Chris Burden, Nomadic Folly, 2001. Metal, plastic, fabric, wooden
platform, woven carpets, cushions, and sound, dimensions variable.
Exterior view of installation at the 2001 Istanbul
Interior view of installation at the 2001 Istanbul
Leandro Erlich, Neighbors, 2001. Mixed-media installation at the
1995 Istanbul Biennial.
Füsun Onur, Le's Meet at the Orient, 1995. View of mixed-media
installation at the 1995 Istanbul Biennial.
Isa Genzken, New Buildings for Berlin, No. 1-8, 2001. Glass, wood,
metal, 210 x 50 x 50 cm. Installed at the 2001 Istanbul Biennial.
Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, Powerless Structures: Traces of
a Never Existing History, 2001. Installed at the 2001 Istanbul Biennial.
Ana Maria Tavares, Exit II (Rotterdam Lounge), 2001.
Matti Suuronen, Casa Finlandia Futuro, 1970. Polyester, 4 meters
Michael Lin, Platform. (front) Fabian Marrcaccio, IMF Paintant Mirror.
the Istanbul Biennial
Magazine, June 2002
by Carolee Thea
As the shift from an industrial to a cultural economy takes
place in urban environments all over the globe, the main sites for display
and consumption, the cities are experiencing a changing relationship to the
world, one that has obliged them to reconsider their own native cultural vitality,
their art and architecture, their politics, and their relation to shifting
values in commerce and to critiques of consumerism. Biennial exhibitions have
become one of the vehicles for this discussion. Through representation, display,
and spectacle, the mega-show attracts the international art world as well as
the host community into a dialogue on urgent contemporary topics: globalism,
nationalism, post-colonialism, the relationship of center to margins, the dissolution
of borders, and the fate of Modernist ideals in a post-postmodern world.
biennial in Istanbul has been among the most successful of its kind, and in
the fall of 2001, the seventh edition was launched. Since 1987, the organizing
entity, the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Art (IFCA), has invited curators
from around the world for the purpose of setting up an international visual
art exchange. Over the last two-and-a-half millennia, the seaport known as
Byzantium, Constantinople, and finally Istanbul has been the site of many of
the decisive struggles of modernities between and among ancient Greece, the
Roman Empire, Christianity, and Islam. More recently, like many countries,
Turkey was a modern military dictatorship looking anxiously to segue into a
neo-liberal economy integrated into a new and future world. Looking at the
7th Biennial in the context of the former exhibitions, we can see the evolution
of the event and its relationship to rapidly changing times.
As in most biennials, political and world issues parallel the formal and personal
concerns of the curators. The Istanbul Biennial has been curated by six individuals
over the years: Beryl Madra, Vasif Kortun, Rene Block, Rosa Martinez, Paolo
Colombo, and Yuko Hasegawa. Block, a German, who desired a real engagement
with Istanbul, was motivated by the uneasy circumstances of the roughly two
million Turks who live and work in Germany and by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism
in Turkey. Participating artists included Hale Tenger, Ilya Kabakov, Maria
Eichorn, Lawrence Weiner, and Iskender Yediler. Martinez, a Barcelona-based
curator, chose Istanbul's legendary romanticism and sensuality to celebrate
ephemeral pleasures and mental and physical liberation. In the process, she
set contemporary art against the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalism.
Over half of the artists were women who employed feminine-identified materials,
such as fabric and flowers, and frequently focused on themes of sexuality and
the female body. Artists included Kim Sooja, Laura Vickerson, Lin Tianmiao,
and Shirin Neshat. The 6th Biennial, curated by Geneva-based Colombo, opened
one month after a serious earthquake. Based on Colombo's scholarship in literature
and language, the exhibition included many Turkish artists whose works echoed
the intensity and the polyglot character of their people: for example, Seva
Saglom's Hitting and Fusum Onur's Opus 1.
The most recent Istanbul Biennial, Yuko Hasegawa's "Egofugal," called
for a collective approach to globalist ideas. Just as the 6th Biennial was
overshadowed by the earthquake, the seventh opened 10 days after the 9/11 disaster. "Egofugal," a
word coined by Hasegawa (chief curator at the Contemporary Art Museum in Kanazawa),
derives from "ego the center of one's self and "fugal” from
the Latin fugere, to flee-- diffusing away from center. She says that the term "suggests
a completely new relation between individuals and the collective entity --
the individual and the space." Some pieces were conventional solo works,
while others stressed collaboration, invited viewer participation, involved
performance, or referred to the architecture. The show was influenced as much
by East/West sensibilities as by "relational aesthetics" (a term
used by French critic Nicholas Bourriaud), an institutional critique that addresses
spaces colonized by mass media, spectacle, and the new economy and investigates
how audience and artwork interact and how audiences relate to each other through
the artwork.Biennial-goers, thinned considerably by the hazards of air travel
after 9/11, found themselves on a treasure hunt for art through a rich mix
of historic monuments that included the Cemberlitas Hammam (Istanbul's most
famous bathhouse), the Beylerbeyi Palace, the Byzantine-era Yerebatan Cistern,
and the Imperial Mint. Today, antique sites with specific histories are often
employed to house contemporary and experimental art, as well as to expand the
museum space. The revision of these histories is also a way of envisioning
the democratization of art, challenging the elitism of the museum, and demonstrating
culture's metaphoric clash with or embrace of modernity (utopias and dystopias).
