Art Radar spotlights standout works from this year’s Istanbul Biennial.
We revisit highlights from the 14th Istanbul Biennial before it closes its doors on 1 November 2015.
Launched on 5 September 2015, the 14th Istanbul Biennial themed “SALTWATER: A Theory of Thought Forms” features artworks by more than 80 participants from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, Latin and North America. The Biennial is curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Artistic Director of dOCUMENTA(13) in 2012 and soon to be Director of Italy’s Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea and GAM – Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Torino.
With a team of interlocutors and alliances, including influential international artists, Christov-Bakargiev selected the artworks, commissions and other materials ranging from the history of oceanography, environmental studies and marine archaeology, to Art Nouveau, neuroscience, physics, mathematics and theosophy. The Istanbul Biennial takes place in 36 venues on the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus, including exhibition spaces as well as temporary spaces on land and on sea such as boats, hotels, former banks, garages, gardens, schools, shops and private homes.
Christov-Bakargiev explains this year’s Biennial, as quoted in the press release:
This citywide exhibition on the Bosphorus hovers around a material – salt water – and the contrasting images of knots and of waves. It looks for where to draw the line, to withdraw, to draw upon, and to draw out. […] There are literal waves of water, but also waves of people, of emotion and memory. It is through the identification of waves that we acknowledge patterns – underwater patterns of water, or patterns of wind. Perhaps a wave is simply time – the feeling of a difference between its high and low points able to mark the experience of time, and thus of space, and thus of life. With and through art, we mourn, commemorate, denounce, try to heal, and we commit ourselves to the possibility of joy and vitality, of many communities that have co-inhabited this space, leaping from form to flourishing life.
‘Celebrity’ artists taking the limelight at the Biennial include Theaster Gates, whose emotionally charged work is also on show at the 56th Venice Biennale, and his site specific installation of a pottery studio where the artist produces a ceramic bowl daily, recalling a local artisanal tradition. Walid Raad, who will soon have a major solo exhibition at MoMA in New York, presents an installation that speaks of the refugee crisis in subtle and poetic ways, using moving cardboard boxes and wooden crates with laser cut images of various flowers.
Meanwhile, Wael Shawky, whose Cabaret Crusades have been the focus of various museums around the world this year, from New York’s MoMA PS1 to Doha’s Mathaf, features his last installment of Cabaret Crusades – The Secrets of Karbala (2014) in the fitting Islamic domed setting of the Küçük Mustafa Paşa Hammam built in 1477.
Floating on the sea off the island of Büyükada are Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas‘s sculptures of animals burdened with other animal parts and disparate materials, representing the refugees that cross this part of the world to escape to Western Europe. At the island’s Hotel Splendid Palas, William Kentridge’s video installation O Sentimental Machine makes a humorous critique of Leon Trotsky’s idea of the human as a sentimental but programmable machine.
Among the plethora of impressive artwork on show, Art Radar selects four highlights that transform and create a dialogue with the architectural space in which they are installed.
1. Pelin Tan & Anton Vidokle – 2084: A Science Fiction Show / Episode 2: The Fall of the Artists’ Republic (2014)
2084: A Science Fiction Show (2012-2014) is a three-episode film by sociologist Pelin Tan and artist Anton Vidokle. The series is an exploration of the history of the future, where money has been abolished and substituted with information products. In this hypothetical future, art has colonised life and every aspect of daily existence has become aesthetic.
Or Gallery commissioned Episode 1 for the “Institutions by Artists” convention in Vancouver in 2012, Bergen Assembly commissioned Episode 3: The Noosphere in 2013, and La Biennale de Montréal commissioned and premiered Episode 2 in 2014. The Istanbul Biennale is showing Episode 2: The Fall of the Artists’ Republic, which explores the concept of an artist-run state outlined in Episode 1. Through human characters with animal head masks, the film traces the advent of an artists’ republic following artist-led insurrections, and its subsequent fall due to a relentless pursuit of transforming life into art. The video is shown in the centuries-old Adahan Cistern, beneath the Adahan Hotel, an old stone bricked enclosed environment that fits right in with the film’s location.
Pelin Tan (b. 1974, Hilden Germany) is a teacher, researcher, curator and writer living in Mardin and Istanbul, Turkey. Tan studied sociology and her doctoral thesis in Art History delved into the concept of “locality” in socially engaged art practices (Istanbul Technical University, 2010). She also undertook post-doctoral artistic research with Ute Meta Bauer in the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT).
Anton Vidokle (b. 1965, Moscow) is an artist mainly working with moving image and founder of e-flux, based between Berlin and New York. His work has been exhibited in shows such as dOCUMENTA (13), Venice Biennale, Tate Modern and MoMA PS1, among other venues. He directs a programme of exhibitions at the e-flux space in New York and is also a contributor to various publications, such as Frieze.
Beyoğlu ADAHAN Sarnıcı / ADAHAN Cistern, Asmalı Mescit Mah. General Yazgan Sok. No: 14, 34430 Beyoğlu
2. Anna Boghiguian – The Salt Traders (2015)
Egyptian painter Anna Boghiguian’s installation The Salt Traders (2015) at the Galata Greek Primary School is a fitting example of how the history explored in an artwork can be linked to the history of its architectural surroundings. Built between 1885 and 1909 for the education of Greek children in Istanbul, the Galata school is no longer a school. It closed twice in 1988 and again permanently in 2007, as a result of the longstanding conflicts between Greece and Turkey, which caused a decrease in the Greek population since the 1960s.
