Affected by Hurricane Sandy, which hit New York in 2012, American artist Tom Burckhardt recreates a flooded studio, in a unique way, at the Kochi Muziris Biennale
Photo by Albin Mathew
Photo by Albin Mathew
By Shevlin Sebastian
When you step in to see the American artist Tom Burckhardt’s cardboard installation, at the Kochi Muziris Biennale, you experience a sense of disorientation. The reason: everything is upside down.
So, paint cans on shelves are pointed towards the floor, there are black monochrome paintings which are also upside-down, some books, like Leo Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 'Notes from the Underground', defy gravity, while a couple of canvases are stuck on the ceiling.
Titled, ‘Studio Flood’, the work was, indeed, inspired by a flood. On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit New York with destructive force. “There was five feet of water inside many houses and artists’ studios,” says Tom. “Some artists, who had basement studios, lost their entire work.”
This was also the situation at the art gallery district called Chelsea, which is close to the shore. “The image of all the art works floating in the water stayed in my mind, apart from all the wasted effort,” says Tom. “The only good that came out of it was that artists, normally so self-centred, came together and helped one another.”
Asked whether his installation is an exact replica of a studio in New York, he says, “There is a bit of Kochi, too.”
That is true. When you look through the window, you can see palm trees. On one wall, there is Kerala-style political graffiti, with the familiar hammer and sickle, the symbol of the Communist Party.
Like in the US, flooding is a big issue in coastal Kochi as well as Kerala, owing to global warming. “So I believe there is a link between New York and Kochi,” he says.
Tom also believes his work is an apt metaphor. “When a tragedy hits people they will always say, 'My world has turned upside-down',” he says.
Initially, when Tom arrived in Kochi, he did find his world go upside-down. That’s because he could not find the right type of cardboard to make the installation for several days. When Biennale founder Bose Krishnamachari came to know, he made a call. Within a day, the correct material arrived. “It gives you an indication of Bose's clout,” he says.
Asked why he used cardboard, Tom says, “People can relate to it, unlike oil and acrylic.” The other materials he used were black paint and glue.
As for his impressions about the Kochi Biennale, Tom says, “This is a very organic festival. It is based on an artistic vision and not so much a curator or a theorist's vision, and I tend to be uncomfortable with the latter.”
There are other charms, too. “The setting is unique,” he says. “I love it that this festival is for everybody in this town. In other Biennales, art seems to belong to the rich and the cognoscenti.”
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)