Istanbul Biennial 2019: The Seventh Continent
Istanbul’s art scene is booming and it’s never been more evident than in this year’s 16th Biennial (14 September – 10 November). Running across three sites, and showcasing more than 220 artworks by 56 participating artists, it provides art lovers with a wealth of opportunities to fully immerse themselves in art.
This year’s theme – The Seventh Continent
The Seventh Continent refers to the mass of plastic waste floating in the Pacific, estimated to be five times the size of Turkey. Curator and art historian Nicolas Bourriaud uses this theme to explore the Anthropocene epoch; an era where human activity has been the dominant influence on climate change and the environment.
While the biennial isn’t set on preaching an environmental message, it explores our current period in history and suggests a new ‘approach is needed to make sense of it.
Bourriaud sees the 56 international participating artists as anthropologists of this ‘off-centred world’, a time where, the physical and symbolic limits that formerly separated human beings from their environments have collapsed. He suggests that,’ both anthropology and art are reflecting the erosion of the old mass systems – sociological, ethnical, sexual or political.’
The site locations
Located a stone’s throw from the beautiful Bosphorous and a 30-minute walk from Galata Bridge, the main venue (the new addition to the MSFAU Painting and Sculpture museum), plays host to more than half of the participating artists, so ensure you allow a day to take it all in. It’s also conveniently located for grabbing a coffee or a quick bite to eat, should you want some refreshments after an art-filled day.
The second host venue, the Pera Museum, is more centrally located near Taksim Square. Here, alongside the 14 Biennial artists, is the museum’s permanent collection, which is well worth viewing. Afterwards, head to Solera Winery, a fabulous little wine bar with a good selection of wines.
The third site, which is home to five art works, is located on Buyukada (the largest of the Princes Islands), situated a one-hour boat ride from the main port. All of the works are located within a short walk from the ferry drop-off for ease.
To help inspire your visit to the Biennial, I’ve rounded up a few of my favourite installations / artists’ works.
1. Korakrit Arunanondchai – Thailand
This video piece brings together two historical events – the rise of Donald Trump and the death of the King of Thailand woven together with the artist’s grandmother’s experience with dementia and a drone spirit called Chanti.
Done through a collage of cleverly woven interviews, original footage, imagery and story-telling, there’s a real beauty to Arunanondchai’s work, which has an ethereal and spiritual quality. The content of the video is almost irrelevant; it’s the sum of the parts that makes it stand out. He punctuates the footage with poignant phrases, which encourage reflection such as: ‘how have the strokes of history painted your picture’, ‘for consciousness to exist beyond bodies’, ‘soil is the most valued species on the earth,’ etc.
2. Jonathas de Andrade – BrazilPeixe The Fish– video
This powerful film shows a fisherman holding and stroking a fish with care and love while the fish slowly dies; a ritual performed by fishermen in the Northeast of Brazil. This demonstration of love while the fishermen knowingly kill the fish for food, throws up a complex set of emotions, making for compelling yet difficult viewing. Andrade uses this video to explore human’s relationship to the earth, that we are slowly killing yet depend on for our existence.
3. Hale Tenger – Turkey
Appearance –Installation and audio - Buyukada
This meditative piece is set in the gardens of Sophronius Palace, a now un-inhabited, dilapidated building on Buyukada Island. As you wander around the gardens you are drawn to the black obsidian mirrors that reflect the magic of this wild garden. You are forced to walk slowly in between the mirrors so you can hear the audio that forms part of this installation, a poem written by the artist – the voice of a fruit tree. The inspiration for this installation comes from a botanical technique girdling: the complete removal of a strip of bark which can kill trees or encourage enhanced growth of fruit. The artist asks ‘Can you be by not doing?’ and she creates a wonderful space to reflect on this and indeed how humans manipulate nature for their own gain.
4. Haegue Yang – South Korea
‘Incubation and Exhaustion’- sculpture, sound (Painting and Sculpture Museum)
Yang presents an immersive sensorial environment with scents, sounds and textures. The room is saturated with biomorphic sculptures made up of motifs ranging from chillies and garlic to high-end surgical robots. These striking hyperreal images and sculptures are paired with an audio from a famous interview with Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, where native bird song and camera clicks was all that was recorded. Yang’s installation explores the breaking down of barriers between technology, politics, art and nature.
Overall, the experience left me feeling reflective. Perhaps human beings are merely a dot on the landscape of the history of this great earth whose time is up. Motivated by human-centric concerns, the climate change debate, which has provoked so much discussion and anxiety, maybe suggests our focus should be on how to leave this earth gracefully.
Arts, Culture & Entertainment