17th Istanbul Biennial

Martha Atienza, Norberto Roldan, Yee I-Lann
Curated By Ute Meta Bauer, Amar Kanwar and David Teh
Istanbul, Turkey

About

    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.

    This biennial was conceived in the midst of a spiralling global health crisis. As the pandemic brought to the fore the manifold failures of our social, political, economic and ecological systems, we sensed an opportunity to think and act differently. We felt a need to focus on process rather than on production. Yet all we could do was talk, and the only way to talk was from a distance.

    The six short paragraphs that follow are not themes for an exhibition, but refrains, the shared concerns that surfaced over a year of sustained conversations, conducted in this peculiar, worldwide state of suspension. They were sent to those we asked to join the conversation and contribute to what we considered a composting exercise − an invitation to put things in motion, to plant some seeds in the present, knowing that the harvest might happen much later. Each of these six streams of thought and conversation describes an intersection where contemporary artistic practices align, exchange and find common purpose with others.

    The Continuation of News by Other Means
    In an age of unprecedented media manipulation and division, both deliberate and automatic (by algorithm), and as the list of prohibited topics swells and the communication of truth seems a hopeless ambition, what can emerge as an alternative means of reportage? With the breakdown of traditional news media and public spheres in so many places where we once took them for granted, we need other channels to inform and stay informed. Yet the question remains pertinent: can the decline of independent media be reversed? Or should the news be sung, tasted, encoded and decoded with other senses?

    Ways of Learning
    Learning is not just about acquiring information, it is a space for knowledge co-creation, for refreshing the means and methods of exchange. The pedagogical forms and initiatives that have caught our attention are not all experimental, but each is energised by compassion, cooperation and counter-memory. Yet the alternative traditions of learning are not the monopoly of liberal thinkers. In many places, this zone of engagement is keenly contested by resurgent conservative and nationalist forces. What modes of learning will encourage care and respect for the non-human, the recognition of epistemic diversity, of new and forgotten literacies?

    Anarchiving
    Can knowledge of the past be propagated without being institutionalised? Conventions of archiving tend to centralise intellectual resources, and make them fixed and authoritative. Another kind of archiving can generate open repositories that grow organically and unpredictably. In these initiatives, histories are activated, revised or contested through strategies of dispersal, play, translation, migration, fermentation and disintegration.

    Elemental Politics—Geopoetics
    How can our lives and economies be rearranged to secure a healthy society and environment? As irreversible changes are wrought by human actions and reactions that may be unseen or unconscious, our failed custodianship of land, air and water has come to define our age. Care for the elements requires cooperation across boundaries, generations and species, as well as access to endangered cultural resources. Customary knowledge, languages and media may be as fundamental as the air we breathe. Artists are increasingly the agents of this mediation.

    Trans-sensory Aesthetics
    What can a sound make us see? Why do smells make us remember? What would a ‘structure of feeling’ taste like? While the rational vision privileged by Western science currently shapes the understanding of development and progress around the globe, it also facilitates the exploitation of colonised peoples and the environment. But the eyes seldom work alone. Artists work in diverse ways across the sensory divisions that limit our intelligence, divisions hardened by modernity and normative presumptions about the ‘able’ body. Can a trans-sensory literacy put us more in touch with the world?

    Far Past—Unorthodox and Ancient Solutions
    A great planetary complex of social, environmental and mental crises has emerged in our lifetime. Yet many of the causes are anything but new: exploitation, greed, intolerance; failures of leadership and responsibility. How can we live with difference? How can we cultivate love for the world? How can we learn to apologise and to forgive, to overcome violence and brutality? Premodern societies had some answers to these questions, insights that have faded, or been buried by monolithic thinking, divisive and reductive ideologies. What was once suppressed as unorthodox, or derided as primitive or superstitious, may hold the keys to our creative evolution.

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.

This biennial was conceived in the midst of a spiralling global health crisis. As the pandemic brought to the fore the manifold failures of our social, political, economic and ecological systems, we sensed an opportunity to think and act differently. We felt a need to focus on process rather than on production. Yet all we could do was talk, and the only way to talk was from a distance.

The six short paragraphs that follow are not themes for an exhibition, but refrains, the shared concerns that surfaced over a year of sustained conversations, conducted in this peculiar, worldwide state of suspension. They were sent to those we asked to join the conversation and contribute to what we considered a composting exercise − an invitation to put things in motion, to plant some seeds in the present, knowing that the harvest might happen much later. Each of these six streams of thought and conversation describes an intersection where contemporary artistic practices align, exchange and find common purpose with others.

