publication of the International Sculpture Center
by Susan Platt
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Kiuru, Kammio (Chamber), 2002.
Lace tablecloths, 2m x 2.6 m x 2.6 m.
At the time of the
Istanbul Biennial, at least 15 other exhibitions appeared in venues ranging
from a shopping mall to a 19th-century tram tunnel. Artists from the Middle
East, Europe, and Asia, along with the occasional American, constantly
intersected and communicated on many different levels. At Proje4L in Levent,
an upscale business district of Istanbul, a panel of artists and critics
from Central Asia, sponsored by the Christenson Fund, showed videos and
commented on the production of artists in Krygystan, Tajikstan, Uzbekistan,
and Kazakhstan. They spoke of complex negotiations in the international
art world, local politics, the rejection of Soviet legacies, nurturing
of traditions, and multiple modernisms. The videos were dramatic, tragic,
erotic, and slapstick. In one, Kasmalieva Djumaliev from Krgyzstan performed
Farewell Song, in which she played a traditional instrument, the gulnara,
off key and slowly cut off her extremely long hair (based on a Kryrgyz
tradition of wearing yak hair). Her avant-garde stance combined with an
Ali Akays Future Democracy was on view at the Akbank
Art and Culture Center. It included video and sculpture that presented
ordinary people caught up in global trends, bachelor rooms of urban workers
(Gemzay Toksoy and Altan Bal), urban shopkeepers and their children singing
songs from their village backgrounds (Claude Leon), a transsexual collector
of obsolete weapons (Seza Paker), and frank interviews with people on
the street about what they think would make the world a better place;
most of them logically said peace(Susan Kleinberg).
The chic Gallery
Nev in upscale Tesvikiye displayed Shirin Neshat and other well-known
artists. The show included a benchmark sculpture from the third Istanbul
Biennial, Hale Tengers I know People Like This Too (1992), which
addresses the timely topic of people ignoring the stupidity of macho leaders
using Hear-No-Evil, See-No-Evil, Speak-No-Evil monkeys and Priapus figures
that form stars as if on an unspecified flag.
The Istanbul Art
Museum Foundation collaborated with the Akmerkez shopping mall to show
80 Turkish artists. Balkan Naci Islimyelis Yeniden subverted the
department store format with a powerful anti-war statement by using dismembered
dummies in a wasted garden of Eden and the poetry of the famous Turkish
socialist Nazim Hikmet. The same foundation supported And
an exhibition held at the Military Museum's art gallery. Eighteen Turkish,
Central Asian, Balkan, and Mediterranean artists showed work they made
during the two-week residency Meeting of the Artists," held
last July in Marmaris, Turkey. The works ranged from tiny drawings to
Garden, a pairing of poetry and art at Gallery Apel, a brick-walled
gallery in the heart of the city's oldest district, included an artificial
garden full of evocative urns referring to Greek mythology (Sakine Çil),
a cypress tree made from barbed wire (Tugrul Selçuk), a hanging
garden of bottles containing poems relating to nature (Kurucu Koçanoglu),
and a luscious menagerie of mythological animals (Selma Gurbuz). Hasan
Bulent Kahraman's multi-part installation Abstraction-Materialization
analyzed the conceptual shift from the abstract word-play associations
of traditional Ottoman poetry to 19th-century materialism based on concrete
and the Sea Elephant Travel Agency organized "B-Fact," an off-beat,
open-ended, and provocative event that unfolded over several hours. The
Sea Elephant Travel Agency is a loft space in Istanbul that sponsors small
seminars concerned with what Alptekin calls Mutual Realities, Artistic
Exchange, Inter-regional Solidarity, Recognition, Switch, Hospitality.
Alptekin has been an outsider/insider conceptual artist, based in Turkey
but functioning internationally, for many years. In this collaborative
exhibition, he worked with Halil Altindere and Vahit Tuna in Istanbul,
Minna Henricksson from Helsinki and Love Enqvist from Sweden.
Tenger, I Know People Like This Two, 1992. Brass Priapus and Hear-No-Evil,
See-No-Evil, Speak-No-Evil monkey statuettes, 700 x 9 x 140 cm.
Several works in
"B-fact" addressed slow travel and ordinary people. These artists
embraced a counter-discourse to the grand narratives of travels that seek
out ruins of the past and to the government- and war-oriented focus of
contemporary media. In their acceptance of the mundane and the local,
they also countered the pretensions of the international biennial format.
