Welcome to the Anthropocene!
The 16th Istanbul Biennial

A gigantic 3.4 million square kilometer carpet of plastic waste in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – this is the "Seventh Continent." Like climate change or massive interventions in the landscape by dams or the redirection of rivers, this floating mountain of garbage is repeatedly cited as evidence of the Anthropocene. For Paul Crutzen, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the changes our planet has undergone due to human influence since industrialization are so serious that he coined the term for the new geological age in 2002. The current, 16th edition of the Istanbul Biennale deals with the Anthropocene, with the relations between man and nature, but also with utopias and dystopias. The Seventh Continent is the programmatic title of the show curated by Nicolas Bourriaud. The cofounder of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris invited more than 50 artists from 26 countries to take part. A number of the positions are represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection, including Haegue Yang, Glenn Ligon, Andrea Zittel, and photographer and filmmaker Armin Linke. The latter’s video work Prospecting Ocean shows the exploitation of the Pacific Ocean. While garbage floats on top of the ocean, raw materials are sought at the bottom to fuel economic growth. The Feral Atlas Collective also works in a documentary fashion. The international network of more than 100 artists and natural scientists makes visible what the Anthropocene means: mud volcanoes caused by drilling for oil, or excessive reproduction of jellyfish through the contamination of the oceans by fertilizer. The collective shows a system on the verge of collapse and provides the Fridays for Future movement with numerous arguments for its struggle for a different, more ecological way of life.

But the biennial also features contributions that interpret Bourriaud's title less literally. Simon Fujiwara, for example, who was nominated for the National Gallery Prize in 2019, designed a cool, aseptic world that is filled with the energetic Disneyland song It's a Small World. For his installation, the Briton found what he was looking for in front of a workshop for Turkish amusement parks. He took the discarded plastic heads of Disney and Simpsons figures and built tiny model worlds around them with a prison, gym, and funeral parlor. But of course also with a museum: Model figures marvel at Gustav Klimt and Jeff Koons. Social control and entertainment form an oppressive alliance in Fujiwara's amazingly real microcosm. On the other hand, Charles Avery, to whom an entire floor of the Deutsche Bank Towers in Frankfurt is devoted, created The Island, a self-sufficient, surreal refuge in the middle of the ocean, with the help of glass sea animals, large-format drawings, and found objects. And Eva KoťŠtkovŠ, who is also represented in the collection, produced an expansive, cave-like structure of fabric and wire with her Machine for Restoring Empathy – a kind of shelter including a collective sewing workshop. With the absurdity so typical of the Czech artist, her installation revolves around the question of a less destructive, more solidly united system.
 
As the inventor of "relational aesthetics," a participatory, interactive art that names such as Rirkrit Tiravanija, Carsten HŲller, and Pierre Huyghe stand for, Bourriaud also invited Monster Chetwynd, who last year had huge colorful slugs crawl across the facade of the London museum for the Tate Britain Winter Commission. Her contribution to the biennial, which she realized together with local craftsmen for MaÁka Sanat Park, a green oasis in the middle of the metropolis, is just as playful. Her Gorgon's Playground turns out to be a mixture of sculpture and playground equipment. It is indeed like the mythical head of the Gorgon, except that the snakes that wind their way out of this head serve as slides.

Bourriaud's Seventh Continent deals more with big issues than with the concrete situation in Istanbul or Turkey. An exception, however, is Ozan Atalan's video diptych Monochrome. His film shows how an important habitat for Turkish water buffalos was destroyed in order to build the new Istanbul airport, a project promoted by head of state Erdogan. However, the government's repressions, which also affect the cultural scene, are not addressed. For example, the fact that patron of the arts, entrepreneur, and Erdogan critic Osman Kavala has been in prison for two years. Many critics, who found the biennial too scattered and thematically unfocused, also lacked the urgency of tackling climate change and saving the planet from collapse.

Nevertheless, a certain sense of optimism can be felt on the Bosporus, among other things because of the hopes associated with Istanbul's new mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu. The biennial and the commercial art fair Contemporary Istanbul have combined their dates this year, and they were both demonstratively visited by İmamoğlu. Additionally, the industrial family KoÁ opened Arter, a new contemporary art museum, where Ayşe Erkmen's first institutional solo exhibition in Turkey is on the program. Whitish combines older sculptures by the artist, who lives in Berlin and Istanbul, with works conceived expressly for the show. You enter the exhibition through cheeping security gates and end up in an at times almost claustrophobic scenario, which can also be viewed as a commentary on the current situation in the country.
A.D.

16th Istanbul Biennial
Until November 10, 2019

Ayşe Erkmen. Whitish
Arter, Istanbul
Until March 8, 2020