Sep 01 2015

14th Istanbul Biennial: “Saltwater: A Theory of Thought Forms”

by HG Masters

View of the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara. Photo by HG Masters for ArtAsiaPacific.

The 14th edition of the Istanbul Biennial marks a change of pace, both for the long-running biennial itself, and for visitors, who will be traveling from the top of the Bosporus all the way to the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara in order to experience more than 1,500 artworks by 80-plus participants. Having lost its former main venues in the Antrepo customs warehouse complex, the Biennial is spread throughout the Beyoğlu area—including projects at art institutions Istanbul Modern, Salt Galata and Arter—as well as in smaller locations in the district that attest to the city’s rich history of European communities, such as the Galata Greek School and the cistern in the Adahan building, constructed by the Camondo family, whose patriarch was the prime banker of the Ottoman Empire. Eventually the treasure-hunt leads visitors to sites much further afield, including the Hrant Dink Foundation’s spaces in the Şişli neighborhood (north of Beyoğlu), a lighthouse on the Black Sea at the very top of the Bosporus, and to the house on the largest of the Princes’ Islands where Soviet politician Leon Trotsky (1879–1940) spent four years in exile. Organizers İKSV are advising visitors to allocate three full days in order to see the entire Biennial. There are also “three fictional venues that have no legal public access, to be imagined only.”

With all of its interest in sites reflecting the history of fin-de-siècle Istanbul, “Saltwater: A Theory of Thought Forms” comes with its own appropriately ornate lexicon. “Drafted” by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev with a core group of “alliances,” the exhibition “hovers around a material—salt water—and the contrasting image-forms of knots and waves.” If Christov-Bakargiev’s Documenta 13, in 2012, was centered around objects and places traumatized by war and conflict, “Saltwater” is meant to be restorative endeavor: “with and through art we mourn, commemorate, denounce, try to heal, and we commit ourselves to the possibility of joy and vitality, of many communities that have co-habited these spaces,” she writes. Coming on the centennial of the Armenian Genocide and the Turkish government’s renewed armed conflict in eastern Kurdish regions, the long-lost cosmopolitanism of the greater Istanbul region is a subtext in many artists’ projects. Michael Rakowitz, for instance, has taken over an atelier formerly used by an Armenian mold-maker Garabet Cezayirliyan for his project, “The Flesh is Yours, the Bones Are Ours.” Another spectacular project is Adrián Villar Rojas’s massive concrete sculptures constructed on the seashore in front of the Trotsky House. While Christov-Bakargiev is reputed for her outlandish pronouncements and verbosity, her special talent is in coaxing exceptional projects in equally affective settings.

To help navigate the Biennial, there is an İKSV Mobile app, available on the iTunes store, which will help guide visitors. While trekking around Istanbul, keep in mind Christov-Bakargiev’s warning, from the Biennial press release: “Salt water is the most corrosive material threat to the digital age: if you drop your smart phone in fresh water, you can dry it and it will probably work again. If it falls into salt water, chemical molecular changes in the materials of your phone will break it. When you visit the 14th Istanbul Biennial, you will spend quite a bit of time on salt water.”


14th Istanbul Biennial will be on view from September 5 – November 1, 2015.
ArtAsiaPacific will publish a review of the Biennial in the AAP 96, Nov/Dec issue.


“How Did We Get Here”

September 3 – November 29

SALT Beyoğlu & SALT Galata


With works at both of its venues, SALT is looking back at artistic production in Turkey following the brutal September 12, 1980, coup d’etat with archival materials (magazines, books, newspapers, video clippings) and artworks that explore the period by Ayşe Erkmen, Halil Altindere, Esra Ersen, Hale Tenger and others. The seminal period was also the era when Turkey’s economy was liberalized from state control to a free-market system. Further depictions of the 1970s and ’80s are already on view at SALT Beyoğlu’s street-level Forum, in Vahap Avşar’s “Lost Shadows” project that resurrects never-seen images from photography archive (August 11 – September 27).

Sokak (“Street”), Issue 12, November 1989. Archive: Murat Öneş. Courtesy SALT, Istanbul.

SEYIN BAHRI ALPTEKIN, CAPACITY / CAPACITIES, 1998. panel with LED writing mounted on 36 photographs, 158.5 × 354 cm x 7 cm (overall), 39 × 39 cm (each). Photo by Serkan Taycan. Courtesy the artist’s estate and Rampa, Istanbul.

Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin: “Democratic Luxury”

September 2 – November 14

Rampa Gallery


The late Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin (1957–2007) was a cult figure in Istanbul: a carousing intellectual and poet turned artist, and prolific collaborator, whose energy inspired a generation of artists and curators. “Democratic Luxury” looks at Alptekin’s obsession with “global junk,” and the promises brought on by the mobility of people and goods beginning in the early 1990s as capitalism spread around southeastern Europe and the Black Sea after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Şener Özmen: “There is a Way Out”

September 1 – October 10

Pilot Galeri


A Kurdish artist, activist, writer and publisher, Şener Özmen is known for his satirical takes on the indignities of life in eastern Turkey, such as his notorious 2003 collaboration with Erkan Özgen, in which they are recorded traveling to the Tate Modern on donkeys through the mountainous region. At Pilot Galeri, he’s debuting sculptures that mark a new direction in his artistic practice.

