Rather than being a great tree, laden with sweet, ripe fruit, this biennial seeks to learn from the birds’ flight, from the once teeming seas, from the earth’s slow chemistry of renewal and nourishment. There may be no great gathering, no orchestrated coming together in one time and place; instead it might be a dispersal, an invisible fermentation. Its threads will be drawn together, but they will multiply and diverge, at different paces, crossing here and there but with no noisy culmination, no final knot. Let this biennial be compost. It may begin before it is to begin and continue well after it is over.

The suspension of life-as-we-knew-it is a rare licence to do things differently. Doing justice to this moment means resetting our expectations and our purposes, reimagining our formats and making way for a fundamental questioning that is political and philosophical; for conversations, intimate and public, generous and trenchant. What is needed above all in this uncertain window is the confidence to try unfamiliar ways, old and new, of interacting with each other and with the world.

Feelings could become spaces, ears could become eyes, and water could become words. Words may be drawn in the mud, on the wall or in the air. A murmur may resound across vast distances, carrying seeds and stimulants of conversation and change. A biennial might be a hospital, a university, a restaurant, a newspaper –not an exercise in consensus but a shared terrain of suggestion and persuasion, of curiosity, chance encounter, and the debate on which civic trust is founded, betrayed and rebuilt.

As our channels of communication become mere instruments of manipulation, we ask: what’s left of the public conversation, of thinking aloud, of a reading public, of reading in public? If we listen together to the silence, might we rediscover our patience, our humility, our vulnerabilities? Can we reactivate public expression and reimagine the crossroads, the news stand, the coffee shop and the teahouse, the independent publisher or the local bookstore? Can other forms of thinking, speaking and making – poetic, cinematic, sonic – keep us informed and publicly mindful?

The projects of this biennial, the correspondents of this newspaper, the guests at this get-together, will be individuals and groups making sense of our times – of this planetary dysfunction we created and must face together – learning and sharing very old and very new techniques, insights from near and far. Using the biennial’s platform and the strange gravity of this moment of rupture, this composting will support and make visible their long-term investment; it will amplify their ideas and their agency by way of exhibition, publication, conversations and live events in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey, and even further afield. Rather than mounting a spectacle, we aim to inspire accommodation, connecting existing sites of civic and cultural exchange, activating others that are underutilised or dormant.

As social intercourse sputters, restarts, migrates to virtual channels; as we learn to care, share and speak across new distances, we affirm the need to come together, in hospitable spaces and initiatives that defend and revitalise our public cultures.

madebycat ®