Now Performance Art Warms Up To Biennale
Kochi Biennale (KMB) has taken on yet another avatar, this time it's worth every breath | By Yentha
On Mar 16, 2015

Kochi: For 52 uninterrupted hours, artist Nikhil Chopra spent in the prison-like cell at Aspinwall House, the major site of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB), making ‘performance’ the mainstay of his installation.

The artist locked himself inside, stripped down to his undergarment, smeared his face with black paint, drew drawings on the wall, ate and slept.

The marathon performance ended with the protagonist’s escape from his cell, leaving wall drawings and theatrical props as traces of existence. For its sheer length, it was a novel experience for the exhibition visitors in Kerala.

Mithu Sen spent nearly a month at a Kochi orphanage to experience the travails of sexually exploited minor girls — a performance-driven artwork at Aspinwall House. The performance was documented on a home video camera by the artist herself and the children, who intermittently took the camera from her.

Gigi Scaria's 'Chronicles of the Shore Foretold' has also a performance aspect to it. He installed a giant-size metal bell at the Pepper House site by the Mapilla Khalasis, known for their dock-work techniques. The artist called the very act of installing the 2.5-tonne, 13 feet tall bell a performance, conveying a message of their labour through his work.

“My favourite audiences are those who are unaware of gallery art and come to it with curiosity and no preconceived notions,” said Chopra, an alumnus of Vadodara’s M S University who had earlier featured in the Venice Biennial 2009. “I want to be able to talk to women, children and touch everyone. I want it to be a democratic experience.”

Scaria agrees. “My work has used performance to suggest the importance of labour; it put into perspective the historic and maritime aspects of the exhibition,” he says.

“Performance art is very different from theatrical performance in the manner in which it is conceived and perceived. The performance element is not too dramatic and it does not have a script; it is a gesture to a situation and the artist and the viewer get charged from performing and witnessing it,” he notes.

Elaborating, he says Nikhil Chopra's drawing on the wall is not something that can be framed or exhibited in another art space. So, the act of making his work changes the way of looking at art.

At the ongoing KMB, performances come in both overtly and subtly. Singaporean Ho Rui An's video installation, ‘Sun, Sweat, Solar Queens: An Expedition’, is all about his performance. It documents his ‘performative lecture’ done in front of the Aspinwall House pavilion in which he discusses the notion of a ‘world of global displacement’ as against globalisation.

Likewise, Dutch artist Wendelien van Oldenborgh’s video installation — encapsulating debates on migration, racism and integration in modern Netherlands — is a work that he did with actors.

Performance has always been an important aspect of the works of Yoko Ono, Janine Antoni and Mona Hatoum, who use their body to convey their feminist ideals. Important institutions such as the Guggenheim and the Whitney in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Garage Center for Contemporary Art in Moscow, have mounted major performance art exhibitions for a couple of decades now.

For Pushpamala's installation, 'The Arrival of Vasco da Gama', she says, “Fourteen of us had to pose in the exact recreation of an 1898 painting by Jose Veloso Salgado. It was for the first time that I was playing a male role. The subjective and objective interpretations become very interesting in the final work.”

It seems art has taken performance to a different level. Or is it vice versa? The lines are blurring and no one is complaining.
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