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SALTWATER. A Theory of Thought Forms

With and through art, we commit ourselves to the possibilities of joy and vitality, leaping from form to flourishing life. The 14th Istanbul Biennial, SALTWATER. A Theory of Thought Forms, looks for where to draw the line, to draw upon and to draw out, through organic and non-linear forms that connect research in art with other knowledges. It does so offshore, on the flat surfaces with our fingertips but also in the depths, underwater, before the enfolded encoding unfolds. Works by over sixty artists and other participants, including oceanographers, story tellers, mathematicians and neuroscientists, will be emplaced in a city-wide exhibition on the Bosphorus that considers different frequencies and patterns of waves, the visible and invisible currents and densities of water that poetically shape and transform our world.

The works of art and projects will be dispersed along the Bosphorus from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, and from the European to the Middle Eastern and Central Asian sides, including places such as the Splendid Hotel and the Trotsky House on Büyükada island, the new Hrant Dink Foundation in Sisli, or art-specific locations such as Arter, Istanbul Modern, SALT Galata, and Depo.

Theosophist Annie Besant saw ‘thought forms’ as embodied entities of the imaginal realm, visible and vibrating states of what remains generally invisible – forms of the real world that can be apprehended through intense awareness, meditation and attention.     

A number of drawings, paintings, installations, films, objects, books, collaborations, and research-based events will be viewable as thought forms – waves or oscillating patterns of repeating and differing lines that structure and enfold all forms of transference of energy – from brain waves to shockwaves after an explosion, from sound waves and waves of water to electromagnetic waves of different lengths and frequencies, including radio waves and light.

The movements of waves, which suggest repetition and dispersion, are also held in suspension with thinking through knotted lines. There are the waves of history and waves of insurgency, waves of outrage and commitment when a people decides to aggregate, come together, and draw the line. At those moments, knots are formed, and knots suspend the flow of waves; they are arrested movements, hiccups in the flow of waves. This exhibition looks at these knots of history, when time slows down and movement is arrested, sometimes breathlessly; it does so through the lens of our troubled times, archeologically, turning over stones. Wars, ethnic cleansing, political uprisings, the conflicts between Turks, Armenians, Greeks, and Kurds, and more recently a wave of Syrian refugees – all these crises in the history of those lands are some of those knots. The year 2015 marks one century from what Armenians first called Medz Yeghern to define the brutal cleansing of their people in the late Ottoman Empire traditionally associated with the year 1915.

The 14th Biennial of Istanbul intends to create a dialogue between the work of exploring a traumatized past and the work of transforming history into a fertile terrain for the future, a culture of “compost.” Worldliness and flourishing, the celebration of life, and the emergence of new forms of life and art, can only meaningfully occur if a parallel recognition of loss occurs. The saltwater of the Atlantic Ocean absorbed the bodies of slaves for centuries (the so-called “middle passage”); landlocked seas of salt crystals, the remnants of ancient oceans, drew patterns in the deserts of Australia and on the plains of Utah, visible witnesses of indigenous people’s histories and catastrophes, and today saltwater hosts the bodies fallen from boats crossing the Mediterranean from its Southern shores.

Salty is the water of our tears, yet salt heals many illnesses and expresses the desires of charged ions, reassembling molecules into salt crystals, without which there would be no life on the planet.

If on the one hand ruins, memory, trauma, conflict and destruction, lack of education, and even genocide, exist in our world and are recognized in the history of humanity, on the other hand, flourishing, growth, research, liveliness, currents of air and water, intra- actions between species of plants and animals and their environments, and between art and science, art nouveau and its contemporary version in bio-architecture, constitute other alternative waves of history.

Perhaps a wave is simply time – the feeling of a difference between the high and the low points of a wave able to mark the experience of time, and thus of space, and thus of life. It is through the identification of waves, the seeing of waves, that we acknowledge patterns, underwater patterns of water, or patterns of wind. Could a wave ultimately be a line trying to become knot and, if so, when can it be undone? I put this question to my friends the physicists, but I also put it to my friends the philosophers, and – ultimately and perhaps mostly – I ask this to, and of, the artists.

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev  
April 4, 2015