Aspinwall House B / Bungalow

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.

The Fluidity of HorizonsKochi-Muziris Biennale

The Fluidity of Horizons \ Parvathi Nayar

Parvathi Nayar’s works are hyper-real yet abstract portraits of the world. She often deploys ‘objective’ scientific imagery, such as that derived from microscopes or satellite cameras, to create works that defer interpretation with their plays on perspective and scale. Nayar’s ideas are usually realised as intricate black and white imagery that is hand-drawn on wooden surfaces. According to her, “The starting point of these explorations is the dot, the punctum (the point), whose endless iterations, in a cosmic and painterly sense, give rise to the world of the art work.”

The Fluidity of HorizonsKochi-Muziris Biennale

'The Fluidity of Horizons' (2014) is an interconnected suite of drawings and a sound installation that makes references to the history of the Malabar Coast, shaped as it has been by a long history of travel and trade. One of the drawings is inspired by the form of an astrolabe – a device once used by astronomers and navigators to determine time and the position of the Sun and other celestial bodies. Nayar has mapped onto the body of this navigational instrument several interconnected geographies of our life, from ancient imaginings of the world to the minute pathways inside a cell.

The Fluidity of HorizonsKochi-Muziris Biennale

Also presented is a triptych that carries echoes of a time when the lure of spices led voyagers from across the world to the coast of Kerala.

The attractions the coast held and the contact and confrontation that ensued are captured here by the figure of a giant pepper corn looming over the Arabian Sea, an object simultaneously of danger and intrigue.

The Fluidity of HorizonsKochi-Muziris Biennale

Punctuating this pictorial narrative are other elements; among them a mysterious whorled shell and a drawing plotting the path of subatomic particles. Together, these images lead audiences into contemplative, meditative and curious positions of viewing the world.

The Fluidity of HorizonsKochi-Muziris Biennale

An installation of drawings on wooden panels, sound

Touch by Janine AntoniKochi-Muziris Biennale

Touch \ Janine Antoni

Janine Antoni’s works are marked by her desire to make visible the intimacy of the artistic process and the journey of the self entwined within the material progress of an art work. Sensuous, soft but visceral in their effect, her works transcend the distinctions between conceptual art, sculpture and performance art.

'Touch' (2002) explores the idea of a horizon and what it represents to the human being. The horizon — an imaginary line where sky meets the earth — is a line pregnant with possibilities but impossible to touch: an illusion which moves away as you move close. In 'Touch', the artist is filmed as she walks a tightrope positioned against a seascape opposite her childhood home in the Bahamas, a group of Caribbean islands where Christopher Columbus alighted in 1492 at the end of his own journey towards an unknown horizon, having set out on a miscalculated quest to find a short sea route to the riches of Asia.

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.

Standard Time by Mark FormanekKochi-Muziris Biennale

Standard Time \ Mark Formanek

Mark Formanek’s 'Standard Time' (2007) is a 24-hour performance video that shows a group of labourers racing against time to manually create a ‘digital’ time display. The performance designed by Formanek and realised by Datenstrudel involved 70 workers who, over 24 hours, continuously reassembled a wooden scaffolding to keep up with a digital time display, making 1,611 changes in the process. The performance was captured in a looped video that, when adjusted to the local time in Kochi, works like a digital clock.

As the workers in the video struggle to keep up with time with less than a minute to complete each change, the audience is forced to share their anxiety. What at first might seem like the recording of a futile exercise soon begins to embody the tyrannous grasp time has on our lives. Formanek points to time as we experience it, domesticated within the confines of a clock. Here, in a dramatic reversal, it is the timekeepers who are imprisoned within its endless march.

Embedded in the performance is a subtle comment on labour, an entity largely rendered invisible and disposable in the age of sweatshops and financial markets. In 'Standard Time', labour is made immensely visible in the form of a troop of quasi-mythical workers keeping time on behalf of us all.

Travellers Tales – BlueprintsKochi-Muziris Biennale

Travellers Tales – Blueprints \ Lavanya Mani

Lavanya Mani works predominantly with textiles and the various ‘traditions’ and techniques associated with textile painting, printing and embroidery in India. She is interested in correspondences between the worlds of textiles and text — manifest in expressions such as ‘to spin a yarn’, ‘to weave a tale’ or ‘to fabricate’ — and their link to the construction of history, especially orientalist narratives about the East.

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.

Inserted into the paintings are the texts of letters written by travellers to India that attempt to decode ‘Kalamkari’ and other techniques in order to replicate them back in Europe.

Travellers Tales – BlueprintsKochi-Muziris Biennale

Also used in these works is cyanotype, an early photographic medium which, when applied on cloth and exposed to light, produces blue colour, evocative of both the ocean and Indigo – a dye that was a coveted commodity in Indian Ocean trade and later colonial extractions from India.

Travellers Tales – BlueprintsKochi-Muziris Biennale

Natural dye, cyanotype and pigment paint on cotton fabric

Metal GravesKochi-Muziris Biennale

Metal Graves \ Shumon Ahmed

The series, 'Metal Graves' (2014), is Dhaka-based artist Shumon Ahmed’s ode to a graveyard for ships located in Chittagong, Bangladesh. A natural harbour and once an important stop on ancient maritime networks, the seaport of Chittagong is now home to the second largest ship-breaking yard in the world: A post-apocalyptic landscape to which many of the world’s largest ships, having outlived their use, make a final unceremonious journey to be recycled.

Metal GravesKochi-Muziris Biennale

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.

