This year, there is a different kind of excitement leading up to the Istanbul Biennial, a contemporary art exhibition held every two years and organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts. People have worked on the biennial with confidence, and though it won’t be opened till September 5, we can roughly make out what to expect, and we will be seeing lots of surprising projects.
Rubbing salt into the wound
The 14th Istanbul Biennial will begin with an exhibition titled “Saltwater.” When the tight-lipped curator of the biennial, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, and her team added the title to this year’s exhibitions, which refers to the source of life, geographical connection, the Bosporus and many other themes, the event that begins next week became even more mysterious.
The events of the 14th Istanbul Biennial, which will take place all over Istanbul, include works that have something to say about current issues and politics. As Bakargiev says, Turkey has plenty of festering wounds. And this year’s biennial intends to point at those wounds, though it cannot heal them altogether. In an interview that she gave to Blouin Artinfo on August 18, Bakargiev said: “This is almost a spiritual exhibition. These spirits come from the ethnic cleansing that [were] carried against Armenians and Greeks.” And after the “DOCUMENTA (13)” exhibition that she curated, she preferred not to be involve in large-scaled projects for a while.
The sea that connects Istanbul to San Lazzaro
A great part of the biennial consists of individual presentations that are located in different places. This means Bakargiev preferred to organize a group exhibition that consists of solo projects. Unusual venues like Trotsky’s house on Prince Islands, Rumeli Feneri, stores, boats and parking lots will be used as exhibition venues, in addition to museums and art institutions which are the usual destinations on the contemporary art route. The connection between those venues is the saltwater that runs through Istanbul.
Considering that the works of Haig Aivazian, Anna Boghiguian, Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, Rene Gabri and Ayreen Anastas that were exhibited in the Armenia Pavilion of the 56th Venice Biennial and the works of Sarkis that had a solo exhibition in the Turkey Pavilion will be exhibited in this year’s Istanbul Biennial, it can be said that the saltwater doesn’t only bridge two sides of Istanbul, but also reaches all the way to Venice and Mihtaryan Monastery on San Lazzaro Island.
Agos became a biennial venue
As the opening of the Istanbul Biennial gets closer, it turns out that there are a lot of works that refer to the Armenian Genocide and the developments that followed it. Michael Rackowitz’s work, which was inspired by the fibrous plasterer Garabet Cezayirliyan, who made the ornamental work on buildings like Yildiz Palace and Emek Movie Theater, is one of them. Tracing the footsteps of Cezayirliyan in Istanbul, Rackowitz combines his work with human remains from Vakifli Village, which is the last Armenian village in Turkey. Artist Francis Alys, who lives in Mexico City, hails the bird species that no longer exist by imitating the sounds of the birds that lived in the Ani district of Kars once; in this way, he also calls out to the Armenians who were forced to leave that region. Researching the lute player Hrant, and exhibiting the conceptual sculpture that he made as a result of his research in the Armenia Pavilion of the Venice Biennial, Haig Aivazian has prepared a performance for the Istanbul Biennial.
As part of this performance, the choir of Beyoglu Uc Horan Church will perform a traditional song, which was also performed by the lute player Hrant, in the Galata Greek Elementary School. In the project that Asli Cavusoglu developed for the biennial, red dye will be produced from insects—an Armenian technique that is not used anymore. Using the old building of Agos and the Hrant Dink Foundation as a project venue, Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri will turn the spaces into a truth center by referring to the past of the building. It should also be noted that the Anarad Higutyun Building, which houses the Hrant Dink Foundation, is one of the biennial venues.