Is there more to an artwork than just receiving a certain number of ‘likes’? The answer lies in a unique Kochi-Muziris Biennale workshop, where participants are invited to bring their artworks for evaluation based on a unique criterion. 

The artworks could be a piece of text, photograph, collage, video, painting or sculpture. But there’s a catch: the submissions will not be evaluated on the basis of their quality, whether they are good or bad. In fact, the live feedback session, open to all Biennale visitors, involves judging their art on its ‘energy’ quotient.

The month-long workshop, led by Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn, is titled “Energy: Yes! Quality: No!”, and has attracted a diverse group of participants from Kochi, the rest of India and abroad. “The idea behind having this workshop is to encourage others to develop of a work of their own. They should be ready to have it judged and also trust one’s own judgement,” Hirshhorn says, elaborating on the goals of the critical workshop that will have evaluations done by the programme leader and other attendees.

Paris-based Hirschhorn, who favours collage works because of their plurality, also engages with easily available and vernacular materials, which allow the viewers to develop their own understanding of the works. It’s a quality the artist has sought to bring to his workshop as well.

Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn conducting the month-long critical workshop, “Energy: Yes! Quality: No!”, at Biennale Pavilion, Cabral Yard, Fort Kochi | KBF

In this respect, one of the most important objectives of the workshop is enabling participants to feel more comfortable about receiving multiple interpretations about their artworks without taking the feedback personally.

Making the distinction between the quality versus judgement criteria, the 61-year-old artist says he uses the term ‘quality’ negatively because it excludes others and makes a distinction between good or bad. “To me, judgement is a positive term because judging the work is never judging the person,” he says. “But judging a work is one of the keys to giving form, and asserting form is most important thing in art.”  

Hirschhorn’s workshop is being organised at Cabral Yard, which is the site for the Biennale Pavilion, a multi-functional structure that also serves as an interactive platform for visitors to express their creativity.  

At one of the sessions, a disparate group of contemporary artists, school students, a human rights law professional, a homemaker and an art writer got together to ponder over each other’s artworks. These ranged from a photograph taken at Fort Kochi, sketches and water colours on paper, a short story, a poem and presentations by two artists. 

A photograph, taken at Cabral Yard in Fort Kochi, submitted by one of the workshop participants for evaluation 

While three schoolboys from Chennai received a lot of critical attention for their highly imaginative portraits on paper, it was a work made by a Kochi-based woman that turned out to be the highlight of the session. 

The artwork had a woman’s face carved out of the bark of a mango tree, in what its maker said was an attempt at creating a self-portrait. The carved-out face, resembling a married woman, was covered with a green dupatta. Long black hair and a gajra had been added to the artwork that also looked like a decorative puppet. 

Speaking about her work, Kanchana, the Kochi-based homemaker, said: “This is a very simple artwork. There’s no value or quality to it. It is a form of refreshment for me, and I derive satisfaction by doing this.”

The other engaging piece of work was presented by emerging artist Vipin Dhanurdharan, who is also one of the participating artists at the 108-day event. His self-published short story was peppered with grammatical errors — a deliberate way of writing his piece which he dedicated to his Anglo-Indian teacher. 

The critical workshop, part of the Kochi Biennale’s curatorial theme ‘Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life’, will conclude on March 28. English and Malayalam speakers are invited to participate in the workshop, which is held twice a day, from 10am-1 pm and 3pm-6pm. 

​Photograph showing the Biennale Pavilion, in Fort Kochi | Ankush Arora

Those interested in registering for the workshop can write to:   

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