Boghiguian has filled the main hall with painted Egyptian sails hanging from the ceiling. The work explores the history of salt, as well as its science and nature. The installation features scientific formulas, as well as maps of the world referencing salt trade decorating the draped sails. Piles of salt from Turkey as well as far-flung places like Ethiopia and Pakistan sit on the floor of the space.
Turkey was once at the centre of salt trade between the East and the West during the Roman Republic, when systemic slavery was fully developed. Slaves came from many places around present-day Europe, as well as Africa and Asia. Turkish, as well as Egyptian slaves, passed through the well-established Greek slave markets on the islands of Chio, Delos and Rhodes. Salt was one of the exchange goods used for the purchase of slaves.
Anna Boghiguian (b. 1946, Cairo, Egypt) works with painting and drawing, and lives nomadically between Cairo, India, Europe and other new destinations. Her multidisciplinary works are highly researched and explore the different histories she encounters during her travels. Boghiguian studied Art and Music at the Concordia University in Montreal, and Political Science and Economics at the American University in Cairo.
Beyoğlu Galata Özel Rum İlköğretim Okulu / Galata Greek Primary School, Hacımimi Mah. Kemeraltı Cad. No: 49, 34425 Beyoğlu
3. Cevdet Erek – A Room of Rhythms – Otopark (2015)
Cevdet Erek’s A Room of Rhythms – Otopark (2015) is an immersive installation occupying the covered car park in Tophane’s Boğazkesen Street, built in the 1940s. It uses the architecture of the space, sound, reverberation, performative elements such as graphic gestures and other devices to change the viewer’s awareness of the surroundings. The car park appears stripped bare, empty, abandoned, yet there is a presence that alters its state, and heightens the viewer’s experience of the environment, and as a result, his participation in it.
Erek initiated his series of Room of Rhythms in 2010-2012, with the first shown at dOCUMENTA (13) (YouTube video) in the old, empty spaces of the C&A department store in Kassel. Sound and echoes reverberate between the physical space and the visitor. The viewer becomes an integral part of the work, establishing new relationships with the space and deviating normal perceptions of architecture, sound and time. Erek exhibited another version of A Room of Rhythms at Curva, MAXXI, Rome, in 2014.
Cevdet Erek (b. 1974, Istanbul) trained in architecture, music and sound design. His work combines video, sound and images in site-specific installations that attempt to alter the viewer’s perception of a given space. In 2012, Erek received the Nam Jun Paik award for media art, and his work has been exhibited internationally, including MAXXI, Rome (2014), Istanbul Modern (2014), Marrakech Biennale 5 (2014), Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2013), Sharjah Biennial 11, Sharjah (2013), 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (2012), dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel (2012), Ungovernables – 2012, New Museum Triennial, New York (2012) and Tate Modern, London (2011).
Beyoğlu Otopark (Boğazkesen Cad.) / Garage (Boğazkesen St.), Hacımimi Mah. Boğazkesen Cad. No: 108/A, 34425 Beyoğlu
4. Deniz Gül – Stone (Manuscripts Don’t Burn) (2015)
Deniz Gül’s site-specific installation Stone (Manuscripts Don’t Burn) (2015) is situated in an old Greek apartment building from 1915 in Beyoğlu. After the Greeks left, the building passed through three Turkish proprietors. The artist used carved and burned wood pieces to ‘re-furbish’ the ceiling of two abandoned rooms, with motifs referencing a particular era during which many Mediterranean countries were united under the influence of Islam – the Ottoman Empire (1301-1922). As Gül writes in her statement, the ceiling forms a boundary with the exterior, as an “interior sky” under which “a person dreams”.
Motifs are geometrical, abstract, figurative – ancient signs and symbols once marked in stone, referring back to the ancient civilisations that inhabited Anatolia. They are a treasure hunter’s dream to be interpreted and investigated. The artist references ‘Definecilik’ (treasure hunting) and ‘Ermeni’ (Armenian), hinting at the widespread passion for treasure hunting in Eastern Turkey, in search for ‘Armenian gold’ – legendary treasures and precious items left behind or hidden by Armenians during the genocide. The ceiling becomes a form of haunting, taking back the idea of violence into the house. Today, the last Armenians left in Turkey are mostly concentrated in Istanbul.
The Armenian genocide started officially on 24 April 1915 (and this year is the 100th anniversary), the same date as the building’s construction, with the arrest, deportation and mass execution of Armenian intellectuals. Gül’s title also aptly seems to reference two aspects of the responsibility in the Armenian genocide. During the genocide, more than 30,000 ancient Armenian manuscripts were lost, and the fate of the books is unknown. Recently going into fire were the archives on the Armenian Genocide kept at the Institut d’Egypt in Cairo; allegedly, the Turkish government paid for the archives to be burnt.
Istanbul-based artist Deniz Gül (b. 1982, İzmir, Turkey) is interested in language as text and signs, as well as objects and environments. She questions the construction of public and private domains redefining “invisible boundaries” and “infusing spaces and objects into new patterns of experience”, as she writes in her website. In 2011, Arter introduced her multi-phased project 5 Person Bufet, curated by Emre Baykal, recently completed as a collaborative performance in Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago, in 2015. She undertook residencies at Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago (2012), Tokyo Wonder Site, Tokyo (2008), Khoj, Mumbai (2006). Her work has been included in exhibitions at Salzburger Kunstverein, Salzburg (2012), the Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw (2010), Palais des Beaux Arts, Lille (2009), Centre De Cultura Contemporania, Barcelona (2008).
Beyoğlu Ev (Bostanbaşı Sok.) / House (Bostanbaşı St.), Firuzağa Mah. Bostanbaşı Sok. No: 30, 34425 Beyoğlu
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
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