In the unlikely far-flung Mumbai suburb of Dahisar, an art community is breaking away from the myth of the artist in isolation. Riyas Komu’s white gated bungalow is around 5 minutes away from Bose Krishnamachari’s own 5,000 sq. ft wonderland in the making. Krishnamachari’s studio, being crafted by Nuru Karim, will feature shifting walls of glass, and will be thrown open to his personal community of artist friends to allow for a free flow of ideas. Meanwhile, in a pink bungalow across the road, the duo are preparing for next year’s Kochi-Muziris Biennale, India’s first biennale and the first anywhere to be launched by artists. In the basement, past pocked white fibreglass walls, Krishnamachari’s installation, LAVA, finds a semi-permanent home. Upstairs, over lemon tea and with birds twittering on the lychee tree in full bloom in his backyard, Krishnamachari explains why, be it the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, his tri-vision installation for the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport GVK project, or his own studio, interactivity always has been and will always remain the core of his artistic philosophy. Edited excerpts from an interview:
You’re doing so many things—the airport project, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, building your own studio. Where do you find the energy?
My energy is from younger people in the art world and fashion world. The younger generation who think good for the country. From there I get my energy. When you share your ideas with others, and they are optimistic about the project, wherever I am working, I get lighter when I share my beliefs. And the same thing happens with my friends also when they share their beliefs and trust in me.
Bose Krishnamachary at his house in Mumbai. Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
There was once a kind of artist that worked in isolation. You represent a generation that believes in a whole new level of interaction and involvement. How do you feed off each other?
When I came to Bombay from Kochi, I was coming from a very small place, where I was born. When I came here I knew only two languages—art and Malayalam. The rest I learnt from Mumbai city, so I owe quite a lot to Mumbai and the people around, especially my senior artists. They were open to discussions, opened their studios. Those studios were all in flats and small spaces—Laxman Shrestha, Prabhakar Barve, Atul Dodiya and later contemporaries like Riyas Komu, Jitesh Kallat, Anant Joshi, all my generation of artists. I have been roaming around, travelling with them for art, knowing about art. There was no gap between these—the younger and the older generation of artists. That was my base. We have taken the freedom from them. Freedom is not given at anytime. We take the freedom to go see them, meet them, because they know life better. They shared quite a lot of things with me which gave me confidence to be who I am.
Your inspirations have always been very varied. What is exciting you as the next step in art right now?
We were never born with a silver platter of knowledge or wealth of contemporary art. When I was a student, even till the present, I cannot really say that we are surrounded by current movements in contemporary art. We don’t have museums or institutions, the infrastructure is in a bad shape. Nobody has understood the wealth of culture. People have been making films, theatre, paintings, sculpture, unfortunately we don’t have any cultural policy from the state. Culture is wealth. Someone should understand that. We have diversities in our country more than many countries put together have. Linguistic, food, artistic and cultural diversity is different. Someone should take it further. Any project I take on I like to fill it with this cultural wealth. Everybody is a part of it, even those who say they don’t understand it. We just don’t have a specific space for it. We take it for granted. I’m trying to understand how I can position myself as an artist better. I’ve started trying through smaller ways—by starting a gallery, and anything that reaches out.
Is that the inspiration behind the biennale?
This is the first biennale in the world started by artists. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale happened because the cultural minister of Kerala contacted us based on my work in (art fair) Arco, Madrid, to create a cultural space in Kerala. He met with Riyas and me, I called a couple of artist friends here in Mumbai and then it took off from there. We decided what we would have is the biennale. We have had the triennale started by a brilliant panel with Dr Mulk Raj Anand, K.C.S. Panicker and Octavio Paz—all brilliant visionaries, but it turned out to be a mediocre approach to art and it’s not happening now. I think the Akademi is trying to get it back but you need to have a curator and above all understand what is a biennale and why we are doing it. A biennale is a non-profit-making project. It’s not an art fair which is basically for commission purposes and for selling. Here the prime purpose is education. Also, to introduce new ways of seeing, new ways of doing. We don’t have much infrastructure by way of contemporary art so we have started working on that—like taking up the Akademi space and upgrading it to international standards—involving Erco, getting in gallery lights without which international artists will not want to participate. For Erco, it’s also important to have a controlled space, and for us to provide qualitative space, otherwise we will not get the participation we are looking for. We’re also looking into security issues, insurance issues, etc. So we have many structural details to work out. The good part is that we don’t have a model to follow, so we can look at the successful ones—Istanbul, Venice, for instance, and build our own model from it.
