Mom, Am I Barbarian?

on Monday, 12 August 2013. Posted in ---2013---, August

Related Article: ArtInternational Istanbul Announces Artistic Programme


The notion of the public domain as a political forum will be the focal point of the 13th Istanbul Biennial. This highly contested concept will serve as a matrix to generate ideas and develop practices that question contemporary forms of democracy, challenge current models of spatio-economic politics, problematize the given concepts of civilization and barbarity as standardized positions and languages and, above all, unfold the role of contemporary art as an agent that both makes and unmakes what is considered public.

The idea of the public domain has diverse historic, philosophical, theoretical and geo-political roots and definitions. No matter how many interpretations exist, they are fueled by questions of democracy,related to equality, civic rights and political debate. From the existence of an artwork to the freedom of social media and the designation of urban spaces as public, the notion of public domain can cover a vast area where social engagement and political public debate are possible. It is this potentiality of public domain discourse that the exhibition aims to articulate.

The title of the Istanbul Biennial “Mom, am I barbarian?” is a quote from the Turkish poet Lale Müldür’s book of the same title. In the current context, what does it mean to be a barbarian? After all, galvanizing the limits of the civilized, the “barbarian” reflects the “absolute other” in society, circumnavigating the frames of identity politics and multicultural discourses. But, what does the reintroduction of barbarity as a concept reveal today? Is it a response to an urge to go beyond already existing formulas, towards the unknown? It may refer to a state of fragility, with potential for radical change (and/or destruction), thus, to the responsibility to take new positions.Through the unique interventions of artists, the biennial exhibition aims to explore further such pressing questions and will ask if art can foster the construction of new subjectivities to rethink the possibility of “publicness” today.

Focusing on urban public spaces in Istanbul, the Biennial will use public buildings left temporarily vacant by urban transformation. These may include courthouses, schools or military structures,post offices, former transportation hubs like train stations, ex-industrial sites such as warehouses,dockyards and the very contested Taksim Square and Gezi Park. Furthermore, the hallmarks of current urbanism such as shopping malls, hotels and office-residential towers are considered as sites for artistic interventions. Due to the uncertainties related to the highly speculative nature of urban transformation in Istanbul, the allocation of these spaces is quite precarious. In this sense, the Biennial will share the common experience of precarity that the city’s dwellers experience everyday. Whilst art functions in the symbolic realm, it can also directly interfere with reality, the concurrent urban transformation of Istanbul.

Certainly, biennials have been criticized for being catalysts of these transformations in the name of city branding and marketing. Or they have drawn criticism for being sites of political struggles and representations. Yet the open format of biennial exhibitions has the potential to produce new understandings and experiences of the public domain and forms of “publicness”. The 13th Istanbul Biennial will take this challenge to activate a public forum to open up new avenues of thought and imagination.

13th Istanbul Biennial 2013
Fulya Erdemci, Curator of the 13th Istanbul Biennial

The 13th Istanbul Biennial, titled “Mom, am I Barbarian?”, curated by Fulya Erdemci and focusing on the theme of public space as a political forum will be free of charge.

The dates of the 13th Istanbul Biennial have also changed: the exhibition will be held between 14 September and 20 October 2013. The exhibition venues and list of participating artists for the 13th Istanbul Biennial organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV) and sponsored by Koç Holding will be announced in the forthcoming days.

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