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Critique of modernity marks Venice-Istanbul exhibit in The New Anatolian (19 October 2006)

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No worries if you missed the Venice Biennial this year, as you can simply take a walk down to the Bosphorus and visit the Istanbul Modern.

For the first time in its 110-year history, the Venice Biennial, which sets the standard in contemporary art, is traveling to Turkey. As its second international exhibition entitled "Venice-Istanbul," the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art is featuring a selection of works from the 51st Venice Biennial through the sponsorship of Turk Telekom.

Social injustice on the arts agenda

The exhibit, showcasing 20 artists and art groups from various countries, tackles and questions a wide range of themes, from the problems of modern women to forced migration, from urbanization to consumer society, and from political resistance to the oppression of sexual identity.

The opening of the exhibit was held this week with the participation of several Istanbul Biennial artists along with Oya Eczacibasi, the Executive Board director of the Istanbul Modern, and Paul Doany, the CEO and chairman of Turk Telekom. Istanbul Modern Chief Curator Rosa Martinez, who was absent for medical reasons, sent a note to the opening. Lora Sariaslan conveyed the note, which said, "The project 'Venice-Istanbul' shows how art can travel from biennials to museums and gain new meanings in this process of transit. This will be an unforgettable event to show how the international spirit, which emerges from biennials, can comfortably coexist with museums that aim to construct art history."

After 110 years of male directors, the curatorship of the 51st Venice Biennale this year was, for the first time, given to two women, namely Maria de Corral and Istanbul Modern Chief Curator Rosa Martinez. On display at the Istanbul Modern is a selection put together by Martinez that includes some of the most exciting works of the Venice Biennial created by leading contemporary artists.

Lacking the basic ingredient

Subodh Gupta is an Indian artist who unlike many others continues to live in India. His installation "Curry" is a sparkling-clean, fully equipped kitchen that seems to have everything but the basic ingredient: food. Sariaslan, who noted that the work was complicated for the museum due its heavy weight, explained that this shiny kitchen underlines the divide between the "haves" and "have-nots."

Another work addressing lacks is Berni Serle's video "Vapor," which shows huge cauldrons heating over logs of fire. Despite the rising steam, the pots are indeed empty. Sariaslan notes that the artist was inspired by the collective cooking ceremonies of people during Ramadan.

Bloody trail of the 'missing'

In Guatemalan artist Regina Jose Galindo's performance video "Who can remove the footprints?" the missing party is humanity. Rebelling against social deafness, blindness or fear, Galindo is protesting the disappearance of people who were announced to be "missing" in her country. In her 38-minute video she walks the streets barefoot carrying a washbowl with red paint, and so she leaves the bloody footprints of the "missing." The video shot in real time also shows how passers-by ignored her quite hard-to-ignore act of marking the streets with blood. Galindo received the Golden Bear at Venice this year, becoming the only artist from Central America who got this award, which is given to artists under 30 years old.

Choose your own funeral tune

Canadian art group The Center of Attention's project "Swan Song" asks the audience "What would you like to listen to at your funeral?" They have an international selection of music including Turkish pieces downloaded from the Internet. Once you tell them your funeral piece, you are to lay down on the sofa stretched in middle of the white room. One of the artists explained that either you choose the piece that sums up your life and your identity, or somebody else at your funeral picks a song to tell what it was all about. Some in the Venice audience found the act to be good for meditation.

Greek artist Nikos Navridis' one-and-a-half-minute video projection "Breath" gives the sense of walking over and living amongst and pacing through the garbage one creates in life. With sounds of breathing in the background, the visitor tries to keep up while the floor of garbage rolls beneath one's feet. The work is a reference to Samuel Beckett's less-than-one-minute-long play that stars garbage and breathing instead of actual actors.

White bleeding into red

A beautiful-looking chandelier appears as feminine as ever while it hangs from the ceiling, or perhaps it is more feminine than it first appears. Joana Vasconcelos' piece "The Bride" is not a good old crystal chandelier but an installation of 25,000 tampons. Noting that chandeliers in general including those in Turkey have a very feminine look, Vasconcelos says that her work is about the condition and problems of the modern woman. The artist, who stresses the relation between tradition and modernity, has underlined the contrast between the unused tampons' white, the traditional color of virginity, and the potential for red that the tampon will turn into as the modern-day women uses it to ease her life.

Reading Turkish women's fortune

Another work that focuses on women's problems is by the art group Guerrilla Girls. The group, whose self-proclaimed 21st century mission is the reinvention of feminism, uses a sharp tongue to criticize the molds imposed by popular culture and patriarchal societies. The group hides the identity and number of its members in order to underline that the problems are shared by all women. Outside the Istanbul Modern, the collective has placed six giant posters that protest gender discrimination in art and popular culture. They created a new poster specifically for the Turkey exhibit entitled "The future for Turkish women artists," which investigates their place and role by reading their fortune in a coffee cup. One of the artists wearing a guerrilla mask says that women artists in Turkey are actually better off than their colleagues in Europe in terms of the space they are allocated in art galleries.

On display are also works by Semiha Berksoy, Donna Conlon, Bruna Esposito, Mona Hatoum, Emily Jacir, William Kentridge, Rem Koolhaas, Juan Munoz, Robin Rhode, Bulent Sangar, Valeska Soares, Antoni Tapies and Pascale Marthine Tayou.