Sunday, September 03, 2017


A Panel: "Art Of Change: Strategies For Cultural Survival” Part of A GOOD NEIGHBOUR realized as a part of the
15th Istanbul Biennial’s Neighbouring Events Programme
Press Release
Vittorio Urbani
Panelists: Ayşe Erek, Beral Madra, Mehmet Kütükçüoğlu Organised by: Open Dialogue Istanbul & Nuova Icona
Curated by: Billur Tansel & Vittorio Urbani
Date: Friday, 15 September 2017
Location: Cezayir, Firuzağa Mahallesi, Hayriye Cad. No:12, Istanbul Time: 10:00-12:00
“A biennial can be a platform for dialogue, and a format in which diverse opinions, perspectives, and communities can coexist.” Elmgreen & Dragset
As the 15th Istanbul Biennial curators Elmgreen & Dragset view the biennial as a platform for a dialogue in which diverse opinions, perspectives and communities can coexist; this panel will consist of cross-disciplinary guest spea- kers dealing with the subject of “Art Of Change: Strategies For Cultural Survival” studied by professionals with diffe- rent backgrounds with an expertise in the critique, management, curating, history of art and architechure. Cultural perspectives and artistic practice will also be points of reflection.
The panel will be moderated by Vittorio Urbani (Curator, Founder of Nuova Icona); and the lecturers that will take part in this panel are Ayşe Erek (Academician and Art Historian), Beral Madra (Curator & Art Critic), Mehmet Kütük- çüoğlu (Architect & Founder of Teğet Architecture, one of the co-curators of the Turkish Pavillion of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale). The project will be realised as a part of the 15th Istanbul Biennial's neighbouring events programme, hosted by Cezayir.
We will look at how these professionals from different backgrounds view the same subject and how their perspectives coming from different educational backgrounds and interests can change their approach and analysis. Since the participants of this panel have all had experience in different biennials; examples of different biennials in various countries will be studied as ways of presenting visual culture and as a means of dialogue and cultural mediators between borders and disciplines of art. The relation between the materiality of the city and architecture, the existing system of art institutions, independent art initiatives, the existing cultural policy, the question of creating alternative spaces/ solutions for art, city, neighborhood, new potentials, the sharing of rules, style of management and ethics in the way institutions deal with artists will be amongst the topics to be discussed in the framework of the quick pace of change that reigns in the world today.
Realised as part of 15th Istanbul Biennial's neighbouring events programme

Wednesday, January 04, 2017


 Collective Installation

CI ARTFAIR Ayla Turan, "Escape" polyester, 2016


Jubilation Decade

The joy of Istanbul being “hot spot” of contemporary art in between two continents (Europe and Asia) during the first decade of 2000’s occurred because of the apparently expected positive developments regarding the political and economic image of Turkey. A 2014 paper clarifies this impression: Turkey went through a period of high growth when all the money was flowing and we were told that those structural reforms were done. But, now, we see that those reforms were not fully done, otherwise we would not be seeing these current vulnerabilities. So, Turkey currently does not have a sustainable growth model.(1)

Likewise, by sending relational-aesthetics loaded exhibition packages to satisfy the audiences particularly in EU cities and by realizing Istanbul Capital of Culture in 2010, politicians, local governments and the private sector have jubilantly advertised a success that actually needed credible local justification. Actually, already during the fabulous decade (2004-2014) it was apparent that the contemporary art productions of Turkey could not reach either the people in 80 cities of Turkey or to the audiences in five continents. The art audiences in Istanbul, in EU countries with immigrant populations from Turkey and the visiting artists and art experts had the privilege to see and appreciate the dissident contemporary art production.

During this decade the existing infrastructure, with its Modernist roots and underdeveloped Post-modernist local structures evolved primarily into a Neo-capitalist culture industry programme serving mainly the needs of private sector, of creative industry investments, evidently of artists, culture producers and entrepreneurs. However, the resonance that should be expected of a dissident contemporary art production could not develop consistently, as it could not infiltrate into the awareness and deep subconscious of the majority. The number of contemporary artists and curators who have gained international recognition was encouraging, but without a sound and sustainable local appreciation and support it was a misleading conviction.

Considering the geo-political turmoil in the region and the Islamist and neo-liberalist positioning of the official cultural policy of AKP government, we should re-question the current success of this process and for the sake of the existing art scene find out the truth concealed behind these manifestations of jubilation.

