Istanbul Biennale 2013: Articles, Reviews, Images, Interviews





Mom, am I barbarian?

The curator of the 13th Istanbul Biennial recounts to Domus her position in between the institution, the artists and the public after Gezi Park occupation.

Art / Gabi Scardi

The 13th Istanbul Biennial is one of the most important on the international art scene and opened on 12 September. Over the years, the Istanbul Biennial has appointed curators with an urban focus and an interest in the links between art and social change. This year’s case is an even stronger example than usual as, for years, Fulya Erdemci was director of SKOR, Foundation Art and Public Space, Amsterdam, and has always formulated the concept of an art that is not happy to merely portray but demands an active role, aspiring to shape the present world and that of the future – except that, this year, the reality has trumped if not art but certainly the Biennial.

The eruption of protests that began in Gezi Park shook Turkey at a time when the Biennial project had already been finalised. The marches, occupations, major demonstrations and various forms of resistance have eclipsed many artistic interventions in the field. In such a suddenly and radically changed scenario, the Biennial has been hit by controversy and had to defend itself. Many of the works express a sense of hope, courage, radicalism and critical thought but explaining these issues quickly and forcefully is an ongoing challenge for the Biennial. Certainly, with its troubled process and the hullaballoo generated, this Biennial not only reflects the complexity of the moment but has also helped highlight the stereotypes and superficiality of the debate on art and its meaning.

Gabi Scardi: Is Istanbul situation affecting your work for the Biennial? If yes, in what sense? What is your position?

Fulya Erdemci: Actually, the conceptual framework of the 13th Istanbul biennial articulates three axis: a theoretical one based on the notion of public domain as a probable political public forum, and a practical axis that takes the urban public spaces and the violent urban transformation as the praxis sites. As you know, the title of the biennial “Mom, am I barbarian?” is a quotation from a Turkish poet Lale Muldur that forms the artistic axis of the exhibition in terms of the unknown or yet to be invented languages as well as art’s and social movements’ relation with poetry. Certainly, before Gezi, we have planned to realize many projects that intervene with the urban public spaces of Istanbul including Gezi Park and Taksim square as well.

Above: Sener Ozmen, From the series Untitled (Megafon), 2005, detail. Courtesy the artist and Pilot Galeri, Istanbul; top: 13th Istanbul Biennial posters

What is happening in Istanbul right now is larger than life and certainly, it is not comparable to any exhibition or art event. We are all very surprised, exalted and full of hope again. The so-called public sphere, which was merely a question of probability before, has been split open with such a creative energy that the streets have begun to talk, sing, dance, walk and interact. The questions posed in the conceptual framework of the İstanbul Biennial—which is directly related to public domain as a political forum and urban spaces as the spatial component of the democratic apparatus—have alchemically unfolded and entered into the domain of experience. This has changed, transformed us all. It has opened up new horizons we could never have anticipated.

During and just after the Gezi occupation (it was halted violently on the 15th and 16th of June), we didn’t have much time to think and work on the biennial. As everything is very recent and still in the process, it is not easy to respond to the situation through an exhibition in biennial-scale. However, the conceptual framework of the biennial has already articulated these issues, and the art works and projects were selected in accordance with such considerations and criteria. I believe that the biennial exhibition can open up a space for thinking around the transformative experience that we have been going through.

Afterwards, the biennial has been on the verge of radical changes: we have been considering withdrawing from the public domain totally and giving the stage to what has happened and is still happening in the parks, streets and neighborhoods without capitalizing or framing them. After all, we seriously questioned what it meant to collaborate with the authorities to realize art projects on the streets with their permission while the same authorities have been trying to suppress the resistance violently, even the most innocent performances, actions and happenings such as Man Standing or the collective Ramadan dinners (Earth Tables) on the streets. After having made meetings and forums to ask the opinion of the artists, curators, critics and activists, we have reached a final decision of withdrawing from the urban public spaces.

Left Fulya Erdemci (curator) with Bige Örer (event’s director)

Gabi Scardi: From the curatorial perspective, this must be a very challenging situation. What is your position, as a curator between an institution, the artists and the public?

Fulya Erdemci: As an established art institution with an independent international advisory board structure, Istanbul Biennial is able to create a free zone for curatorial practices and concepts. And that is how I was able to bring out my critical reflections in the biennial concept and selection of artistic practices. As I mentioned in the conceptual framework of the biennial, we see that while artistic practices that claim public domain become more prevalent, simultaneously under the spell of privatization, art institutions have become dependent on private funding and commercial support. Our research for the Biennial extends to an investigation of the relation of art and Capital, furthermore, how the “booming” art world, specifically its market, functions in Istanbul and elsewhere, and what traces of this impact we might find. And certainly, unorthodox artistic methods and practices including performances dealing with the issues related to public domain (as a political public forum) constitutes one of the major aspects of my curatorial agenda.

Freee, Protest is Beautiful: Tottehnam, 2007/2013. Photo: Ben Fitton/courtesy: Freee art collective

Gabi Scardi: What about the position of the artists involved in the Biennial?

Fulya Erdemci: For artists, the negotiation with the institutions and the sponsorship systems is a part of their exhibition making practices. I invited artists, who even extend this practice into their artistic productions. Hence, they will share their critical assesments on such risky grounds without giving up their political positions.

Gabi Scardi: Is the high level of energy, tension and conflictuality of the context affecting their projects a lot ? are they activating a dialogue with Turkish context and events? are there new works generated by this situation? Could you make some examples?

Fulya Erdemci: The high level of energy, tension and conflictuality has been in the air for such a long time, much before the Gezi resistance broke out. For that reason, the selection of the works and the development of the new projects were realized in such a context. However, certain projects we need to rethink and now we are in the process of revising them. Actually, I didn’t want to ask artists to comment on Gezi directly as it is too early to digest or react, and thus, might lead to premature births. And yet, some artists have already hinted or foreseen such questions in their works and wanted to extend their ideas to connect with these new political questions raised by Gezi resistance, with whom I am in dialogue right now.

Furthermore, as I mentioned briefly above, “barbarian” refers to languages, especially the ones that we don’t know or yet to invent to call a new world that has just been appearing in the horizon. We all feel that the existing theories and formulas fall short to define new ways/models of living together and governance, but art can open up that possibility for the collective imagination. Therefore, art works in the biennial exhibition that are calling or intending to create novel unorthodox languages (or learn the unknowns ones) can help to understand the new collective culture and languages of the Resistance that have been appearing like a nebula.

Furthermore, I believe that the biennial exhibition can function, not as a tool for an immediate change, but as a process of thinking, besides all, as a possible way of constructing new subjectivities symbolized by the “barbarian”.

Jimmie Durham, The Doorman, 2009, Mixed Media © Jimmie Durham & Kurimanzutto Gallery

Gabi Scardi: I guess that the response and awareness towards the situation are different for Turkish and non turkish artists. If so, in what terms?

Fulya Erdemci: Some of the artists from Turkey directly has gone through the transformative experience of Gezi occupation. Certainly, this creates a major difference in the psyche of the works.

Gabi Scardi: How, on which basis, and with which kind of instruments can we analyse the impact, result and value of an artwork in relation with such a situation?