Metal GravesKochi-Muziris Biennale

Ahmed photographed the ship-breaking yard using small film-based cameras in 2009, having gained access with difficulty into an area where cameras are regarded with grave suspicion.

In the resultant series of prints, he has carefully preserved the processes involved in their production, juxtaposing in rows successive photographs in the same order as they were captured on the roll and leaving intact on individual frames the scratches and other damage sustained by the film.

Time Travel by Tara KeltonKochi-Muziris Biennale

Time Travel \ Tara Kelton

Tara Kelton’s works deal with altered perceptions of the world in an age dominated by the virtual, where glossy screens act as our portals into realms where geographical distances lose meaning.

Building a Home; Exploring the WorldKochi-Muziris Biennale

Building a Home; Exploring the World \ Sudhir Patwardhan

Sudhir Patwardhan is one of India’s foremost artists. His exhibit at the Biennale is composed of the triptych 'Building a Home; Exploring the World' (2014) and a set of lithographs titled 'Encounters in Time' (2014) that together explore twin human impulses towards migration and settlement.

Migration by will and under duress is central to the story of civilisation, from the emergence of the first band of humans out of Africa to the species’ gradual conquest of the Earth and beyond.

Building a Home; Exploring the WorldKochi-Muziris Biennale

The first panel in the triptych refers to this history while the third depicts a not–so-distant future and man’s conquest of other planets.

Building a Home; Exploring the WorldKochi-Muziris Biennale

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.

Overlaid on the triptych are quotes from sources ranging from the Bible to the science fiction novels of Stanislaw Lem.

Building a Home; Exploring the WorldKochi-Muziris Biennale

Triptych \ Acrylic on canvas \ 66 x 180 in

Building a Home; Exploring the WorldKochi-Muziris Biennale

The lithographs depict faces that peer at a viewer from indeterminate points in time. If 'Building a Home; Exploring the World' depicts journeys in space, these ambiguous portraits signify encounters from an imagined journey through time.

Light Bulb to Simulate Moonlight, Earth-Moon-Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon) and Ideas (A place that extists only in moonlight) by Katie PatersonKochi-Muziris Biennale

Light Bulb to Simulate Moonlight \ Katie Paterson

Scottish artist Katie Peterson’s works are steeped in poetry, play and mysticism. She is fascinated by nature and natural sciences, especially astronomy, and often translates laboriously accumulated scientific knowledge into works of subtle humour that act as wormholes where the cosmic meets the everyday banal.

Also displayed is a work from a series by Paterson called 'Ideas', composed of short haiku-like sentences that, according to the artist, turn “some of her unrealisable ideas into impossible statements of intent”.

Paradise of Paradox, Wave IIKochi-Muziris Biennale

Wave II, Paradise of Paradox \ Iqra Tanveer

In her highly abstract installations, Iqra Tanveer deploys the basic materials of the world of our perception —water, light, air— to complicate the relationship between human perception and reality. These are often magically rearranged to reveal the many unknown, un-felt galaxies that spiral and engulf us. In installations such as 'Wave II' (2009) and 'Paradise of Paradox' (2011) she cleaves open the gallery space, creating an experiential environment where viewers can perceive the mystery and complexity of the world.

Paradise of Paradox, Wave IIKochi-Muziris Biennale

In Wave II, Tanveer powerfully captures that which can not be contained– the ocean, a formidable presence in the life of an artist who grew up in a port town.

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.

Paradise of Paradox, Wave IIKochi-Muziris Biennale

In 'Paradise of Paradox', the artist makes the air her canvas, retrieving from the highly mundane an imagination of the infinite. In this contemplative installation, the empty yet symbolically powerful liminal space of a doorway is lit by a beam of light, dramatically revealing galaxies made of swirling dust particles.

La Perle Noire II: Aspinwall House,Kochi-Muziris Biennale

La Perle Noire II: Aspinwall House \ Nikhil Chopra

Artist Nikhil Chopra’s works are live, improvised acts of fantasy and masquerade in which autobiographical details and everyday gestures are put into dialogue with collective memories and experiences embedded in the sites where a performance unfolds. As Chopra takes on one or more fictional personas, generating panoramas of charcoal drawings and paintings in the process, identities are rendered fluid and history is rearranged.

La Perle Noire II: Aspinwall House,Kochi-Muziris Biennale

Alongside themes such as the role of autobiography, the pose and self-portraiture, one of the issues Chopra’s performances dwell on is India’s colonial history and the complexity of identities that emerge from it.

La Perle Noire II: Aspinwall House,Kochi-Muziris Biennale

His performance 'La Perle Noire II: Aspinwall House', is a 50-hour-long live act based on an ambiguous colonial character named La Perle Noire (or the Black Pearl). Chopra will inhabit a cell within the Aspinwall House during the course of the performance. According to the artist, the Black Pearl is both ruler and subject; monster and angel. He is armoured, yet defeated and is also a metaphor for that ubiquitous spice, pepper, which has drawn traders to the Malabar Coast since antiquity.

La Perle Noire II: Aspinwall House,Kochi-Muziris Biennale

Dressed in European clothing reminiscent of Portuguese explorers from the Age of Discovery, the Black Pearl observes the Periyar River and draws what he sees on the walls of his cell.

La Perle Noire II: Aspinwall House,Kochi-Muziris Biennale

The drawings create on the walls the illusion of land and water. Soon, the prison is turned inside out.

The walls seem to disappear into the drawings, giving the Black Pearl a chance to escape his prison.

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