Through the cold winds between EU and Turkey and during my recent participation in Soul for Europe November 2016 Forum in Berlin I had the opportunity to justify the ongoing power of contemporary art production within the current non-democratic process as follows:

Contemporary artist, art experts producing artworks and art and culture actions and activities in Turkey and the private institutions or individual initiatives are determinedly effective in fulfilling the cultural aims and intentions such as a clear and unbiased vision towards democratic transformation, freedom of expression and communication, respect to pluralism, human and gender rights, responsibility on ecological problems, development of public awareness. All these principles are currently struggling towards democratic processes and resisting the upcoming totalitarian regime. Visual artists with their aesthetically qualified, conceptually competent artworks are widely and strongly enriching the visual production and women artists are on the front of this production. But, how the artist profit from their production or rather how they survive, is a crucial and leading question. Most of the artists work in the universities, in graphic design companies or open art studios for the public; with any luck a small number of artists have family support or private income. Private galleries occasionally employ curators; the museum or private sector art and culture quantity is not enough to meet the employment demands, besides they prefer to run their institution with low-wage. The EU Strategy Paper had arranged the priorities for EU financial assistance for the period 2014-20 to support Turkey on its path to integration.   This was supposed to be sustainable and help Turkey’s creative people and groups to meet the accession criteria within the EU culture policy. Evidently the art and culture production and its global dissemination could only achieve the necessary progress under the aegis of this integration process. Under the shadow of the abrupt exit from the EU Creative Program due to the political dispute this might not be so easy (2).  In particular, in the fields of creative industries, contemporary arts production, the project supports allocated by EU funds without doubt supported employment, social policies, education, promotion of gender equality, and human resources development and regional and territorial cooperation.
We are aware that under the current political and economic conditions in Turkey and in the region, it might be difficult to continue and strengthen the socio-cultural and artistic endeavors and productions; however the existing infrastructure which could develop communication, collaboration and partnerships through the provision of millions of Euro investments since 1990 and through the İstanbul 2010 Culture Capital project is more than prepared and determined to continue its quest for creative production, even if the political  environment may not be so supportive.

Recent Context

In three out of 39 local municipalities of Istanbul, namely Beyoğlu, Şişli and Beşiktaş, and in the skyscraper district north of Istanbul there are the substantial private investments. Kadıköy, which currently seems to be a stronghold for freedom of creativity and laicism gives no hope for and suitable development for contemporary art infrastructure. The competitive art fairs and auctions with their relatively local collector profile and market, continuously displaced art galleries from one district to the other, two private collection museums (Sabancı and Pera) in stabile activity, one private museum (İstanbul Modern) waiting to move to its temporary space in Karaköy and one highly anticipated private museum (Ömer Koç Museum) under construction in Dolapdere are the highlights of the scene. In juxtaposition to these private sector investments there are a few independent and interdisciplinary spaces founded by artists, curators or art experts, mainly financed by themselves or with occasional sponsors. Istanbul Biennale and the three Anatolia Biennale (Çanakkale, Sinop, Mardin) provide the international recognition and networking for artists and art experts. 2016 Sinopale and Çanakkale Biennale were postponed after critical political interventions.

All the municipalities have official culture policies according to their political parties. CHP municipalities carry on their Semi-modernist -Post-modernist populist programs while AKP municipalities follow AKP government culture policy towards an Islamic, conservative art and culture production, shaping art forms in tune with its propagated traditional arts revival programme.

The government also talks about another matter. Galleries of Fine Arts, in 48 cities in Anatolia – a Soviet Model of art and culture distribution - under the direction of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism are devoid of any function to serve the requirements of contemporary art whatsoever. There is, once again, no intention to inject meaning into them. The government prefers to hand over that modernist cultural leftover to individuals or private organizations intending the exploitation of them in a way that we can call cultural McDonaldization or cultural Islamization. This development package contains no investment for the benefit of creative people that produce today’s art and culture despite the fact that there are art and design faculties in the universities of many of these cities and there is a related demand for art centres.

The pivotal privatisation of the cultural infrastructure and the ambitious sponsorship code as well as the official cultural policy creates an oppressive and impoverishing environment both for the established and, in particular, the up and coming generation of artists. The establishment of a public, modern, contemporary museum or center with intentions to serve the artist concerning his/her needs for project funding and exhibitions and to serve the public with motivating programming seems to be a remote possibility.

Predicaments of Art Production

If we take a look at the culture and art packaging for the purposes of corporate art and the cultural publicity presentations through contemporary art, it is easy to see a blend of high and low culture - in other words, the residual and stereotyped “high culture” formations and media and consumption-oriented “mass culture” moments.

