Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life
The recently concluded Kochi-Muziris Biennale, in its fourth edition, went against the grain of religion, nationalism and a celebratory globalism linked to neo-liberal thinking
“I remember Guy Debord’s warnings of a world mediated primarily through images — a society of the spectacle — as I write this note. That such a society is fascism’s main ally, we are all discovering in different parts of the world today.
Virtual hyper-connectivity has paradoxically alienated us from the warm solidarities of community; that place of embrace where we can enjoy our intelligence and beauty with others, where we can love; a place where we don’t need the ‘other’ as an enemy to feel connected.
At the heart of my curatorial adventure lies a desire for liberation and comradeship (away from the master and slave model) where the possibilities for a non-alienated life could spill into a ‘politics of friendship.’ Where pleasure and pedagogy could sit together and share a drink, and where we could dance and sing and celebrate a dream together. Yet, how can one perform a biennale in a location where the biennale itself has become the sole pedagogic window into the art of the world? In a context that is so particular, as Kerala is, what could be a model, that would allow for selfdetermination for the audience?
‘Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life’ is therefore conceived in two parts: The exhibition, constructed as a symphony of ideas — synchronous as well as diachronous, with affect and matter of factness — as well as a discursive, performative, architectural space called the Pavillion where everyone potentially can be a curator. The Pavillion can be a space where there would be no hierarchies of who could speak and what could be said and in which language; the joy of listening, speaking — agreeing and disagreeing — and working through differences, contradictions and confusions together with visitors; a perfect site for pleasure and pedagogy. The ethics of ceding authority as a curator in this space can result in the eros of sharing.
Imagine those pushed to the margins of dominant narratives speaking: not as victims, but as futurisms’ cunning and sentient sentinels. And before speaking, listening to the stone and the flowers; to older women and wise men; to the queer community; to critical voices in the mainstream; to the whispers and warnings of nature.
If we desire a better life on this earth — our unique and beautiful planet — we must in all humility start to reject an existence in the service of capital. PossibilitiesforaNon-AlienatedLife asks and searches for questions in the hope of dialogue.”
— Anita Dube, curator, Kochi-Muziris Biennale (December 2018)
KaiwanMehtainterviews AnitaDube, curatorofthefourtheditionoftheKochiMuzirisBiennale
Kaiwan Mehta (KM): There is an interesting sense of time-past brought into the time-present — political and ideological preoccupations over many different timespans coming together in this Biennale to address the contingencies of the very present. Could you please respond to this reading of the Biennale?
Anita Dube (AD): Indeed, in a classical Benjaminian sense, the debt we owe the past cannot be settled easily. I was struck by the fact that 600,000 people (not those who go to Documenta, Venice, Sharjah and Gwangju) visited the third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. I wanted to connect with this curious audience and hopefully win them over with curatorial choices that wove my interest in fragility, resistance and community. Voices from the margins reaching for the stars; and nebulous propositions towards a futurism via Tagore among other things. All this against the grain of religion, nationalism and a celebratory globalism linked to neo-liberal thinking.
KM: In the choreography and selection of artists and their works, as much as in the programming, you have indeed pursued this idea of ‘pedagogy and pleasure’ — a sense of visual as well as bodily engagement with discourse. Can you comment on this? Many of the artworks do ask for a visualbodily engagement...
AD: A sense of freedom as opposed to being didactic was crucial to the way I wanted to perform this edition of the Biennale. And one can’t have a better ally than the principle of pleasure towards this end. If artists, intellectuals and citizens surrender the pleasure principle to Fascism, violence and pornography, we will all be very impoverished. Somehow, at this moment in time, it seemed like a duty to demonstrate via the Biennale that a non-alienated life full of mindfulness, beauty and warmth is possible.
The Pavilion at Cabral Yard as a space for conversation was therefore conceived to balance the top-down nature of the exhibition model. An open space for comment, performance and critique, it allowed for a continuous stream of pop-up programming. Other projects involving food and music expanded the discourse around social practice, adding much needed moments of relief from conventional exhibition models.
KM: Many locations and biographies of artists and artworks come together in this Biennale — a community of intentions across time. What were the struggles as a curator in shaping this, both in terms of intentions and installations?
AD: It was a real challenge, structuring such a massive exhibition of the projects of 94 artists. This was worked out through clusters of artists constituting fragments. Each fragment teased out some ideas within the whole — responding to the architecture of the site, to the conceptual and material dialogue between the works — to set up rhythmic flows and ruptures.
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Painting leaves the sensuality of the brush behind to work with computing technology. The search for scale and mass production works against the ‘aura’ that drives value and the market — casting the artist adrift.