Kochi, whose biennale has fast become a nerve center for art, culture and history, is playing host to a veritable salad bar of the art frat, both wannabe and genuine. And as essential as it is to identify that giant bell as Gigi Scaria's or that swirling vortex of water as Anish Kapoor's, we must also be able to distinguish the kale from the iceberg lettuce and know when a gobi is a gobi, and not a broccoli in disguise.
For those floundering in my food analogies, I'm simply attempting a categorisation of the archetypes skulking or strutting around the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2014.
1. The artist schmoozer: Breakfast, lunch, dinner or a visit to the bathroom, schmoozing is that 24/7 commitment, from which they never rest. Ever. Spot them with their "sleep is for the dead", T-shirts. They are usually either handing out CDs, brochures or fliers of their works, to anyone who will listen.
2. The reluctant schmoozer: Two words. Graffiti artists. Need I say more? Oh, okay, if you insist, I will. You're an artist whose work depend on anonymity. Then someone went and said, oh, but how will you get "real" work without being out there, without rubbing sticky shoulder with sticky thigh? And so you went all the way to KMB, and stayed out of sight for three days.
3. The social-walla: In true jetsetting style, they fly in for an overnight visit. No matter that the flight itself is a five-hour-flight. In LBDs, all white and pencil heels or at the very best, "sensible" block heeled shoes, the socialite/walla will tower at five inches for the lack of much else to do, sometimes discarding the heels for gold sneakers or Toms.
4. The toucher and poser: There are more than a few in every gallery and museum in India. The type who can't see or interact with art without having to touch and caress to understand it. Lines around art pieces are just decorations in their quest to ensure a photograph with every single installation/painting. But first "Let me take a selfie".
5. The family: Hum do, hamare do. While two is fine, any more and everyone around them is in serious trouble. Yet, the Malayalis take art almost as seriously as the Bengalis, and when one sees a lungi-clad man, kanjivaram-or mundu-draped wife in tow, yelling children aside, you can't help but afford full marks for family outing. Leave the zoos and boating for the Punjabis.
6. The art-groupie: Armed with garrulous praise and blind adoration, the art groupie may lack the certain rock and roller pizazz, but the biennale is their NH7, and you can't take that away from them.
7. The "I hate all art": Most likely to be heard loudly proclaiming, "oh my 3-year-old can make that." "Is that really art?" "That has cliche written all over it!" They're cynical, hard to please and the toughest of all candidates. So don't even bother, unless heartbreak is your crack.
8. Closely tied with The Complainer: It's sticky. It's hot. It's itchy. It's dry. This movie sucks. These tapioca chips are soggy. This beer is flat. These stores suck. And so they go--haters hating on the world.
9. The insta-addict: Hunched over their iPhone or androids, tumbling over wires and into installations, getting yelled at by guards and ticked off by the guy whose feet you just back onto--all so that you can get that perfect grab for vine or filter for Instagram. Forgetting sometimes, you're also here to see art, and it's not just for your phone, and it's connected audience.
10. The drunk, truism spewing artist: "This is an art war. Forget gun. Get your paint-brushes." White beards, pajamas, jholas and a few glass of wine later, hidden amongst truisms and idioms, is gyaan we could all benefit from. Paintbrushes, not guns, guys. That's eternal.
11. The afterparty attender: Only here for the excitement of the after party, they adopt a vampire-like dislike to the day, and to the actual art shows. They're also the best people to have on your speed dial at 11:30PM when the actual parties shut their bar.
12. The hippie: Maybe they're in booty shorts with fake flowers in their hair, and army issue boots on their feet. Maybe they forgot to bathe for a few days or weeks. Whatever it is, they look like they should have been far away in a shack in Arambol, in Goa. Not in the grimy galleries of the Aspinwall House. But don't be fooled by their shabbiness, because they could also just be scouring for art for their little hipster gallery in Shoreditch.
13. The corporate curator: All business like, these no nonsense globetrotters are not to be trifled with. Walking around like the Anna Wintours of the art world, barely cracking a smile, they will probably be rocking the "Sleep is for the Dead" T-shirt with those 6-inch stilettos.
14. The just looking for someone to make-out with: Sometimes in the garb of local guide, sometimes disguised as famous artist, the hormonal buzz emanating from them can range from overpowering teenager to undercover leftie artist. After a few glasses (nay, bottles) of merlot or rum and coke, this could be anyone of us. So wipe that smirk of your face!
15. The crazy-costumer: In impossibly larger-than-life outfits and heavily bindied foreheads, the crazy costumer gives strong competition to art installations themselves. But they forget to get the memo that their get-ups are best left at Burning Man.