Artists who seriously and consciously dedicated to criticizing and dissident contents and forms aside, since 2000 contemporary art production is passing through a Neo-capitalist blender, and turning out easy-to-digest fodder for the society of spectacle and its cool artwork consumers. Art fairs and local auctions of variable attractiveness are the main manipulators of this ongoing spectacle. Three relatively significant art fairs in İstanbul (Contemporary İstanbul, ArtIstanbul, TÜYAP) were founded with the prospect of attracting prestigious local and international galleries and enthusiastic and well-informed collectors. After the unexpected 15July putsch ArtIstanbul has cancelled its 2016 fair; the other two were realized, but are reluctant to declare their revenues. As a token, in TÜYAP a large group of young curators and artists initiatives have gained space for a non-profit, alternative show, which surprised and agitated the middle-class art-alien fair visitor with provocative works.

What I would like to stress is that, in this privatized package for the society of spectacle, there is limited critical approach to or manifesto for Turkey’s ongoing cultural dilemmas and problems related mostly to nation state ideology, racism, religion, gender and ethnic discrimination. These problems are evidently related to the position of Turkey within the global state of affairs currently deprived of freedom and democratic charms and spells… In her interview for Cairo review just after 15th July coupe (3) Judith Butler comprehensively evaluates the ongoing socio-cultural crisis in Turkey and makes a wide-ranging interpretation: I think that the future of critical thought is really at risk. And critical thought not just as something people do in universities, but critical thought as the term that links, say, academic freedom and democratic freedom—a kind of crossing of the right to dissent and the right to criticize.
Does a culture/art package lacking political, social and cultural criticism differ significantly from a nice box of Turkish delight? After all the Post-orientalist discourse, this is not plausible. The target audience in the EU during the two decades of 1990-2010 could not be attracted to a short-range, surface and submissive representation. One of the first and significant attempts to have a sustainable introduction of contemporary art from Turkey was Tanas, Berlin (2008-2013), but even that fairly met optimistic expectations. Shouldn’t Turkey’s contemporary art entrepreneurs – if they had been resolute enough to untie the purse strings in this respect -, have invested in scholarships, residencies and sustainable institutions for creative individuals? There is now only one effective example of this kind, founded by a younger generation of private sector entrepreneurs, namely SAHA (4)

We are aware of the fact that Turkish society has uncontrollably taken giant steps towards becoming a society of the spectacle, as Guy Debord once said: The whole of life is an accumulation of shows and the materialistic approach has succeeded fully to invade social life. (5) This accumulation is additionally and dangerously invaded by religious dogma. According to Debord, the more the audience watches, the less they live; the more they concede to find themselves within the ruling images of consumption, the less they understand their own existence and desires. Turkey’s political, economic, social agenda has become such a hysterical show that the mass does not live at all but even devours up its desire. It is precisely this society of spectacle and religious manipulation is alarmed to see socio-political realities and disturbing allusions to memory in the dissident representations of contemporary art works.

In other words, the underprivileged classes of the population, obviously the true target public of the dissident and activist artists are not only deprived of the education and information provided by contemporary art but also restricted to appreciate it by the political and religious dogma. Whereas the handful of indecisive and insensible art investors, willing the realization of their own dreams - from content to form through to management and programme - rather than leaving things in the hands of the professionals, are thus going through cycles of self-satisfaction – to which is certainly attributable to their long-term failure to erect autonomous institutions, be they modern, post-modern or contemporary art museums or centers.

The younger generation of artists finds inspiration and themes to scrutinize in daily life, in the continuous transformations, in the ever-present aggressions of this complex city and believe that they are contributing to the awareness of the people or to the democratic processes. The aesthetics of such art works conceal a certain resistance to the existing micro and macro political and economic orders. However, the guidance of the artist by galleries and collectors is a fact against which potential artistic resistance would have a considerable importance. The fact that artists, art associations, art experts may be forced to remain submissive, and against such demanding developments, is a conflict that needs to be resolved through new modes of co-operation and methods of collaboration.

Since the 80s, art critics and curators have underlined the fact that the capitalist system that nourishes art simply demands subtle images. The freedom of the artist is markedly restricted and is in fact a deceptive one. The artists are engaged so as to convince the public that they are “free” and “independent”. When people are even incapable of dreaming about possible improvements in the systems leading them to destruction, let alone desiring those improvements; when the boundaries between what is art and what is not are blurred, these important terms should be taken seriously. Since societies – in Turkey and many countries in the region – may be unaware of these boundaries, they are also incapable of analyzing the complex socio-economic relations limiting the freedom of the artist. When we consider art making and manifestations of the culture industry within the context of European integration processes at the local and regional level, we can still see that there are borderline conflicts in history, tradition, as well as memory blocks along ethno-cultural frontiers and in discrepancies in the systems of art and culture.