The Continuation of News by Other Means
In an age of unprecedented media manipulation and division, both deliberate and automatic (by algorithm), and as the list of prohibited topics swells and the communication of truth seems a hopeless ambition, what can emerge as an alternative means of reportage? With the breakdown of traditional news media and public spheres in so many places where we once took them for granted, we need other channels to inform and stay informed. Yet the question remains pertinent: can the decline of independent media be reversed? Or should the news be sung, tasted, encoded and decoded with other senses?

Ways of Learning
Learning is not just about acquiring information, it is a space for knowledge co-creation, for refreshing the means and methods of exchange. The pedagogical forms and initiatives that have caught our attention are not all experimental, but each is energised by compassion, cooperation and counter-memory. Yet the alternative traditions of learning are not the monopoly of liberal thinkers. In many places, this zone of engagement is keenly contested by resurgent conservative and nationalist forces. What modes of learning will encourage care and respect for the non-human, the recognition of epistemic diversity, of new and forgotten literacies?

Anarchiving
Can knowledge of the past be propagated without being institutionalised? Conventions of archiving tend to centralise intellectual resources, and make them fixed and authoritative. Another kind of archiving can generate open repositories that grow organically and unpredictably. In these initiatives, histories are activated, revised or contested through strategies of dispersal, play, translation, migration, fermentation and disintegration.

Elemental Politics—Geopoetics
How can our lives and economies be rearranged to secure a healthy society and environment? As irreversible changes are wrought by human actions and reactions that may be unseen or unconscious, our failed custodianship of land, air and water has come to define our age. Care for the elements requires cooperation across boundaries, generations and species, as well as access to endangered cultural resources. Customary knowledge, languages and media may be as fundamental as the air we breathe. Artists are increasingly the agents of this mediation.

Trans-sensory Aesthetics
What can a sound make us see? Why do smells make us remember? What would a ‘structure of feeling’ taste like? While the rational vision privileged by Western science currently shapes the understanding of development and progress around the globe, it also facilitates the exploitation of colonised peoples and the environment. But the eyes seldom work alone. Artists work in diverse ways across the sensory divisions that limit our intelligence, divisions hardened by modernity and normative presumptions about the ‘able’ body. Can a trans-sensory literacy put us more in touch with the world?

Far Past—Unorthodox and Ancient Solutions
A great planetary complex of social, environmental and mental crises has emerged in our lifetime. Yet many of the causes are anything but new: exploitation, greed, intolerance; failures of leadership and responsibility. How can we live with difference? How can we cultivate love for the world? How can we learn to apologise and to forgive, to overcome violence and brutality? Premodern societies had some answers to these questions, insights that have faded, or been buried by monolithic thinking, divisive and reductive ideologies. What was once suppressed as unorthodox, or derided as primitive or superstitious, may hold the keys to our creative evolution.

Martha Atienza: Adlaw Sang Mananagat (Fisherfolks Day)

    Martha Atienza

    Born 1981 in Manila, Philippines
    Lives and works in Bantayan Island, Philippines

    Martha Atienza's recent work focuses on the worsening environmental degradation on Bantayan Island in the Philippines, and takes various forms including film, sound and multimedia installations. In close dialogue with local communities, she creates models for collective action that could be applied anywhere in the world, boldly repurposing her artistic skills to trigger conversations around anthropogenic change in the ecosphere both at home and on a planetary scale.

    For the Biennial, Martha Atienza initiated the inaugural Adlaw Sang Mananagat (Fisherfolks Day), held on 27 June 2022 in collaboration with the Bantayan Municipality to celebrate the island's fisherfolk. The day highlights the importance of this deep-rooted traditional economy and serves to educate fishing communities on their rights, cultivating harmonious relationships with and between local government units under the motto 'One Island, one ecosystem.' Manifestations of this long-term, grassroots endeavour are presented at the Biennial as a film centring on the communities' water-borne festival, connecting the artist's immediate environment to other, distant ones. 

Martha Atienza

Born 1981 in Manila, Philippines
Lives and works in Bantayan Island, Philippines

Martha Atienza's recent work focuses on the worsening environmental degradation on Bantayan Island in the Philippines, and takes various forms including film, sound and multimedia installations. In close dialogue with local communities, she creates models for collective action that could be applied anywhere in the world, boldly repurposing her artistic skills to trigger conversations around anthropogenic change in the ecosphere both at home and on a planetary scale.

