Compared to the last two editions of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, this one had fallen squarely in the midst of Modi’s demonetisation blunder, which obviously complicated the sourcing of intoxicating substances, thanks to the ensuing cash crunch. Kerala’s alcoholic regulations compelled all bars to stop serving liquor — confined to beer and wine — by 10 pm, thereby imposing a limit on the amount of time that we had, in the past, spent socialising.
On the morning of 14 December, my last day at the Biennale, I had to borrow Rs 300 from a friend so I could make multiple trips between venues in an “Arto” rickshaw, official vehicular mediums that took visitors around for between Rs 20 and 30. After watching Joan Jonas’ performance lecture by the Chinese Fishing Nets by the beach, the unofficial plan among visiting artists was to reconvene at Seagull Hotel for an informal belated celebration of Pushpamala’s 60th birthday. I shared a table with Amar Kanwar, Pooja Sood, Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam. When the waiter verified that the hotel wouldn’t be accepting cards, I realised I was at their mercy. Needless to say, I was well fed and was privileged enough to additionally feast on a scintillating buffet of conversation.
Something truly incredible comes to pass when artists hang out with each other; a kind of subtle shift in cosmic energy that is greater than the sum vibrations of meditating monks or rotating prayer wheels. Anger gets subversively distilled into hope; disillusionment into an infectious strain of utopian zeal; banality into a profound, fecund reappraisal of the human condition. For art allows us to do precisely that: transcend the boundaries of reality, a proposition that was made abundantly relevant through Sudarshan Shetty’s curatorial strategy in assembling the third edition of the Biennale. Shetty achieved what the previous editions weren’t able to, he expanded the conceptual horizons of the event. In ushering a move away from the lure of Fort Kochi’s enormous history, he was able to liberate the biennale from the trap of site specificity it was threatening to get mired in. Titled Forming in the pupil of an eye, the edition which opened on 12 December 2016, and which will be on view for at least 108 days, takes the viewer on an invigorating and nuanced poetic journey through the infinite possibilities of the artistic imagination; a word that that has acquired an unpopular reputation in an age that has come to prefer the authenticity of facts and algorithms over alternative fictive possibilities, in a world that increasingly seems like a satirical version of itself.
Dearth of alcohol aside, what marked my experience of the four-day foray across the multiple venues that were to house works by 97 artists from 31 countries, no mean feat, was a previously unfelt but overwhelming sense of FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out, a millennial anagram that doesn’t quite exist in most artists’ immediate vocabulary, but which perfectly encapsulates the challenges of viewing an event of such a magnitude over what will always seem like an immensely brief time span. If before I was ensured of the merits of being present at the opening week, now I am certain that it would have been wiser to have visited later, over the course of the coming two months, for both the luxury of time and the benefit of seeing works in a more heightened state of completion.