ŞENER ÖZMEN, How to tell of peace to a living dove?, 2015, video still. Courtesy the artist and Pilot Galeri, Istanbul.

VOLKAN ASLAN, from “The Perfect Day.” Courtesy the artist and Pi Artworks, Istanbul/London.

Volkan Aslan: “The Perfect Day”

September 1 – October 31

Pi Artworks


With his droll humor, Volkan Aslan’s “The Perfect Day” continues the young artist’s preoccupation with marking the passage of time, with an installation created from found objects, neon tubing and raw clay.

BASIM MAGDY, A 240 Second Analysis of Failure and Hopefulness (With Coke, Vinegar and Other Tear Gas Remedies), 2012, 160 color slides and 2 synchronized Kodak slide carousel projectors, 4 mins. Courtesy the artist and Art Sümer, Istanbul.

Basim Magdy: “The Ones Who Refuse to Forget”

September 5 – October 17

Art Sümer


Egyptian artist Basim Magdy presents a recent dystopian film inspired by the stories of his father, about a man who moves away from the seaside to avoid death by water, as well as a slide projection depicting the demolition of a building with images developed using Coke, vinegar and “other tear-gas remedies.”

LATIFA ECHAKHCHJadid, 2014, video still. Courtesy Galerie Kamel Mennour, Paris, Dvir Gallery,Tel Aviv,  Kaufmann Repetto, Milan, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich, and Protocinema, Istanbul.

Latifa Echakhch: “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

August 31 – October 24



Two new works by Moroccan-born artist Latifa Echakhch are at the center of her latest show at Protocinema. She created a video called Waiting for Dolphins (2015) after a chance sighting of a pod of dolphins in the Bosphorus, and she is making a site-specific installation with texts (poems, letter fragments) in which she will write daily on the floor in water. Echakhch will also present an earlier video Jadid (2014), which documents Moroccan kids in the port city of al-Jadid jumping from a castle’s walls.

Can Altay: “Split Horizon (Domestic Disobedience)”

September 1 – October 17

Öktem & Aykut


New works by sculptor and designer Can Altay take on decidedly heavy conceptual themes: “the politics of space” and the “conflict between the traditional and subjective.”

“Minor Heroisms”

September 2 – October 24

Galeri Zilbermann


Curated by Nat Muller “Minor Heroisms” brings together works by ceramicist Burçak Bingöl, Pakistan-born Aisha Khalid and Imran Qureshi, sculptor and draughtsman Extrastruggle, Iraqi-American painter Hayv Kahraman and Berlin-based Azade Köker that all look the traditions of miniature painting from the Mughal to Persian and Ottoman Empires.

“Grandchildren: New Geographies of Belonging”

September 3 – November 1



Along with serving as a biennial venue, Depo is hosting a group show about artists from the Armenian diaspora endeavoring to shape a cultural identity—and who live in cities from Buenos Aires to Moscow, New York to Beirut—on the centennial of the Armenian genocide by the Young Turks military junta.

Ashley Bickerton: “Walls & Paintings”

September 3 – October 3



Bali-based since his exodus from New York in the early 1990s, Ashley Bickerton is showing in Turkey for the first time. His cultivated style of Polynesian-grotesque is on full view with paintings in custom-designed tiki frames and colorful “rock” paintings.

ASHLEY BICKERTONPainting Thing No.3, 2015, oil and acrylic on digital print on jute with artist designed frame, 122 × 122 × 13.5 cm. Courtesy Dirimart, Istanbul.  

Waterfront location of Art International, Istanbul. Courtesy Art International. 

Art International

September 5 – 6 (preview, September 4)

Haliç Congress Center 


The three-year-old fair returns to the shores of the Golden Horn with 87 galleries from 27 countries, including three new Turkish participants and big international names such as Victoria Miro (London), Tina Kim Gallery (New York), Galerie Lelong (Paris/New York) and Pearl Lam Galleries (Shanghai/Hong Kong).


“The Lookout from the Kadist Collection”
August 26 – October 24

Tayfun Erdoğmuş: “Natura”
September 1 – October 31
Galeri Nev

Seza Paker: “Absinthe”
September 1 – October 3

Alp Sime: “Under Control and Compassion”
September 1 – 26
Empire Project

“Zero: Countdown to the Future”  
September 2 – January 10, 2016
Sakıp Sabancı Müzesi

Louise Bourgeois: “Larger Than Life”
September 1 – November 28
Akbank Sanat

“What Lies Beneath”
September 5 – February 21
Borusan Contemporary

HG Masters is editor at large at ArtAsiaPacific.