Crescent Arts Director and artists visited Istanbul for the Biennial in September 2011. It was yet another fascinating and thought provoking experience.
Susan Slann, one of our resident artists, comments: ‘The personal and the political. The personal is political.‘ A theme which ran through the Istanbul Biennial, referencing the works of Felix Gonzalez-Torres whilst showcasing a mix of new and established artists from all over the world.
In one room stood a large sculpture formed from the barrels and butts of rifles. It dominated the room and flowed down from the ceiling like a cascading waterfall. The Dutch artist Eylem Aladogen, commented that this work had arisen from his fascination with the idea of generating willpower; of having the courage and capacity to discover or re-discover latent abilities in yourself and to develop them. The rifles, although referencing violence, also represents the need to change and evolve and with change there is also fear.
A powerful piece of work, which on first glance seemed to comment purely on violent political struggles. Another look and it also contemplates our individual and personal struggles in the society we live in’.
There’s also an interesting review in The Economist and still time to catch the Biennial.
Two of our artists comment on our previous visit in 2009.
Crescent Arts headed to Istanbul in September 2009 to sample the offerings of the 11th Istanbul Biennale, entitled “What Keeps Mankind Alive?” after the song from the Threepenny Opera by Bertholt Brecht. The experience was highly invigorating in terms of both the art on display and the energy of the city and its people. With a smattering of Turkish we managed to find our way round easily, taking in the three main sites of the Biennale – two enormous warehouse spaces and a former Greek School. The latter was put to particularly good use by artists who were mindful of its educational, political and historical context in relation to their work.
Susan Timmins writes:
‘The lack of a sense of a commercial market for the individual artists struck me straight away and was a relief. There was heavy emphasis on power politics, war and economies, cultural and religious differences seemingly stretching back further than the dismantling of the USSR and the subsequent fallout for the ‘new’ nations and other mainland European and Eastern countries. The main theme for me was a massive displacement for peoples of their national identity as their nations either tried to embrace or play capitalism their way, to survive. A struggle with fear to adjust to a new order that they had not necessarily wanted or understood. An exchange sometimes of one hell for another.’
141 projects were presented by 70 artists from 40 different countries. The sheer concentration of artists’ work, selected and curated by the Croatian curators’ collective ‘What, How and for Whom?’ (WHW), was initially rather daunting; especially since textual information and data played such a strong part in the reading of work and providing political context.
Helen Donnelly writes:
‘Many works stood out to me but one particularly was Marko Peljhan’s ‘Territory 1995’. an installation concerning the massacre in Sebrenica Yugoslavia where more than 8,000 people were killed. When entering the installation consisting of a darkened room with sound padded walls and looking into the distance at hanging illuminated glass panels with command signs written onto them, you automatically feel uncomfortable like you shouldn’t be there. You get the feeling you are in a radio control room, waiting for the next command. Sounds of radio control commands fill the room. I found this installation to be very eery, the darkness of the room reflecting the darkness of the commanding messages. What was interesting to me was how Marko tries to reconstruct the movement of the troops and the military operations through the use of archiving and documenting and the ways in which modern warfare techniques are used; new and alternative communication systems.
‘Istanbul has to be one of the most vibrant cities I have visited. The biennial a must-visit for any artist not only for showing art in unconventional places , but for the insight into the history of conflicts and clashes that have taken place within our developing world, reflecting on the political, and questioning Modernisation, Urbanisation and the architectural conditions of a city.’
Photo (above): Helen Donnelly 2009