It is astonishing the focus that Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 has given to young artists and curators via a special Student’s Biennale, Children’s Biennale, along with including one of the youngest artists in the country who is a mere twenty three years old. The role that this biennale has played in motivating and providing a platform for young artists has been noted by many, so here is a list by Artsome of some of the youngest artists at the biennale.
Born in 1991 in Pezhumpara, India.
Lives and works in Pezhumpara.
Unnikrishnan C, Untitled, 2014, Oil and acrylic paint, carvings on terracotta bricks, Dimensions variable
One of the youngest artists to exhibit at the Biennale and a recent graduate of the Government College of Fine Arts in Thrissur, Kerala, Unnikrishnan was born into a family traditionally engaged in basket weaving in Pezhumpara in rural Kerala. His art draws heavily from his surroundings, especially the imagery he encountered at home. “There was a lot of superstition and fear around when I was growing up. One of my aunts is an oracle. As a child, I was often told terrifying stories about spirits. All of these unconsciously appear in my work,” he says.
While an art student, he started painting the terracotta bricks on the walls of his home, creating one painting a day as if making entries in a visual diary. The first image he painted was that of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, an artist he identifies closely with; drawing from the blend of autobiography and magical realism in her works.
Many of the early images Unnikrishnan painted appear in his untitled installation (2014), a freestanding wall composed of more than 300 bricks. They reveal the artist’s urge to archive objects and ways of living that face extinction in an invisible wave of crises unleashed in rural Kerala by the collapse of traditional economies centred on activities such as weaving; abruptly rendering useless once-valued skills and implements. The installation also presents a chorus of imagery, including relief sculptures, inspired by the artist’s interactions with Kochi during a three month stint in the city leading to the work’s creation. Textual fragments in Malayalam culled from books or overheard on the streets also appear amidst the images.
Born in 1988 in Mumbai, India.
Lives and works in Mumbai.
Sahej Rahal, Harbinger, 2014, Clay, polyurethane, hay, found objects, Dimensions variable
Mumbai-based artist Sahej Rahal’s installations, films and performances are part of an elaborate personal mythology he has created by drawing characters from a range of sources, from local legends to science fiction. By bringing these into dialogue with each other, Rahal creates scenarios where strange and indeterminate beings emerge as if from the cracks of our civilisation, challenging the ways in which we experience time and space. He is best known for public performances he has done in Mumbai, a city of enormous contradictions and collisions which has shaped the playful irreverence with which he approaches art-making.
For Harbinger (2014), Rahal spent months in Kochi, scouring it for objects and ideas that went into the creation of an installation of fantastical creatures, quasi-architectural elements, video and performance. Sprawled over a disused laboratory in Aspinwall House is an anchor, an ancient blade, an array of astronomical devices, monoliths, visors, ceremonial masks and sci-fi automations with twiddling appendages– echoes of unformed futures in unfired clay. The cracked and crumbling structures point both forward and backward, to the very beginnings of civilisation and its aftermath. Detritus from the abandoned sets of films shot in Aspinwall House were repurposed by the artist to create the armatures of his sculptures, giving the cinematic a permeating afterlife in clay. According to Rahal, in Harbinger, “The promise of precision offered by the laboratory space is met with the possibility of a release where fiction and history collide.” In the course of the Biennale, the installation will come alive in a live performance by Rahal.
Born in 1984 in Thrissur, India.
Lives and works in Vadodara, India.
Arun KS, Untitled, 2014, Plywood, paper pulp, rice paper, acrylic and art powder colour, 4 panels, 96 x 192” each
Arun’s paintings look like mottled abstractions from a distance, but on closer look reveal figures or fragments of text and a canvas thick with layers that fade in parts to reveal images underneath. Minuscule caricature-like figures with gaping mouths —a gathering of initiates singing at their first holy communion—crowd the surface of the large panel of Untitled (2014) exhibited at the Biennale. Each face is near-indistinguishable from the rest, as if to suggest the loss of individuality within a religious collective. To Arun, who grew up in an orthodox Christian family in Kerala, depictions of this and other Christian imagery are not an affirmation of religious fervor but an expression of his misgivings about religious indoctrination. “You are marked by it (religion), and even if you reject it, you cannot fully escape it, because it is a continuous living tradition and is bound up with the deepest regions of the self,” he says.
In Arun’s works, religious initiation as a theme points to his recurrent engagement with the idea of time. Through his richly layered painterly pursuits, Arun seems to caution us about time as the duration of waiting; where the present is surrendered for a future moment that never arrives–the religious promise of the afterlife.
Ho Rui An
Born in 1990 in Singapore.
Lives and works in New York, USA and Singapore
Ho Rui An, Sun, Sweat, Solar Queens: An Expedition, 2014, Performative talk and installation
Artist and writer Ho Rui An works at the intersection of contemporary art, cinema, performance and theory. His artistic practice, research and investigations are centred on images and their sites of emergence, transmission and disappearance. Sun Sweat, Solar Queens: An Expedition (2014) is a performative lecture by Ho Rui An that uses the sun and sweat as motifs to talk about the history of colonialism by juxtaposing the historical and timeless. It takes off from an image of a statue of the Dutch anthropologist Charles Le Roux that Ho encountered in Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum.
Le Roux had conducted his field work in the Dutch East Indies in the early twentieth century and the statue depicts him at work under the tropical sun, with the back of his shirt soaked in sweat. It is from this image of colonial sweat that the artist launches into a set of investigations of what he calls the “solar unconscious,” underpinning the colonial project and its attempts at fending off the merciless tropical sun through the figure of the white lady in the tropics who is tasked with recreating within the colonies the protected sphere of the domestic. A seminal figure of globalization according to the artist, this “solar queen” would eventually extend her maternal force the world over, cradling her subjects within an expanded imperial domestic. Spiraling out into the contemporary moment of globalisation and terrestrial meltdown, the talk finally seeks to reclaim the affective capacities of sweat as a way of getting out of ourselves and in touch with the Solar. In the days after Ho’s live performance, the talk is presented to viewers as a video projection display
Sachin George Sebastian
Born in 1985 in Kanhagad, India.
Lives and works in New Delhi, India.
Sachin George Sebastian, Akashathille bindu shunyakasham (A Dot in the Sky is a Void Space), 2014, Olefin sheets, archival ink, light source, shadows, Dimensions variable
Sachin George Sebastian creates intricate, latticework-like sculptures by cutting and folding paper. Having grown up in a quiet town in north Kerala, Sebastian, in many works, reflects on his relationship with metropolises such as his adopted city, New Delhi– a chaotic, alienating space that nevertheless holds an allure.
Akashathille bindu shunyakasham (A Dot in the Sky is a Void Space) (2014) is a largescale paper installation that is at once sculpture and drawing. It is a reflection on the two interlinked themes that recur in the Biennale–the human history of travel and exploration that has expanded our view of the planet; and the enduring mystery of an expanding universe and our place in it. As Sebastian suggests in his title, every dot we point to in the sky holds behind it infinite swathes of space that we know little about, voids against which we have built up Earth-bound systems of knowledge.
On entering the installation space, the viewers confront a paper wall with a doorway that divides it into a lit ‘day side’ and a darkened ‘night side’. On the wall are visible thousands of holes through which light filters into the darkened interior, creating a spectacle within that resembles the starlit skies that guided early explorers on their oceanic expeditions. Seen against the light from inside, the wall reveals watermark-like drawings that reference ancient modes of mapping the Earth and the cosmos. According to Sachin, the viewer’s passage to the unlit interior of the installation marks a journey of discovery that here runs contrary to popular notions of a progression from darkness to light.