As we have mentioned before, The Istanbul Biennial has arrived and is more than ready for its visitors. With a press conference on the 13th of September in Zeytinburnu Medical Plant Garden, which we, as The Istanbul Chronicle, were delighted to be a part of, this long-awaited Biennial due to the setbacks of the global pandemic, has finally been made into a reality.
It started with Bige Örer’s opening speech, continuing on to IKSV’s executive director and businessman Bülent Eczacıbaşı and chairman of Koç Holding Ömer Koç expressing their feelings and thoughts about the Biennial. This Biennial stands out for being free to all citizens, and Ömer Koç stated the significance of what it represents with the words “We are going through a period in which humanity has faced the inevitable consequences of its thoughtless steps so clearly for the first time, and we are facing many problems that need urgent solutions. 17th Istanbul Biennial puts many of these complex problems of today on the table in full clarity. By offering solutions fed by the common mind, it opens up space for free expression.”
Closing the speeches by giving a word to the curators Ute Meta Bauer, Amar Kanwar, and David Teh, and talking about what inspired them, what they expect, the theme if there is one, and the choice of locations which is the number one thing that is unique about this year’s Biennial. They stated that they strongly encourage the visitors to engage with the artworks because in Ute’s words “If we don’t engage with something it will not unfold”.
Before going into more detail about locations, overall, there are 12 exhibitions spread out to the regions of Istanbul like Beyoğlu, Fatih, Kadıköy, and Zeytinburnu. Not being limited to the exhibition places, there are more than fifty bibliophiles, bookstores, restaurants, cinemas, etc. in addition to a radio station. After the 16th Istanbul Biennial that was spread to three locations, having twelve different spots this year was a huge difference. So, let's unpack these stops and create a guide for all of us who are ready to enjoy this amazing opportunity to appreciate art and its power.
1-Zeytinburnu Medical Plant Garden
Opened in 2005, Zeytinburnu Medical Plant Garden was the first medical plant garden in Turkey. Being home to more than 700 different medical plant species, the reason for it to be chosen as a starting spot for the 17th Istanbul Biennial is to celebrate the healing role of these on human health. In this beautiful garden, you can see “an aquatic garden with Lotus” by Mariah Lookman with the assistance of peaceful tunes accompanied by harps. Between the greens of the garden, engaging and exchanging your energy with both the peaceful environment and the art-loving people surrounding you is a great opportunity this Biennial presents to us.
In the center of one of the busiest places in Istanbul, Kadıköy, Müze Gazhane consists of libraries, stages, exhibition sites, etc. every hour of the day. This place is one of the most crowded places because of the amount of art we encounter through the Biennial. From “The Zip Zap School” by Angela Ferreira exploring the effects of colonialism to “The Silent University Program” that challenges the idea of silence through lecturers and researchers who are forced migrants themselves. With this variety of thoughts, this location challenges us too, to think and to reflect.
Arthereistanbul was founded in 2014 by Syrian artists who were also refugees with the aim to create a place for the refugees and people who are far away from their homeland while simultaneously serving as a great place to practice art. Here you will come across Lida Abdul’s work “In transit; White House; Clapping with stones” consisting of video works made in the middle of the conflict in Afghanistan and aiming to guide the viewers to reflect on the themes of “devastation and recovery”.
Barın Han, located in the historical peninsula of Istanbul, is a building that now serves art purposes. One of the most unique happenings in this place is the “Annals of Object Performance: Puppetry, Street Performance, and Activism” by John Bell who is a historian and a puppeteer. Here, you may encounter his works about Indigenous rituals to different political manifestations across different geographies.
5-The Çinili Hamam
Located in Fatih, The Çinili Hamam is known to be one of the oldest Ottoman architecture examples done by the well-known architect Mimar Sinan. “CONCERTINO for the sea” is a must to engage with here which is done by Renato Leotta and is a mixed-media/sound installation accompanied by an array of media from photography to film, sculpture, etc.
6-Küçük Mustafa Paşa Hamam
Also located in Fatih, Küçük Mustafa Paşa Hammam was built in 1477 and is known as one of the oldest baths in Istanbul. The one thing that stuck out to me the most here, as also a viewer myself, was the “Great Times Message: Storytellers of the Town” by Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, which is a multi-channel installation where she invited institutionalized female psychiatric patients to share their stories freely. How unique is that?
7-Suna and Inan Kıraç Foundation Pera Museum
The star of Beyoğlu, Pera, and its wonderful Pera Museum dedicated to different forms of art and exhibition is also a part of the 17th Istanbul Biennial. Another feminist project catches our eye here: “The Public Life of Women A Feminist Memory Project” by Nepal Picture Library which aims to reflect Nepali women’s struggles thus it is a symbol of a solidarity story.
Founded in 2017, Büyükdere35 is a place that hosts many workshops and exhibitions contributing to contemporary art while serving as a gallery space in Beyoğlu. Büyükdere35 hosts an ecological project called “Wallowland” by Cooking Sections which aims to trace the interactions of Istanbul’s water buffalos and the elements of nature. This is also a great example of how the 17th Istanbul Biennial cannot be thought of separately from nature.
9-Central Greek Highschool for Girls
Another spot in Beyoğlu, Central Greek Highschool for Girls, was designed and built in the 19th century by architect Dimitrios Panayiotides. Focusing on the relationship between art and politics, a video archive by Marco Scotini is waiting for its visitors here to explore more!
Saha Studio which was founded by Saha Association in 2019 aims to support artists, curators, and writers from Turkey. With its unique name, Atıf Akın here gives the visitors a chance to explore deep into nuclear time with all of its aspects combining it with history and archeology through his work “Mutant Time”. This interdisciplinary work will definitely be an interesting addition to the Biennial.
11-Metro Istanbul Yaklaşım Tüneli Taksim
Right under the Taksim Pazi Park, this tunnel was constructed during the Taksim station on the Yenikapı-Hacıosman Metroline and is now the connection between the busiest underground stations where many people come across every single day. This crowded tunnel hosts Carlos Cassas’s work “Cyclope”. The sonic and visual composition explores physiological and ecological trauma and will probably be one of the most visited works with the choice of location.
12-Perform Istanbul Live Art Research Place
An international art platform founded in 2016 located in Galata, honors its reputation as Turkey’s First Live Research Space by being a part of the 17th Istanbul Biennial. The last work that I will be mentioning today will be the “Dictionary of Sensitive Sounds” by Evrim Kavcar and Elif Öner. This project of this two unfolds through a series of performative insertions into the routes between the Biennial locations which are based on excerpts from also their work the Dictionary of Sensitive Sounds”.
To conclude, as it is laid down point by point, the array of fields and subjects this year’s Biennial looks into and tries to engage with is immense. Keeping in mind that this Biennial was prepared during a global crisis, the messages that were trying to be sent to the viewer are all universal and are all reflections of the society of the day we are living in. By using the power of art and combining it with research and other exploratory fields, the 17th Istanbul Biennial’s success can be seen pretty easily even though we are just at the beginning of it.