Millenium Park, Chicago, Illinois. Divya Babu/Mint
Why Kochi? Wouldn’t a large town be simpler logistically?
Most of the successful biennales, if you study them, have taken place in smaller cities, not major cities. For example, London, Paris, etc., don’t need a biennale because they are constantly exposed to new movements in art coming in from all over the world and they already have spaces that would make the show redundant. A biennale can take place over the three months, plus the pre- and post-programmes. So we’ll have an almost 365-day programme which will be lost in a larger town. We’ll be presenting papers in different museums, venues, etc. We need to talk about it because many are not familiar with biennales as we don’t have an existing model. The nearest ones are Sharjah and Singapore and in between those two places is the void of understanding. We’d like to tie up with the Indian Railways and bring in students from all over India. I believe an artistic transformation of the town is possible.
How is it working with the suits in this space?
A successful corporate project always depends on who is involved. If, for example, Ratan Tata is involved with an art project, rather than a CEO involved. GVK’s involvement in the airport projects is giving artists a lot of freedom. Namita Saraf at Grand Hyatt has a lot of trust in the artists and the curator. It rarely happens. Today these guys come to see biennales, art shows, fairs abroad. That is important, to see the challenge in your project. Any corporate can take a step like this right now; it’s a good time to be doing this, art-wise. BMW is doing a large project in the Guggenheim. Look at the Bilbao effect —$180 million (around Rs 817 crore) were spent to make that transformation. It was once a small industrial town which has now recovered that cost multifold through the nature of the art-oriented artistic tourist it draws in. It’s not a backpackers space any more. Tourists come in and spend more time. That’s what art, and a biennale, for instance, can do to a town. We’re looking for Rs 75 crore investment in the biennale, but for a project like this, it is nothing, especially when you look at what it can do for a town.
Given how interactive your work is, what’s your installation at the airport looking like?
Rajeev Sethi is curating the airport project for GVK and he has experience with the Grand Hyatt. It will be 1km of artwork done by Indian artists. He always likes to bring in younger generations of artists and is also familiar with contemporary artists’ works. So I have been helping by giving him names and suggesting younger artists to include (I wouldn’t like to name them here).
I am very interested by the fact that it is an installation that people will be able to interact with. If you take the Millennium Park project in Chicago—it’s an incredible project. I was there last week. When you see kids playing, showering with the artwork, taking photographs with the art; it’s one of the most photographed projects in the world. That’s the kind of vision we have for it. It’s not that you are paying for it. Just be in nature celebrating contemporary art. Unless there is interaction, nothing survives. Why do museums become mausoleums? Permanent places become dead places because interactivity must happen. When it is in a public space, it cannot be a temporary thing. Interaction between different kinds of cultures of the different kinds of people travelling is important. Also, there are different kinds of technology I will be using. I will be using tri-vision. It has three phases and each phase has its own story to tell. The visuals will keep changing. Maybe I will break it in between—I like the idea of contradiction. Philosophically, I believe in ambivalence. Hedonism and lawfulness are a part of my life. That’s definitely the reflective character of Mumbai itself. The philosophy of whatever I practise all comes from Mumbai. It is also shaped by Kerala. And there is a vast difference between the two.
When is your installation going up?
I have to do it. I have sent the proposal.
What’s the next step?
I am looking at design biennales, architectural biennales. I’m increasingly looking at the space where art and architecture merge. Definitely, this is just the first step. My own studio, which is under construction, is a 5,000 sq. ft space with a high ceiling. I’m working on getting in light and creating a space where my collaborators and students can interact.