Çanakkale Biennial questions present problems, myths of the past

“Pledges for a Safe Passage” by
Kalliopi Lemos
The third international Çanakkale Biennial, currently being held on the eastern shore of Turkey’s Dardanelles Strait, is calling on art lovers to explore the complex webs of the political, social and economic situation in the contemporary world through the works of 34 artists from Turkey and abroad.
Taking ?Fictions and Dissentions? as its conceptual theme for its third edition, the main argument of the biennial, as laid out in the event’s article on its concept statement, is that ?today’s artists everywhere can and must create areas of engagement, activity, interpretation so that this alone could constitute an example, a proof that democracy and freedom can in fact be attained on both global and regional levels.?During the biennial’s opening, art director Beral Madra explained that it is very important that serious contemporary art events in Turkey are being held not just in İstanbul but also in other cities such as Çanakkale, Sinop, Mardin and Antakya. ?In big cities, freedoms, opportunities of experience and visibility are institutionalized and designed parallel to the benefits of major corporations in the present economic system. The increase in the number of events and their geographical locations [in peripheral regions] opens up the possibility of breaking these monopolies. In this context, the 3rd International Çanakkale Biennial is designed to carry the qualities of contemporary art, which serves to highlight the meaning of progressiveness in the current global cultural industry. This includes making Çanakkale and other cities like it visible in the global cultural industry. It is important that the people of Çanakkale understood the significance of such an event and took ownership of it. Also, creative people who will be preparing the future vision of the city had the opportunity to get more information and awareness through this event, which constitutes a platform for universities with departments of creative industries,? Madra said, noting that most importantly the people of Çanakkale had the chance to experience new possibilities of freedom and the processes of democracy both in their country and in the world through the works of contemporary art in the exhibition.

One of the co-curators of the event, Fırat Arapoğlu, also explained that the conceptual framework of the biennial, which is inspired by a quotation from contemporary French philosopher Jacques Ranciere, refers to the ongoing political, economic and social turmoil both in the region and the whole world in the first quarter of the 21st century. In ?The Politics of Aesthetics,? Ranciere writes: ?Art does not produce knowledge and submissions for politics. It produces dissent, fictionalities, and the reciprocal interdependence of different kinds of sequences in the realm of sensibility.?

The main venue of the biennial is the city’s old bus terminal and the depot right beside it. Right at the entrance of the terminal’s passengers’ lounge is Yeşim Ağaoğlu’s installation titled ?Hay Fever,? which can be read as a criticism of the Çanakkale myth that has been created in recent decades in Turkey. With the rising tide of nationalism in the country, the memorial day for the soldiers who died in the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915 in World War I has become a crucial day in the country and is remembered through numerous activities. A travel industry in the city has even been boosted by feeding off this mythology. Ağaoğlu’s work, which consists of several soldiers in different colors among mountainous piles of hay, questions the entrenched categories with which Çanakkale’s visitors interpret the event.

In the bus terminal’s passenger lounge are works by artists including Nikita Alexeev, Fikret Atay, Dobbie, Julian Stallabrass, Komet, Moataz Nasr, Neriman Polat, Ayhan Taşkıran, Mehmet Ali Boran and Marwan Sahmarani.

Located in the depot next to the old bus station, Kalliopi Lemos’s large installation titled ?Pledges for a Safe Passage? is yet another work pointing out the painful realities of Çanakkale, in this case the desperate situation of illegal migrants who died trying to pass through Turkey, not only in Çanakkale but many other locations across the country, on their way to Western Europe. The works of Serhat Kiraz, İnsel İnal and Jakob Gautel can also be seen at this part of the biennial.

Ani Setyan’s installation in the Korfmann Library, on the other hand, titled ?Deficient List,? casts lights on the soldiers who died in 1915 but have been erased from public memory, as exemplified by lists of the dead published on the Internet. While looking through such lists, Setyan realized that certain names, namely those who didn’t belong to the Muslim faith, had been removed. Relying on her own research, she found these missing names and created representative marble blocks recalling gravestones. The library in which these blocks are displayed used to be an Armenian school in the garden of the Old Armenian Church in Çanakkale.

The Third International Çanakkale Biennial of Contemporary Art runs until Nov. 3. The program also features numerous side events such as panel talks, seminars, video screenings and an open-air exhibition. The biennial’s special programs include ?Biennial Child,? ?Biennial Youth? and ?Biennial Disability-Accessibility-Inclusion.?

For more information, visit www.canakkalebienali.com.

Rumeysa Kiger, Çanakkale
Today’s Zaman Newspaper
8/10/2012

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