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.
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.
'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
'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.
'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.
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.
'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
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.