Fulya Erdemci: The certain art works (including poetry or other forms of literature or film, etc) have the capacity to create such a transformative experience opening up the possibility of utopic moments in our daily routines. So, I believe that such art projects may have paved the road in the formation of collective imagination and action that we have been experiencing through Gezi resistance. However, I don’t think that we can compare art projects’ impact with activism. Though they may have the same aim of changing the society in the face of urgency or learn from each other, they cannot be evaluated with the same criteria or the form of impact

5533 is an independent art insitution founded by the young Turkish artist Volkan Aslan and Nancy Atakan, an American artist and art historian

Gabi Scardi: I know you are interested in “public” works for “public” spaces, in unauthorised public interventions. How does the current situation of tension influence or condition the possibility to put this kind of interventions in place?

Fulya Erdemci: Our initial approach to this situation had two folds: First, the biennial focuses on the debated places and neighbourhoods under transformation to be able to create political public forum beyond the already existing polarized positions and roles to open up the possibility of co-producing the city with its citizens. Secondly, the biennial takes certain grass-root organizations on board, in terms of aiding artistic research and collaborations in order to highlight and bring out the engagement and relations of these resistance platforms with the dislocated communities and neighbourhoods.

As mentioned previously, we decided to withdraw from the urban public spaces very recently. However, when I was structuring the exhibition before Gezi, I have never intended to commission or include the immediate/spontaneous activist/protest art that was supposed to happen in the streets directly in the biennial exhibition, as I believe that they shouldn’t be domesticated or tamed in the institutional frames at which they are reacting. However, I was thinking that it was possible to highlight them if they were there already.

Gabi Scardi: Democracy, livability, social sustainability, publicness, the space of the city; all these concepts are urgent to be discussed. and I guess that this Biennial happening in this very situation is a good place to do it.

Fulya Erdemci: Actually, the concept of the Biennale is directly linked to it. In the conceptual framework, through Chantal Mouffe, I asked how art can open up the conflict to create an agonistic space without reaching a consensus (under which the weakest voices are repressed) to be able to discuss the urgent issues related to the rights and citizenship, to be able to open the ways for collective imagination. Actually, the creative, collective, anonymous and self-organized living and action capacity came out from the Gezi occupation taught (and still teaching) us how diverse, even clashing World views and practices can live together and act together. This was/is one of the main questions that we have asked in the “Public Alchemy” through Bruno Latour’s quotation: “And yet, we are all in the same boat, or at least same flotilla. To use Neurath’s metaphor, the question is how to rebuild it while we are cruising on it. Or rather, how can we make it navigate when it is made of a fleet of diverging but already intertwined barges? In other words, can we overcome the multiplicity of ways of assembling and dissembling, and yet raise the question of the one common world?” [1].

The works and projects in the exhibition in diverse languages and forms articulate and reflect on such complicated layers. Besides, the term ‘barbarian’ in the conceptual framework of the biennial refers to strikingly to the rights of citizenship. It refers to “the antonym of ‘politis’, the ‘citizen’, coming from the polis, the Greek city-state. It is a term that relates inversely to the city and the rights of those within it. We asked what it means to be a good citizen today, in Istanbul for example. In the midst of the ongoing urban transformations – the “battleground” – does it mean to conform to the existing status quo or take part in the acts of civil disobedience? One level of the exhibition is dealing with the concept of barbarian as outcasts, bandits, anarchists or revolutionaries. It also implies to imagine another social contract in which citizens assume responsibility for each other, even for the weakest ones, those most excluded. In this specific focus, what is happening in Istanbul, Ankara, Antakya, Izmir and other cities is related directly to civil disobedience to assume responsibility for the fellow citizens, even the most excluded ones. In this sense, the whole resistance is about a new social contract that the works in the biennial are opening up to discussion.

LaToya Ruby Frazier, “Self Portrait In Gramps’ Pajamas”, 2009

Gabi Scardi: But how do you conciliate them with the art system logics and reasons that are, in one degree or another, unavoidable when we speak about Biennials?

Fulya Erdemci: I took biennial machine as an apparatus that you can use for different reasons. In my case, I used it as a critical machine questioning and unfolding such systems from within. Besides, reversing what is happening in the urban public spaces (privatization and commercialization of what previously belonged to public), we try to create public spaces inside the (mostly) private ones. As a part of this understanding, we worked a lot but finally achieved to make the biennial free of charge for this edition so that anyone can experience art without any financial barriers.

Gabi Scardi: In conclusion, do you think you could say which is the role of art in relation to the contemporary society and to its, sometimes violent, transformations?

Fulya Erdemci: As I mentioned shortly, I believe that art can open up a space for a transformative experience thus has the capacity to foster the construction of new subjectivities. I think that art can create a reflective experience to be able to halt and think that we desperately need now in the process of such turmoil (under the increasing state violence, detentions and arrests) or other powerful transformations that we are going through.

[1]  Latour Bruno, From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik – or how to Make Things Public, in Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2005



The 13th Istanbul Biennial curated by Fulya Erdemci, and Kalliopi Lemos’s “I Am I, Between Worlds and Between Shadows”

September 25, 2013 review No Comments
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20130925 095417 The 13th Istanbul Biennial curated by Fulya Erdemci, and Kalliopi Lemos’s “I Am I, Between Worlds and Between Shadows”
Fulya Erdemci, curator of the 13th Istanbul Biennial, took its title “Mom, Am I Barbarian?”, from a book by Turkish poet Lale Muldur, and states in the catalogue that she aims to explore the theme of the public domain as a political forum. The word ‘Barbarian’ is used in this instance to signify people who are marginalized by society: the anarchists, revolutionaries and outcasts – be they artists, demonstrators or poets.The Biennial runs until 20 October, and features 88 artists and artist groups, from Turkey and around the world, whose practice examines issues of barbarity and civilization, occupation, isolation from society and persecution by authorities.

The original aim of Erdemci was to bring art to public spaces all over Istanbul and exhibit in buildings that were due to be demolished. However, in reality the Biennial has been contained within 5 exhibition venues; Antrepo No. 3 next to Istanbul Modern, the Galata Greek primary school, Arter in Beyoglu, Salt Gallery and 5533.

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A crane is positioned by the entrance of the Antrepo No. 3 exhibition, with a plastic ball banging intermittently against the wall. Perhaps a slightly too obvious metaphor for the threatened demolition of sites around the city such as Gezi Park, which stoked the fire of the May protests in Taksim Square.

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What captured our attention inside were; drawings by Christoph Schafer of urban occupations and transformations; slogans by UK artist collective FREEE ‘Protest Drives History’;

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Scottish artist Nathan Coley’s neon sign ‘Gathering of Strangers’; Portuguese installation artist Carla Filipe’s ‘If there is no culture there is nothing’; films by Polish “Theatre of Behaviour” Akademia Ruchu;

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and most intriguingly, SUSPECT by Guillaume Bijl, a Belgian artist whose installation recreates a studio ransacked by police who suspected him of being an anarchist/ outsider. The artists selected for the Istanbul Biennial represent a wide range of nationalities, and are connected by a loose thread in their practices, which examine issues of freedom of speech and notions of the artist or anarchist as an outsider.Last week in Istanbul, as international visitors arrived in the city for the opening of the 13thIstanbul Biennial, protests erupted once again in Taksim Square, the largest demonstrations in the city centre since the occupation of the square back in May.

