More Biennial highlights

ARTER and SALT Beyoğlu

By Victoria Khroundina | October 13, 2013

ARTER (above) showcases the works of 14 artists. This venue differs from the others, being smaller, easier to navigate, well spaced out and sleek. Strongly dominated by the work of Mexican artists, it also offers the biggest concentration of works previously seen at the prologue exhibition, Agoraphobia (covered elsewhere on this blog).

The Doorman (2009) (above), by the American artist Jimmie Durham, greets us at the door. Besides being an artist, Durham is a staunch activist for Native American rights and his sculpture personifying Tezcatlipoca (Smoking Mirror), a major deity in Aztec religion, wittily aims to question the status quo by critiquing Western concepts of religious faith. An absurd-looking sculpture, it certainly holds the viewer’s gaze – largely due to the mishmash of materials of which it is made and its preposterous pose.

Once again, some of the most powerful works on view at this venue are videos or have a performative aspect. Some – as in the case of the Mexican artist Héctor Zamora – are both. His performance Material Inconstancy (2013), which I was fortunate to see live, focuses specifically on bricks and, more generally, comments on the way urban and architectural environments express a culture’s sense of space. Thirty-five bricklayers occupied a hall of Mimar Sinan University and tossed bricks to each other in a continuous loop. Described as ‘choreography of construction’, the kinetic performance had an element of danger, as bricks were flying – and breaking – just a stone throw’s from the audience.

The Iraqi artist Jananne Al-Ani, who trained as a painter and made the move into film and photography in 1990, has been focusing on Iraqi settlements and the Gulf War in her art, reporting her experiences almost like an ‘alternative’ photojournalist. The two videos presented at ARTER are part of a larger body of work entitled The Aesthetics of Disappearance: A Land Without People (2007–ongoing), exploring the disappearance of people in the Middle East. Shadow Sites II (2011) (above top) shows the Iraqi landscape from a satellite; it appears flat and abstracted, its buildings and inhabitants invisible. The video aims to evoke US Air Force fighter-jet search-and-destroy raids on Iraqi Scud missiles at the start of the Gulf War. The second video, Excavators (2010) (above bottom), shows a group of ants toiling in the sand. The film draws attention to the continuous transformation of the land and raises some interesting questions. Are these ants the makers of the shapes we see in the first video? And will they too be bombed, even though they’re just innocent pawns in the military’s frantic search for targets?

Maider López, whose site-specific video of Karaköy is exhibited at Antrepo No 3, presents her second work, Ataskoa (Traffic Jam) (2005). The video shows a real-life situation ripped out of its context – a traffic jam in a mountainside, filmed in Spain’s Basque country. She put out a request to villagers in the area to come in their cars and construct the scene, and although she didn’t plan on it, a real traffic jam was created. Another rather humorous aspect of the process was that many of the villagers wanted to be involved just so they could show off their cars. The artist says she created the situation specifically to criticise people’s reliance on and obsession with cars, and to comment on ‘how nature orchestrates our movements’. Some of the villagers’ motivation for participating, which López could not have predicted, added another dimension to the work.

The Palestinian duo Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme’s two-part work (a video and an installation) aims to address the urgent issues plaguing their country by pointing to what needs to be said and how it should be heard… and, perhaps most importantly, who should be saying it. Entitled The Incidental Insurgents: The Part About the Bandits (2012–2013), the installation (above top) is a mock-up of the duo’s studio in Palestine and points to the artist’s role as a ‘bandit’ in society, a Biennial theme that is explored in a very satisfying way across the venues. The collection of paraphernalia from fellow bandits (for example, the Russian revolutionist and writer Victor Serge in Paris in the 1910s; Abu Jilda and Armeet, notorious Palestinian brigands who were involved in a rebellion against the British in the 1930s; and the artist as the quintessential bandit in Roberto Bolaño’s novel The Savage Detectives set in 1970s Mexico) constructs a scene that reminds audiences of the artist’s position in society. The video (above bottom) further elaborates on this point: visuals show the backs of two figures driving in search of something, while dactylic lines are emblazoned across the screen. One such line reads: ‘The impotence of action and the search for the poetic act’ – perhaps a clue to what the artists in the video (and artists in general) are searching for.

Angelica Mesiti’s video Citizens’ Band (2012) shows four portraits of musicians playing in unusual locations. The Cameroonian Geraldine Zongo drums the water in a Parisian public pool. The Algerian Mohammed Lamourie sings and plays his keyboard in the Paris Metro (above yop). The Sudanese Asim Goreshi whistles in his Brisbane taxi. And the Mongolian Bukhchulun Ganburged plays the morin khuur (horse-head fiddle) on a Sydney street corner (above bottom). Each of the musicians is a recent or illegal migrant, and by using a specific filming style (lots of close-ups, focusing on the face), Mesiti is able to exemplify a private moment and contrast it with the unfamiliarity the musicians feel in both the specific location and the city where they now live. By filming two of the musicians in Australia (where the artist comes from) and two in Paris (where she is based), the Mesiti is concurrently presenting her two realities. The video’s intensity, however, is largely derived from the rhythmic sounds produced by the musicians, which carries the work’s point about cultural interexchange rather eloquently.

Just a short walk down Istiklal Caddesi gets you to SALT Beyoğlu. Halil Altındere’s short-statured Guard (2012) stands at the entrance, at once inspiring a debate on the power of art institutions and conjuring up images of security and authority – something which Istanbullus grew very used to during the Gezi protests.

The Gezi theme continues with the entire bottom level housing an installation by the Argentinian artist Diego Bianchi. Although Market or Die (2013) (above top) is designed to comment on any cosmopolitan city’s rampant commercial activity, the use of numerous symbols of Istanbul (such as the mussels, corn cobs and simits sold by street vendors) and performative aspects that call to mind the activities seen during the protest (above bottom), reminds us how the movement itself inspired a market scenario, with vendors starting to sell badges, T-shirts and Turkish flags before the tear gas could clear.

There are two further works at this venue: a video by the Indian documentary-maker Amar Kanwar and a work from the American artist Lutz Bacher. The Biennial ends next Sunday (October 20) so don't miss your last chance to see it. 

Posted in Contemporary Art, Exhibitions, Main Featured Around the World
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