Contemporary Art Bombs in Istanbul

contemporain art

Once again, I’m going to exercise my utter bad faith in order to talk about two apparently unrelated topics, Turkey and contemporary art.


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Indeed, beginning on September 14th, Istanbul became the host of a Biennial – the 16th – while also inaugurating a museum along with galeries that “dare” exhibit artists who do other things than Anatolian macramé or  the revisited ceramics or potteries so dear to the heart of our autocrat.

My old bones don’t allow me to come and go every day in these exhibition venues flowering on the occasion of this commercial  free-for-all of contemporary Art, so, for the main part, I take in articles published here and there (in English, if you please).

And since this was not part of the Reis’ media coverage, I expected to encounter  truly free criticism of this contemporary Art trying so hard   to avoid the cross-hairs of the powerful in Turkey.

I don’t know,  such as showing an artist sewing his lips or tying his hands, for instance, instead of a green square supposed to represent optimism for a future in some ten years down the road…

The title of the Biennial under the French commissionner Nicolas Bourriaud: “The Seventh Continent”

The Frenchman has chosen “Ecology” as his theme.

He asked 56 artists to put themselves in resonance with the floating islands of plastic garbage in the oceans…

A powerful topic, that put me in resonance with the fact that France was also a purveyor of garbage in the Mediterranean.

Not to worry, the Bosphorus is no laggard in this matter either.

But perhaps Nicolas was hoping to suggest Hasankeyf in a subliminal way –  the damn, not made of plastic but of concrete – presently engulfing a civilization while the world looks the other way.

In this fair, held in “hostile territory”, every one was hoping for a renewal of the critical appraisal contemporary Art might make on the Turkish regime. A multiple layered criticism, mind you, nothing immediately identifiable as political, but powerful, in other words, commercially compatible and with no possible one-way ticket to the “hassles” category.

So we will talk about visual arts …with Guattari-like jargon to act as a disguise for self-censorship a la turca.

Because, there are also artists in Turkey, if you don’t mind.

And here, I must inform you that they “destructure the present for another future” in installations or works that are beautiful to look at and well arranged, no doubt about it but without any, I do mean anydenunciation or resistance. To see  the destruction of the Sur neighborhood through a mountain of burning tires (and understand this is what you’re seeing) is not a simple matter, yet, apparently…If you look at it sideways…

Now, considering my cultural developement is  still at Zeki Müren, music-wise, at Yılmaz Güney  for cinema and at Neşet Günal in painting, I’m a poor judge of what our youngsters attempting an artistic career in the present climate are up to… But if all they can show is self-censorship and the fact that they are eating in the regime’s hand, or in that or the ones who aspire to seize power while remaining in Kemalist nationalism, they cannot count on me to speak kindly of them.

But, admit it, I have trouble remaining kind when I realize that those of our artists who are not in jail could not care less about the context in which they are on exhibition, and turn up their noses at us with their intellectual masturbations to which we don’t understand a thing, while seeing politics elsewhere.

You can make up your own mind about this fair and what I saw.

Still in the best of bad faith again, I would like to make a final remark.

When I read the articles on the web treating of contemporary Art where they mention the Biennial, I notice they always begin by washing their hands… You know, the sentence that quotes Zehra Doğan with such compassion – ” the poor artist that was jailed for her art” – before moving on to the main business.

Not one of those articles asks why Zehra Doğan, who is now free, does not figure in the Istanbul Biennial. Yet, she had a regular address for close to three years where she could be contacted easily, and where, despite censorhip, she continued creating… even with garbage.  Which was the theme, wasn’t it?

But I’m off my rocker, I’m told she’s only good for producing “the pornography of violence” as some said recently in Turkey about her installation at the Tate Modern in London.

The old biddy doesn’t know a thing about contemporary Art, yet she is a contemporary of this art that often speaks of nothing but the navel of the globalized world, and sells in fairs made specifically for that purpose.”Deleuze could have written that, no?


Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Mamie Eyan
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Mamie Eyan

Chroniqueuse Mamie stanbouliote de 82 ans. Tendresses, coups de gueule et révolte ! Billets d’humeur…

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