How ironic then, that on the Tuesday of the Biennial opening week, we were en route to our hotel when our eyes started stinging, our nostrils tingled, and we began sneezing and coughing. “Is it gas?” we asked our taxi driver. “Ah yes. Tear gas.” He replied nonchalantly. We hid out on the roof of our hotel, watching fireworks thrown by protestors on the bridge, and viewing protestors filtering towards Taksim Square, to be confronted by riot police armed with water cannon and tear gas.

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20130925 160636 The 13th Istanbul Biennial curated by Fulya Erdemci, and Kalliopi Lemos’s “I Am I, Between Worlds and Between Shadows”

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20130925 160627 The 13th Istanbul Biennial curated by Fulya Erdemci, and Kalliopi Lemos’s “I Am I, Between Worlds and Between Shadows”

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20130925 160619 The 13th Istanbul Biennial curated by Fulya Erdemci, and Kalliopi Lemos’s “I Am I, Between Worlds and Between Shadows”

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20130925 160611 The 13th Istanbul Biennial curated by Fulya Erdemci, and Kalliopi Lemos’s “I Am I, Between Worlds and Between Shadows”

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20130925 160605 The 13th Istanbul Biennial curated by Fulya Erdemci, and Kalliopi Lemos’s “I Am I, Between Worlds and Between Shadows”

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20130925 160551 The 13th Istanbul Biennial curated by Fulya Erdemci, and Kalliopi Lemos’s “I Am I, Between Worlds and Between Shadows”
All Images Sky Sharrock But it was business as usual the next day for us Londoner’s, who have experienced protests in our own city, when we headed to the peaceful Fener district of the city, where Kalliopi Lemos and curator Beral Madra have brought to life an empty Greek Girl’s School – Ioakimion – for a powerful and thought-provoking exhibition of sculptures, juxtaposed with a sound installation that examines some of the injustices faced by women in societies around the world today. Titled “I Am I, Between Worlds and Between Shadows”, the exhibition features 7 imposing half-human half-animal sculptures, inspired by the classical mythology of Lemos’s heritage, which act as metaphor’s for indignities and abuses experienced by women and girls in contemporary life. A sound installation features a young girl reading ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, and children singing Greek nursery rhymes, and on the desks are placed news reports from recent months, of some of the harrowing incidents experienced by females around the world, such as trafficking, prostitution and FGM. This contrast between the sounds of innocent children, and the stories of injustices against women in the real world, sends a shudder down one’s spine, and serves as a lesson that we need to protect our young girls from the world when they grow up.

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20130925 161051 The 13th Istanbul Biennial curated by Fulya Erdemci, and Kalliopi Lemos’s “I Am I, Between Worlds and Between Shadows”
Image Sky SharrockBeral Madra, co-founder of Istanbul’s Kuad Gallery, and curator of the first two Biennials in Istanbul, and the artist Kalliopi Lemos, were drawn to this unusual exhibition venue, which had been empty for 25 years, and the artworks fit perfectly with the nostalgic ambience of the school, which has been untouched since the last pupils sat at their desks many years ago. The ethos of this exhibition manages to execute what was the original dream of the Biennial, to bring art to empty public spaces in the outer reaches of the city.

Lemos’s exhibition really digs deep into the psyche of women, and makes the viewer stop and think about some of the issues facing the female of the species all over the world today.

Words by Lee Sharrock




Fulya Erdemci_EvertElzinga2

Fulya Erdemci_EvertElzinga2


Curator of the 13th Istanbul Biennial Fulya Erdemci announced the title of the biennial, which will be held from 14 September to 10 November 2013
by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) under the sponsorship of Koç Holding.


The title and conceptual framework of the 13th Istanbul Biennial was announced by its curator Fulya Erdemci on Tuesday, 8 January at a press meeting which was held at the Maçka Campus of Istanbul Technical University (İTÜ). Bige Örer, Director of the Istanbul Biennial, joined Fulya Erdemci as a speaker at the press meeting. Fulya Erdemci, who determined the title of the 13th Istanbul Biennial as “Mom, am I barbarian?” with a reference from poet Lale Müldür’s book of the same title, explained the conceptual framework.

At the press meeting, Fulya Erdemci announced that, as an exhibition in a dialogue with the city, the 13th Istanbul Biennial’s focal point would be the notion of the public domain as a political forum. According to Erdemci, this highly contested concept will serve as a matrix to generate ideas and develop practices that question contemporary forms of democracy, challenge current models of spatio-economic politics, problematise given concepts of civilization and barbarity, and most importantly, highlight the role of art in this context.

Questioning what the reintroduction of the concept of “barbarian” as a reflection of “absolute other” reveals in our contemporary society, Erdemci referred to art’s potential for engendering new positions and constructing new subjectivities for the sake of creating a space for the weakest ones and the most excluded by destabilising dominant and deep-seated discourses.

Erdemci further explained that the Istanbul Biennial aimed to highlight the potential of the discourse of public domain through an examination of spatial justice, art in the public domain and art-market relations. Aspiring to open new avenues for thought and imagination, the Istanbul Biennial will activate social engagement and public fora to generate a possibility for rethinking the concept of “publicness”.

The 13th Istanbul Biennial will use public buildings which are left temporarily vacant by urban transformation as exhibition venues. These may include public buildings such as courthouses, schools, military structures or post offices, former transportation hubs like train stations, ex-industrial sites such as warehouses, dockyards as well as the very contested Taksim Square and Gezi Park. Furthermore, the hallmarks of current urbanism such as shopping malls, hotels and office-residential towers are being considered as sites for artistic interventions.

Bige Örer also disclosed the details of the 13th Istanbul Biennial Public Programme, which will start in February as a part of 13th Istanbul Biennial. Aiming for bringing artistic production and knowledge production together, the public programme, titled “Public Alchemy,” is co-curated by Fulya Erdemci and Dr. Andrea Phillips, Reader in Fine Art in the Department of Art, Goldsmiths, University of London and Director of the Doctoral Research Programmes in Fine Art and Curating. A series of lectures, workshops, seminars and performances, which will take place from February to the end of the Biennial, will examine how a political, poetic alchemy is at work, both in Turkey and across the world, in which conventional concepts of “the public” are being transformed. The first events of the programme will focus on Istanbul’s current urban transformation under the title of “Making the City Public” from 8 to 10 February.

Additionally, as a part of 13th Istanbul Biennial events programme, a special selection of films will be screened at the 32nd Istanbul Film Festival to be held in 30 March – 14 April. The Istanbul Biennial film screening programme will articulate the concepts of barbarity, civic awakening and the city.

After the meeting organised with the participation of the press and the contemporary art professionals, curator Fulya Erdemci and the Director of Istanbul Biennial Bige Örer answered the questions. Public programme co-curator Dr. Andrea Phillips was also present in the press meeting.


As a curator and writer Fulya Erdemci, who was the director of the Istanbul Biennial (1994-2000), was director of Proje 4L in Istanbul (2003-2004) and worked as temporary exhibitions curator at Istanbul Modern (2004-2005). She was invited to curate the ‘Istanbul’ section of the 25th Biennale of São Paulo ‘Metropolitan Iconographies: Cities’ in 2002 and joined the curatorial team of the 2nd Moscow Contemporary Art Biennial ‘Footnotes on Geopolitics, Market and Amnesia’ (2007). Erdemci initiated the ‘Istanbul Pedestrian Exhibitions’ in 2002, the first urban public space exhibition in Turkey that centred on the “pedestrian” and co-curated the second edition in 2005 with Emre Baykal. In 2008 Erdemci co-curated SCAPE “Wandering Lines: Towards A New Culture of Space”, the 5th Biennial of Art in Public SPACE in Christchurch, New Zealand with Danae Mossman, presenting the work of 25 international artists throughout the urban spaces of Christchurch city. She was the director of SKOR | Foundation For Art and Public Domain in Amsterdam between June 2008 and September 2012. Erdemci has served on international advisory and selection committees. Erdemci has taught at Bilkent University (1994–1995), Istanbul University and Marmara University (1999–2000) and at Istanbul Bilgi University’s MA Programme in Visual Communication Design (2001–2007). Erdemci was curator of the 2011 Pavilion of Turkey at the 54th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale.


