I went to see the only Biennale in India yeserday, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. I’m writing this now while my memory is still fresh and my neurons are still reeling from whatever hit them. I had gone in 2012 for the same event, which was the first ever one of its kind in India. That had been more pleasing than this although I’m not sure whether that’s because we were a little exhausted from the journey yesterday to begin with. The only questions that still baffles me are: What qualifies as art? And who defines it?
Some of the exhibits were amazing. You could see the sweat, blood and tears, the sheer passion, perseverance and deliberate thought that went into making them. But those existed as only a handful. Most, frankly, were disappointing. Or maybe that’s just me. But here are a few of those that upon observation, did nothing to impress me and upon reading the description, left me more in love with whoever wrote it than the artist himself.
A giant sphere, about 3m in diameter, made of concrete and housed in a room. It tapered to a smaller area on the other side of the entrance to the room, so it looked like a giant concrete egg. The description was beautifully worded. I understood none of it, at least not in relation to the ‘sculpture’ I was staring at. The workers we hire have built several concrete structures for us. I’m sure they’d be done with a giant egg in no time. Give them a guy who’s good with words to craft an artsy essay about the egg and they’d be living as rich a life as the artist behind this. But then again, who appreciates those who make things that we can put to practical use anyway? Builders are not artists, right?
An enormous flat slab of rock placed in a hole. That was the underside of a crater. The artist wanted to show what the underside of a crater looks like. Because..someone cares?
A ‘light box’ experiment. This won the prize for most creepy artwork ever, if you can call it that. Life-size pictures of dead bodies in various garb, before they began decomposing, illuminated in light boxes, hung on the walls. At least this one made me think; what in the world made the artist want to hang pictures of dead blokes? But what a genius. A 5-second crazy thought process leading to a disturbing idea, a few days of work and to label it art, well, it sells. He’s probably laughing it off at some beach in Mauritius with his buddies who are more alive than his subjects.
Some nude (very badly drawn) doodles. For some inexplicable reason, the art and wannabe-artsy community have always prized nudity. Ugly dicks and saggy breasts. In that case, a nude picture of my grandparents should suffice as ‘expressionism’, should it not?
Random shapes on paper made with newspaper cutouts and framed. As an ensemble, it exuded an air of antiquity. Upon closer inspection, each one looked like the work of a second grader. Another mastermind at work here. Give your girlfriend’s elementary class kids an art and craft project, a lot of glue and cheap newspapers to set their minds and little fingers loose on, and voila, you have art handed to you. Age them with coffee stains and lacquer, frame them, hang them all on a wall and make your writer-friend come up with a long, snotty description that leaves people feeling like it’s their fault for not understanding how this is a masterpiece.
A few dusty tiles on a concrete floor with some corners of the tiles painted in white or blue. It was meant to be a play on light. A white screen with a lamp shining on it. Because observing how light falls in the comfort of your house on your furniture and clean tiles is not artistic enough, obviously.
Another light experiment. This time, dozens of glass light bulbs hung in a room with a black background. At least put in some effort for crying out loud!
There were lots more in the same wavelength but I’ve named the ones that really put me off. It was, as are most modern art exhibitions, a collection of the works of eccentric and eternally high folk who, for lack of a better term and because they do not behave like madmen in social settings, society decided to label as ‘artists’. For all I know, we’re all artists in our own right. I remember reading a news article about a 4 year old somewhere in America who threw paint at a canvas and it earned her millions from an art collector.That, when there are millions of children who could actually paint much better than her, starving in various corners of the world. It left me indignant for a long time but I guess that’s when it started dawning on me that the world’s full of crazy people. And it’s they who define what ‘art’ means and it’s a definition that I disagree with.
I’ll leave you with a picture of the light bulbs. All the works I mentioned look substantially better when seen through a camera held at a specific angle and with an attempt at good photoshopping thrown in.