Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev: a foreword about the venues of the 14th Istanbul Biennial

Words by Claudia Malfitano
September 4, 2015

The 14th Istanbul Biennial SALTWATER: A Theory of Thought Forms, organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) opens to the public on 5 September 2015. The biennial, drafted by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev with a number of alliances, presents over 1,500 artworks by over 80 participants from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and North America. The biennial will be open until 1 November 2015.

Encompassing 36 venues on the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus, SALTWATER takes place in museums as well as temporary spaces of habitation on land and on sea such as boats, hotels, former banks, garages, gardens, schools, shops and private homes.

Being on the advisory board of the Biennial for over 4 years, Christov-Bakargiev was familiar to the city of Istabul. The curator, nevertheless admits she had to discover the city from a different point of view in order to give a phisical nest to the concept of this year’s Biennial once appointed curator.

“..I knew of course Istabul a little bit before starting this because I had the great pleasure of coming to Istanbul for the Istanbul Biennial on many many occasions in the past… I have mapped the city through the Biennial for about ten years.”

As always the curator applayed to her curatorial task her usual methodology and one thing led to another following a process of aggregation rather then a selection:

“To begin with, I always ask myself: “where are you, and what is the history of this place?”. So I started reading history books a hell of a lot about the early 20th Century but not only: also the 1700, the 1600 and the whole Ottoman history and so forth. I learned many things and started to journey in boats all over the islands and from the Marmara see and it occurred to me that the Bosphorus looked like a capital “I” that was a little bit distorted with the Black sea on the top of the capital “I” and the sea of Marmara going towards the Mediterranean on the bottom side of the capital “I” so it occurred to me that looked a little bit like a “thought form” of Annie Besant. So Annie Besant came from looking at the Bosphorus which is a fault line. A fault line is a very fragile place: about every one hundred years there is a crack and many people die unfortunately, and yet humans continue to live in this area for thousands of years…I went to visit Orhan Pamuk on Büyükada because he’s been speding his whole life there since he was a child in the summer months and he mentioned to me that Trotsky had lived there and I didn’t know that before. In my superficial ignorance I thought he went from the former Russian Union directly to Mexico. And he took me to this house that he would go to as well and that was the first venue. And then we built from there. When I decided that there would be temporary spaces and habitations on land and sea and a series of solo projects interconnected I needed a museum and that’s when Istanbul Biennial came in as a counterpoint because you know these are like tricks of the trade: if you have everything and all of the alternative spaces it just looks like nobody gave you a permanent. So you have to have the best museum in the city to work with so that the others are choice. So I work like this. “

The result is a series of venues scattered from the Marmara sea to the Bosphorus, following a crack in the Euro-Asian landscape, pretty hard to enclose or “squash” in a 2 or 3 days tour for an in-flying journalist or professional as the Biennale is primarily concieved for the locals who will be able to enjoy each venue in a more relaxed time span:

“…the people of this area of Istanbul and the greater Istanbul on the Asian side and the European side. This exhibition is made for them first of all. For the “we” that are in this room generally speaking and those “we” can take a weekend every week and see very leasurely the whole exhibition without any trouble of trying to make a concentrated itinerary. So my first audience are the people not the art critics and the curators and artists that come and have to squash everything into two days or three days.”

So if you wish to fully enjoy the experience of this exhibition, sit back and relax because you will need to engage yourself into a journey through the Bosphorus, the Marmara sea, the Black sea, the Büyükada island and more. This journey won’t follow a straight pattern but a rather blurry path, more similar to the form of thought.


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