Istanbul Biennale 2015

  • Princess Island
    Princess Island
  • Istanbul Biennale 2015
  • Michelangelo Pistoletto (old-fashioned stuff, but I like it)
    Michelangelo Pistoletto (old-fashioned stuff, but I like it)
  • William Kentridge (on Princess Island)
    William Kentridge (on Princess Island)
  • Nikita Kadan, The Shelter (at Istanbul Modern)
    Nikita Kadan, The Shelter (at Istanbul Modern)

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev impressed me with Documenta 13 in Kassel 2012. Now she has curated the 14th Istanbul Biennale. If Documenta was a huge philosophical maze in Istanbul the only maze is Istanbul itself. It is sometimes really hard to find the exhibition spaces which are all around the huge city. Last years Manifesta in St. Petersburg - quite a disappointment - had a bit of the same problem. You had to walk and search too much. It is not that art wouldn't be rewarding enough so you could walk and search a bit, but if a major part of the day is just searching it isn't a good idea. We guests are here for just a couple of days.

Artistically speaking Istanbul Biennale - for some reason this is my first one - is great. Not that I'd get a feeling of a whole that is rewarding. SALTWATER: A Theory of Thought Forms is an interesting concept ranging from water's healing potentials to corrosion and seas as barriers (pic 2), but somehow in this exhibition the thematic back-up did not work for me. There were also true gems that where just so much more.

Francis Alÿs' new film on Ani was showed in an old shool building quite close to Istanbul Modern. Ani was an ancient city that was as important as Constantinople and Jerusalem, but now, already for long, only ruins are left. The film is truly beautiful. Young people run around (black-and-white) and hide in the ruins and the bushes playing bird whistles. In a dreamlike state one feels the history and its potentials for new life.

On Princess Island (pic 1), where Trotsky once lived in exile, William Kentridge has filled one floor with moving images where Trotsky dictates letters for his secretary. Humorous work, and somehow pleasant touch on the use of media (pic 4). Princess Island itself, an hour away from Istanbul proper, is a charming leisure resort with a lot of fancy villas and I am happy the biennale took me there.

One of my favorite art museums in the whole world, the pedagogically sharp and artistically  brave Istanbul Modern, which stands on the Northern shore of the golden horn, was one of the exhibition sites. Nikita Kadan has a fun work echoing ecological thinking, museum pedagogy and man's sometimes bizarre relationship with nature (pic 5). Some new Chinese paintings looked good, but to be honest, not many works really touched me. I have never been for the archive fever movement. Biennales are full with dusty political wunderkammers. But as I said Alÿs and Kentridge really made my days here. Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence was in the program and I am happy I went back: last time in Istanbul I did not get in. The house which is a showcase of fictional memories is really inspiring.

Istanbul if any city could be thought to be the capital of Eastern Europe (if the concept is not restricted to post-communist countries but to the East side of Europe). I visited the city for the first time in May with my wife and we fell in love with it immediately. So I was happy to be back. I enjoy watching the cocktail of religion, atheism, Kaukasian and Western culture. The city is vibrant and it somehow has a very pleasant atmosphere. Great place to have a biennale.


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