11th Istanbul Biennal – What Keeps Mankind Alive?

I visited two of the 11th Istanbul Biennal locations on Saturday; at the Feriköy Greek School in Şişli and the Tobacco Warehouse in Tophane. I didn’t go to the third and largest location, Antrepo No.3 yet, because I had some other exhibitions that I wanted to visit that day. Funny thing is, I had thought that all of these locations were odd, but according to the Biennal Guide, The Top 5 venues wish list went like this:

1. Istanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture

2. The ex-Istanbul U.S. Consulate General building

3. Ottoman Bank Archive and Research Center

4. Haydarpaşa Train Station

5. Park Hotel

These locations, unfortunately were not able to host the biennal due to bureaucratic, financial and security reasons, which is quite a shame because I really think that the Haydarpaşa Train Station would have been awesome.

I thought the most intruiging part of the Biennal within the Feriköy Greek School was Larissa Sansour’s short movie, “Soup Over Bethlehem” which according to the Biennal Guide, “depicts and ordinary Palestinian family, Sansour’s own, seated around a table on a rooftop overlooking Bethlehem. ‘Mloukhieh’, a national Palestinian dish is served, and what starts as a culinary discussion about the food soon evolves into a personal and engaging conversation about the politics and conditions of life under the restraints of occupation. Snatches of English occasionally interrupt the Arabic spoken around the table, indicating the ways in which fragmented identities are rebuilt through life in exile. The routine issues discusses amongst family members in the middle of the occupation counters clichés about victimhood and the stereotyped debates over identity.

‘I’m so occupied these days’, says one of the people at the table towards the end of the video. Someone replies, laughing: ‘Aren’t we all.’ Along with Sansour’s other projects, Soup Over Bethlehem breaks up ethnic stereotypes with a strategic dose of humour, and depicts Palestinian reality in a way that remains critical, yet steers clear of representational clichés”

I liked Sansour’s video because I think that might have been how conversations around my mother’s family table might have been when they first arrived at Istanbul. If you want to watch the video, it’s available here.

The other work I really liked – and found very amusing – was Siniša Labrović‘s Postgraduate Education. According to the Biennal Guide,

“Using different performative strategies Siniša Labrović challenges the limits of what is allowed, and the codependence between artist, audience and exhibition context. Postgraduate Education uses the rhetoric of self-help and ‘how to’ books, transferring it to the field of education. But this particular education teaches the ABC of typical criminal activities. The book is a continuation of Undergraduate Studies organized in 2008 in Zagreb as a series of workshops held by ‘experts’ from different fields of crime, with topics ranging from drug dealing and burglary, to ‘rules of conduct’ in criminal circles.

In the post-industrial context, Labrović challenges market and class demands for ‘life-long education’, which requires improvement in every aspect of the worker’s labour skills, and increasing ‘flexibility’. Commenting ironically on the increasingly blurred borders between business, politics and crime, the book offers an overview of different topics, ranging from debt collection and shoplifting to developing public-private partnerships, corruption and nepotism. The irony is taken to its extreme. The bold approach of Postgraduate Education follows the doctrine of the education system -preparing people for (more or less) successful servitude within the established systems, through opportunism, competition, deceitfulness, and highly structured rules of conduct. It suggests criminal behaviour as a prerequisite to both commercial and social success.”

I think you should see the text of Labrović’s work for yourself, it is really hilarious.

In the other Biennal venue I visited, the Tobacco Warehouse, I found the work of Vyacheslav Akhunov‘s work 1m2 very interesting. According to the Biennal guide,

1 m2 (2007) is an installation of one square metre of matchboxes, and is probably the largest retrospective exhibition displayed in such a small space. The matchboxes are filled with the artist’s small-scale reproductions, drawings and plans taken from his numerous journals and albums from 1976 to 1991. On a monitor available for detailed viewing there is an archive of Akhunov’s journals and artist’s books.
Akhunov’s works push the aesthetics of Soviet propaganda to the limits, and open up a number of questions that go beyond ironic subversion of the ideological apparatus. They form an archive that has a relationship to the past, beyond that of revisionism or nostalgia, and their relationship with communism remains open.”



Another work that I found interesting in the Tobacco Warehouse was Işıl Eğrikavuk‘s short documentary video,  Gül. The story of this young woman was truly interesting and captivating. According to the Biennal Guide,

“In Gül (2008), the main character, a woman, talks about her past and the arranged marriage she had to endure at the age of fourteen. As the young woman talks she is interrupted by scenes in which she takes on the role of an actor, commenting on the ‘character’ she is playing, and analysing the plausibility of her role. The almost voyeuristic interest in hearing the confessions of an abused woman is subverted as the story slides into fiction, questioning society’s reaction to violence.”

I really want to visit the third location of the Biennal soon, and I recommend everyone to go while the Biennal lasts (which is until the 8th of November).

The Biennal Guide I rant on about is only 2 YTL (which is not even a Euro) so it is very cheap and it’s not bad either if you want to have more information about the artists and their works. Here is the map for the Biennal venue locations, but I can say that the Feriköy Greek School is just at the top of the slope from the Osmanbey Metro station, and the Tobacco Warehouse is a short walk from the Galata tower (when you walk past it from the left, not the right), go down the slope, walk until the end of the road and it’s there.


Seeing, looking and Frutiger

They say that seeing and looking have entirely different meanings. You might at first agree and continue on, but if you do so then you miss the big picture. What exactly does one see when you look at a simple wooden door? I used to see faces and horses on the door of one of the old wardrobes at home when I was about four. So why do simple things evoke something that is entirely different than the initial? We do associate simple shapes or patches of a spilt juice to things quite distinct. Yesterday in class (VA 301 – Project Studio I), we watched a short documentary about Adrian Frutiger, a renowned typeface designer, and in some part of the documentary it was shown how Frutiger transmits something out of nature into artwork with simple black and white shapes. I think it might be one of the best ways of understanding how somebody sees while looking.

Patterns like Frutiger’s, of course, are very simple to understand because you somehow know what the shapes talk about. However, if the question “what do you see when you look at this?” is also asked in a psychologists’ room, while a Rorschach test is taking place. Think about it, some person who shows you a bunch of pictures can tell what kind of the person you are deep inside if they listen to what you associate the pictures to. So why not try getting to know yourself better in the first place? I say we should keep associating things with each other, putting aside our grown-up minds once in a while, like that one time you lay back and gazed at the clouds, saying that the one on the right looked like a bunny. Because I think that is the only way we will keep seeing what we look at.

A legible sans that Frutiger designed, originally created for use on signage at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.

A legible sans that Frutiger designed, originally created for use on signage at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.

A sample rorschach ink test

A sample rorschach ink test

Yaşam Şaşmazer

Today, I went to Yaşam Şaşmazer‘s exhibition “Strangely Familiar” at Çağla Cabaoğlu Art Gallery with my friend Yankı, who apparently has previously posted about this on her blog. I really did adore the sculptures although I think they were a bit damaged (probably because they were in a fair before this exhibition). The exhibition had its opening reception today so it’s really fresh and will continue until the 15th of October.

Here are some photos I took of two of his wooden sculptures, a bronze relief and another sculpture made from bronze which I particularly liked. Enjoy!