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Kampfansagen in Istanbul

Die 11. Istanbuler Biennale zeigt sich mit geschärftem Profil - radikal und spannend


Armut, Krieg, Fremdenhass und Unterdrückung - die Themen auf der großen Kunstschau am Bosporus zeigen ein schonungsloses Bild unseres globalen Villages aber auch Nachbardorfes im eigenen Land. Ein kritischer Blick, auch in die Medien, verspricht Spannung und zeigt, zu welchen Ergebnissen Künstler bei ihren Reflexionen kommen.

zusammengefasst von Irmgard Berner

Photo: Sanja Ivekovic: “Paper Woman”, 1-4, 1976-77 (Courtesy: Sanja Ivekovic)

"Denn wovon lebt der Mensch?" dieses Motto der diesjährigen Biennale stammt von einem politischen Künstler, von Bertold Brecht. Gestellt hat er sie vor 80 Jahren in seiner "Dreigroschenoper", sinnfällig befanden sie die Veranstalter. Denn es geht um die Verteilung der Güter in einer immer weiter auseinanderklaffenden Welt.

Welcher Ort könnte sich besser dafür eignen, als die Stadt an der Kontinentalfalte zwischen Europa und Asien?  Gezeigt wird nicht nur eine Kunst jenseits der Kunstgeschichte, sondern auch eine Politik jenseits der Parteien und Parlamente, welche die diesjährige Istanbulbiennale betreibt, schreibt etwa die SZ.

Eine solch radikal gesellschaftskritische, "agitatorische" Ausstellung war auch in den politseligen vergangenen Jahren nicht zu erleben. Verantwortlich dafür zeichnen die vier kroatischen Kuratorinnen aus Zagreb, die sich nicht namentlich nennen lassen sondern nur WHW nennen. Das steht für Who, How, For Whom - wer, wie, für wen. Sie kommen gleich zur Sache: Worum geht es in deiner Kunst? Für wen zeichnest, malst, filmst, werkelst du? Die vorausgegangenen Atelierbesuche stehen so noch im Raum.Image

Lisi Raskin: “Sunday Punch”, 2008, Detail (Courtesy: Lisi Raskin)

Hier geht es nicht mehr um uns, um den Westen, sondern um das Leben im Libanon nach dem Bürgerkrieg, um das Risiko als kinderlose jungverheiratete Türkin von der eigenen Familie vergiftet zu werden. Um ein Heim für geistig Behinderte in Sarajewo, um die gnadenlosen Arbeitsbedingungen von ausländischen Textilarbeiterinnen in Bercelona, um die Riunen eines gesschlsossenen Gefängissens für politische  gefangene in der Osttürkei  und um revolutionäreWeigenlieder für ein Baby in Iran.

Don't complain, mit diesem Spruch blinkt gleich am Eingang Hüseyin Bahris Alptekins Leuchttafel. Das Jammerverbot kann man im Sinne des Künstlers verstehen als Hinweis auf den Anpassungsdruck in modernen Gesellschaften, schreibt die SZ weiter. Man kann es aber auch als kuratorische Warnung an die Besucher lesen, nach dem Motto: Das Leben ist hart, diese Ausstellung wird es auch. Krise, Krieg, Ausbeutung, Verslumung - über Bäume reden könnt ihr anderswo. Die Kunst hat gerade Wichtigeres zu tun.


from Art Dubai Journal, Issue:

The 11th Istanbul Biennial

by Nazli Gurlek, Venues: Antrepo No.3,

The Tobacco Warehouse, Ferikoy Greek School Dates: September 12 – November 8 2009

What keeps mankind alive? This question, posed in 1928 by Brecht and Kurt Weill in their song from The Threepenny Opera, was the catalyst for the 11th Istanbul Biennial. In their introduction to the catalogue, Zagreb-based curatorial collective What, How and for Whom (WHW) outline their intention for the Biennial to re-function it as a facilitator to renew critical thinking, and to discuss, analyse and scrutinise the problematic issues of the capitalist order so as to trigger real social change in light of Brechtian principles. With its directly anti-capitalist and anti-globallsation statement speaking to memory and intellect through serious and even tragic issues from the present and the recent past, this was undoubtly the most radical among all Istanbul Biennials.

Istanbul Biennial has been consistently engaged with the local in its 22-year history. Unexpectedly, this exhibition was not about the host city. Rather, it chose to extend its sight from the local to the surrounding territories, to that ‘hot’ portion of the globe that is being more and more traced and acknowledged, but often overlooked by both Western and Eastern mainstream in terms of artistic, cultural and social formations. The curatorial agenda enquired the dense ideological, social and cultural strata of the Middle East, ex-Soviet Union, the Balkans and Turkey as a way to scrutinise the widespread topics of the ‘new world order’, its current failures and deteriorating effects on human life. Unsurprisingly, 45% of the 70 participating artists (half men and half women, and most of them under 40 years old) came from these Eastern countries and most were unknown to the Western art world. Only 22 out of 70 had galleries.

