İstanbul Pavilion at Shanghai Biennale highlights globalization, past and present

Pictured are screenshots from the video project ?Exquisite Corpses,? which features the work of 20 artists and is presented at the Bandung Pavilion at the Shanghai Biennale.
A display of artwork related to İstanbul at China’s ninth Shanghai Biennale highlights the pervasive interconnections of globalization not only in the present day, but also in distant centuries.
The ninth edition of the biennale, which was launched on Oct. 2, features a special project titled ?Shanghai Inter-City Pavilions,? which focuses on numerous world cities.Defne Ayas, the director of the Netherlands’ Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, has co-curated the İstanbul Pavilion at the Shanghai Biennale with Arthub Asia director Davide Quadrio, and the two are also co-curators of the Bandung Pavilion with Agung Jennong and Charles Esche.

For the İstanbul pavilion, Ayas and Quadrio decided to work with a group of strong artists whose work delineates several fault lines inherent in the process of Westernization of both İstanbul and Shanghai, Ayas said in a recent interview with Sunday’s Zaman.

?Artist Elif Uras’s wonderful ceramic sculpture ?Janet’ is a life-size replica of an 18th century chair imported by the Ottoman palace from France around the time that Turks were moving from low seating cushions into the more Western chair. Named after Mihrişah Sultan, whose given name was ?Janet’ [the French-born wife of Sultan Mustafa III and the mother of Sultan Selim III, who ruled Turkey around the same time the chair first appeared in İstanbul], this realistic and precisely detailed and cracked, full-size glazed ceramic chair acts as a site for the fluidity of ideas and influences beyond time and borders,? Ayas explained, adding that the chair shed light on the transition from tradition to modernity.

Another artist whose work was chosen for the İstanbul Pavilion is the late Turkish opera diva Semiha Berksoy, whose life spanned most of İstanbul’s 20th century history, from the days of the Ottoman Empire to the recent decade. ?Semiha Berksoy was the first lady of Turkish opera and also one of the most colorful figures in contemporary Turkish art. The city pavilion proudly features Berksoy’s paintings on bed sheets along with a drawing by her based on Nazım Hikmet’s fantastic poem titled ?Gioconda and Si-Ya-U’, about the love affair between Gioconda (Mona Lisa) and a Chinese student friend of Nazım Hikmet’s, who is described to be ?honey-tongued and almond-eyed.’ The affair starts at the Louvre Museum in Paris and ends in Shanghai. In reality, Si-Ya-U is no one other than revolutionary poet and Mao Zedong’s high school classmate Emi Siao. Hikmet memorialized Emi Siao in this 300-line poem casting him as a dapper, fashionably dressed Chinese revolutionary in love with Gioconda, who returns his love. When Si-Ya-U returns to China and the revolution, Gioconda is impassioned and breaks free from her frame at the Louvre Museum to become a revolutionary herself,? Ayas explained.

The last artist in the İstanbul Pavilion is Berlin-based contemporary artist Annika Eriksson, who has produced a video in İstanbul titled ?The Great Good Place,? which depicts a group of house cats that were abandoned in a park in the city and how they interact with each other at night. Asked about the surprising choice of an artist who does not live in İstanbul in the pavilion, Ayas said: ?We have such great artists who come and visit and love and work in İstanbul. The international eye sometimes is much more capable of capturing the spirit and contexts of a city than any local artists. It is important that the distinctions between local and ?local’ can be blurred.?

Similarities between İstanbul and Shanghai
According to Ayas, İstanbul and Shanghai historically are two cities that have suffered most from both the conscious and subconscious anxieties produced by the West — a topic that she says remains under-researched. ?Also an analysis of the relationship between China and Turkey is quite an uncharted territory. There are so many lost or forgotten connections and points of encounters between the two. For instance, the legacy of the Ottoman Empire vis-à-vis the Qing dynasty is barely researched. How about China’s speculative impact across Asia, both current and historical, vis-à-vis Turkic influence and cultural agency — not much in there either,? she said, also pointing out that the İznik tradition of Turkish tiles started around the 15th century from the desire to imitate Chinese porcelain for the decoration of Turkish palaces. ?İznik tile is a telling example not only of the historical relationship between these two countries, but also the nature of consumer demand for cultural artifacts along this geographical axis. The cultural production routes between these countries go back to the 12th and 13th centuries, which is only part of its history,? she said, noting that this earlier high demand for tiles, as well as the import-export relationship, could be compared to the high demand for Chinese and Turkish contemporary art today. ?The chances of a tile — originally a Chinese invention but now with a Turkish stylistic improvisation featuring the tulip flower, actually a Turkish flower with roots in Mongolia — eventually ending up in the kilns of Holland, then being exported to the rest of the world, whether it was England, Italy, the US or elsewhere, is quite remarkable and part of an early globalization story.?

Bandung Pavilion
The Bandung Pavilion, on the other hand, traces the legacy of the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference (ACC), which was a major event both for Bandung and Indonesia. ?Through a collective video project and a number of installations, the pavilion touches on international relationships between artists and their mediation through history, memories lost and found and the desires of today’s globally connected communities. Twenty-nine countries, including Turkey, took part and signed the Bandung declaration, a political statement containing 10 basic principles in an effort to promote world peace and cooperation. We have invited a number of artists from several countries including Didem Özbek from Turkey to join in an unfolding video project called ?cadaver exquis’ based on the old Surrealist drawing game,? Ayas noted, adding that each artist was invited to make a three-minute film from which the last minute was sent to the next artist to add his or her own three-minute section. ?In this way a 20-minute film is shown in the pavilion as a way to provoke thoughts on connectedness and similarity across geographic divides.?

The İstanbul and Bandung pavilions will be on display until March 2013 at the new Power Station of Art Museum in Shanghai.

Rumeysa Kiger, İstanbul
Today’s Zaman Newspaper
7/10/2012

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