‘Kochi Muziris Biennale Cannot Be Replicated Anywhere’

A straight line drawn in pencil connecting Kochi and Yinchuan would explain artist, curator, mentor and speaker Bose Krishnamachari’s path to continuing success. He is the curator of the inaugural edition of the Yinchuan Biennale. The “learning curve” that sprouted in Kochi has speared into a linear ray of brilliance. The bends (and loops) of a journey that started with the first Kochi Muziris Biennale (KMB) have dissolved into the waves that crumble at the doorsteps of the city’s vibrant art venues. They now lead to a circuitous current of Krishnamachari’s imagination that pauses at China’s cultural crossroads. Krishnamachari, the enfant terrible of Indian contemporary art ranked 86 with friend and KMB co-founder Riyas Komu in the list of 100 most influential people in the contemporary art scene compiled by ArtReview last year, sees a gigantic change unfolding before him at The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Yinchuan.

For an Image, Faster Than Light, the first edition of the Biennale throws a calming reflection of the evolving global art narratives at Yellow River’s western bank.  Here, Krishnamachari stirs the different themes into a brave new creative engagement. Social consciousness will be looked in deeper light even as the discourse in the international media shifts restlessly between censorship, conflicts, tradition and freedom. Sharp-edged discourses lead to a strengthened art-dialogue. Krishnamachari is giving them space, voice and eyes. He tells Sumati Mehrishi in an email interview that India has incredible artists, but not much art patronage and not enough museums for contemporary art.


Congratulations on being invited to curate the inaugural biennale at China’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). How did it happen?

Destiny! I was invited to speak at the Annual Conference of Contemporary International Museum Directors at the Mori Museum in Tokyo, in November 2015. After listening to my talk and presentation on Kochi-Muziris Biennale at Mori, Artistic Director of MOCA Yinchuan, Ms XieSuchen invited me to visit Yinchuan. That was an unassuming step on to pedestals with blooms and invisible thorns! It was easy to dream about a new vision but to make a new biennale is almost a Herculean task.

Curating is a response to time and space. Tell us about your response to MOCA as a building, a milestone and a destination for art.

Everything can turn into a creative celebration once you are totally passionate and engaged. Art and culture should be as serious a responsibility as getting married and having kids!

MOCA Yinchuan was commissioned by Ms Liu and designed by a local young architect. MOCA is built in huge field, it looks almost like a UFO that has landed from a distant planet, and it looks magnificent and reflects a fluid architecture yet it is stubborn. MOCA was conceived on the lands of the Silk Route and valleys of Yellow River and its origin. MOCA is the only contemporary museum in Ningxia Province and in Yinchuan City.

There are artists from 34 countries participating in the Yinchuan Biennale. This is the first edition. How do you see it shaping up? 

Yinchuan Biennale is not like the individual country pavilions curated by different curators at the Venice biennale. I have selected artists from 34 countries and invited them to be part of the first Yinchuan Biennale. If there is passion and commitment, things will happen on time, it is not destiny but work, consistent work!

What lessons and inspirations should India draw from China’s futurist approach to art and related infrastructure? 

India needs to respect its heritage values, preserve and protect it at the same time. Our traditions, crafts, art and culture should be handled by experts. China brings expertise and outsources it if needed. We have incredible wealth of traditions of art forms and culture. But we have not packaged it well in my opinion.

Can the time gap between the conception and creation of an art work and its display be reduced? Does the time gap bother you or provoke thoughts when you look at certain works for curation?

History will tell you that some project have their charm once they are over. I love to work on temporal projects. Intuition helps one a lot, some works may not necessarily be understandable on the first watch, but I like to explore such challenging ideas.

Raqs Media Collective is curating the Shanghai Biennale. What does it say about our soft power? 

It is a good sign for India and our cultural relationship with China in the 21st century.

Does Yinchuan have the potential to become a global art destination?

Yinchuan has a chance of embracing the Arabian world of trade and culture, at the same time as the Chinese may move away from focusing just on Shanghai and Beijing. They are making infrastructure for contemporary art, programming workshops and art residencies, etc. It will take time, but with proper planning and a strong vision, it can become a destination for art and culture.

There are several perennial format exhibitions in China. As far I know, there are a few other smaller biennales like in Guangzhou and a triennial in Beijing.

What would you like to carry from the KMB experience to Yinchuan? 

Kochi cannot be replicated anywhere, even if the Chinese are good at making clones!

Yinchuan is a new biennale, just like Kochi Biennale was a few years ago. So there is a lot to do in new and unfamiliar sites — educational outreach being of primary importance. What are the things that I cannot carry from Kochi would be easier to answer…

Riyas Komu is curating a biennale of young artists from SAARC countries. Finding young talent has been close to your heart. What should be done to evolve the art dialogue in growing markets like India and China?

Riyas Komu is one of India’s most politically and socially forward-thinking artists of our time. Some artist curators are just clinging onto theory or loud articulations, but Riyas is full of surprises with action. With his new works, projects like Serendipity (Arts Festival) in Goa, he is also a silent young artist’s patron.

What is important is that artists should not be insecure about their colleagues. We need to build infrastructure. Every state should have expertise and run new and traditional museums. Art institutions must have a special paper and practice on after-school paths and engendering professionalism, commercial art world market spaces, etc. Also, create spaces for liberal practice and theory.

How are things shaping up for Indian contemporary art in China? 

If we are good, we find places everywhere. It is heartening to know that we are growing with others. Respect the other, as self-realisation makes you humble. We all look for freedom in everything, without being free ourselves! Art is freedom. It takes freedom from the other.

Freedom does not have to have passports and immigration/borders etc. Chinese contemporary artists are supported, patronised by Chinese collectors and others from round the world. We have incredible artists, but not much art patronage, not enough museums for contemporary art.

You have travelled a lot as an artist and curator. Please comment on how the response towards political conflict and violence has evolved in contemporary art in the last few years.

Art and culture can soften up through its own soft power, through a cultural route. Cultural exchanges are for the longer term. Educational exchanges must happen and patronage!

In the future, most of our younger generation will search and travel to experience peace and silence at museums and cultural institutions rather than going to church, mosques, synagogues or temple.

The third Kochi-Muziris Biennale is coming up this year. What are your expectations? 

Unpredictable! Sudarshan Shetty is a maverick and visionary. I am sure it will be 108 days of celebration, culture and art. There will be engaging projects with traditional and contemporary thinkers and practitioners. It will be an amalgamation and plethora of disciplines, creating celestial and inspiring moments.

Curation is an art. Has curating, collecting, absorbing and observing art in the process changed your art and the process of creating?

Believe in now and from moment to moment.

Believe in traditions and routes, the history of the living, past art and movements. Articulated memory must be read and learnt, curation or art making is as important as making love. Right site, light, time and freedom to take blessings; I do believe in chance, accidents or you may call it destiny. Collecting should not be an obsession, art should not be an obsession but it should be experiential.

Which Indian sites would you like to see public installation art at? 

Is it worth saying? Who will spend the good amount required in Chicago for the Millennium Project; Anish Kapoor’s ‘A Cloud Gate’ or a Tadao Ando and James Turrell installation? Public installations could be a bus stand, a good clean and green toilet, an open library at a public place. Public art does not have to be a sculpture.

What are you reading right now? A film you recently watched and liked. 

I have seen a Malayalam movie Charlie with my kids, not once but many times at home, also Ice Age 5 with family… I spend a lot of time reading emails… ha! I recently read couple of biennale catalogues, from the Liverpool and Sydney Biennale. I generally like to read conversations and interviews.