6 highlights from the 15th Istanbul Biennial 2017

Personal stories and themes of identity come to the fore at the 15th Istanbul Biennial. 

Art Radar selects six highlights from this year’s offering, focusing on the theme of “A Good Neighbour”. The Biennial runs until 12 November 2017.

15th Istanbul Biennial. Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

15th Istanbul Biennial. Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

Running from 15 September to 12 November 2017, the 15th edition of the Istanbul Biennial looks at themes centering around community, neighbourliness and togetherness at a time when social ties are needed more than ever.

15th Istanbul Biennial. Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

15th Istanbul Biennial. Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

The Biennial’s director, Bige Örer, stresses the importance of people working together within our current cultural and political climate, with the threat of climate control and terrorism disturbing daily life on a daily basis, in a book published for the Biennial. She writes: 

At a time when social traumas and political earthquakes have fuelled anxieties about the future in an unprecedented way, and individual freedoms have been forced into a corner, the 15th Istanbul Biennial has chosen to follow personal stories.

Bige Orer. Photo: Muhsin Akgun Iksv. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

Bige Orer. Photo: Muhsin Akgun Iksv. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

She explains how, in the face of adversity with many other cultural events in Turkey being canceled, the Biennial goes ahead with the hope that

producing, thinking about and discussing art can create zones in which to breathe, where knots can be disentangled. While, across the world, borders have become sharper, nationalist and even racist movements are on the rise, and all manner of violent threats make their presence felt at any given place, at any given time, we tried, as the ground slipped away from under our feet, to hold onto each other to keep standing by leaning on each other.

15th Istanbul Biennial. Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

15th Istanbul Biennial. Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

This year, the Biennial is curated by Scandinavian artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset, who share the director’s ethos about contextualising the Biennial within the realm of geo-politics and focusing on the importance of collaboration and togetherness, as well as cross-disciplinary practice, within this political climate. 

15th Istanbul Biennial. Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

15th Istanbul Biennial. Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

Asking questions about being a good neighbour, such as “Is a good neighbour someone you rarely see?”, “Is a good neighbour active in your local community?” and “Is a good neighbour genderless?”, the Biennial has been curated across six neighbouring spaces, based on the strong foundation built from prior Biennial’s, which have seen works that interact with the city. Spaces such as Galata Greek Primary School, Istanbul Modern, Pera Museum, ARK Kültür, Küçük Mustafa Paşa Hammam and an artist’s studio host 56 artists’ works, 30 of which were commissioned by the Istanbul Biennial. Art Radar chose six highlights from this year.

Alper Aydin. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

Alper Aydin. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

1. Ugo Rondinone’s Where Do We Go From Here?

For the Biennial’s 30th anniversary, artist Ugo Rondinone was invited to contribute a permanent work to Istanbul, to serve as a gift. His selection, Where Do We Go From Here? is part of his Rainbow Poems series (2007–17), and was previously exhibited at the 6th Istanbul Biennial (1999) in Taksim Square. As Bige Örer explains, at this time it was installed following the August 1999 earthquake where it aimed to “inspire hope in its viewers. Now, eighteen years later, it will oer a new reference point for people shaken by a series of emotional earthquakes.”

Ugo Rondione. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Photo: Onur Dogman. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

Ugo Rondione. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Photo: Onur Dogman. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

Elmgreen & Dragset. Photo: Muhsin Akgun Iksv. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

Elmgreen & Dragset. Photo: Muhsin Akgun Iksv. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

2. Lungiswa Gqunta

Lungiswa Gqunta‘s piece for the Biennial is an installation where broken up Coca-Cola bottles, filled with green petrol, which form a lawn symbolising the segregation of Cape Town. The piece rethinks the meaning of a public lawn space – usually a site for play and relaxation, now representing discomfort, danger and destruction. According to the artist, place not only considers questions about South Africa’s racism and gentrification, but invites the viewer the think about the piece’s universality. In a conversation with the Biennial, she spoke about the emotional and political power of the piece, within its post-apartheid South African context.

