Exhibitions Turkey

Istanbul Biennial curator reveals concept behind 'Saltwater' theme

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev is enlisting support of oceanographers as well as artists

Turning the tide: those attending the biennial press conference were seated on the actors’ side of the proscenium arch, while the organisers were in the audience

The Turkish art world took to the stage yesterday, 10 September, to attend the launch of the concept behind Istanbul’s upcoming art biennial. Called “Saltwater: a Theory of Thought Forms”, the exhibition is due to take place in a variety of unconventional venues throughout the city in year’s time (5 September- 1 November 2015).

To make the point, the curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, a former artistic director of Documenta 13, described the framework from the stalls of the gently dilapidating Haldun Taner theatre, originally constructed as a quay-side fruit and vegetable market on the Asian side of Istanbul. Those attending were seated in serried rows on the actors’ side of the proscenium arch.

The biennial will be “a city-wide project on the Bosphorus that considers different frequencies and patterns of waves, the currents and densities of water both visible and invisible, that poetically shape and transform the world,” Christov-Bakargiev said. Istanbul is sited at the pinch point between the cool waters of the Black Sea and the warmer, more saline Sea of Marmara and from one perspective its history has been shaped over the millennia by the brisk current between the two. Christov-Bakargiev said that the concept of waves “refers to history and resistence”.

Next year’s international exhibition will present new works by more than 50 visual artists as well as oceanographers and neuroscientists. However, there was an emphasis on literary texts yesterday. The Italian author Nanni Balestrini, also seated in the stalls, read in Italian from his novel “Carbonia: We Were all Communists” an account of a workers’ uprising in Sardinia after the Second World War.

More telling was a William Kentridge’s animated film, Tide Table, 2003, a whimsical exploration of South Africa’s contradictory relations to politics and nature as seen through the perspective of man in a suit and a dancing beach chair. Kentridge figures in what was described as member of the “alliance” (or, in lay terms adviser) for the biennial. Another member of that team is the Turkish video artist Füsun Onur, an extract from whose Pink Boat, 1993, was also shown. This was a small flotilla of inflatable boats in protest against the removal of the historical bridge across the Golden Horn.

The Istanbul Biennial is organised by the private Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts and despite being hailed as the most important artistic event in the Islamic world receives very little public funding. This, the 14th edition, will not be the first to have a watery theme. Paulo Colombo organised “The Passion and the Wave” in 1999, though its poster was withdrawn. Ugo Rondinone’s depiction of a clown sleeping the bottom of the sea was considered too near the nub after the destruction wrought by an earthquake just weeks before the opening.

Istanbul’s 13th biennial was also overtaken by events. Its theme was art in public spaces but was forced to retreat indoors after many of the scheduled venues filling with plumes of tear gas and water cannon as police and demonstrators clashed had been tuned into a battleground between demonstrators trying to protect the city’s Gezi Park.

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12 Sep 14
16:54 CET


"We were all communists" now intelligence is feminist and situationist. Art Akbar.

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