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Turkish and English with simultaneous translation available.

Laurent de Sutter & Monster Chetwynd, Jennifer Deger & Phillip Zach, Tobias Rees & Agnieszka Kurant, Emanuele Coccia & Eloise Hewser

The 16th Istanbul Biennial offers the image of a ‘new world’ with The Seventh Continent: even if this huge mass of floating plastic wastes cannot be inhabited, it is a territory which is now explored by artists, scientists and thinkers. Their dialogue is the core of the two talk sessions inaugurating and closing the Biennial. An anthropologist, a philosopher, a sociologist, will be associated with one of the participating artists in order to produce new points of view upon the Anthropocene, witnessing the mutations of contemporary thought. A renewed idea of anthropology expanded to the non-humans, and crossings between feminisms, decolonisation theory, cosmology or sociology, will be the main issues of those dialogues.

The dialogue sessions on the opening and closing weeks of the 16th Istanbul Biennial are mapping new territories in contemporary theory, bringing together anthropologists of the non-human or philosophers of the vegetal life, thinkers crossing the boundaries between aesthetics, feminist theory or sociology, as a critical response to the apparition of the floating seventh continent. In which way, and to what extent, will the Anthropocene transform contemporary thought? Every author is paired with an artist from the exhibition, and their two short interventions are followed by a discussion.


Laurent de Sutter & Monster Chetwynd
Tobias Rees & Agnieszka Kurant
Coffee break
Jennifer Deger & Phillip Zach
Emanuele Coccia & Eloise Hewser

Laurent de Sutter & Monster Chetwynd

The Return of Man by Laurent de Sutter
“We used to think that humanity was something secondary, an embarrassing story told to legitimize the privileges that we were giving to ourselves. With the advent of the Anthropocene, however, we have come to realize that we were wrong: human beings indeed are at the center of the world and have been so since its very beginning - because they have made it, and quite poorly. The age of the Anthropocene is the age of human logistics, as it has unfolded from the Neolithic to the present - the age of the equipment of the Earth, of its world-building. This talk will explore the tightly knitted history of the technical anthropology of our ill-fated condition of world-builders in order to try and define a new way to get ourselves out of the mess that we have created.”

Laurent de Sutter is Professor of Legal Theory at Vrije Universiteit Brussel. He is the author of more than a dozen books translated into ten languages. His work focuses on the equipment of our selves and the ruin of our pretenses at norming it, from a post-critical perspective. He also is a publisher at Presses Universitaires de France and Polity Press.

Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees and the decline of Insects in Britain by Monster Chetwynd
“I make performances and art that lifts moral: a natural tonic, a portal to buoyancy and human bonding, unstoppable surges of courage and bravado, that seem irresponsible in the face of the current reality, but also are a useful ingredient if we are to be energised to program change.

In my presentation I will out line how I work and what I have developed for the 16th Biennial: temporary sculptures Hybrid Creatures and a permanent work, Gorgon's Playground.

I will also explain how an idea generates a performance, for example Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees in relation to the decline of bees in Britain/ Anthropocene. I would introduce a group of friends to the ideas I have come across and then develop what comes out of this discussion into a mime or dance.”

Monster Chetwynd (b. 1973, London, UK) lives in Glasgow, UK. Chetwynd’s practice intertwines performance, sculpture, painting, installation and video. Her work incorporates elements of folk plays, street spectacles, popular culture and Surrealist cinema. Her performances and videos often employ troupes of performers – friends and relatives of the artist – and feature handmade costumes and props. She has performed and exhibited internationally, and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2012. Solo exhibitions and performances include: De Pont, Tilburg, The Netherlands (2019); Villa Arson, Nice, France (2019); Eastside Projects, Birmingham, England (2019); Winter Commission, Tate Britain, London (2018); Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh (2018-19); Foundation Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Torino, Italy (2018); Sadie Coles HQ London (2018); CCA Glasgow, Scotland (2016); Bergen Assembly, Bergen Kunsthall, Norway (2016); Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn, Germany (2016); Arts Council Collection Commission (2016); Nottingham Contemporary, England (2014); Studio Voltaire, London (2014); Massimo de Carlo, Milan, Italy (2014); Sadie Coles HQ, London (2014); and the New Museum, New York (2011-12).

Jennifer Deger & Phillip Zach

Curating the Anthropocene by Jennifer Deger
“Anthropologists and Artists share an impulse to see the world differently. Practitioners of both disciplines actively cultivate their senses and imaginations, moving through the world on the lookout for moments of revelation and recognition, those perceptual jolts that shift not only what we see, but what we come to know and care about. Through such methods both Art and Anthropology claim a radical social potential. How might Anthropology and Art join forces to create new ways of seeing for these times of earth crisis?”

Jennifer Deger is a visual anthropologist. She is a co-director of Feral Atlas: The More-than-Human Anthropocene, previewed at this year’s Istanbul Biennial (Stanford University Press Digital Projects, 2020). She is also founding member of Miyarrka Media, a collective of artists, filmmakers, and researchers based in the Aboriginal community of Gapuwiyak in northern Australia. Miyarrka Media’s experimental text, Phone & Spear: a Yuta Anthropology, will be published later this year (Goldsmiths Press, 2019). Jennifer is an Associate Professor and Research Leader in the College of Arts, Society and Education at James Cook University, Australia.

