Rumeysa Kiger: Mardin Biennial invites art lovers to do a ?Double Take? on life and art

Mardin Biennial invites art lovers to do a ?Double Take? on life and art

The Tokmakçılar Konağı is the main venue for exhibitions in this year?s Mardin Biennial, which continues through Oct. 21 in the southeast Anatolian province of Mardin. (PHOTOS Uğur Aydın)
The second Mardin Biennial is calling on both its residents and Turkey?s art circles to do a ?Double Take? in this historic southeastern province to explore the relationship between art and daily life.
The biennial, one of Turkey?s rare contemporary art events in ?the periphery,? kicked off last week with an opening at the Tokmakçılar Konağı, the largest historic mansion in Mardin.One of the biennial?s co-curators, Paolo Colombo, who previously curated the sixth İstanbul Biennial, explains that biennials in the periphery are the only places where art really has meaning. ?Because there is no [art] market here, everything is done for the sake of art,? he said in a recent interview with Today?s Zaman.

Colombo?s main idea for the Mardin Biennial was to embed the art in the fabric of the community?s everyday life in the old city. ?The art world is expecting to see art in museums that look really like strong art. Whereas my idea is, art is in the world and it?s up to us to look and look again and understand that certain things that we may not consider as art are in fact art,? he explains.

This intention on Colombo?s part is also connected to the conceptual framework of this year?s biennial, ?Double Take.? According to Colombo, this is a call on the art world rather than the people of Mardin. ?The people of Mardin live very well with it, too. I saw it every day while putting together the exhibitions. People and especially children were super interested in the biennial. I hope the art world will respond equally well, maybe looking with a double take, looking and looking again,? Colombo adds.

Co-curator Lora Sarıaslan explains in a similar vein that the idea of ?double take? is about giving another glance, looking again and realizing that one is looking.

The biennial?s main exhibition space, the Tokmakçılar Konağı, a complex of buildings that dates back to the 16th century, is a work of art in itself, says Sarıaslan. ?It is extremely hard for the works of art we put inside to compete with it. This is why we attempted to enable this togetherness with very thin lines. For instance, Francesca Gabbiani?s works are exhibited in a very domestic environment here in one of the mansion?s rooms. We put works related to the each specific unit in the house. This is an enormous richness, you don?t show them in a sterilized white cube like in a museum or gallery, but through the works you highlight the richness of the space as well,? she notes.

Hrair Sarkissian?s minimalist installation, for instance, is a direct reference to the culture and the history of the area. His work consists of an imaginary construction of his grandfather?s house that he never saw. ?When you look out of the door of the mansion to the fields of the Fertile Crescent and think about the family of Sarkissian, who had to leave their land [during the Ottoman state?s forced transfers of Armenians], the work gets a much deeper sense,? Sarıaslan underlines.

Another work that takes on a much more complex meaning is Mona Hatoum?s carpet representing a world map on a military sonar screen. ?When you turn your head to the left, you realize you are right in the middle of this conflict,? Sarıaslan adds.

In the kitchen section of the mansion, there are works by two artists. One is Anri Sala?s video documenting the making of his grandmother?s puff-pastry and the other is Seyit Battal Kurt?s video, which he took during an artist in residence program in South Korea, showing the preparation process of seafood in a restaurant by women. Kurt chose to exhibit the video with the raw material of plastic he brought from a plastic recycling factory in Mardin. ?It is both a reference to the plastic cups and other kitchen utensils the women in the video are using but also a reference to this kitchen. Many things were experienced in this house but the capitalist system somehow wiped out this lifestyle and plasticized the world in general,? the artist explains.

Other works featured in the mansion include a video by Hiraki Sawa, an installation by Latifa Echakhch about memory and immigration, videos by Barbara Trockel, sketchbooks and drawings by Murat Şahinler and Sami Baydar, photographs by Railey Martino of the leftovers from a Star Wars film set in Morocco, a video from Fikret Atay titled ?Duel? and drawings and videos by Ed Fergusan.

Apart from the Tokmakçılar complex, all the other venues chosen for the event are places in which people spend their daily lives, such as coffee houses or barber shops. ?Normally, someone visiting Mardin — even if they come from a nearby city — wouldn?t see, know or look at these places because he has an idea of Mardin in his mind and would like to explore that one. In this biennial, we intentionally wanted not to use the tourist attractions and historic sites in Mardin because we would like to emphasize today?s Mardin and the people in it,? Sarıaslan adds.

Among the narrow streets of Mardin?s old city, Mafredi Beninati turned a small, one-person bedroom known as ?Asi?s Shop? into an installation that the viewers can peek at from a rectangular hole in the door. Right next to a wooden handcrafts shop, an installation of extraordinary drawings of self-taught Syrian artist Adib Fattal can be seen under the title ?Museum of Everything,? which is a selection from the museum of the same name in London where there is a large collection of works from self-taught artists and artists with disabilities outside the traditional art world.

Right in the middle of the vegetable market sits the Yeni Hotel (New Hotel), which is home to several biennial works. Despite its name, the hotel is an old one and used by really poor people to hire beds, instead of rooms. Once inside, a couch with a cover designed by Californian artist Pae White welcomes visitors. (Also, nine different fabric designs prepared by the artist can also be bought in the local fabric shop.) On the right side of the couch, Nasra Şimme?s iconographic work is one of the last examples of a very long tradition of producing big sheets to cover the altars in the Syriac churches around the city. The video works of Eli Cortinas, Dominique Gonzales-Foerster, Sebastian Moldovan, Hakan Irmak and Nurullah Görhan can also be viewed in the rooms of the Yeni Hotel.

The Second Mardin Biennial will run through Oct. 21 in Mardin?s old city. For more information, see

26 September 2012
Rumeysa Kiger, İstanbul
Today’s Zaman


Rumeysa Kiger
Freelance culture and arts writer

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