The advisory board consists of the artistic director of dOCUMENTA (13) Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, artist Ayşe Erkmen, art consultant Melih Fereli, director of Exhibitions and Public Programs and chair of the Exhibitions and Museum Studies Program at San Francisco Art Institute Hou Hanru and director of the Al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, Jack Persekian.


The 13th Istanbul Biennial, which is organised by İKSV from 14 September to 10 November 2013 is sponsored by Koç Holding. Koç Holding is the “Biennial Sponsor” of all five Istanbul Biennials between 2007 and 2016.


The visual identity and publications for the 13th Istanbul Biennial are prepared by the designer Ruben Pater, LAVA Amsterdam.



A workshop for emerging art critics will be held throughout the public programme inviting a selection of writers to work with the biennial curatorial team to develop new writing on artistic and curatorial projects. Writing will be published in an online platform leading up to and during the biennial. Writers will be selected from an open call. Detailed information can be found at the Istanbul Biennial website.


Artists who would like to apply to participate in the 13th Istanbul Biennial should send their project proposals together with their portfolios to until 1 March 2013. The list of participants and projects of the 13th Istanbul Biennial will be finalized in June.

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The 13th Istanbul Biennial, organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts and sponsored by Koç Holding, is set for the autumn of 2013, under the curatorship of Fulya Erdemci. Fulya Erdemci, who is currently Director of SKOR | Foundation For Art and Public Domain in Amsterdam, will curate the 13th Istanbul Biennial in 2013.

Fulya Erdemci is a curator and writer based in Istanbul and Amsterdam. Erdemci was curator of the 2011 Pavilion of Turkey at the 54th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale. Since 2008 she has been Director of SKOR (Stichting Kunst en Openbare Ruimte) Foundation For Art and Public Domain in Amsterdam. Her projects at SKOR include: ‘Morality Wall: Between You and I’, four facade projects in collaboration with Witte de With, Rotterdam, 2010; ‘Actors, Agents and Attendants’, international research, symposium and publication series, the first edition, ‘Speculations on the Cultural Organisation of Civility’ was co-curated with Andrea Philips and Markus Miessen in 2010, and the second edition ‘Social Housing-Housing the Social’ (Amsterdam 2011) with Andrea Philips.

Fulya Erdemci, was among the first directors of the Istanbul Biennial (1994-2000), was director of Proje 4L in Istanbul (2003-2004) and worked as temporary exhibitions curator at Istanbul Modern (2004-2005). She was invited to curate the ‘Istanbul’ section of the 25th Biennale of São Paulo ‘Metropolitan Iconographies: Cities’ in 2002 and joined the curatorial team of the 2nd Moscow Contemporary Art Biennial ‘Footnotes on Geopolitics, Market and Amnesia’ (2007). Erdemci initiated the ‘Istanbul Pedestrian Exhibitions’ in 2002, the first urban public space exhibition in Turkey that centred on the “pedestrian” and co-curated the second edition in 2005 with Emre Baykal. In 2008 Erdemci co-curated SCAPE “Wandering Lines: Towards A New Culture of Space”, the 5th Biennial of Art in Public Space in Christchurch, New Zealand with Danae Mossman, presenting the work of 25 international artists throughout the urban spaces of Christchurch city. Erdemci has served on international advisory and selection committees, including “The International Award for Excellence in Public Art” initiated by the Public Art (China) and Public Art Review (United States) Shanghai, May 2012; the SAHA, Istanbul, 2012; the 12th International Cairo Biennial, Cairo, 2011; and, De Appel, Amsterdam’s, Curatorial Programme ’10/’11 and ’09/’10. Erdemci has taught at Bilkent University (1994-1995), Marmara University (1999-2000) and at Istanbul Bilgi University’s MA Programme in Visual Communication Design (2001-2007). Recently in 2012, she was named the Laurie Chair at Rutgers University, New Jersey.

The curator of the 13th Istanbul Biennial was appointed by the Advisory Board of the Istanbul Biennial. The advisory board consists of the artistic director of dOCUMENTA (13) Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, artist Ayşe Erkmen, art consultant Melih Fereli, director of Exhibitions and Public Programs and chair of the Exhibitions and Museum Studies Program at San Francisco Art Institute Hou Hanru and director of the Al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, Jerusalem Jack Persekian.

The 13th Istanbul Biennial will be held between 14 September – 10 November 2013 following the professional preview 11-12-13 September. The conceptual framework will be announced at a press conference in autumn of 2012 by the curator Fulya Erdemci.



Sep 24 2013

In and Around Istanbul’s Biennial Week

by HG Masters

Ayşe Erkmen’s bangbangbang (2013), outside the Antrepo customs depot that houses the main portion of the 13th Istanbul Biennial. Every hour, the yachting buoy is swung into the building, which is due for imminent demolition after the Biennial closes as part of a large Bosporus-fronting tourism project.

The 13th Istanbul Biennial, with its unlikely question for a title —“Mom, am I Barbarian?” (taken from a book of poems by Lale Müldür)—is centered around a series a challenging proposals about the meaning of citizenship, processes of urban development, forms of education and the conditions of labor in the neoliberal city. The Biennial was meant to address the rapid, contested development of Istanbul and the modern megapolis at large, but its realization was interrupted by the Gezi Park protests of late May and June—an explosion of discontent at the authoritarian, sectarian policies of the Turkish government. While these recent (and still ongoing) social uprisings are addressed in only a few artworks, many of the underlining causes are—including the egregious urban planning policies that displace marginal communities and privilege corporations over citizens. At its more poetic moments,  the exhibition reflected the spirit of the Gezi resistance in the suspended, unfinished, provisional, impermanent, transient and collaborative qualities of works by 88 artists and collectives. Beyond the Biennial itself the week’s festivities included openings of new exhibitions at galleries and art spaces, a performance series and even the debut of a new art fair. Here’s a look around Istanbul in mid-September.

Biennial director Bige Örer welcoming members of the press in front of Jorge Méndez Blake’s The Castle (2007), a brick wall which runs over a copy of Kafka’s 1922 novel of the same name (visible in the lower left corner).

The UK-based Freee art collective’s banner Protest Drives History (2008) was one of several works that obliquely referred to the protests in Turkey over the government’s authoritarian rule while speaking—rather optimistically in this case—about the transformative power of social movements.

Yogyakarta-based new media collective House of Natural Fiber’s Diamagneti (Sm) Species (2012–13) in the center of Antrepo takes the frequencies emitted by plants and transforms them into visible vibrations on suspended geometric forms and charts.

Working with professional filmmakers, Halil Altındere created a music video, Wonderland (2013), for the Roma hip-hop group Tahribad-ı İsyan, who rap about the redevelopment (read: gentrification) of their Sulukule neighborhood by Turkey’s Public Housing Project (TOKİ).

