September 02, 2015

Istanbul Biennial’s response to the festering wounds

The press conference of 14th Istanbul Biennial, which will open its doors to visitors on next Saturday, was held at Italian High School on September 2. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the curator of the biennial, made a long opening speech in Turkish and by this way, we understood that not only the artworks, but also Bakargiev’s energy will spread all over the city.

Agos. The press conference of 14th Istanbul Biennial, which will open its doors to visitors on next Saturday, was held at Italian High School on September 2. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the curator of the biennial, made a long opening speech in Turkish and by this way, we understood that not only the artworks, but also Bakargiev’s energy will spread all over the city.

The press conference of 14th Istanbul Biennial, which will open its doors to visitors on next Saturday, was held at Italian High School on September 2. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the curator of the biennial, made a long opening speech in Turkish and by this way, we understood that not only the artworks, but also Bakargiev’s energy will spread all over the city. The biennial, which will be open to visitors (free of charge) until 1 November 2015, hosts hundreds of installations in 36 venues, from museums to boats and from schools to parking lots. In addition to them, Depo, Sivriada, Küçük Mustafa Paşa Bath in Balat, Anarad Hığutyun Building (new office of Hrant Dink Foundation and Agos) and Hrant Dink’s old office will be used as biennial venues. Trotsky’s house in Büyükada, which Bakargiev visited thanks to Orhan Pamuk, was the first place that she decided to include in the biennial.

Journalists, curators, art critics and art enthusiasts are pouring in Istanbul for attending the biennial. This, in part, stems from the fact that Bakargiev is one of the most important curators in the world of contemporary art and dOCUMENTA (13) exhibition that she curated in 2012 was a huge success. However, people worry that Turkey’s recently developed complicated condition might cause a decrease in the number of the foreign visitors.

Sometimes, the art-lovers who come to city come across strange surprises. For instance, there was a collective gallery opening on September 1 as the first event of the biennial and this event coincided with United June Movement’s demonstration in Taksim. And just like the demonstrators, the biennial visitors were exposed to tear gas; the galleries on the İstiklal Street filled with tear gas. On the other hand, the topic of the biennial is related to the current political situation in Turkey. From the beginning, Bakargiev has been pointing out that the installations will be related to the Kurdish and Armenian questions, that is, the “festering wounds of Turkey”.

Not through politics, but through art

From the beginning, people were wondering how the 100th anniversary of Armenian Genocide will be reflected in Istanbul Biennial and in the events related to it. The first question that was asked to Bakargiev at the press conference was related to this issue. It was asked whether the themes related to Armenian Genocide are censored or not, and Bakargiev said “No,” and pointing out the importance of timing in dealing with this kind of issues, she said that there are also works in the biennial that deal with the massacres that took place in Australia and Europe in different periods. Bakargiev also said, “The reason why I work in the field of art instead of politics is that art has a potential to shake people’s souls and change them,” and she indicated that, in the biennial, the transforming power of art will be operative rather than the political and historical facts.

However, the works that deal with the Armenian question has a remarkable place in biennial. Artists from various disciplines and countries reinterpret the culture and history of the Armenian society in their works. Dilijan Art Initiative, which was founded by Ruben Vardanyan and Veronika Zonabend in order to contribute to the cultural development of Armenia and especially the city of Dilican, supported the artists who create works related to the Armenian question.

Bakargiev says that the artworks that will be exhibited in the biennial are not for the visitors who try to see them in hurry in a limited time. On the contrary, this organization is designed for the ones who live in Istanbul, make enough time for each venue and each installation and enjoy their visit.

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