Overview of the Istanbul Biennale

Overview of the Istanbul Biennale

Autumn is generous with world-class art events. In September, the 17th Istanbul Biennale opened, which we will talk about today.

Istanbul is a colorful and diverse city, it surprisingly combines two different identities: one is liberal, the other is traditional and conservative. The exhibition also turned out to be multifaceted.

This year's project was curated by Ute Meta Bauer, Amar Kanwar and David Tech. They did not set a general theme for the Biennale. Instead, they posed a number of topical questions for themselves and for the audience: what can the Biennale do in times of social, economic and environmental crisis? Can a work of art exist if no one is looking at it? How can we, so different, exist together?

Many of these questions are, of course, caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has postponed the Biennale for a year.

This year, 50 projects and more than 500 artists are taking part in the exhibition, and art objects are dispersed throughout the city. According to Biennale Director Bige Orer, the main works of the exhibition are scattered around the city like seeds. This intricate arrangement is meant to reflect Istanbul's layered past, as all the chosen locations add meaning to the artwork and encourage the viewer to rediscover the city.

In the garden of medicinal plants in Zeytinburnu, next to historical hospitals and cemeteries, an installation by Maraja Lukman is presented. The artist positions her work, a water garden with lotuses, as a place of healing in times of fragility and uncertainty. A green oasis among the concrete is reminiscent of the fruit markets of old Istanbul. Artist Orkan Telhan also strives to recreate the market gardens of the past in the Yenikapı quarter.

Orkan Telkhan

The heavy theme of loss and absence is presented in the video work “Shin” by Leyla Keskin at the Gazhane Museum. The video itself shows mourning rituals for river animals doomed to extinction due to the construction of a dam in southeastern Turkey. The theme of environmental problems is widely represented in the framework of the current biennale, as well as the theme of mourning.

Many artists use sound to compel and immerse the viewer. The visual-sound installation "Cyclops" by Carlos Casas affects the viewer as he moves through an abandoned tunnel. The project turned out to be disturbing, to put it mildly, with mysterious sounds throughout its entire length.