There is an intense clash between the decorated presentation of art-like productions and simulations exhibited in art fairs and currently marketed online. The Neo-capitalist system and the culture of consumption generate different methods for mistreating the notion of art and the artist, according to its interests, and, in particular, when society should be distracted. One of the banal purposes is to gain income, profit, reputation, promotion via the work of art; and it means presenting the work of art as a smart and eye-catching product for the high-income segment that are distant from it through ignorance and conservatism even if they are aware of its good lucrative benefits. It is presented in a way to convince them that the artwork is a possession among other products for consumption. There is no doubt that for this purpose the artwork should stay at a minimum level of intellectual reflection, and in such a way as not to disturb that affluent minority, keeping them away from serious matters. This is a well-done and creditable job for the cultural entrepreneurs that are incapable of building the above-mentioned institutions.

If Volatile?

Contemporary art scenes are mostly identified with their cities rather than their countries. Even if the global economy and politics are omnipresent, cities with their heterogeneous populations create so-called hot spots for contemporary art. Istanbul was, no doubt, one of the most significant cities within this context, but after traumatic events and economic recession gradually loosing its glory. The establishment of a modern or contemporary art museum or centre – more in line with a Kunsthalle model - has seemed, for a long time, the key to all the problems in İstanbul’s (as well as Turkey’s) art and culture dreams. This deficit is clearly reflected in the de-territorialized position of the İstanbul Biennial, with each version seeking venues to reach wider audiences. For many years it has been discussed how an institutional infrastructure should be established, yet irrespective of how it is formed. After part of this dream was fulfilled by private sector collection museums with their diverse contents, concepts and intentions, it is yet to be answered how right it is to establish such institutions in Turkey replicating European or American models, though in a hybrid style. We should be aware that these institutions, dependent on public money or mixed-budgets, would always have difficult management and financing problems. If, for the purposes of establishing a modern/post-modern/contemporary museum or centre in Turkey, we neglect to assess local facts, figures and requirements – that is to say, if we do not conduct creative research and establish a new model of how to built a visual memory system for a country lacking a modern and post-modern museum or a contemporary art centre - we should be aware that we would just be trying to import a factory which is out of fashion...

After the hot years, in tune with global economics and the local economic cul-de-sac, with the hegemony of art fair-auction market manipulations and the gap between the mass of the public and dissident art production, now, and evidently after the Gezi uprising and the Syria-Iraq-ISIS war and the uncontrollable refugee crisis in the region, the current state of art was at first “frosty”, but now “volatile”. Time has come to face the missteps and find realistic solutions.  The art scene is in between two sayings “as you sow, so you shall reap” and “better lose the saddle than the horse”!

Above all, in the local and regional cultural industry system and political developments the opinions and ideas of bureaucrats, politicians and businessmen should not have the power to determine the concepts, contents and programs of contemporary art institutions or organizations, their essentials and function. How to confront this mutilation? The alleged theoretical and intellectual consequences, deficits and benefits of this volatile moment should be discussed among artists and art experts in communication with international partners and supporters. This dialogue is even more important if it is based in the program and activities of the existing independent NGO’s and not to be handed over to a branded consortium of public and private funding which would not be very reliable in accepting the absolute freedom and independence of the artist and art experts.  The problem here is the fact that even if the artists are able to unite for artistic projects, they are hesitant to create a determined collective concept that would interfere in the decisions of private investments. They should get rid of this fear and unite! They should be aware of the fact that - if they want to empower their investment - the private sector should adopt the up-dated the global contemporary art system, restructured from the 80s on requesting dedication to ideas, concepts and creative visions of artists and art experts rather than events and shows for the desires of the society of spectacle, over and above with a “mutilated gaze (6).

Beral Madra / January 2017
After 2014 article:

* “volatile” = liable to change rapidly and unpredictably, especially for the worse

2.Cairo Review Managing Editor Scott MacLeod inter viewed Butler in her office at Berkeley on July 21, 2016.
6. Daryush Shayegan, Le Regard Mutile, 1996, p. 143.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016