Biennial curator Fulya Erdemci giving journalists a tour, talking about the Wouter Osterholt and Elke Uitentuis’s project Monument to Humanity – Helping Hands (2013) about a peace monument in Kars, near the border with Armenia, destroyed on the orders of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who called it “freakish.” The duo pushed a cart around Istanbul with a replica of the monument, and cast 120 people’s hands in plaster, which they then planted in the ground in Kars, near the destroyed monument.

Taking the form of a sacred book, the pages of İpek Duben’s project Manuscript 1994 (1993–94) show the influenced of feminist and conceptual art practices, as well as her concerns about depictions of women in Western self-portraiture.

Influenced by the forms of Indo-Persian miniature painting, Shahzia Sikander’s three-channel video Parallax (2013) is a revised version of a piece shown at the 11th Sharjah Biennial earlier in the year, here with a soundtrack featuring readings of Turkish poetry.

Thomas Hirschhorn’s Timeline: Work in Public Space (2012) is, as the title suggests, an overview of his many public installations rendered in his signature cut-and-paste, cardboard-and-tape style. A monument to Thomas Hirschhorn, by Hirschhorn.

At the Galata Greek School building, İnci Eviner’s Co-Action Device: A Study (2013) is an unfolding, performative installation involving workshops with students from various disciplines—part surrealist theater, part educational model. Visitors could walk around any part of the installation as well as above it.

Upstairs at the Greek School, Peter Robinson’s Ruses and Legacies (2013), made from felt, Plexiglas and wood, comprises abstract forms, carefully arranged yet still emergent as they become structures suggesting architecture or artworks.

At the entrance to Salt Beyoğlu on İstiklal Caddesi, Halil Altindere’s miniature wax figure Guard (2012) keeps watch over Diego Bianchi’s sprawling, chaotic, junk-strewn installation State of Spam (2013).

Beyond the Biennial, upstairs at Salt Beyoğlu, was Gülsün Karamustafa’s long-overdue survey “A Promised Exhibition.” Here, her vitrine Gold Venus with Mirror (1985), with collage in the background.

Shown for the first time ever, Karamustafa’s “Prison Paintings” (1972–78) are recollections of her time in the İzmit Women’s prison, where the artist served time after being sentenced in 1971 for her political activism.

Gülsün Karamustafa being interviewed in front of My Roses My Reveries (1998/2013), featuring an image of the artist as a young girl leaving her father behind on the train between Istanbul and Ankara. The words on the walls are the rhyming words from poems she recited in her youth.

At Salt Galata was a retrospective of photographs by Istanbul-based photographer Elio Montanari, “One, No One and One Hundred Thousand.” Since the 1980s, Montanari has been recording artists at work, installing shows with curators, primarily around Europe. Here are images capturing James Lee Byars’ performances in Venice.

Elio Montanari himself, with the artist Köken Ergun standing next to him, describing projects he had witnessed and captured on film.

A homage to James Lee Byars, featuring a photograph of the artist’s work set alone on a gold-leafed wall, with a red-painted room behind it.

Outside of the major institutions, the NON-Stage festival organized performances around the city. Here, at the nightclub Babylon, Berlin-based Nevin Aladağ’s seven-minute dance piece The Man Who Wanted to Jump Over His Shadow (1999) featured a breakdancer illuminated by a single spotlight.

Another NON-Stage event, Gabriel Lester’s Holes in the Sky (imagination is the higest one can fly) (2013), took place one afternoon in Fındıklı Park on the Bosporus. Experienced kite-flyers tried to launch several of these circular forms high into the sky, although the wind was largely uncooperative that afternoon.

Standing on a roof of the Turkish restaurant Kiva Han, a lip-reader with binoculars was recounting to us viewers a lecture by Ahmet Öğüt, who was hundreds of feet away on the top of the Galata Tower. A performance called The muscles behind my eyes ache from the strain (2013), it was another NON-Stage event.

Ahmet Öğüt, in a white shirt, standing on the balustrade of the Galata Tower, telling stories about the times his works were censored, damaged or altered because of their content, while being interpreted by a professional lip-reader.

Among the week’s openings was this Protocinema exhibition by New York-based Trevor Paglen, in a disused factory. The gleaming orb is a model for a non functional satellite.

Füsun Eczacıbaşı’s art-filled home in Galata was the venue for many parties and receptions throughout the week. Here, a peak at the works on the ground floor, including Ai Weiwei’s plastic crabs, Ori Gersht’s photograph of an exploding vase, a sculpture by Do-Ho Suh, Vik Muniz’s photograph of a skeleton made from junk, and portraits of women wearing animal-organ fashion by Pinar Yolacan.

A project by Rampa gallery, Nevin Aladağ’s video projection Voyeur (1996/2008/2013) of a waiting woman is situated on the corner of a busy street near Beşiktaş.

The week’s final event was the art fair Art International, located on the Golden Horn in the Haliç Congress Center. After a busy opening Sunday, the fair’s three public days were quiet. Here, a remake of Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin’s Mattresses to Imaginary Destinations (2003) with Richard Hudson’s steel sculpture Marilyn Monroe (2013) in the background.

At Galeri Manâ’s booth, a hair sculpture and two photo-collages by Valérie Blass, with an Ayşe Erkmen metal sculpture beneath, and a new photography by Pinar Yolacan to the right.



In Istanbul for the Biennial?

Merve Arkunlar picks eight exhibitions to see

Anish Kapoor at Sakıp Sabancı Museum

This exhibition, showing in both the museum’s galleries and the gardens features works in marble, alabaster and other stone materials, many of which have not been seen in public before. The exhibition also includes existing works such as Sky Mirror and Yellow. To 5 January 2014

Şahin Kaygun: Hidden Face at Elipsis Gallery

Şahin Kaygun (1951-1992) was one of Turkey’s best contemporary avant-garde photographers. This exhibition at Elipsis showcases his Polaroid images from the1980s onwards, when the he first experimented with the visual representation of the ‘hidden face’. Working in film as well as photography, Kaygun’s directorial project Full Moon (1988) has been shown at Cannes and other festivals. To 2 October

Burak Delier: Play your part and the script will follow at PILOT

This exhibition, by an artist whose intelligent and witty projects always intrigue, showcases videos, sculptures, and installations that explore issues of economics and art and notions of private and public. To 26 October

Gülsün Karamustafa: A Promised Exhibition at SALT Beyoğlu & SALT Galata

Spanning 40 years this is established artist Gülsün Karamustafa’s most expansive retrospective to date and takes over both SALT locations on İstiklal Caddesi and the old Bankalar Caddesi. Works in a range of media, including painting, collage, installations and video, reflect topics including Turkey’s recent political history, migration, locality, identity, cultural awareness and gender. To 5 January 2014

Şükran Moral and Valie Export at Galeri Zilberman

This exhibition pairs two performance artists whose work around female sexuality, identity and power has often caused controversy Metanoia (later, after, beyond) is an installation that features 29 performance videos by Valie Export, dating back to the 1970s. Despair, the centrepiece of Moral’s exhibition is a video that focuses on a group of illegal immigrants on a boat in the middle of the sea, searching for a better life. To 26 October

