The 13th Biennale of Istanbul with the sponsorship of Koç Holdings from September 14 to October 20th has been fraught with problems and disagreements throughout the months. The Biennale event currently taking place in a city which has been recently rocked with protests has been fraught with problems of its own. Protests which left hundreds of people injured and several killed over city development plans for Gezi Park. The protests gradually grew even more political – over the fear of the ruling political party’s agenda – the gradual islamification of Turkey.
The curator of this year’s Istanbul Biennial is Fulya Erdemci. Her own exhibition, “Mom, Am I a Barbarian?” (from the poet Lale Müldür’s book of the same name) emphasizes the theme – the role of art in the public space and society. Her goal was to bring the art to the people in the public spaces of Istanbul free of charge.
“At the press meeting, Fulya Erdemci announced that, as an exhibition in a dialogue with the city, the 13th Istanbul Biennial’s focal point would be the notion of the public domain as a political forum. According to Erdemci, this highly contested concept will serve as a matrix to generate ideas and develop practices that question contemporary forms of democracy, challenge current models of spatio-economic politics, problematise given concepts of civilization and barbarity, and most importantly, highlight the role of art in this context.
Questioning what the reintroduction of the concept of “barbarian” as a reflection of “absolute other” reveals in our contemporary society, Erdemci referred to art’s potential for engendering new positions and constructing new subjectivities for the sake of creating a space for the weakest ones and the most excluded by destabilising dominant and deep-seated discourses.
Erdemci further explained that the Istanbul Biennial aimed to highlight the potential of the discourse of public domain through an examination of spatial justice, art in the public domain and art-market relations. Aspiring to open new avenues for thought and imagination, the Istanbul Biennial will activate social engagement and public fora to generate a possibility for rethinking the concept of “publicness”.
The 13th Istanbul Biennial will use public buildings which are left temporarily vacant by urban transformation as exhibition venues. These may include public buildings such as courthouses, schools, military structures or post offices, former transportation hubs like train stations, ex-industrial sites such as warehouses, dockyards as well as the very contested Taksim Square and Gezi Park. Furthermore, the hallmarks of current urbanism such as shopping malls, hotels and office-residential towers are being considered as sites for artistic interventions. “ Source
International artists as well as 88 artists from Turkey have works of art in the 13th Biennale of Istanbul. The Biennale has been criticized as being disorganized and somewhat forgotten about due to the continuing political events happening in Turkey and near its borders. Can the 13th Biennale succeed at its goals of bringing art into the public space, free of charge? International visitors to this year’s Biennale have had to run from being tear-gassed by the police. Presenting art in the public space has suffered the many problems of organization, communication and permissions to exhibit. Ironically, many of the exhibits have had to moved into some of the more established galleries which sort of thwarts the original idea of the role of art in the public space and society. Bringing art to the people in the public space needs to be a little more organized. Delivering on the promise could also use a political peace as a condition for success. Police firing teargas does not help.