Timo Vartianen, Finnish artist and mushroom picker (a reference to his
roots in the Karelian area of Finland), presented a collage of sound,
writing, photographs, and clothes in Walking and Hitchhiking. He has covered
amazing distances: 8,000 kilometers through Russia, the Baltic countries,
Poland, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. His journal is
a travelogue with entries like Nights, Fear, Pleasure,
and Wild Animals. Swedish artists Love Enqvist and Martin
Berling documented their Stockholm-Istanbul: A Paddle Trip Through the
Baltic Sea, Danube and the Black Sea with the canoe, the paddle, and photographs.
The artists performed a three-month act of endurance as they embraced
the physical experience and constructed an alternative to political geography.
Underscoring the fact that gender differences still matter on the road,
Kristina Junzell and Jessica Jalmo of Sweden traveled by the less macho
means of train through Stockholm, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia,
and Greece to Turkey for their Stockholm-Istanbul: A road movie through
The New Europe. As an alternative to the catastrophes of daily
news information, they spoke with ordinary people about their dreams for
the future, what makes them happy, and what is important to them.
As an accompaniment
to the travel narratives, Finnish artist Kaija Kiuru, originally from
Lapland, created Chamber (2002). Using dozens of antique circular tablecloths
collected in secondhand shops, she constructed a temporary domestic shelter
from the fruits of thousands of hours of work. Kiuru is concerned with
the nature of home and womens lives and the fact that 80 percent
of the world's refugees are woman and children. The simultaneous fragility
and semi-transparency of the tent created a stunning resting place.
The Bunker Research
Group (BRG) is Huseyin Alptekins own collaborative project with
Minna Henricksson(Finland) and Staffan Jofjell (Sweden). Under the paranoid
dictatorship of Enver Hoxa in Albania from 1946 to 1985, about 500,000
concrete bunkers were constructed as weekend work projects for socialist
citizens, apparently to protect Albania against an imagined enemy. These
bunkers now stand as useless and decaying structures all over Albania.
The BRG drove around the country documenting their journey with video
as both a road trip and a harsh black and white scientific study (Jofjell),
with photography that suggest, the now oddly romantic character of these
crumbling, useless structures (Alptekin), and with exquisite watercolors
torn from a sketchbook and taped on the wall (Henricksson). Alptekin also
invited Kaija Kiuru to create a domesticating lace cover for a bunker.
The BRG connects reality and paranoia, derelict socialist structures and
contemporary art, change and stasis.
The Istanbul B-Fact
(other versions appear in other places) included two other segments in
different venues. Near Taksim Square, the heart of contemporary Istanbul
and the elegant Marmara Hotel, a street-level foyer was the site of Bathers
(200103), a video by Elina Brotherus. On three large facing screens
nude Finnish bathers slipped in and out of a cool Northern lake, dispassionately
entering and exiting the vision of the stationary camera. Brotheruss
piece is about the ordinary event, and familiar art subject, of bathing,
but here the watcher does not control the models as in paintings like
those by Rembrandt and Cézanne.
The top floor of
the Marmara Hotel hosted a performance by the Blue Noses Group. Ten floors
below in Taksim Square, Siberian artists Alexander Shaburov and Slava
Mizin began exploding firecrackers out of their pants. As part of their
ongoing 25 Short Performances About Globalization, they had managed to
get by hotel security with the firecrackers taped to their legs. The result
was a hilariously funny spoof of militarism, terrorism, and suicide bombers,
ironically timed just two months before the real thing happened only a
few blocks away. The Blue Noses Group's videos in the gallery display
almost took over the show. In Two Against the Russian Mafia, which has
five episodes including Attack of the Clones and Show Girls, they used
a combination of cutouts and video with slapstick humor to appropriate
a Russian militia TV series. The heroes (the artists) take on the absurdity
of the social sphere, from pop culture to globalism.
as well as the other local exhibitions in Istanbul, opened up communication
among cultures and artists from all over Europe and Asia. As an extension
of the Istanbul Biennial, these types of shows and events are a major
force toward international understanding and an important alternative
to the destructive, separatist forces at work in the world today. Oddly,
it seemed to me that only a few American artists and critics engaged in
this international dialogue; they often seemed to be carrying on a separate
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