A glimpse into the
12th Istanbul Biennial
The title of the coming 12th Istanbul Biennial and its conceptual framework were unveiled in October 2010. The title of the biennial, Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011, refers to the work of the Cuban-American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres/FGT (1957-1996), whose engagement with socio-political issues as a gay and his investigation of the way politics can infiltrate personal life together form the background of his work. He is one of the most significant artists of the last twenty-five years, whose work has been featured in numerous international exhibitions, including the 5th Ýstanbul Biennial (titled: On Life, Beauty, Translations and Other Difficulties) curated in 1997 by Rosa Martinez.
The co-curators of Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011 are Adriano Pedrosa, (b 1965 in Rio de Janeiro) who is the founding director of Programa Independente da Escola São Paulo (PIESP) currently living and working in Såo Paulo as an independent curator, editor, and writer, and Jens Hoffmann (b 1974 in San José, Costa Rica), an exhibition-maker and writer based in San Francisco, where he is the director of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. In 2010 he founded a new journal, The Exhibitionist, possibly the first one exclusively dedicated to questions of curatorial practices.
The curators, Pedrosa and Hoffmann, are researching the various regions, with a special focus on the Latin America as they continue to develop the conceptual framework giving preference to the artworks of Gonzalez-Torres. Ms Bige Örer explained further that this is for the first time that the focus is on the Latin American artists in a collective manner, and very naturally so, because both the curators are from this world.
Gonzalez-Torres, in the short span of his career, composed and created powerful artistic language through re-articulation of conceptual art, minimalism, and political activism. His non-representational, poetic, subtle but sensual and often interactive works stir up intense human emotions of love, desire, loss, anger, and vulnerability. Through his works, Gonzalez-Torres demonstrated that the most successful political moves were the ones that did not appear to be political and that the personal is political, and the political is personal.
While no work of Gonzalez-Torres will be exhibited at the biennial, his presence and his ideas will be resonating throughout the exhibition. The biennial exhibition will feature approximately 45 solo and five group shows. Each of the five groups, represented by a large number of artists, will exhibit art under five separate concepts created by the curators drawing inspiration from works of Gonzalez-Torres. And who are all these participating artists? Well… as a curatorial choice, the details about the artists will only be announced in September, a few days before the biennial opens.
The curators or curatorial collectives are chosen and the concept of the biennial is decided more or less two years in advance. Basically, by the time one biennial ends, the next one already begins to blossom. Every biennial has to be experimental, avant-garde, which Ms Örer, the director of Istanbul Biennial, stressed as one of the central goals of the exhibition. She feels it is absolutely essential for the curators to have a lot of liberty and time to conceptualize the biennial's theme to its optimum potential. Ms Örer has been working with the Istanbul Foundation of Culture and Arts (ÝKSV- Ýstanbul Kültür Sanat Vakfi) since 2003 and as the director of Istanbul Biennial since 2008.
Since its inception in 1987, the ÝKSV has been the key driver of Istanbul Biennial. The first two biennials, in 1987 and 1989, were organized more casually, generally coordinated by Beral Madra. The 3rd Biennial was realized under the directorship of Vasif Kortun. Marking the growing success of these founding initiatives, the ÝKSV decided to implement a single curatorial theme for each of the biennials. As a prestigious and international event alongside Venice, Sao Paolo, Sydney, and the Documenta, the Istanbul Biennial has indeed become the meeting point in the field of visual arts between artists coming from disparate cultures and the audience. One should not forget that the Biennial has also been crucial for the advancement of contemporary art in Turkey. In addition to promoting Turkish artists among Western European museums and galleries or assisting them to find scholarships and residencies, the ÝKSV takes the responsibility of organizing the pavilion of its country at the Venice Biennale. Ayse Erkmen will represent Turkey at the 54th Venice Biennale this year curated by Fulya Erdemci, who had been the director of SKOR (Foundation for Art and Public Domain in Amsterdam) and a predecessor of Ms Örer at the ÝKSV in 1994 to 2000.
Marking the first public forum, 'Remembering Istanbul', a conference in November 2010 was celebrating both the history of the last two decades of the biennial and, at the same time, gearing up for the 12th Istanbul Biennial! The past and present curators and those Turkish artists who had already exhibited twice in the biennial made presentations and shared among themselves their experiences, thoughts, and afterthoughts on the biennial. A comprehensive publication on the two-day conference containing all the contributions will be available in September at the opening of the biennial. This conference, organized in collaboration with Istanbul Bilgi University, served the role of the first of several other public events to follow, such as a film festival and a conference on Felix Gonzalez-Torres. These events are integral and essential parts of the biennial for broadening its scope and the audience.
In April, a film show to be held in conjunction with the Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011, will also boast a similar title – Untitled (Film) – and feature 10 films in collaboration with the Istanbul Film Festival. These films will relate to the primary theme of the biennial. In June, a conference on Felix Gonzalez-Torres will take place to reach his work and concepts to a broader audience as his work is not really well-known in the region.
As a historical and cultural city, Istanbul continues to boast plenty of non-traditional and fascinating venues for exhibitions. The Aya Sofia, Basilica Cistern, a Turkish bathhouse, rundown apartment buildings, and many more sites have been used as such venues. A two-storey warehouse building had served as the main venue for the 4th, 8th, and the 9th biennials. Today that same waterfront building at the shore of the Bosporus near Tophane neighbourhood is a wonderful museum, Istanbul Modern, founded in 2004. It is the first private museum to house a permanent collection of modern and contemporary art in Turkey. The former biennial venue turned into the Istanbul Modern has really proved to be a great addition to the city of Istanbul and its modernization process. A few of the other sites, including textile markets, have also been transformed into alternative artistic venues and continue to be run by artists. A former tobacco warehouse close the city centre, in the Tophane neighbourhood, used for the biennial, has become a non-profit establishment known as DEPO, now a thriving cultural and critical debate centre for artists, artist collectives, and civic and cultural organizations. Various programmes surrounding the biennial bring in more than five thousand international guests consisting of art critics and foreign journalists to Istanbul.