The 17th Istanbul Biennial calls for intimate public encounters in times of crisis and isolation

The 17th Istanbul Biennial, organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) with the support of the 2007–2026 Biennial Sponsor Koç Holding, will take place between 11 September and 14 November 2021. Held in the midst of a pandemic and increasing social and environmental dysfunction, this edition of the biennial will be very different from its predecessors in its scale, its methods and its objectives.

As this human-induced health crisis lays bare profound divisions and unsustainable social and economic norms, why put together a biennial of contemporary art? This edition of the Istanbul Biennial is an effort to rethink the purposes and potential of such international platforms. In this time of uncertainty, the curatorial team (Ute Meta Bauer, Amar Kanwar and David Teh) sees an opportunity to recalibrate the priorities of a biennial, to reimagine its forms, the nature of participation, and the expectations of its publics. This edition will exceed the normal duration of biennials, starting before and ending long after the usual eight-week season. It will engage all the senses, and multi-disciplinary creation beyond the visual arts; a range of smaller, more intimate venues will welcome diverse local communities, while the broadest possible public will be addressed on the airwaves and online.

The curators state: 'As art organisations all around the world face urgent, existential questions – questions of survival and relevance, about how they operate, for whom, and to what ends – biennials are not immune. They must lead. Art can refresh the vocabularies of public discourse, it can open new pathways of thought at a time of acute and complex planetary crisis. We cannot miss the opportunity to rethink what art can offer, what it can actually do.'

>> Click here for the detailed information about the curatorial team.

Biennial as a space for composting

Rather than a theme or title, what unifies this 17th edition is a process: composting. A wide range of artists and other initiatives have been invited to share and develop the raw elements of their practices. The biennial will serve as a seedbed or nursery for a few months or more, in which to sew, transplant, nurture and fertilise, to see what sprouts. Some green shoots will awaken new and old ways of doing, saying and listening, of reading, thinking and being together; others will settle into the mulch and become something else altogether. Conventional understandings of the biennial format as a show, of the audience as passive spectators, will be challenged. The diversity of invited projects offers a horizon for reorientation, for rethinking the platform’s formal and geographical parameters.

© Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV). Design by Emre Çıkınoğlu

After more than a year of confinement and isolation, this biennial aims to revive the muscles of civic engagement and mobilise the people of Istanbul as active players and hosts in an inclusive conversation and fermentation process. An extensive programme of projections, soundings, dialogues and exhibitions, across the city and elsewhere, will follow six intertwined threads. Geo-poetics / Elemental Politics highlights struggles over our planet’s most basic resources. Projects centred on News and Pedagogy rethink how we become informed and educated in an age of privatised knowledge and shrinking public spheres. Ancient Solutions seeks insights into today's intractable problems in unorthodox practices side-lined by modernity. Synaesthesia explores the trans-sensory pathways between disciplines and between art forms; while a thread called An-archiving finds artists mobilising the resources of the past by way of use, rather than collection. The exhibitions will support and deepen these public exchanges, rather than the other way round.

The 17th Istanbul Biennial

The Advisory Board of the 17th Istanbul Biennial consists of the co-curator of the 11th Berlin Biennial Agustín Pérez Rubio; art historian and writer Ayşe Erek; the director of Whitechapel Gallery and curator Iwona Blazwick; the general director of Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, curator and art historian Levent Çalıkoğlu and the artistic director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and academician Yuko Hasegawa.

The visual identity of the 17th Istanbul Biennial was designed by Emre Çıkınoğlu. In his poster designs, Çıkınoğlu underlines in a calm tone the fragility of public cultures, and the 17th Istanbul Biennial's poetic call to nurture them.

The biennial will open to the public on 11 September 2021.

CURATORIAL STATEMENT OF THE 17TH ISTANBUL BIENNIAL

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.

Yukarı
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