Since 1986, former stables in Vienna, the chapel of the Salpetriere hospital
in Paris, the palace in the Retiro park in Madrid, the Arsenale in Venice,
and many other sites have been enlisted to this end.
For "Egofugal," Hasegawa chose the Hagia Eirene, a fourth-century
basilica built by Constantine the Great that has served over the years as arsenal,
military museum, and performance venue, as the main site. Many of the works
seem to have been chosen as reflective devices for the artgoer while pleading
for seeing other points of view. Michael Lin's huge splashy Platform was flanked
by Fabian Marcaccio's IMF Paintant Mirror, twin columnar apocalyptic and prophetic
abstract paintings. Lin embellished his platform with an enlarged and classic
Taiwanese floral motif strewn with camouflage-patterned pillows: showing extremes
of decoration-- one inspired by nature, the other designed for protection --coalescing
to create a forum, a function to be completed by visitors. Perhaps this "lounge-able" work
echoed the church's history as a meeting place (the Second Ecumenical Council
was held there in 381). While resting, one could check out disoriented biennial-goers,
who donned helmets equipped with video cameras and visors that doubled as small
screens. In this interactive work in which virtual reality and video games
entwined, Mathieu Briand played with point-of-view, encouraging viewers to
wonder about their own perceptions. Ana Maria Taveres's Exit 11, a precarious
platform on a wheeled ladder placed in front of a huge mirror, obscured the
apse and gave visitors a bird's-eye view of the architecture and exhibition.
Isa Gentzken's New Buildings for Berlin, No. 1-8, created an archaeology of
Modernist architecture with a kaleidoscope of her Constructivist buildings.
The crossover of subjective experience and actual environment is the point
of departure for her investigation of the formal categories of sculpture. Depending
on the observer, these can be seen as models of skyscrapers; they form a miniature
city through which we move. In Mexican artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's relational
work, 33 Questions per Minute, viewers typed questions into a computer program;
they were then projected onto a narrow balcony, making you look outside of
the object for the product. The questions, which received no answers, were
also projected on small LCD screens, where they flashed sequentially.
famous bathhouse Cemberlitas Hammam (designed by Mimar Sinan, the great 16th-century
mosque builder and Ottoman answer to Michelangelo), Slovakian artist Maja Bajevic
staged Women's work, a performance by Bosnian refugees. Using sewing and washing,
Bajevic gave voice to the silent and secondary victims of war. Several (clothed)
women stood in the Turkish steam bath washing tattered fabrics embroidered
with patriotic phrases from Tito's day. Female colleagues paid the entrance
fee, disrobed into towels, observed each other and the performance, and, for
a few extra lira, indulged in a full Turkish massage.The 18th-century Imperial
Mint perfectly embodies the idea of a city within a city. It is situated inside
the first yard of the Topkapi Palace in Sultanahmet. Leandro Erlich (Buenos
Aires), Francis Alys (Mexico City), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Bangkok), Yang
Fuk-Dong (Shanghai), and Rodney Graham (Canada) placed works in the niches
and cubicles. In the yard, Chris Burden's sleeping platform, Nomadic Folly,
was constructed under four umbrellas draped in silk, with woven carpets, cushions,
and straw mats. Like Lin's platform, it gave visitors a place to rest or to
talk. Also in the yard was the reconstructed Futuro house, an elliptical flying
saucer designed by architect Matti Suuronen. The installation put into question
the utopian ideals of 20th-century Modernism. Biennials are part innovative
exhibition and part intercultural meeting ground. Two days of panel discussions
in Istanbul were concerned with issues of coexistence and cultural practice.
Panelist Manray Hsu suggested that works in the exhibition exemplified a cultural
politics conceived less through continuity and tradition than through temporary
configurations that resist becoming fixed icons, as well as investigating the
models for the meeting of cultures.
Hasegawa's Egofugality is a model for globalist relations between self and
other, the individual and the collective and the individual and space. "In
times of unrest and social turmoil," she says, "art deals with values.
In quieter times, art can afford to contribute to ornamentation and order.
In times of violent psychic upheavals like our own, art is not an escape, not
a way out of confusion and incertitude, but a peephole into the churning collective
consciousness, the magma of reality in the making. Eagerly we continue to search
Biennials as institutions, including the art and the discussions, have considerable
resonance. The narratives of marginal and quasi-underground voices have become
powerful expressions of a new generation of creative voices equipped with new
strategies to confront reality at and after the millennium. Technology, as
emphasized in other biennials, is the main engine of a globalized form of capitalism,
but it also critiques consumerism and unmoors the traditional dominant coordinates
by which we build identity and self. The biennial, always flawed, is one interesting
mode for the 21stcentury artist, intellectual, and artophile to explore and