Every day at 11 am and 3 pm, the main venue of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale gives the visitors a special treat that enables them to gain an insight into the exhibits at the art festival. For, these are the starting time of free guided tours at the sprawling Aspinwall House in Fort Kochi.
The ongoing fourth edition of the Biennale has a special feature: art mediators. Totalling 20, they lead a trail of people, curious to know about the installations, their history, contextual significance and details about the artist(s). Besides such free guided tours, the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) that is organising the 108-day event also provides personalised tour for individuals or groups wanting it.
If the free guided tours are held twice a day, each of them has two strands: one in English and the other in Malayalam. Either way, the visitor gets a chance to know the nitty-gritty of the biennale’s works as well as the political and social developments around art in India and the globe. The mediators share anecdotes about artists, their profile and sometimes even a bit of personal matters.
“When the crowd is large on a given day, we can seek the service of more art mediators,” notes Bose Krishnamachari, president of the 2010-founded KBF. Going forward, the Foundation is also planning to introduce walks at other venues as well.
The idea is to get visitors see as many works as possible of their interest, points out Annalisa Mansukhani, the KBF’s research and publication assistant. “We engage with visitors constantly to analyse their preferences and show them the various works on display accordingly,” she says. “We also provide kids-friendly interactive walks.”
The mediators are from various walks of life. They comprise engineers, teachers, fresh graduates and high-school pass-outs with a love for art. “We have trained them for over two months,” Annalisa informs. “The mediators are well-versed with the subject matter. They have had the opportunity to understand the art practice of some of the participants of the Biennale.”
The visitors joining the tour feel good. “This initiative is extremely helpful,” says Manasvini S, a graphic design student from NID Ahmedabad. “It helps us sense curious links between the exhibits and gain a better understanding of the curatorial process.”
Middle-aged Mukundan Menon, who visited Aspinwall this week with family and friends from upcountry, rues that he narrowly missed the guided tour. “I think we should take a free guided round first and then take time off another day to revisit the works you found most interesting,” says the retired PSU employee now living in suburban Tripunithura. “That helps us enjoy them at our leisure.”
It’s not that the mediators just lecture on and on. They interact with each participant of the guided tour and try understand their preference of art, says Abhishek Sharma, a media student who has come from Delhi. “I was more interested in seeing the works with political references, I made that point clear. And I was really impressed when our mediator specifically showed them to me while telling me which other works I could check out and their location.”
The visitors’ tastes vary, notes Annalisa. “Some like sculptures only, while others enjoy videos most. Yet another group is fixated about installations,” she points. “The aim is to educate the viewers about the art and the artist as much as possible in the limited time available.”
Filmmaker Rajesh T Divakaran, who visited the Biennale with his friend, says he preferred to look around the exhibit area all by himself, yet couldn’t downplay the art mediator’s role this time. “We loved, for instance, William Kentridge’s work. At this, the mediator took us to the work of Radenko Milak, who uses a similar technique but has a very contrasting result. That was a great discovery that we would have missed but for the mediator.”
Chipping in, fellow filmmaker from South Korea, Yun Joo Chang says, the mediator helped him gain insight about the artworks much more than what the supporting texts said. “The tour helped me know more about the artist and his/her style of art practice.”
Apart from this package, the Biennale also offers four-hour guided tours for five persons or less. That costs Rs 3,000, informs Annalisa. “We give a brief to the visitor about the various works on display and the venue. According to their preference, we customise the tour.”
The Biennale, curated by eminent artist Anita Dube and slated to conclude on March 29, has 94 artist projects being exhibited in 10 venues of Kochi.