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