A good neighbour

Elmgreen & Dragset announce the theme of the 15th Istanbul Biennial

By Emma Harper | December 7, 2016


Pinpointing the qualities of a good komşu (neighbour) is far from an exact science. It comes down to what an individual values: one person may prefer a neighbour who leaves them alone, while another wants someone to cook them food when they’re sick. The 15th Istanbul Biennial, curated by the artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset and scheduled to open in September 2017, will explore this concept of the ‘good neighbour’, touching on multiple notions of home and neighbourhoods in the process.

To announce the conceptual framework of next year’s biennial, the duo prepared an inventive performance wherein 40 people took the stage, one by one, to ask what constitutes a good komşu. These individuals pondered whether a good neighbour is ‘someone with no WiFi password and a strong connection’ or a person who is ‘willing to babysit your five-year-old’. The display demonstrated Elmgreen & Dragset’s propensity for asking questions rather than providing answers.

Michael Elmgreen (left) and Ingar Dragset (right), curators of the 15th Istanbul Biennial, with the biennials director, Bige Örer

The live act also illustrated the diverse identities and desires of urban residents, and how these are expressed at home and in the neighbourhood. For Elmgreen & Dragset the former is ‘the place we dare to be us’, while the latter is ‘a micro-universe exemplifying some of the challenges we face in terms of co-existence today’. By focusing on the small units of our lives, the curators want to create a biennial that everyone can relate to.

Such a narrow focus invites a scaled-down event: only 50 to 60 artists will participate, and the biennial venues will be within walking distance of one another (a major departure from the 14th Istanbul Biennial, which was scattered all over the city). The aim is to avoid the impersonal nature of a giant biennial, an approach informed by the curators’ own experience as artists.

At a time when mass migration is remoulding cities, a closer look at how we live together is a worthy venture. We can’t wait to see what Elmgreen & Dragset have in store for us.

The 15th Istanbul Biennial will run from September 16 until November 12, 2017.

All photos provided by IKSV.

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