15th Istanbul Biennial. Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

15th Istanbul Biennial. Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

Speaking about the work, she says:

Every time I speak about it, it changes… It is not pleasant, it is dangerous and it imposes some sort of restriction upon the viewer.  All of those restrictions that they were put in the place will be felt when you interact with the work. It is kind of playing around the notion of privileged spaces and accessibility. You find these nice and lush lawns in the wealthy part of the city, these are places where people have access to the land. It started to be very specific to South Africa where the segregation still exists. That is how my work is speaking with both the history of the colonialism and the present. Because, this has not changed much since then. White people are still living in better places.

3. Friends and Strangers

This project led by artist Ali Taptik has been produced exclusively for the Biennial, an online and physical experience which documents Istanbul’s urban life through three fictional characters: Merve, Mikail and Cem. The work considers themes including closeness, coexistence and empathy, made up of the dialogue between photographs at the Galata Rum Elementary School and online.

Ali Taptik. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

Ali Taptik. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

For the project, Taptik invited people to his studio, to chat and have their portrait taken. From the stories and narratives that emerged from these meetings, he created the fictional characters. In this sense, the project has an ambiguity to it, as fiction and reality collide, and the artist’s role in the process of creation becomes blurred.

Of this process and its relevance to Istanbul, Taptik explains:

Lately I’ve become interested in how we can oppose our loved ones and how we can embrace the ones we oppose. The stories included in my work at the biennial are concerned with this matter, as well. I based my thoughts about coexisting in Istanbul on the experiences of various friends of mine with public transportation. On the other hand, I was interested in how people who have never met before can establish a bond. I’ve been dealing with Max Frisch’s Questionnaire for a long time. I asked the questions there to my friends and photographed them while doing so, and the process in a way unfolded on its own.’

Ali Taptik. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

Ali Taptik. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

4. Home Sweet Home: Volkan Aslan and our mobile homes

Volkan Aslan’s video installation Home Sweet Home considers the lives of two women, but can “more accurately described by the feeling it leaves you with rather than the story it tells”. Exhibited on the island of Lesvos, the film reflects on concepts of neighbourhood, mobility and vagrancy. In an interview with the Biennial, Aslan explains how he uses separate stories and scenery within his narrative, told across three separate scenes, to disrupt ideas of continuity, and allow the audience to choose which story they wish to follow.

Tugce Tuna. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

Tugce Tuna. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

5. Tuğçe Tuna

Tuğçe Tuna‘s new choreography, Body Drops brings together nine neighbouring bodies under the dome of the hammam, inspired by the architectural space and the star signs of each of the performers. Tuna is an academic, dance artist, choreographer and movement therapist, whose work incorporates body, space and concept in response to various projects. Body Drops was created especially for the Biennial, focusing on “kinesthetic empathy, accumulations of the body, invisible losses of the body and what the body leaves behind in mind and space.”

Asli Cavusoglu, “Flâneuses”. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

Asli Cavusoglu, “Flâneuses”. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

6. “Flâneuses”

Curated by the Director of the Istanbul Biennial Bige Örer, the show will be open at the L’Institut français à Istanbul from September 13 to November 3. Bringing together five participants of the Turkey Workshop at the Cité Internationale des Arts Artist Residency Programme in Paris, the exhibition displays works based on the theme of “flânerie” and walking.

Iz Oztat & Zisan, “Flâneuses”. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

Iz Oztat & Zisan, “Flâneuses”. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

“Walking” is thought through conceptually, not only as a geographical task, but a philosophical, social, political and literary one. In this sense, “artists turn their stroll through streets across the city into an unconventional field of experience, both allowing flâneuses to witness unexpected instances, and transforming their trajectory of walking into a form of memory.”

Yasemin Ozcan, “Flâneuses”. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

Yasemin Ozcan, “Flâneuses”. 15th Istanbul Biennial. Image courtesy Istanbul Biennial.

As part of the exhibition, there will be an artist’s lecture – “The Heart of the Flâneuse” – on 14 October 2017, which draws stories from Turkish artist Yasemin Özcan’s book Marmalade Skies, which invite the reader to think about the presence of women in public space via different histories, geographies and characters.

Anna Jamieson

1887

Related Topics: biennalescuratorial practicecuratorsartists as curatorsevents in Istanbul

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