Quiet and Slow: The Istanbul Biennial

ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ART EVENTS IN ISTANBUL, IN TURKEY, IN EUROPE, INDEED IN THE WORLD, THE ISTANBUL BIENNIAL THIS YEAR IS ENTITLED ‘UNTITLED’ (12th ıstanbul bıennıal), 2011. IT OPENS ON SEPTEMBER 17 AT A SINGLE VENUE, THE ANTREPO. CURATORS ADRIANO PEDROSA AND JENS HOFFMANN TOLD US ALL ABOUT IT.

At your initial press conference in Istanbul you said, “In recent years we have seen a lot of biennials. They look like and want to look like everything but an exhibition. We have decided to make a real exhibition”. What do you mean by a real exhibition?

In recent years we have seen many biennials experimenting and focusing on events and projects beyond the exhibition—performances, screenings, events, discussions, educational programs, conferences, symposia, publications—to the point that the exhibition itself became less important. In the 12th Istanbul Biennial we proposed to refocus once again on the exhibition itself, in the precise selection and installation of artworks in a carefully constructed setting.

Rather than elaborating on the conceptual framework, you distributed a poster that has a list of the biennial announcements sent through the internet by e-flux from 2008 to 2010. How many biennials there are in the world! Is that a good thing? Aren’t biennials just a marketing model for cities in the end?

We cannot generalize, and there is not a single model or format for a biennial (except perhaps that it is a temporary event organized every two years). In fact, the model of the biennial should be flexible and open enough to allow its curators (and artists and organizers) to reinvent it in each new edition. But unfortunately we see what we call a number of desperate biennials being organized today, not with a true interest in exploring reflection, research, dialogue and the production of contemporary art, but for city marketing. Indeed in recent years the name biennial has been used and abused in a facile and perverse way for the sake of city marketing and promotion.

Is calling the biennial ‘Untitled’ just another step taken to keep it from becoming a marketing model?

The correct title is in fact “Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011”. There is an astounding number of biennials these days, and they are often presented in packages that come with a catchy, all-encompassing title (usually as open-ended as it is imprecise and vague), a list of artists and the names of the curators, all released through internet announcements in the e-flux. There is a rather perverse way of consuming and pre-judging exhibitions and biennials by their list of artists, titles, and the names of the curators. But in this edition of the Istanbul Biennial we wanted to get away from some of those traditional marketing strategies and ways of disseminating the biennial and renew the focus on the exhibition itself. That’s how we came up with “Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011”, which is a very open title but also a very specific one, since it refers to the titling strategy of Cuban-American Felix Gonzalez-Torres, (1957-1996) who said in an interview, “The work is untitled because ‘meaning’ is always shifting in time and space.” There is a generosity in that strategy, as if the production of meaning is something ultimately up to the viewer, who will bring his or her memories, knowledge and experience to understanding and interpreting the works and the exhibition. There are, of course, precise markers and concrete reference points: the 5 different works of Felix, for example, that we used as specific points of departure for our curatorial research, for selecting and placing all the works in the exhibition: “Untitled” (Passport), “Untitled” (Ross), “Untitled” (Death by Gun), “Untitled” (Abstraction), and “Untitled” (History).

IN BRIEF

Title: Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011
Curators: Adriano Pedrosa and Jens Hoffmann
Sponsor: Koç Holding
Venue: Antrepolar (Entrepôts) No. 3 and 5
Date: September 17 to November 13
For more information:
bienal.iksv.org/tr

55 SOLO EXHIBITIONS

In its title as well as its themes, the 12th Istanbul Biennial takes its inspiration from the works of Felix Gonzalez-Torres. In addition to five joint exhibitions based on the themes, Untitled (Abstraction), Untitled (Ross), Untitled (Passport), Untitled (History) and Untitled (Death by Gun), there are also 55 solo shows in the exhibition.