For the Biennial, Martha Atienza initiated the inaugural Adlaw Sang Mananagat (Fisherfolks Day), held on 27 June 2022 in collaboration with the Bantayan Municipality to celebrate the island's fisherfolk. The day highlights the importance of this deep-rooted traditional economy and serves to educate fishing communities on their rights, cultivating harmonious relationships with and between local government units under the motto 'One Island, one ecosystem.' Manifestations of this long-term, grassroots endeavour are presented at the Biennial as a film centring on the communities' water-borne festival, connecting the artist's immediate environment to other, distant ones. 

Norberto Roldan | Green Papaya Art Projects: Running Backwards Below 20 Waves Per Second

    Green Papaya Art Projects (Lesley-Anne Cao, Iris Ferrer, Kiko Nunez, Ramie Jiloca, Norberto Roldan, Toukl Roldan, Jel Suarez, Yuji de Torres, Dominic Zinampan)

    Nagkakaisang Progresibong Artista-Arkitekto (NPAA) (United Progressive Artists and Architects) & PIST (Interdisciplinary Project Space Istanbul)

    Founded in 2000, Green Papaya Art Projects is the oldest inde­pendently run, multidisciplinary art initiative in the Philippines, providing a platform for intellectual exchange, information sharing, critical dialogue and creative/practical collaboration among artists both locally and internationally. In 2017, Green Papaya announced that it would close in 2020, but this was brought forward to 2021. However, the uncertainties of the pandemic and a 2020 fire that razed the collective's space and some of its archives have postponed its closing indefinitely.

    For the Biennial, Green Papaya was invited to reflect on the death or dormancy of artist-run initiatives while continuing its ar­chival efforts. In view of socio-political commonalities between the Philippines and Turkey, including worsening constraints on free expression, they interviewed artist-run groups in each coun­try that are defunct or have suspended their activities. Working with two such initiatives -PIST/// in Turkey and the Nagkakaisang Progresibong Artista-Arkitekto (NPAA) (United Progressive Artists and Architects) in the Philippines - they reconsider the life cycle of artistic independence and its afterlives.

Green Papaya Art Projects (Lesley-Anne Cao, Iris Ferrer, Kiko Nunez, Ramie Jiloca, Norberto Roldan, Toukl Roldan, Jel Suarez, Yuji de Torres, Dominic Zinampan)

Nagkakaisang Progresibong Artista-Arkitekto (NPAA) (United Progressive Artists and Architects) & PIST (Interdisciplinary Project Space Istanbul)

Founded in 2000, Green Papaya Art Projects is the oldest inde­pendently run, multidisciplinary art initiative in the Philippines, providing a platform for intellectual exchange, information sharing, critical dialogue and creative/practical collaboration among artists both locally and internationally. In 2017, Green Papaya announced that it would close in 2020, but this was brought forward to 2021. However, the uncertainties of the pandemic and a 2020 fire that razed the collective's space and some of its archives have postponed its closing indefinitely.

For the Biennial, Green Papaya was invited to reflect on the death or dormancy of artist-run initiatives while continuing its ar­chival efforts. In view of socio-political commonalities between the Philippines and Turkey, including worsening constraints on free expression, they interviewed artist-run groups in each coun­try that are defunct or have suspended their activities. Working with two such initiatives -PIST/// in Turkey and the Nagkakaisang Progresibong Artista-Arkitekto (NPAA) (United Progressive Artists and Architects) in the Philippines - they reconsider the life cycle of artistic independence and its afterlives.

Yee I-Lann: Oh My Daling and Harunan Motol (Boat's Ladder)

    Yee I-Lann

    Born 1971 in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
    Lives and works in Kota Kinabalu

    Yee explores the impact of historic memory in social experience, with a particular focus on counter-narrative ‘histories from below’. In recent years, she has started working collaboratively with sea-based and land-based communities and Indigenous media in Sabah, Malaysia.

Yee I-Lann

Born 1971 in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Lives and works in Kota Kinabalu

Yee explores the impact of historic memory in social experience, with a particular focus on counter-narrative ‘histories from below’. In recent years, she has started working collaboratively with sea-based and land-based communities and Indigenous media in Sabah, Malaysia.

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