The 5th International Çanakkale Biennial (24th September - 6th of November 2016) entitled:
with the distinguished participation of artists, art and culture institutions, art critics and curators, will focus on the homeland/heimat imaginations bound to 20th century nationalism and its tragic and problematic consequences being witnessed as constant global emigrations, refugees and exiles.
The source of inspiration for the 5th International Çanakkale Biennial is the philosopher, writer and journalist Villém Flusser, a refugee of WWII. His words about the concept of homeland/heimat, which were the motivation for the concept of the 5th International Çanakkale Biennial, penetrate into the innermost core of the migrant and refugee tragedy that confronts humankind in the 21st century: "Homeland is not an eternal value but rather a function of a specific technology; still, whoever loses it suffers. This is because we are attached to heimat by many bonds, most of which are hidden and not accessible to consciousness. Whenever these attachments tear or are torn asunder the individual experiences this painfully, almost as a surgical invasion of his most intimate person."1
What does homeland mean today in active politics? Many political parties with rightist national ideologies name themselves "Homeland Party" which implicates a dedication and commitment to homeland, places it in sacredness and exempts it of any criticism. The concept is commonly used as a unique, unchangeable identity and source, and supposed to have mostly positive connotations. Home sounds like a harmless concept when used by right-wing extremists to convince the people that they have a moderate discourse. However, a Foucauldian interpretation claims the opposite: "The home supports the operations of modern regimes of power, bio-power, procedures and technologies of self, regulating and determining the habits of the body. Thus habituating the connections between the body and the nation, they function as regulatory controls: a bio-politics that results in excommunication from the home and homeland. Home and Homeland are interlinked; the home is intimately tied to what Foucault calls the games of truth, relations of power and forms of relations to oneself and to others."2
The ongoing common judgement is that the individual cannot choose his/her homeland/heimat but is born to it and it is his/her fate. The ones who are not born in that homeland are foreigners, who cannot be accepted or forgiven when they claim any kind of affiliation. Evidently, this kind of socio-political formula is an explicit clash with neo-capitalist cosmopolitanism as well as with globalism, which, through rights of world citizenship as well as financial profits through human migration, allows and provokes people to live where they want. The rights to live in a chosen country or the wish to live rootlessly and the forced immigration or the refugee problem are two sides of these socio-political and economic arguments. In both cases, immigration is elaborated by right wing politics as challenging and precarious to the concept of homeland/heimat since the right to live rootlessly as a world citizen or forced immigration opens up a flexibility, elimination and dispersal in the concept of homeland /heimat. For right wing politics, this concept combines the basic assumptions of all radical and nationalist ideologies, according to which the individual is not free as a central, active subject, but submits to a supposedly closed, homogeneous community.
What is happening now on the shores and borders of Europe is almost prophesied in Foucault's Madness and Civilisation: "Confined on the ship, from which there is no escape, the madman is delivered to the river with its thousand arms, the sea with its thousand roads, to that great uncertainty external to everything. He is a prisoner in the midst of what is the freest, the openest of routes: bound fast at the infinite crossroads. He is the Passenger par excellence: that is, the prisoner of the passage. And the land he will come to is unknownas is, once he disembarks, the land from which he comes. He has his truth and his homeland only in that fruitless expanse between two countries that cannot belong to him."3
Based on this quotation, in his essay William Walters4 discusses migration, deportation and viapolitics following in Foucault's footsteps. In this poetic paragraph, Foucault mentions the Narrenschiff (the ship of fools, the ship full of mad men drifting into the harbours of European cities, their removal ordered by the authorities). Walters explains: What was the meaning of this practice of using ships to ferry away the mad men? Foucault insists it was more than a ‘general means of extradiction'; it was a highly symbolic act that had everything to do with the way madness was coming to haunt the imagination of the Renaissance.With the term viapolitics he indicates a migration policy-scape that is increasingly preoccupied with the routes and journeys taken by migrants crossing militarized and surveilled borders. Whole territories are now labelled ‘transit countries', and their governments are pressured to crack down on migrant routes. This hard-hearted determination, defined here as viapolitics, confronts the poetic expression of Foucault and the current tragedy of the refugees, precisely delineating the cold- blooded system, logistics, method, techniques and processes of the current condemnation to homelessness.
Now, witnessing the images of drifting and sinking boats in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, we have to ask the question: What is the reason for today's immigration, deportation and that viapolitics?
Today it is difficult to live in a very complex and enigmatic region such as the Middle East, a region of ancient civilisations that made the World we live in. Throughout the centuries it was a realm of utmost creativity, thought and wisdom, while from the 19th century on it became a region transformed under imperialism and other radical ideologies, bearing all the welfare, but also the vices and burdens of 20th century politics and economy. Words can neither describe the magnificence of its nature and monuments nor define the disasters, interrupted lives and war as it exists in this region.

