The Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 – is art finally accessible?

This is a long, image-heavy post.

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 – if you haven’t heard of it, please go check out the link and then come back. It is an exhibition for showcase of contemporary Indian and international art. The first edition of the biennale was held in 2012, and the second edition is happening right now so if you find yourself with a free couple of days, go check it out.

I got a chance to visit it last weekend – 2 days is not sufficient to cover it all but I managed to see all the venues, even though I was not able to check out the Artists’ Cinema or Students’ Biennale. This post covers, to a great extent, the installations which I really liked, some which I did not, and my general commentary. And side note – the cover image is not from inside the biennale, but graffiti art on the walls outside the venues by a wickedly talented anonymous group called Guess Who? Yeah right.

Well right off the bat, let me say I am enthusiastic about good typography, visual design and presentation in general. Their entire packaging, right from their website to hoardings to tickets was very well designed, with neat colours and clean typefaces.

This is the first time I’ve been to a contemporary art exhibition. I don’t know what that says about the kind of commentary I’m going to provide, but I’ll take some comfort in knowing  that half the crowd there would’ve been in the same boat as me.  We’ve heard and said enough jokes about ‘contemporary’ art that I’m pretty happy my experience out of the whole outcome was not ‘I did not understand a thing of what I just saw; the art must be really deep’ but rather a mixed bag of emotions about the utility of, and the different ways of creative expression.

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Chasing dopamine

(This post is sorta kinda the continuation to Perfectly Adequate. )

I hate writing. I love having written. – Dorothy Parker

This was one of the quotes which made an instant connection  – and not just because I realised the agony that is the writing process. It keeps nagging you with a blank page (much like how this post has been, for the past month). You fantasize about all the beauty and the poetry of the finished post but never set pen to paper. Because when there are so many more easier, accessible, and pleasurable things by your side, why hold out for gratification which comes from finishing this post?

Wait. It seems like I’m describing procrastination. I was. While we’re at it, check out this intensely hilarious post on Why Procrastinators Procrastinate

If we’re talking about writing processes now, can I just let it out and say – “I hate designing. I love having designed.”? Well, not really. Atleast not in the way it reads as in the first glance.

As much as we would grow to love the act of creating something, the fact is that it’s a cultivated trait. Our brains – our chemical hungry, dopamine junkie brains can’t really tell the difference between composing Mozart or hogging at McDonalds, it needs its fix right NOW.

Have you ever felt the rush in your brain when you are expecting something pleasurable? Good junk food, sugar candy, movie, a new toy? That’s dopamine – the drug of anticipation. Simply put, our brains have evolved this “reward circuit” which looks for stuff which keeps us alive and happy. It’s just evolution. So when our brain finds something it likes, (McDonalds, I’m looking very strongly in your direction) there is an incentive to continue seeking it out. This dopamine rush is what makes us seek it again and again.

So what when it comes to writing, or design, or creation? Your brain be like –

“Meh…I’d totally skip that agony filled activity which is blank staring, doodling, drooling and much hair ripping. Ooh..! Let’s play this totally pointless game of putting a bird through pipes because I like the ‘ka-ching’ sound it makes. Gives me such a huge sense of accomplishment. And then coffee. And chocolate. And YouTube. Who would want to write?

How do we take these higher order thinking design problems and force it into our monkey brains? How do we make it an activity as pleasurable as drinking coffee?

Now that is a million dollar question.

While we’re on the subject of creativity, watch this beautiful TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love.

Perfectly adequate



This post is a rant.

I’m sorry – honestly that sort of disclaimers should have their own place and probably not in this blog – but this one is a rant and you have been warned.

Today I wanted to talk about a delusion which all of us had at some point of time, I believe – the delusion of adequacy. The Urban Dictionary definition for the term is a bit too harsh, but nevertheless it very crisply conveys what I’m going to rant on about.

Much has been spoken about the design process in the architect’s mind. It’s non-linear, it is very characteristic, it has a mind of its own…it also doesn’t know when to stop.  This is a very double edged sword.  Taken to the most romanticized sense, it means you have a design which evolves with each passing iteration. But with this knowledge, how do you know where to quit when you’re ahead?

There have been a lot of times in my design process when I’d have reached a wall through which it is difficult to break through – and expending energy for it doesn’t make much sense. I call this the ‘perfectly adequate’ design stage. It’s not a bad design, mind you; everything works perfectly and it makes a lot of sense not to fix something that isn’t broken, right?

But these ‘perfectly adequate’ designs can’t be subjectively judged. They exist in the sweet spot between being outlandishly crazy and outlandishly stupid, and hence are safe. Also, ‘adequate’ isn’t a point, it is a spectrum (what’s adequate to you isn’t to me) and still we give one tag to it and be complacent about it.

I’ve tried and failed and tried again – to understand why it’s difficult to break down these mental walls. And I think I’ve found an answer (which curiously enough, lies in human evolution) : As individuals in a species, really, innovation doesn’t make much evolutionary sense. If you stick with what you know, and are able to propagate it, you’re a successful member of the species. Innovation is a gamble here; the risks far outweigh the benefits.

A quote (misattributed to Darwin, by the way) comes to mind.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

We’re a species that have evolved perfectly adequate (I promise that’s the last time I’m saying the phrase 😛 ) , fail safe mechanisms for the changes around us. Maybe it’s time to go forward from our comfort zones.

//end rant.