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Indian representation at the Venice Biennale
The Venice Art Biennale is among the world’s greatest platforms for contemporary art. Hosted every alternate year for the last 106 long years, the compilation of art works at the event is extraordinary. The Biennale lives up to the hype, this year too. This 53rd edition of the prestigious international exhibition in Venice is driven by the aspiration to “explore worlds around us and worlds ahead; it’s about possible new beginnings - this is what I would like to share with the visitors of the Biennale,” as the festival director, Daniel Birnbaum, mentions in an essay.

In this artistic endeavor, Mr. Birnbaum is supported by various leading international curators and advisors including Jochen Volz, Maria Finders, Tom Eccles, Hu Fang, and Savita Apte. The fantastic show features many new works as well as on-site commissions ranging across diverse disciplines. Considered the single largest exhibit of international art, it articulates several different aspirations, all seamlessly woven into one cohesive whole by the team of curators.

The title of the exhibition 'Making Worlds', according to the Director, expresses his ‘wish to emphasize the process of creation.’ He elaborates: “A work of art represents a vision of the world. If taken seriously it can be seen as a way of making a world. And the strength of the vision is not really dependent on the kind or complexity of the tools brought into play.”

This is exactly why all possible conceivable forms of artistic expression, including installation, sculpture, performance, video, painting and drawing have been presented through works of talented artists from all over the world, at the Biennale. Taking 'world-making' as a starting point also lets the exhibit focus on creativity as posterity, as much as an exploration of new spaces for art to unfold outside the institutional context.

Four artists from India feature at the Biennale - Sheela Gowda, Nikhil Chopra and Sunil Gawde at the Arsenale, an erstwhile naval depot, whereas Anju Dodiya's at the Giardini. They all form part of the large exhibit titled 'Making Worlds' at the 2009 Biennale. Sunil Gawde showcased his new mechanized sculpture 'Alliteration'. Sheela Gowda presented a large installation employing knotted rope made of human hair. On the other hand, Nikhil Chopra had scheduled performances inside a mysterious tower within the Arsenale complex. The mixed media works by Anju Dodiya made at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI), earlier showcased at Bodhi Art were also displayed.

‘All Night I Shall Gallop’, a suite of 25 unique mixed media works, was created during a six month residency in Singapore. The artist produced works that look to push the definition of printmaking as a medium. She integrated extant images and created three-dimensionality with her usage of mirrors, beads and threads. Simultaneously, this process stretches her oeuvre as evident in the labyrinthine layers of meaning that co-exist in each of the works. Selected phrases from Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems added the textual substratum. Plath’s ability to articulate pain found resonance with her artistic quest.

Away in a clock tower, Nikhil Chopra’s multimedia performance drew everyone’s attention. Sunil Gawde’s mesmerizing moon installation hummed rather mechanically, unraveling all awareness of time. His rectangular 1.5 ton mild steel structure is 15 feet in width, seven-and-a-half feet in height, and two-and-a-half feet in depth. It required five months of non-stop effort from his dedicated team of assistants. The artist explained in an interview: "I have shown that time is one long, continuous flow, and it’s only a human endeavor to break it down to seconds, minutes and hours, to days and nights, to weeks, months and years. In the infinite universe, such segments do not have any relevance or impact so it is impossible to control time."

Another participant Sheela Gowda mentioned: “The art must be potent to seize the viewer’s interest, but also open so that other people’s references can enter. That’s my challenge.” She took it up with an abstract installation that wrapped, twisted and heaped 4000m of braided hair from Tirupati up & down a stark white wall, hoisting fiat car bumpers high above the viewer’s head.

Soaking in the spirit of the vivacious Venice Biennale, artist Jitish Kallat wrote in The DNA column: “Navigation in Venice, on vaparatos and water-taxis is slow, and walking through the tiny alley-ways seeking out the many art projects can be a tiring and adventurous enterprise. To get a fair assessment of the depth of the biennale and its thematic bandwidth, one needs a few focused days here. We barely managed to dedicate a day to the Arsennale and a day to the Giardini which is grossly inadequate considering the vast amounts of art there is to see. This was further compromised by an unexpected and heavy downpour in the middle of a gorgeous Venetian summer. “

Daniel Birnbaum has carried on with the tradition of leaving behind an indelible impact with two ambitious shows at the Arsenale and Pavilion of Exhibition. The rest of the Biennale is curated by participating countries independently. And this is where India is lacking, as Jitish Kallat pointedly notes in his newspaper column, “It is somewhat ironic that in this massive global congregation where several of the world's smallest nations have their own government sanctioned national pavilions, India still remains without one. But there’s certainly some optimism in the growing representation of Indian artists within the curated section; the Indian National Pavilion will happen when our Government wakes up. Now it is up to the Indian art world to fix the alarm.”