Trevor Paglen at Protocinema

Trevor Paglen’s new large-scale sculpture, Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite (Design 4; Build 3), takes the form of a satellite with no commercial or military ‘purpose’. Detached from its function Paglen’s spacecraft-cum-art object highlights not only how information is communicated but how art relates to both its function and its audience. To 25 October

Cengiz Çekil and Nilbar Güreş at Rampa

This year, Rampa opens the season with two concurrent exhibitions. Cengiz Çekil showcases new work, With a Cleaning Cloth, a work comprised of 144 pieces, each featuring different configurations of a cleaning clth, canvas, string, paint and lace. Nilbar Güreş’s project Open Phone Booth, which debuted at Frieze Art Fair in 2011, and is shown here in Turkey for the first time, is a collection of photographs and a three-screen video installation that documents the need of villagers in an Alevi-Kurdish village in Bingöl to walk up to the hills to find reception on their cell phones. To 26 October

Sarkis: Twin at Galeri Manâ

This show features a new light installation Rainbow accompanied by the artist’s 1971 audio work 7 Roulettes. Created over two floors the exhibition sets up a dialogue between past and present, memory and perception. To 24 September

The I3th Istanbul Biennial continues until 20 October 


Art Biennale

13th Istanbul Biennial: Reviews, Map, Artists

13th Istanbul Biennial: ‘Mom, am I barbarian?’ 14 September – 20 October 2013. The 13th Istanbul Biennial, curated by Fulya Erdemci, borrows its title from poet Lale Müldür’s book, with a focus on the theme of public space as a political forum. The biennial exhibitions aspire to open up a space to rethink the concept of ‘publicness’ through art and elicit imagination and innovative thought to contribute to social engagement and discussion. Biennial website:

19 September 2013:
Artforum – Diary: ’Absent Presence
14 September 2013:
Guardian:Istanbul Biennial under fire for tactical withdrawal from contested sites
Guardian: Image Slideshow
13 September 2013:
NY Times: ’A Canvas of Turmoil During Istanbul Biennial
NY Times: Image Slideshow

The Biennial is held across five venues mapped here with artists listed exhibiting at each venue listed below. Admission is free of charge. The five locations are open daily from 10:00-19:00 except Mondays. (During the first week the Biennial remains open Monday 16 September). Image: Peter Robinson – Structure and Subjectivity, 2012. Mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy Hopkinson Mossman (Auckland, New Zealand) Photo: Servet Dilber.

(ArtInternational Istanbul art fair takes place: 16-18 September 2013 click here for details).

Antrepo No. 3. Photo: Servet Dilber

Antrepo No. 3. Photo: © Servet Dilber

Antrepo no.3
Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi
Liman İşletmeleri Sahası
34433 Tophane

Murat Akagündüz
Halil Altındere
Lutz Bacher
Yto Barrada
Anca Benera & Arnold Estefan
Guillaume Bijl
Nathan Coley
Alice Creischer & Andreas Siekmann
İpek Duben
Carlos Eduardo Felix da Costa (Cadu)
Ayşe Erkmen
İnci Eviner
Hanna Farah Kufr Birim
Carla Filipe
HONF Foundation
Jorge Galindo & Santiago Sierra
Fernanda Gomes
Edi Hirose
Thomas Hirschhorn
Rob Johannesma
Tadashi Kawamata
Amal Kenawy
Ádám Kokesch
Jiří Kovanda
Mierle Laderman Ukeles
Rietveld Landscape
Gonzalo Lebrija
Zbigniew Libera
Lux Lindner
Maider López
Nicholas Mangan
Cinthia Marcelle & Tiago Mata Machado
Gordon Matta-Clark
Jorge Méndez Blake
David Moreno
Fernando Ortega
Wouter Osterholt & Elke Uitentuis
Şener Özmen
Claire Pentecost
Mere Phantoms
Fernando Piola
Mika Rottenberg
LaToya Ruby Frazier
Akademia Ruchu Freee
Christoph Schäfer
Santiago Sierra
Shahzia Sikander
Hito Steyerl
Nil Yalter & Judy Blum

Galata Greek Primary School, Photo: © Refik Anadol

Galata Greek Primary School, Photo: © Refik Anadol

Galata Greek Primary School
Rum İlköğretim Okulu
Kemeraltı Cad. No: 49
34425 Galata Beyoğlu

Mülksüzleştirme Ağları
Volkan Aslan
Lutz Bacher
Bertille Bak
Rossella Biscotti
Franz von Bodelschwingh
Nathan Coley
Martin Cordiano & Tomás Espina
Elmgreen & Dragset
Annika Eriksson
İnci Eviner
Toril Johannessen
Basim Magdy
Lale Müldür & Kaan Karacehennem &
Şener Özmen
Falke Pisano
Sulukule Platform
Agnieszka Polska
Wang Qingsong
Newspaper Reading Club (Fiona Connor & Michala Paludan)
Peter Robinson
Jean Rouch
Proyecto Secundario Liliana Maresca
Serkan Taycan
Vermeir & Heiremans
Mahir Yavuz & Orkan Telhan

Arter, Photo: © Murat Germen

Arter, Photo: © Murat Germen

Asmalı Mescit Mah.
İstiklal Cad. No:211
34430 Beyoğlu

Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme
Héctor Zamora
Jananne Al-Ani
Maider López
Lutz Bacher
Jorge Méndez Blake
Carla Filipe
Praneet Soi
Angelica Mesiti
Didem Erk
José Antonio
Vega Macotela
Stephen Willats
Jimmie Durham
Cinthia Marcelle

SALT, Photo: © Iwan Baan

SALT, Photo: © Iwan Baan

SALT Beyoğlu
Asmalı Mescit Mah.
İstiklal Cad. No:136
34430 Beyoğlu

Amar Kanwar
Lutz Bacher
Halil Altındere
Diego Bianchi



İMÇ 5.Blok
5533 Unkapanı

Photo by Elif Savari Kızıl

Photo by Elif Savari Kızıl

Photo by Elif Savari Kızıl

Photo by Elif Savari Kızıl



Istanbul Biennial: the new art of protest

Artists at this year’s Biennial are turning Istanbul’s public spaces into political forums. It’s no coincidence. Many pieces address the mass demonstrations and social unrest in Turkey.

A green ball pounds against a concrete wall – over and over again. It’s a giant wrecking ball that greets visitors at the entrance of this year’s Biennial in Istanbul. With the installation, Turkish artist Ayse Erkmen references the city’s urban transformation. This echoes the sentiments of curator Fulya Erdemci.

Under the event’s slogan, “Mom, am I a barbarian?” the “oppressed and excluded in society” should be picked up through art, said Erdemci.

Public space as a political forum is a focus of this year’s exhibition concept. And there couldn’t be a more current topic.

Mass protests re-ignited

As the initial Biennial tourists strolled through downtown Istanbul, they were surprised with a fresh wave of protests. Teargas and water cannons were even being used against the protesters.

One of the reasons behind the renewed public anger was the death of 22-year-old Ahmet Atakan, who had been killed while demonstrating in the Turkish city of Antakya. Witnesses and relatives of the young man blame the police and say he was hit in the head with a teargas cartridge. Atakan’s death spurred new protests in cities around the country. According to media reports, 40 people were arrested in Istanbul alone, representing a new wave of protests after the previous mass demonstrations in Istanbul’s Gezi Park.

