Glocalogue is an interesting title. It resonates at different registers while
rephrasing the quality of exchange that we have usually denoted by those tired
prefixes 'inter-' and 'trans-'. To respond to it quickly I can only say a little
about my work with Vasif Kortun for the Istanbul Biennial. I hope it is of
relevance to you and to the term.
It seems to me that Istanbul as a city is really important right now. In all sorts of ways both historical and of the moment it reveals some of the basic contradictions and possible solutions to our current political and cultural dilemmas. I'd like to think of Istanbul as a predictive city to challenge the idea that it is somehow following an already trod path towards US style global modern capitalism. I would say, perhaps provocatively, that I believe (and hope) that Eindhoven (where I live) will look more like Istanbul in 25 years than Istanbul will look like Eindhoven. What you find in Istanbul is neither the fundamentalist conflict of western fear nor the exhausted notion of European social democratic consensus. Instead you have a form of agonistic living together in which people survive, continue and prosper without a fundamental agreement on the pattern of society. It serves as a concrete form of what Chantal Mouffe has called an ‘agonistic public sphere’, though the publicness of that sphere is constantly under threat from rich families and from privatisation. It’s a strange thing to say but I actually like the people that I’ve met in the governing party there – maybe I’m foolish but they do genuinely seem to be pursuing their own sense of what Turkey could be in relation to Europe and Asia in a very thoughtful way.. Working in the city is inspiring because of the possibility it creates. you are allowed to think things otherwise there more than in any other place I’ve been. Maybe this is what an ideal of 'Glocalogue' would be anyway. Not a push for smooth agreement but satisfaction with difference.
In terms of a biennial in Istanbul, the potentiality of the city puts on quite a lot of pressure and we’ve tried to respond to it in a number of ways. Structurally, we decided to avoid the pitfalls of Ottoman nostalgia-kitsch, or at best the notion of the historic city providing spurious legitimacy to contemporary work, that has disfigured a number of previous biennials. So, we will use only relatively recent buildings and sites that are either domestic or associated with contemporary trade and production. These feel to be more appropriate spaces in which artists can show their explorations the city today. Secondly, we decided to reduce the overall number of artists to around 50, to show more work by each individual and to ask around half of the selected artists to come for an extended residency in Istanbul (2-6 months) to produce new work or choose existing work that would address the sensibility of the city itself. As a counterveiling force, and to avoid the dangers of a kind of Istanbul essentialism, the other half will be showing work that contrasts with the environment and condition of Istanbul and tells other stories or experiences from other parts of the international imagination. I hope this will create the kind of dialogues we are craving in the art world. It needs a certain outbreak of honesty maybe, to declare what all these biennials are for, but maybe there value can be in the way they slowly build a discourse of difference through an accretion of authority. Certainly I think Vasif's and my commitment to track artists from the greater Istanbul region (the lines of the old Ottoman empire + Turkic Central Asia perhaps) is a very clear purpose for us doing this Biennial.
A second, separate project within the overall Biennial will be called Istanbul Positionings and will trace existing activities in the cultural field throughout the city of 15 million, marking them and providing opportunities for them to contact each other as well as the Biennial viewers and artists. The Positionings project will also include independent international initiatives organised to coincide with the Biennial itself. We hope this structure will provide a means through which the works by artists can be seen to touch on the questions of the city and its significance today but of course we have to understand that art is always an intimate experience that talks to the individual and about individual experience. So, the question of Istanbul will always be dealt with tangentially, in passing or as a quixotic, personal account. I think that quality of intimacy, or at least its absolute desirability as a quality of good art, is an antidote to the danger of art as a kind of politics by other means. Democratic politics always have to be addressed to the group and the mass, art doesn’t need to and probably can’t effectively. So an art that is interested in politics has to realise those limitations very quickly, which is perhaps why some overt political artists often give up at some point. As I have said before, I made the reverse journey from politics to art because it seems to me this quality of intimacy is precisely what I want to find in the world as a way to start to reimagine it.
I hope these two elements of the show and Positionings, as well as the duality in the show leads to the kind of dialogues between works and between people that will give a coherence to the experience of the biennial while allowing space for those individual, initimate and non-dialogical encounters.