Marxism, along with the Brechtian excerpts, sprinkled throughout the exhibition spaces stood as a ‘rhetorical armour’ (a pertinent definition previously given by Daniel Miller on Frieze July 09, in response to the curating agenda) which could have easily resulted in incompetence making either the thick statement or the actual exhibition seem ancillary. WHW resolved the riddle by including enough politically oriented works with overtly shared Marxist and collectivist principles. Indeed, there was something slyly humorous about this exhibition. Upon wandering around, one was guided by signs with Cyrillic-derived fonts directing to the left.

The Biennial as a whole felt quite easy to pin down. Arranged as a conventional white-cube exhibition, the main space at Antrepo No.3 was light and well-designed. It incorporated well-combined pieces with some stronger ones carrying the whole. Most art works involved strategies of repetition, distribution and reproduction as in reference to the current trend of copying, gathering and accumulation in contemporary art. Tashkent-based Soviet conceptualist artist Vyacheslav Akhunov’s work exemplified this mode of production. Fly-Beat Revolution (1977), was an installation work of collage-drawings which took a collection of designs for fly-swatters as its space. Drawings featuring portraits of Communist hero-figures, state signs and symbols were each placed on the large end of a fly-swatter. Another work provided by the artist was titled 1 m2, in which small-scale re-productions, drawings and plans, extracted from the artist’s sketchbooks between 1976-1991, were filled into matchboxes brought together in an installation of one square meter. The work at once combined a visual archive of fragments of Soviet propaganda ambigously pushed to its limits and a comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s work.

Tracing the everyday reality from Beirut was Mounira Al Solh’s two-channel video installation The Sea is a Stereo (2007-09). The work delved into the daily habit of swimming, obsessively developed by a group of Beiruti men, who would accomplish their activity everyday no matter the daily condition:, rain, wind or war. The story gave an uncanny twist when the artist gave her voice to the men. As the story went on, the ‘apparent’ normality of the event would gradually fade away making the real motivation behind this obsessive ritual perceivable: resisting to the difficulty of pursuing an ‘ordinary life’ in the country.

Focusing on the everyday rituals was also the work of Istanbul-born, Istanbul and Vienna based artist Nilbar Gures. Gures was present at the Biennial with Unknown Sports (2008-09), a series of collages, drawings and photographs thematising female identity and gender discourse in contemporary Turkish society. The photographs were staged performances showing a group of women in a gym, while recreating the ideas from the artist’s drawings: waxing, styling, dressing up, vacuum cleaning etc. The series explored rituals of an exclusively female world yet the staged character of the work presented the problem of accepted gender roles.

Three other pieces worth mentioning are Lisi Raskin’s Control Room (2008), a room-size installation of paper and styrofoam sculptures resembling an empty science-fiction set of a workstation; Deimantas Narkevicius’ For The Role of a Lifetime (2003), a documentary yet poetical film-work composed of various overlapping spatio-temporal layers, with an interview with film director Peter Watkins on the role of the artist, process of filmmaking and the importance of critical thinking extending throughout the film as the main narrative thread; and Trevor Paglen’s Celestial Objects (Istanbul) (2009), a series of photographs mapping military intelligence sattelites in the night skies over Istanbul.

One realises how complex the task posed by WHW was when it came to resist the system in which the Biennial also found itself, a task likely to exceed orthodox exhibition formats. To this effect, the curators wanted to take a critical and self-reflexive look at the Biennial itself as well as the global biennial circuit, uttering within the exhibition some internal curatorial decisions and production details to the budget distribution, status of works on loan and distribution of artists for their countries of origin, age and gender. Despite all the positive intentions, the sense of transparency it strived for felt just too contrived.

After all, amid endless debate about art’s increasing lack of critical relevance and abundance of individual stories and subjective mythologies in recent contemporary art production, this exhibition proved something of an ease. Unfolding in interlaced themes and interests, single art works were combined into a meaningful whole which simultaneously questioned the role of art and awakened a worldly awareness without falling into nostalgia nor a spectacularised effect. Still, one cannot help but leave with a missing feeling – a feeling which derives from the constant seeking out the inherent appeal of art’s ability to present something else to the imagination; a sense of its famous ‘enigmaticalness’1 . 1See Theodore Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, London: Continuum 1997.

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