A crane holds a wrecking ball against a building,<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Copyright: DW/S. Sokollu/V. Uygunoglu Ayse Erkmen’s wrecking ball mirrors the changes in Istanbul

It was because of these protests that Fulya Erdemci’s initial exhibit plans were scrapped. For about two years, Istanbul’s public spaces had been slated for the art of the 88 international artists: Gezi Park, Taksim Square, city districts under threat of demolition, endangered natural parks, and all of these places have now suddenly become the focus of national discussion.

For 14 of the projects, Erdemci had applied for permits at Istanbul municipalities and at the Federal Ministry of Culture but never received a reply. The Istanbul municipalities supported the crackdown by police against demonstrators, and they were criticized during the protests as a result.

Curator Fulya Erdemci spontaneously withdrew her applications to five exhibition spaces in public places.

“We don’t want to work with the same authorities who are trying to suppress this peaceful movement, the voice of the people,” Fulya Erdemci said in an expression of solidarity. Her withdrawal sends a strong artistic and political message, she added.

Parks as a political forum

Through the Biennial, international artists can participate in the protests. German artist Christoph Schäfer is one of them. His drawings touch on the importance of parks as political forums. Istanbul’s Gezi Park is an especially good example of politics in public spaces. For hours, students, artists, professors and doctors sat together in Gezi Park to discuss politics – or simply make music.

“As a result, the public debate and the political aspect take on a completely different quality,” Schäfer said.

Portrait of Christoph Schäfer in foreground, one of his drawings of Gezi Park in background,<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Copyright: DW/S. Sokollu Christoph Schäfer’s sketches focus on Gezi Park

One of Schäfer’s drawings shows a park in Hamburg. For 15 years, Schäfer has participated in “Park Fiction,” an artistic and socio-political project in a Hamburg park that serves as a prime example of public art. Through their own ideas and drawings, nearby residents have a say in the park’s design. Out of solidarity, the park was renamed overnight to “Gezi Park Fiction.”

“Political movements in other countries could learn a lot from the movement in Istanbul because the protests were done in a smart and clever way,” said the artist.

The Biennial is not a test of “civil disobedience,” as it’s been portrayed in media, said Schäfer, but a reflection of the events in Istanbul. “In the exhibition all the sore points are addressed. But because people today create their own political platforms, the Biennial is no longer the only bright spot,” he added.

For him, the Biennial’s importance has diminished because the people’s anger has already erupted into the street.

Erdem Gündüz (center) stands in a silent protest at Taksim Square in Istanbul early June 18, 2013, Photo: REUTERS/Marko Erdem Gündüz, center, initiated the silent protests on Taksim Square

Art of the silent protest

Turkish artist and choreographer Erdem Gündüz can also be found at the Biennial. During the summer protests, Gündüz provided a political platform to demonstrators: He initiated a silent, standing protest on Taksim Square, naming the event “Standing Man.” Hundreds of thousands imitated the move and joined him, standing for hours on the public square. It was a creative alternative to noisy, mass demonstrations. At the Biennial he’s conducting readings on various topics, including about the people in Gezi Park.

“Art isn’t so distant from real life,” said Günüz. “Just like the standing man. Later, people understood that art is important because a man did something like that, and he’s an artist.”

Art against construction plans

Alongside Gezi Park, the financial crisis is an important topic of the exhibition, said Andrea Phillips, co-curator of the Biennial. At the moment it’s especially interesting in Istanbul because the city’s economy is growing. Nevertheless, there are problems with capitalism in Istanbul, added the Brit.

“You only have to look at the housing situation in Turkey,” Phillips said. “This problem also inspired the protests. Many buildings in downtown, also close to the Biennial, will be demolished and replaced by new luxury apartments or shopping centers.”

Photos on a wall, documenting the path,<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Copyright: DW/S. Sokollu/V. Uygunoglu<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Serkan Taycan’s photos document many construction projects in Istanbul, helping citizens visualize the changes

Serkan Taycan is one of the artists that address the controversial construction project. The photographer selected a 60-kilometer (37-mile) path, which runs from the north-south axis of the Black Sea to downtown on the Marmara Sea. The path follows the construction plans of Istanbul: the Istanbul Canal as a second Bosphorus River, the third bridge over the Bosphorous, the third airport.

“This greatly affects us residents in Istanbul. With this path, I want to give people the opportunity to experience the transformation,” said Taycan, adding that in five years the path will no longer exist in its current form.

With that, Taycan struck a nerve in the Turkish folk. The demonstrators in Gezi Park have often described the construction plans of the Turkish government as “megalomaniac” and “unnecessary.” Even economic experts criticize the government’s construction plans and say they would rather see an investment in the education and health sectors.

  • Biennale in Istanbul 14.09. - 20.10.2013

    Istanbul Biennial: Solidarity with Gezi Park protesters

    Public space as political forum

    Long before the Gezi park protests, the motto of the 13th Biennial in Istanbul, “Mom, am I a barbarian?” had already been determined. When demonstrations broke out, however, many in Istanbul’s art scene took part. The events dominate this year’s Biennial.

Art for the people

Through projects like Serkan Taycan’s path or Ayse Erkmen’s wrecking ball installation, the people of Turkey seem to feel understood. “The people who live in Turkey are having a tough time right now,” said a young, Turkish Biennial visitor. “We are happy that artists are devoting time to current issues in human rights and even economic issues.”

The Biennial doesn’t end until October 20, but its resonance with the visitors is already noticeable.

“These exhibits are being viewed with a closeness that isn’t noticeable at every exhibition,” said German artist Christoph Schäfer.

A Swedish visitor traveled to Istanbul just to see the Biennial and made a comparison: “I’m not actually interested in political art, but I’ve been to many Biennials, even the one in Venice,” he said. “I am surprised at how interesting this one is, especially since political events had overturned plans so spontaneously.”




Istanbul Biennial 2013

posted in Places

Istanbul Biennial 2013

I’m just back home from a Sunday spent around the Istanbul Biennial 2013 (13th Edition). I took the opportunity to visit two venues (the Antrepo, close to the Istanbul Modern, and at the Galata Greek Primary School) and to shoot some photographs.

I found some very interesting pieces, both from local artists and from international ones. I just propose here some shots taken around, without any conceit of having fully covered the exhibition (which is big and located in many different venues). But I recommend everyone (at least, in Istanbul) to dedicate one day to this event, because it is a great opportunity to get the touch of contemporary art.

13th Biennial Istanbul 13th Biennial Istanbul 10 13th Biennial Istanbul 9 13th Biennial Istanbul 8 13th Biennial Istanbul 7 13th Biennial Istanbul 6 13th Biennial Istanbul 13th Biennial Istanbul 13th Biennial Istanbul 13th Biennial Istanbul



September 20, 2013 7:11 pm

Istanbul Biennial: best of times, worst of times

An art installation of a huge green ball on a rope beside a wall by Ayse Erkmen©Galerie Barbara Weiss/Galeri Mana

‘bangbangbang’ (2013) by Ayse Erkmen

When a country is in the throes of political crisis, what position should its cultural guardians take? To ignore the situation smacks of fiddling while Rome burns. To embrace it is to risk myriad ignominies.

Fulya Erdemci, the curator of this year’s Istanbul Biennial, chose the latter option. Her exhibition, entitled Mom, Am I a Barbarian?, took as its theme the role of public space in art and society. To encourage a rapport with Istanbul’s population, the Biennial would be free of charge and there would be displays in public spaces.

