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After thirteen years of relative stability and growing prosperity, Turkey is on the brink of disaster. However, troubled waters inspired a title: “Saltwater”, Istanbul’s 14th Biennial. Salt gives life, and kills smart-phones, preaches Carolyn Christov Bakargiev as a mantra. But we cannot forget: upon conquering Carthage, the Romans covered the city with salt, thwarting every single weed from growing back. Hence, in the city center, it comes as no surprise to run into fliers or protests against the kermes. Saltwater spreads throughout the city, counting up to 35 venues, including the island of Leon Trotsky’s mansion and an abandoned radar, unreachable, but still facing Russia.
The Bosphorus, the waterway linking the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, a prelude to the Mediterranean, is, in Christov Bakargiev’s view, shaped as an “I”, a symbol or a logo, and thus, a theory of thought form. Likewise, the centrality conferred to Cildo Meireles’ painting, Projeto de buraco para jogar políticos deshonestos (2011), (Project of a hole to dump dishonest politicians in) acts as an evident statement. In fact, whereas the event ought not to take positions, so do many artworks, either towards rotten politics or immigration’s issues.
On the Princes’ Islands, Marcos Lutyens placed the carcass of a capsized boat in the hold of a ship.
Yama Project, parallel to the Biennial yet independent from it, screens the most complete compendium of the past decade’s Mediterranean tragedy. Banu Cennetoğlu’s The List runs on the mega-screen towering the Marmara Hotel. One by one, for 31 days, the names and information of virtually all the immigrants dead at sea since 1997 will hit the eye of passers, who may or may not take notice.
As the opening fever spreads, galleries all over town showcase their best assets and power up parties, one of which (Rodeo’s) hosted the first screening of Pane Per i Poveri documentary (again, see Venice’s 56th Biennial). Christov Bakargiev is not facing the challenge that Paolo Colombo braved in Istanbul when, in 1999, during the Biennial’s preparation, an earthquake took the lives of seventeen thousand people. Back then, albeit the funds being re-allocated to mend the disaster, the Biennial opened its doors to raise spirits and look ahead. Yet, today, bombs explode on a daily basis and endless streams of refugees flow into the country from the warfront.
On the verge of a psychological and social breakdown, Istanbul’s 14th Biennial blooms as an oasis on collapsing land.
Text by Luisa Ausenda
Saltwater: A theory of Thought Forms — Istanbul’s 14th Biennial
La situazione politica in Turchia negli ultimi tredici anni non ha mai traballato. Adesso e’ sul punto di rovesciarsi. Le sue acque agitate hanno ispirato un titolo: “Saltwater”, la 14esima Biennale di Istanbul. Il sale dà la vita, e, allo stesso tempo, danneggia gli smart-phone, ripete Carolyn Christov Bakargiev come se fosse un mantra. Ma non dimentichiamo: dopo la conquista di Cartagine i Romani cosparsero di sale la sua terra, tanto che non vi crebbe più nemmeno un’erbaccia. Infatti in centro non sorprende incorrere in un volantino o, addirittura, una manifestazione contro la kermes d’arte contemporanea. Saltwater, Acquasalata, si riversa in tutta la città, toccando fino a 35 sedi, tra cui l’isola della villa di Leon Trotsky e un radar abbandonato, irraggiungibile ma ancora rivolto verso la Russia.
Il Bosforo, il preludio al Mediterraneo che collega il Mar Nero con il Mar di Marmara, secondo Christov Bakargiev e’ a forma di “I” (leggi in Inglese, “io”), un simbolo, un logo, e, in questo senso, forma pensata (a theory of thought form). Allo stesso modo la centralità conferita al dipinto di Cildo Meireles, “Projeto de burraco para jogar políticos deshonestos” (2011), (Progetto per un buco dove gettare i politici disonesti) si fa dichiarazione. Proprio perche’ l’evento non puo’ prendere posizione, lo fanno molte opere d’arte, sia politicamente sia sollevando i problemi degli immigrati clandestini e dei rifugiati.
