navjot Altaf
Navjot Altaf is known for her sustained engagement with interactive and collaborative art practices. Since 1997, she has been working with indigenous artists and community members of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, Central India on Nalpar (hand pump sites) and Pilla Gudi / Temples for children projects that seek to situate artistic production within the fabric of community life. An early encounter with Marxism leading to her interest in feminism has been instrumental in shaping Altaf’s sensibilities as an artist.
'Mary Wants to Read a Book' (2014) is a built-up space in the form of a library containing more than 2,000 books made from recycled paper, each with a text drawn from Altaf’s research. The installation recognises the significance of Kerala’s literacy movement and library culture – widely considered as key ingredients in the success of the ‘Kerala Model of Development’– marked by high social indicators and political participation despite comparatively low levels of industrialisation and per capita income.

It is also the three-dimensional model of a recent scientific chart that documents 2000 years of continental temperature change, including its alarming rise in the recent decades. According to Altaf, the work is thus to be viewed from an ecological perspective, and is a critique of growing hyper production and consumption which has led to our civilisation’s estrangement from ‘life-world experiences’, resulting in a climatic catastrophe.

By cross-referencing the chronicle of an impending ecological disaster with an idealised version of social progress within the largely unindustrialised state of Kerala, the artist here suggests an alternative, less ecologically punishing mode of development.

The books can be taken away by viewers in the last two weeks of the biennale.


Wood, paper, audio and video \ 286 x 96 x 96 x 22 in

Realm of Reverberations \ Chen Chieh-jen
Taiwanese artist Chen Chieh-jen works primarily with video installations, consistently creating works in collaboration with people from the margins of society. His films function as archives of disenfranchised lives and memories, resisting the collective amnesia of societies founded on neo-liberal economic systems.

Chen’s 'Realm of Reverberations' (2014) tells the story of several lives entwined with the fate of a sanatorium for Hansen’s disease (leprosy) patients in Xinzhuang district in Taiwan, which was partially demolished under government plans to ‘develop’ the land.

'Realm of Reverberations' comprises four films, each made from the perspective of different individuals affected by the sanatorium’s demolition. These include a young woman who accompanies sanatorium residents (Keeping Company), old residents (Tree Planters), a nurse from mainland China (The Suspended Room) and a fictional political prisoner (Tracing Forward).
Established in 1930 by the Japanese colonial government to isolate leprosy patients from the mainstream through methods including forced sterilisation, the facility’s strict quarantine regulations were relaxed only in 1961. In 1994, the Taipei Department of Rapid Transit Systems (DORTS) decided to move their depot to the land occupied by the sanatorium, necessitating the relocation of its residents. As a result, the patients who were once forcibly brought to and confined within the facility were put in a position where they had to fight to be allowed to stay in what now constituted their only “home”. According to Chen, despite protests, the patients were removed and the buildings razed in late 2008, leaving less than 30 per cent of the original structures intact.
Presented alongside is 'The Unfathomable Pain', an abstract video made up of slides from a discarded presentation about Hansen’s disease that Chen found at the sanatorium.
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