The majority of people living in the region were born into a modernized yet traditional society as programmed by colonisation and had to face one of the most ambitious utopias of 20th century, with the paradox, however, that their region was called "the Third World" or "the periphery" from that moment on, while the winds of liberalism, socialism, communism, militarism, internationalism, nationalism, fundamentalism, McDonaldism, multiculturalism swept over it. They ended up living in a post-peripheral globalism, dystopic and heterotopic. It was a century of constructing and deconstructing, making and remaking. This story, full of paradoxes, hopes, disappointments, fits with the stories of many individuals in this region. Now, our hearts cry with tears of blood for the millions of people who have had to leave their homelands and are now suffering such a great loss.
Many artists and art experts of various creative disciplines throughout the 20th century and in the 15 years of 21st century have lived or are living within this geopolitical, social context. Since post-modernism and within the prospects of globalization, they have tried to deconstruct the complex mechanism of peripheral modernism and reconstruct an art system based on free and independent creativity, on interactive exchange of thoughts and concepts and on collaborative projects with international fellow critics and curators. Fortunately, this process was supported by current discourses with their positive impact on the art theory of the late 80s and 90s.
From the mid 80s on, the outcome of the efforts of artists and people involved in art became relatively visible and sustainable in Istanbul, Bagdad, Damascus, Beirut, Amman, Baku, Tbilisi, Yerevan, cities which embody the end of century phenomenon such as dystopia/heterotopia and neo-topia, all to be an extremely fertile field for artistic creativity.
From mid-90s on, the interest of world-wide intellectuals, artists and art investors shifted to these cities, representing cosmopolitan environments rather than local national characterisitics. The question was how to use this opportunity to reconstruct interactive, interdisciplinary art events and art appreciations which can transcend the -isms of the 20th century and open a horizon to democracy. In fact, history was repeating itself. At the beginning of 19th century, Western Modernism took its inspirations from remote Africa, Asia, Asia Minor and the Middle East. Early modern painting and sculpture, as well as middle and late modernism, have been pregnant with formal and theoretical influences from the Non-West. It has happened again. There were two ways of nourishing Eurocentric ambitions: The intellectuals and artists and other creative individuals emigrated to Euro-centres and to the USA, or art experts of the West infiltrated the art scenes of the Non-West, selecting ideas, trends and models.
This might be a raw and negative description of what is happening for three decades under the aegis of global exchange. To our delight, it has another face. Because of the nature of globalization the people are inevitably connected and because of the ethics of globalization there is a kind of cultural correctness on the level of intellectual production.
On the other hand, globalization also created the consciousness of civil society, together with its infrastructure in the form of NGOs and civil initiatives acting as a membrane as well as a transmitter between the political and economic powers and society and individuals. Civil associations have made a difference in the art world since the beginning of 90s; they have prepared the networks for the individuals working in different fields of art and culture.

In order to resist a new colonisation of any sorts, the artists and art experts had to learn to utilize this tool for their benefits. However, pro-western policies with weak economies are effectively re-colonized. There is still a tension between the old infrastructures (polarized world structures) and the new. There is also a tension between old nationalism, new nationalism and transnationalism. Cultural and artistic exchange plays on this territory of multi-tensions. It is also paradoxical that the people have to keep one part of the memory alive - for the immigrant and the refugee it is the homeland/heimat - because there is no culture without memory, as Umberto Eco defined it in his video interview: Shared memories mean common identity. We cannot think of ourselves as Europeans if we are not able to restore an European identity. Parallel to individual memory is the library, the vegetal memory. If somebody loses his memory he becomes a plant. Hell has no meaning without memory.5
At the same time, people should persuasively question the part played by memory, which can poison their current and future plans. It is a very fragile path. At this point - dealing with memory, the homeland/heimat - we have to rely on the artists, who have been dealing with it according to a post-modernist process. For two decades we can observe in the works of artists all kinds of detailed research into their origins and collective memory, deciphering political, economic, social, cultural complexities related to ideological interventions, focusing on the very core of the relation between everyday life and art.
