On a table at the centre of the Chennai Photo Biennale office in Adyar, laid out is a detailed map of Chennai, its various locations of historic and cultural significance marked clearly. Chennai Photo Biennale trustees Varun Gupta, Gayatri Nair, Shuchi Kapoor and Helmut Schippert (director of Goethe Institut) surround it, engaged in an intense discussion — planning for the third edition of CPB, scheduled for next year, has already begun.
Sitting with them are the four recently announced curators: Chennai-based researcher Bhooma Padmanabhan, photographer Arko Datto from Kolkata, artist Boaz Levin from Berlin and researcher and lecturer Kerstin Meincke from Essen, Germany.
The shift from a single curator to four — a healthy mix of photographers, researchers and visual artistes from two countries — makes sense, given the much larger scale of the festival. The third edition of CPB will be held from December 9, 2020 to February 6, 2021: a total of 60 days, twice the length of the previous editions.
“We wanted to provide the visual component to the sabha season,” Varun remarks. Moreover, other festivals across the country, including Delhi’s India Art Fair, Goa’s Serendipity Arts Festival and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, are also held around this time.
“We hope to capitalise on this group of moving art travellers,” he says, adding that Pongal would also mean more visitors to the beaches. “Last edition, the 15 projected curations displayed, brought a footfall of around 8,00,000 people to Elliots Beach on weekends alone.”
For the past 10 days, Bhooma, Arko Datto, Boaz and Kerstin have been touring the city with the CPB team, looking at possible venues and meeting with artist collectives. This is the first time that the four of them are working together. “The past week has been as much about us getting to know each other, waking up together, eating together and sharing ideas, as it has been about exploring the city,” says Arko.
Bhooma adds that for her, it was like re-discovering the city. “It was a crash course in Chennai’s ecology, infrastructure, development and politics,” says Boaz, who is visiting India for the second time.
What is most interesting for this transcultural team, is understanding the different approaches to photography — it opens up a new way of mapping the city. “We are conscious of the fact that we are engaging with photography as a medium when it is the most accessible, and what that means,” says Bhooma.
One of CPB’s highlights has been its success in re-awakening the city to its heritage spaces. In fact, the Senate House, believes Varun, overshadowed most other venues.
Public spaces and forgotten heritage will once again be a focus for CPB in 2020. We are also looking to display interesting archival material, which hasn’t been shown before. That is something we are looking forward to,” says Kerstin.
The process of curation will not be strictly structured, but for the next 365 days, the team will constantly be on the lookout for talent, ideas and possible collaborations. “Wherever we go from now on, whomever we visit, we will have our CPB glasses on,” says Bhooma.