Güncel Sanat / Sergi

16th Istanbul Biennial

A psychiatrist friend of mine once told me that the majority of psychotic patients believe that they will see the day of apocalypse. I am not sure if this argument is valid or not but if it is, nowadays either all of us are psychotics or the end of the world is really approaching. As a pessimist, I think both are possible. 

Capitalism made the world shrink and in the 21th Century distances between humans have been extremely shortened. Our daily life now includes numerous encounters and most of them quickly turn into conflicts, threatening the notion of the subject itself. In keeping with Ulrich Beck’s definition, we are living in a “Risk Society”. The subject in the modern sense is dissolving day by day. Of course, the end of the modern subject can be taken as a positive thing but the 21st Century schizoid man, as a reaction to this dissolution, tries to fortify the self’s walls with enormous narcissistic investment. The rise of fascism, misogyny and the environmental crisis can be seen as indicators of this process. We secretly believe that we are the chosen ones. The capitalist, narcissistic man destroys the ecosystem rapidly and paves the way of the doomsday with the urge to use every existing thing in the universe as a tool to prevent his extinction. The 16th iteration of the Istanbul Biennial, “The Seventh Continent” is an exhibition about this deadlock. It tries to unfold the vain glory of modern man, displays the tragic results of his hubris but does not stop at this point. It creates new experiences and encounters to overcome the existing crisis. This biennial is not only an attempt to criticise the society but also an attempt to establish new forms of being.

“The Seventh Continent” takes its name from the 3,4 million kilometer square island which is composed of plastic and floats on the Pasicif Ocean and unlike a natural island this new territory is entirely a product of human culture. The curator Nicolas Bourriaud describes the biennial as an effort to make anthropology of this human-made territory but the continent that the biennial talks about is not only an artificial landscape; it is a way of living, a system of thought that has dispersed to every part of our lives. It is a symbol for the inverted relationship between nature and culture. Bourriaud claims that with the rise of the Anthropocene Age culture became completely dominant over nature and instead of reversing the order back he says that we should entirely destroy this human-made distinction.

In his book “Relational Aesthetics” Bourriaud tries to define a form of art which establishes new ways of interaction between subjects, but his scope of the subject is limited to humans. “The Seventh Continent” is an attempt to expand the definition of the subject by inserting non-humans to the network of relations. In The Seventh Continent the concept of “other”, which is generally situated against the subject, comprises every kind of beings [humans with plants, animals, trees, rocks, minerals etc.] and unlike its traditional definition, this “other“ is not passive, it is not only an object but also an active force, a subject that has the ability to speak, to affect and to change his interlocutor. The ecological system that is offered by Bourriaud is entirely composed of these subjects. In order to achieve this end Bourriaud does two contrary things at once. On the one hand he tries to set free the subject from the nets that it had been caught into, such as history, identity and relations of production etc., and on the other he strives to build up new ways of subjectivisations by arranging fresh encounters with the help of artistic imagination.

“The Seventh Continent” has been gathered in three venues. The main venue is the huge, four storeyed Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Istanbul Museum of Painting & Sculpture. As the museum is not active yet the halls were empty and the thirty eight works have been easily spread all over the building. The second venue which hosts fourteen pieces is another museum but this time an active one, The Pera Museum. This Museum holds an Orientalist Painting Collection and Anatolian Weights and Measures Collection. The Biennial uses two floors of the building that are reserved for  temporary exhibitions. And the last venue is Buyukada, an island in the Marmara Sea which harbours  six works installed in different old mansions.

Bourriaud says that he wanted to create a compact exhibition therefore it was important  for the main venue to have the capacity to hold a great amount of work together. The two main paths of the exhibition which are deconstructing the deeply rooted narratives by revealing power relations and their bitter consequences, and building up new narratives through arranging new encounters between humans and any other kind of being, works dialectically in this building. The paths intertwined like spiral and the feeling of being doomed, and the hope of salvation goes hand in hand. As a consequence of the architecture of the building, the majority of the works have their own halls. Although this creates a kind of isolation for the works it also helps them to constitute their own cosmos and by this means the exhibition becomes a variety of endless world possibilities. The doomed images of the world that are depicted by artists such as David Douard who creates abject sculptures out of magnets, aluminium, metal chains, plastic and ceramic which symbolises the formlessness of the modern subject or the video installation of En Man Chang which focuses on the unseen human labour and the forced displacement of the proletariat subjected to urban planning decisions are counterposed by the beautiful sculptures of Pakui Hardware which considers the possibilities open to human body in the age of synthetic biology and regenerative medicine or the installation of Eva Kot’atkova that is entirely made out of pieces of fabric and offers a room for coming together for the people who feels lack or forced to feel deficient. Either it is the image of the existing world or the dream of a promising future the works in the exhibition is always composed of waste, but this residue is never ugly. As an example when Elmas Deniz thinks on the destructive effect of urbanisation on the water supplies she also draws the attention of the visitor to the beauty of the Pinno Nobilis pearls and shells which had been perished now. The artists that Bourriaud had chosen  always uses beauty to recycle the object that had been ejaculated at the end of the production process that modern society has been based on.

The Pera Museum in accordance with its institutional identity hosts works which claim to have historical importance but most of these pieces, unlike the museum’s permanent  collection, represents a fake history made up by the artists. This tactic undermines the notion of history and identity. One of the outstanding works in this venue is the immense collection of artifacts and items that belongs to a fictional tribe by artist Norman Daly. While Daly is jamming the codes of anthropology Charles Avery uses it to investigate the possibility of living in the Anthropocene by inventing an island and displaying the daily life of its habitants.

Buyukada is an island which is used to be a summer resort for Orthodox subjects back in the days of Ottoman Empire and although it still holds its old glory, today it mostly became a tourist destination after the majority of its populations were forced to leave. This part of the exhibition can be seen as a ghostology, where the visitor travels in time and space through the wormholes created by the artists. The installation of Glenn Ligon which includes a documentary film on James Baldwins that is shot during his stay at Istanbul and pays tribute to the author or Armin Linke’s detailed documentation of the exploitation of the marine resources all are a kind of sessions.

At the last floor of the Museum of Painting & Sculpture the visitor is welcomed by the installation of artistic duo Güneş Terkol and Güçlü Öztekin which hoovers above all of the exhibition including three venues. With this work all the dichotomies that has been considered such as ugly and beautiful, evil and good, old and new, real and fantasy, all diminishes into each other and when the visitor is welcomed to an ecosystem where he can feel at home. Which is not complete and does not forcing the visitor to be complete. Here the schizoid man turns its fractured soul to an opportunity to come together with his companions This is a space building up micro communities without leaving anyone out. The exhibition which starts with the distressed representations of the world ends with asoothing feeling.

 

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