In Raoul Vaneigem's words: The history of our times calls to mind those Walt Disney characters who rush madly over the edge of a cliff without seeing it, so that the power of their imagination keeps them suspended in mid-air; but as soon as they look down and see where they are, they fall. Contemporary thought, like Bosustov's heroes, can no longer rest on its own delusions. What used to hold it up, today brings it down. It rushes full tilt in front of the reality that will crush it: the reality that is lived every day. Is this dawning lucidity essentially new? I don't think so. Everyday life always produces the demand for a brighter light, if only because of the need which everyone feels to walk in step with the march of history. But there are more truths in twenty-four hours of a man's life than in all the philosophies.6
Despite all the generalization, standardization and totalitarianism in the world, this twenty-four hours makes all the difference within the supremacy of the corporate economy and global politics. The blood-stained history of the last decades is the production of the political intervention into the homeland/heimat bound everyday activity of the people.
Artists are evidently aware of the significance of it, approaching these twenty-four hours in detail, itemising and particularising the facts with his/her inevitable sophistication and insouciance. The magnitude of this task can be seen in the images of desperation, emergency, clamour and transgression. The viewer generously, but cunningly gives the artist the right to intervene into the minute detail of the common life and the authority to cry out his/her message to the world from a homeland. The viewer makes the artist an accomplice.
However, in non-democratic or semi-democratic countries, contemporary art works are either considered a vital criticism of the status quo and state policy or not evaluated as metaphorical tools to empower democracies. One of the main reasons for this misrecognition is the lack of fundamental infrastructure of contemporary art to enable its influence on the visual thinking of the society. The other reason is that society is not ready to change its mind and behaviour by utilizing the post-modernist patterns, models and concepts.
And now we are exposed to realize the suffering, misery and death created by the forced or voluntary immigration through the oppressive and destructive political decisions in the world order that defines itself as globalization in the sense that it promises equality, human rights and the benefits of advanced science and technology. It is explained as the outcome of the neo- capitalist system even by the supporters of the system without any suggestion of a possible restoration. Even recognized by the supporters of the present system there are no immediate attempts to rectify it and they even refuse to draw the necessary conclusions.
The 5th International Çanakkale Biennial will be a perfect opportunity for us to face and challenge the global human movement with the universal language of contemporary art and thus have a civil commitment and positioning towards the ongoing tragedy. The Biennial will try to raise questions about the sustainability of ideas of national and ethnic identity in a world whose borders are becoming increasingly accidental and penetrable. It will try to open discussions on the traditional and post-modern societies which are now in flux, opposed by the global sweeping of networks and an excess of visual culture initiatives, despite their persistent traditional or modernist socio-political and economic infrastructures and epistemologies.
In inviting the artists, curators and institutions to observe, examine and interpret these themes, thesis and discourses, the Çanakkale Biennial may present a discourse which will advocate that even if the migrants/refugees are exposed to be changed by the society they migrated to, human history has revealed that they have challenged and transfused the host society with a new creativity and vision.
Beral Madra, January 2016
1. Vilém Flusser, The Freedom of the Migrant: Objections to Nationalism, University of Illinois ress, .
2. Eric Harper and Charity Njoki Mwaniki,
Foucault: On Home and Homelessness’, Home_and_Homeless_presentation_at_the_Critical_Space_Conference_London_. Accessed January 2016.
3. Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, 1988, p. 11
William Walters, ‘On the Road with Michel Foucault: Migration, Deportation and Viapolitics’, 7344475/On_the_Road_with_Michel_Foucault_Deportation_Aviation_and_Viapolitics. Accessed January 2016.
5. Umberto Eco,
Sulla memoria. Una conversazione in tre parti, 15’. Capitolo 1. 6’ 5 ’’. Directed by Davide Ferrario. Accessed January 2016.
6. Raoul Vaneigem
, ‘The Revolution of Everyday Life’, Accessed January 2016. 