Su una delle Princes’ Islands, Marcos Lutyens posa la carcassa di una barca capovolta nella stiva di una nave. Yama, un progetto parallelo alla Biennale ma indipendente, presenta il compendio più completo della “recente” tragedia del Mediterraneo. The List di Banu Cennetoğlu viene trasmessa sul mega-schermo che torreggia sul Marmara Hotel. Uno per uno, per 31 giorni, i nomi e le informazioni di quasi tutti gli immigrati morti in mare dal 1997 – da archivi online e curati dall’artista – cattureranno l’attenzione dei passanti, indifferenti, inconsci o informati.
La febbre dell’apertura si diffonde in tutta la città: le gallerie si vestono a festa e lanciano feste nei terrazzi, uno dei quali (di Rodeo) ha ospitato la prima proiezione del documentario di Pane Per i Poveri (di nuovo, vedi la 56° Biennale di Venezia).
La sfida di Christov Bakargiev non si confronta con l’esperienza che investì Paolo Colombo, quando, nel 1999, durante la preparazione della Biennale, un terremoto causò la morte di diciassette mila persone. Allora, anche se i fondi furono riallocati per riparare il disastro, la Biennale apri’ le sue porte per sollevare gli spiriti e guardare avanti. Eppure, oggi, le bombe esplodono su base giornaliera e carovane senza fine di profughi fluiscono nel paese dal fronte di guerra. Sull’orlo di una crisi psicologica e sociale, la 14esima Biennale fiorisce come un oasi sul di un suolo in collasso.
Testo originario tradotto in Italiano dall’autrice Luisa Ausenda
The 14th Istanbul Biennial SALTWATER: A Theory of Thought Forms, organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) opens to the public on September 5, 2015. The biennial, drafted by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev with a number of alliances, presents artworks by over 80 participants from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and North America. The biennial will be open until November 1, 2015.
Encompassing 36 venues on the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus, SALTWATER takes place in exhibition spaces as well as temporary spaces of habitation on land and on sea such as boats, hotels, former banks, garages, gardens, schools, shops and private homes.
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev states “This citywide exhibition on the Bosphorus hovers around a material—salt water—and the contrasting images of knots and of waves. It looks for where to draw the line, to withdraw, to draw upon, and to draw out. It does so offshore, on the flat surfaces of our devices with our fingertips, but also in the depths, underwater, before the enfolded encoding unfolds.
It considers different frequencies and patterns of waves, the currents and densities of water, both visible and invisible that poetically and politically shape and transform the world. There are arrested movements that suspend time (the knots of human transport across seas and oceans, the knots of war, of labour, of ethnic cleansing) and there are repetitive and dispersive movements like waves (waves of uprisings, waves of ‘jouissance,’ electro-magnetic waves). There are literal waves of water, but also waves of people, of emotion and memory. It is through the identification of waves that we acknowledge patterns—underwater patterns of water, or patterns of wind. Perhaps a wave is simply time—the feeling of a difference between its high and low points able to mark the experience of time, and thus of space, and thus of life. With and through art, we mourn, commemorate, denounce, try to heal, and we commit ourselves to the possibility of joy and vitality, of many communities that have co-inhabited this space, leaping from form to flourishing life.”
The exhibition presents artworks, including commissions by artists as well as other materials from the history of oceanography, environmental studies, marine archaeology, Art Nouveau, neuroscience, physics, mathematics and theosophy, and some crystals that Christov-Bakargiev gathered at Robert Smithson‘s Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake in early 2015.
Works at the biennial range historically from an 1870 painting of waves by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, who received a Nobel prize in 1906 for discovering the neuron, to the ground-breaking abstract Thought Forms of Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater (1901–05); from a work by Füsun Onur where a poem is heard on a moving boat, up to a large installation of canvas, sails and salt by Anna Boghiguian.
Interlocutors and alliances include Anna Boghiguian, Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Cevdet Erek, Bracha L. Ettinger, Pierre Huyghe, Emre Hüner, William Irvine, William Kentridge, Marcos Lutyens, Chus Martínez, Emin Özsoy, Griselda Pollock, Michael Rakowitz, Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, Arlette Quynh-Anh Tran and Elvan Zabunyan.
The list of 14th Istanbul Biennial participants and detailed programme of 14th Istanbul Biennial events including Speech Acts and Forms of Discourse, and film programme can be found at 14b.iksv.org.
The 14th Istanbul Biennial catalogue contains articles by curators, art historians and critics as well as original drawings by biennial participants. Publications are available free for download on 14b.iksv.org or for reading via the İKSV Kitaplik iPad application.