As such, it could not be more relevant to a city that has been rocked by civil protest all summer. Triggered by the government’s plans to develop areas such as Gezi Park that are dear to the city’s collective heart, the demonstrations ballooned into a discontent provoked by fears among secular Turks that the ruling AK party wished to Islamicise their culture. The government responded with tear gas and water cannons. Hundred of people were injured and several killed.

Erdemci and her team supported the protesters (her catalogue essay exalts “this feeling of incredible solidarity and joy”). Nevertheless, by the time the Biennial opened last week, questions that provoke controversy during peaceful times – who do you choose? whose money do you take? where do you install? – had became loaded with more tension than one exhibition could comfortably bear.

In truth, Erdemci made an effort to confront the complex systems of power that underpin the urban transformation that has radically altered Istanbul’s infrastructure. This spring, she instigated a public lecture programme with the aim of examining how “publicness can be reclaimed as an artistic and political tool in the context of global financial imperialism and local social fracture”.

Of course, without “global financial imperialism” the contemporary art world would struggle to keep its show on the road. Nowhere is this more true than in Istanbul, where the collecting habits of a handful of wealthy dynasties has fuelled an explosion in the art market that means the city hosts two contemporary art fairs (which have been battling it out in the courts), several hundred galleries and a clutch of privately owned museums. Inevitably, it is often the same families whose conglomerates profit from the modernisation of the city.

Men throwing bricks from the second floor©Servet Dilber

‘Material Inconstancy’ (2012) by Héctor Zamora

The Biennial does not escape association. Its chief sponsor is the Vehbi Koç Foundation, the cultural arm of one of Turkey’s largest conglomerates, Koç Holding. In truth Koç, which is ardently secular, has recently had government contracts cancelled and its rapport with the ruling AK party is fraught with tension.

Nevertheless, during the Biennial’s public programme, artists angered by the Koç connection disrupted a performance and filmed Erdemci’s reaction. Erdemci called the police and threatened to sue the film-maker, actions for which she later apologised.

Yet there is a sense that the Biennial’s reputation as a guardian of freedom has been compromised. Turkey under prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has done some appalling things but, during the Biennial’s opening week, it grated to hear rousing speeches about the artistic struggle for free expression at parties held in Istanbul’s most opulent homes, where the inhabitants enjoy wealth consolidated over decades of the brutal military-backed rule that preceded Erdogan’s victory.

Furthermore, this summer, film-maker and artist Kutlug Ataman alleged that art advisers to Omer Koç, one of Istanbul’s most important collectors and a vice-chairman of Koç Holding, had threatened to withdraw their patronage of his work because of a TV interview in which, in their opinion, he was insufficiently critical of Erdogan’s government. Koç instantly issued a denial.

Erdemci defends her sponsorship with Koç as “a device, a mechanism. [It’s like] you have a smartphone but maybe a child worker made them.”

Also problematic is her decision to abandon the plan to display art in public areas. “What does it mean to take permission from the same people who are suppressing [us]? This way, we are pointing out presence through absence,” is how she defended it to me. Yet the result is that her artists are now sheltered in the privately financed, non-profit cocoons of Arter and Salt, which are owned by the Vehbi Koç Foundation and banking dynasty Garanti respectively.

Scene from a film by Halil Altindere©Pilot Gallery

‘Wonderland’ (2013) by Halil Altindere

Inevitably, such a freighted back story threatens to crush the work itself. The Biennial’s main venue, the waterfront warehouse Antrepo, was particularly disappointing. The building is earmarked for demolition, a fate that should have made it ripe for a poignant swansong. But from the opening exhibit, a wrecking ball swinging against its façade that is the offering of Turkish artist Ayse Erkmen, a lack of imagination blighted the display. An uneasy cavern, Antrepo drowned the majority of work.

Art that blurs boundaries with social documentary can thrill but here the sheer number of complex, text-based projects rendered much of it flat, cold and overly analytical. From Gezi Park to Lima, New Jersey, Palestine and São Paulo, many pieces took the spectator on a world tour of urban change and its attendant social injustices. Yet the disconnected nature of the stories left the spectator bewildered rather than moved. Many artists deserved better. Consider, for example, the journey of the stone hand cast by Dutch duo Wouter Osterholt and Elke Uitentuis. The sculpture was inspired by the demolition, on the prime minister’s orders, of a statue in Kars, a city on Turkey’s Armenian border, that had been erected as a peace monument. Osterholt and Uitentuis wheeled their hand about Kars in a barrow, asking people for their opinions on the scandal, and casting their hands. These hands were installed on the site of the demolished sculpture, where they were instantly removed by police.

White sculpture of a man leaning his head on his arm against a square post©Galerie Laurent Godin

‘Lamento’ (2007) by Gonzalo Lebrija

Also memorable was “Intensive Care” by Rietveld Landscape, a Dutch studio that had originally intended to install its work, a light that responds to human presence, in the Atatürk Cultural Centre in Taksim. Deprived of that chance, Rietveld simply scaled down its model and put it in a pitch-black space within Antrepo. After the cacophony of ideas outside, the quiet, poetic provocation of that flashing square stilled the mind and opened the imagination. Very different yet sharing the same potent immediacy was Halil Altindere’s film, Wonderland (2013), of Roma hip-hoppers voicing their lyrical fury at the destruction of their Istanbul neighbourhood.

Fortunately, the ratio of artists capable of conjuring poetry out of socio-politics increased at the show held in the Galata Greek Primary School.

Here, the outstanding piece was “I am the dog that was always here” (2013) by Berlin-based artist Annika Eriksson, a video of stray dogs exiled to the outskirts of Istanbul accompanied by a prophetic narrative – “They lived there and came and disappeared and now they are back”, “I can’t remember if those buildings are being constructed or taken down” – which captured the helplessness in the face of dispassionate power that has animated so much of modern Turkey’s history.

Artists who obliquely approached Erdemci’s theme mined deeper depths than their more literal peers. Elmgreen and Dragset, unable to realise a more ambitious public project, returned to a 2003 performance whereby young men sat at school desks writing their private diaries. To come upon these grave, silent scribes in a darkened room was to remember that without ethical public authority, private freedom is doomed. Upstairs, Argentine duo Martin Cordiano and Tomás Espina had recreated the replica of an immigrant’s apartment down to the Balzac novel on the table, the poster of Che Guevara and the crumpled National Geographic map on the wall. A clutch of broken objects – spectacles, crockery – betrayed the psychic fragmentation that is the price of exile.

A woman pushing a cart bearing a sculpture of huge white hands©Servet Dilber

‘Monument to Humanity – Helping Hands’ (2011/2013) by Wouter Osterholt and Elke Uitentuis

Occasionally, a work breaks all the rules and triumphs anyway. The must-see of this exhibition was “Networks of Dispossession” on the top floor of the Greek school. A project by a collective of Istanbul artists led by Burak Arikan, it used a digital mapping programme to reveal the network of connections between state power and the business and media conglomerates – including Eczacibasi Holding, sponsors of the IKSV foundation that organises the Biennial – that are its partners in the development of the city.

These arid graphics brought to mind a line by the radical American poet Adrienne Rich, whose despair at the depredations wrought by capitalism on society drew her towards Marxist theoretics. “All kinds of language fly into poetry, like it or not.” Art’s battle to speak truth to power yet put bread on her makers’ tables is as old as civilisation. In Istanbul this year, it feels bloodier than ever.


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