Wednesday, October 07, 2015


www.culturenow online journal interview

You are one of the first involved in the Istanbul Biennial. What is your experience? Were there any difficulties and how did you seek funding?
1987 and 1989 Biennale have been realized when Turkey was under the rule of the Military power; even if the so-called democratic government has opened the horizon to Liberal Economy. Biennale was a cultural manifestation of the business sector towards EU and Western Democracy. Even if the art works were not considered politically influential, the will and intention behind the Biennale was political and economic. İstanbul Biennale has preserved this quality until today; it is a private sector biennale. I gained my curatorial experience through these two biennale, at a time “curating” was not known in Turkey. As we have introduced the updated contemporary art production, the artists and the public was rewarded with an updated knowledge on international art. It was not so easy to convince the prominent artists from Europe to participate, as the state had a fascist image. At that time “sponsoring” was not a popular issue; however, the founders of the biennale foundation have contributed as well as the municipality and the state. There will be always difficulties in making İstanbul Biennale. Since 28 years neither the city nor the biennale foundation have created a serviceable art and culture space. There are only commercial fair complexes. In the first and second biennale we utilized the historical buildings, through which we hoped to attract the attention of the public (at that time very distances from contemporary art) and no doubt the curiosity of the international artists. Later many curators had to repeat this strategy; gradually İstanbul itself became the concept of biennale. The last biennale is another example of this habit!
 In your presentation at the symposium organised by the Thessaloniki Biennial, you mentioned that the Istanbul Biennial is currently the show case of Turkey’s business sector and VIP game. From your experience there has been pressure on curators regarding their choice of artists?
There is obviously no direct pressure on the foreign curators; however, the infrastructure and the logistics of the biennale guide the curator towards certain obligations. These obligations are formal rather than conceptual. Yet, we have to consider that at the moment Turkey has a very bad image in censorship, in particular on the press and the media. That means, dissident and uncanny works with heavy direct political content that reveal the anti-democratic status in Turkey will not be so welcome! This biennale may have this kind of pressure, as we have seen too many introvert, gentle, muted works and very esoteric implications to the ongoing political problems and unresolved ideological traumas.
Has it developed throughout the years and in what ways?
There were some censorship cases through the years; but one cannot say that there was a total censorship that stopped the production in a radical way, or only allowed decorative art works, which is the case in most Islamic dictatorships.
There is a website which registers all censorship cases:
What role has the state played in the development of the Biennials in Turkey and the contemporary art?
We have to remember that the first biennale, funded by the state started in Ankara, under the title Europe-Asia Biennale, but terminated after the 4th version. Since the 90’s we, people active in İstanbul art and culture agenda, have written reports, organized forums in order to enlighten the political parties and governments about the contemporary cultural infrastructures and requirements of an international city like Istanbul. We defined the contemporary art industry in all details; I regret to say we did not achieve any positive result. The state culture policy is focused on culture tourism, on arts and crafts, on traditional and folkloric art. Even if they fund the biennale it is not sustainable.
Have the Biennials that take place in the country influenced the development of contemporary Turkish art? What has changed? 
The foreign curators, with their concepts, artists lists, networks  have stipulated global attention. There are memorable art works which should have been bought by the collectors, in particular by the ones who intended to  establish museums. To our regret this was not the case. After all these biennale Istanbul could have a large collection of artworks, mainly created for Istanbul, in Istanbul. The current collection museums are no doubt beneficial, but not as rewarding as they should be. What the biennale have implanted is the value of free expression, the democratic challenge of visual culture and a resistance to conservatism and fundamentalism. Currently the biennale is a castle of free thinking, creativity and democracy against the current that is dragging Turkey towards a neo-fascism.
Is contemporary art popular in Turkey at the moment?  Are collectors and museums from the country and abroad interested in it?
Contemporary art in Turkey became popular since the mid nineties; now it is almost a biennale for the VIP, fulfilling all the rituals of PR oriented events. It seems that some hundreds of VIP people are coming to the opening of Istanbul Biennale; yet it is never declared that these people are also buyers of artworks of the artists of Turkey!
Do you feel that there is common ground among the Biennials that take place in the Mediterranean? Do they have a strong presence in the international art scene?
This is the major problem! There is an unnecessary competition between the smaller biennale, which obviously cannot compete with Venice Biennale! Istanbul Biennale could undertake a responsibility and make a colloquium of small Med biennale, which would strengthen its position in the Med. However, we must consider that currently the Med region is in war and terror and economic depression, so that all these small biennale are only illuminations of resistance points!
Do you feel that the guest curator (outside the Mediterranean region) who is asked to organise for example the Biennial in Istanbul or elsewhere in the Mediterranean is able to grasp the socio-political situation and is it necessary for him/her to do so?
After many observations I am now convinced that whoever is invited to curate a biennale outside of EU- in particular in the Islam countries - should be very meticulous, attentive and devoted.  At large, there are still prejudices, orientalist leftovers and unnecessary smartness towards “the other” and Islam and East and South Mediterranean is still “the other”.  On the other hand each country has its own contemporary history, which is ignored, by the sophisticated levels of contemporary art world. The appointed curators should be well informed about the local state of affairs, histories, conflicts and political tensions. It is not expected that the appointed curator should react or challenge to the socio-political tensions and problems, but at the same time they are also not welcome to make touristic and decorative biennale.
Thessaloniki and Istanbul are two cities not very far from each other. Are there any differences between their Biennials?
Yes, there are differences. I will not compare Istanbul and Thessaloniki for their size and population; it is obvious that Istanbul is a mega city, Thessaloniki is a small city. Yet, Thessaloniki is a very organized city and has many exhibition venues with easy access. Thessaloniki Municipality is collaborating with the biennale organizers to facilitate their ventures. The content and strategy of the last tree Thessaloniki Biennale is civil-society friendly and has social responsibility; it has now a significant identity. The funding of Thessaloniki Biennale comes mostly from public resources. Istanbul Biennale is still seeking its identity; because it is a very complex dystopia city.
As an outsider and expert in the field, do you see any development in the Greek art scene?
We from Turkey admire the Greek artists, art experts, and institutions for their resistance and will to overcome the economic crisis. The Greek art scene had always a fundamental effect on the contemporary art in Europe, with its Modern and Post-modern aesthetics and with its traditional roots. I am very proud to say that in 1992 I had the opportunity to collaborate with Efi Strousa and make the first contemporary exhibition of Greek and Turkish artists in Istanbul. Later throughout the years I had had the opportunity to work in special projects with renowned Greek artists such as Dimitri Alithinos, Tsoklis, Kallipi Lemos, Danae Stratou and many others. In 2014 I have been invited by Art Athina to make a show of art works collected from collectors of Turkey and admired the will, enthusiasm and professionalism of the Greek art scene. The Greek art scene created a model for the East Mediterranean art scenes and it continues its quest for more relational and regional communication and collaboration.