Tremos by Phillip Zach
In Zach’s multi-channel video and sound installation, two videos are projected on opposite walls, ranging from documentary style interviews with archeologists, to fictional scenes to psychedelic sequences, as well as, separately, sound elements drawn from field recordings and specifically composed cinematic scores. The work takes up two real sites, both caves: Los Angeles’s man-made Bronson Cave, which has been used in films and TV shows from Star Trek to Twin Peaks to Mission: Impossible; and Yarımburgaz Cave, outside of Istanbul, which has weathered different forms of imprint: graffiti, destructions done by film productions, tunnels illegally burrowed by treasure hunters, or earlier cultural markers, such as ancient cave drawings and artefacts.

Phillip Zach (b. 1984, Germany) lives and works between Los Angeles and Berlin. He studied at Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main. Crossing over different terrains like cognitive science, evolutionary biology and popular culture, Zach’s practice draws upon the sub-sensory or suppressed aspects of materials and history. Recent exhibitons include: Freedman Fitzpatrick, Paris (2019): Overduin & Co, Los Angeles (2019), Karma International, Los Angeles (2019), La Panaceé, Montpellier (2018); Ellis King, Dublin (2017); Kunsthalle Mainz (2017); CAC Vilnius (2017); Depart Foundation, Los Angeles (2017); Weiss/Falk, Basel (2017).

Tobias Rees & Agnieszka Kurant

un-differentiate. indifference. Human by Tobias Rees
“The modern concept of the human (known as Man) grounded in two differentiations. On the one hand, humans were said to be more than mere nature (animals, plants) –– and on the other hand they were said to be other from mere machines.

Here the human, more and other, there nature and machines.
There was a time, at the end of the European middle ages, when these two differentiations were an achievement: inventing the human was a courageous act of liberation, of freedom.
Today, they are unfortunate.
Can one undo these two differentiations?
Can one undifferentiated the human –– and animals and plants and machines (technology) –– from … the human?
What does it mean to be human –– to live a human life –– when one let’s go of the human?
What is an animal, what a plant or a machine when they cease being merely the other of the human?

In this talk, I trace the emergence of the human –– and attend to what I think of undifferentiation as practice, guided by the effort to accidently find oneself amidst instances of indifference.

What interests me is the experimental, always tentative (never conclusive) exploration of different kinds of undifferentiation as practice –– with respect to AI and machine learning, to microbes, to synthetic biology, to art.”

Tobias Rees is Reid Hoffman Professor of Humanities at the New School for Social Research; the founding Director of the Institute’s Transformations of the Human Program; and a Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). The focus of Dr. Rees’s work is on the philosophy, poetry, and politics of the contemporary. He is intrigued by situations that are not reducible to the already thought and known –– by events, small ones or large ones, that set the taken for granted in motion and thereby provoke unanticipated openings for which no one has words yet. In his writings, he seeks to capture something of the at times wild, at other times subtle, almost tender and fragile openness –– pure movement –– that rules as long as the new/different has not yet gained any stable contours.

His work on the brain, on microbes, snails and AI have increasingly given rise to two observations that have come to define his work.
(1) A distinctive feature of the present is that the question concerning the human occurs less in the human than in the non-human sciences. Say, in microbiome research, in AI or in the study of climate change.
(2) The tentative answers that are emerging from these non-human fields radically defy the understanding of the human as more than mere nature and as other than mere machines on which the human sciences were built.

What to do with the displacement of questions that defined the arts into the fields of the sciences and engineering?

Alone and together with colleagues in philosophy, art, and the sciences/engineering Dr. Rees has sought to build conceptual and institutional possibilities for addressing just this question.

He has also worked as an advisor for many North American and European Universities for how to re-invent the human sciences. Rees is the author of dozens of articles and three books: Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary (2008), Plastic Reason (2016), and most recently of After Ethnos (2018).

Collective Intelligence by Agnieszka Kurant
Contemporary human is a multitude or assemblage of agencies, operating simultaneously: from microbes (since bacteria are necessary actants in our immune system and our mental health, the concept of the self collapses), to AI (our decision making is constantly hacked by corporations via algorithmic data mining). Scientists have proven that intelligence is never individual, but always distributed. Collective intelligence, a phenomenon observed in slime molds, termite colonies, internet, social movements, cities and inside our brains, is a phenomenon where novel forms emerge in a non-linear and unpredictable ways out of interactions between thousands of elements in a complex system. Agnieszka Kurant collaborates with computer scientists, biologists, sociologists and anthropologists to create artworks that often behave like living organisms or ecosystems, alternately natural and artificial, real and synthetic, living and not, biological, geological and algorithmic. Her talk will explore the ways in which collective intelligence and non-human intelligence (animal, microbial and AI) undermine our understanding of nature and culture. Drawing on artificial life, self-organizing matter, transformations of energy and complex systems she will discuss her recent works, which fuse collective intelligence and artificial intelligence through outsourcing to human and non-human agents, to investigate in which direction humanity and nature are currently evolving.

Conceptual artist, Agnieszka Kurant examines how complex social, economic and ecological systems can operate in ways that confuse distinctions between fiction and reality or nature and culture. Her works, based on collaborations with biologists, anthropologists and computer scientist, often behave like living organisms. Kurant has just been awarded the Frontier Art Prize. She is currently an artist in residence at MIT CAST and holds a fellowship at the Berggruen Institute in Los Angeles. Her solo shows and projects include a commission for the façade of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (2015), a solo show at Sculpture Center in New York (2013), at SCAD Museum of Art (2017) and the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture (with A. Wasilkowska, 2010). Her work was featured in international exhibitions including Palais de Tokyo, Moderna Museet, Witte de With, Rotterdam, Guggenheim Bilbao, Milano Triennale, La Panacee, Montpelier, MOCA Toronto, Bonner Kunstverein, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, MUMOK, Vienna, Frieze Projects, London, Mamco, Geneva, Performa Biennial, Momentum Biennial, and FRONT Triennial, among others.

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