10.11.2010. - 10.12.2010.

The More I Look, the More I See

Artists: Giuseppe di Bella, Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei & Jonas Staal, Les Liens Invisibles, David Smithson, Tea Tupajić

It certainly seems that, seen from the dominant contemporary perspective(s), Brecht's Marxism and his belief in utopia, utopian potential and open political engagement of art all look a bit dated, historically irrelevant, in dissonance with this time of the crumbling of institutional Left and the rise of neoliberal hegemony. But the real question is, isn't this in fact symptomatic? Doesn't the way in which Brecht is now 'forgotten' and 'unfashionable'-after his immense popularity in the 1960s and 70s and a smooth transformation into 'a classic'-precisely the indicate that something has gone wrong with contemporary society, along with the role of art within it? [1]

If the 20th century is over, along with all the political and avant-garde projects' imagined utopias and realized dystopias, how do we today struggle the consequences it has left behind? At the same time – carried by new technologies which no Orwellian nor popular SF projection of the 20th century could have predicted – how we are entering the new era and what is the new constellation of the political and the artistic?

The 11th International Istanbul Biennale, conceived by the Zagreb-based curatorial collective WHW, affirmed a critical, socially and politically engaged art practice. On the other hand, a left-oriented activist group Resistanbul Commissariat of Culture issued an open protest letter which, in form of an avant-garde manifest, called for the boycott of the whole autonomous art system and invited for active political engagement, not through galleries, but in the streets.[2] By making the analysis such left-wing art conflict, Martha Rosler concludes that it is not necessary any more to choose between the two fronts since they are not mutually exclusive.[3]

It seems, therefore, that the 20th century dialectical opposition of the engaged and the self-referential art practice, which Aland Badiou mentions in his book Century, has continued to exist in form of various parallel (not necessarily reconcilable) strategies of socially engaged art practice.

Art strategies and tools used by the artists at this exhibition also differ. The work of the artist duo Les Liens Invisibles [4] ironizes popular web 2.0 services owned by powerful corporations (Facebook, Tweeter, Google Earth etc).

On the other hand, artists like Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei [5], Jonas Staal [6] and Tea Tupajić [7] deal with a specific political and personal trauma: the genocide in Srebrenica. Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei and Jonas Staal question the validity of court decisions in the case of the controversial Dutch battalion affaire, as well as the messages that – justified by the notion of the democratic legal state and the independent judicial system – have thus been conveyed, while Tea Tupajić's sound installation, more poetically than analytically, faced the Srebrenica tragedy as one of the more significant tragedies in modern Europe.

Brecht’s question What keeps mankind alive? was the central motif of the Istanbul Biennale. How does mankind survive? is the central question of the installation by David Smithson, whose improvised tent structure tragicomically reflects the instability and paradox of contemporary economy which constantly re-cycles from its own ruins.

In a sterile museological manner, Giuseppe di Bella [8] exhibits self-made series of postal stamps which, instead of a classical affirmative national iconography, depict scenes from the anti-terrorist camps in Abu Ghraib. Regardless of their visual content, the copies of real stamps had gone through postal administration offices with no difficulty and thus became a vivid metaphor for contemporary political myopia. (Sanja Horvatinčić)


[1] What, How and for Whom/WHW. „What Keeps Mankind Alive?“. 11th International Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, 2009 http://www.iksv.org/bienal11/icsayfa_en.asp?cid=6&k1=content&k2=conceptual

[2] Resistanbul Commissariat of Culture. „Conceptual Framework of Direnal-Istanbul Resistance Days: What Keeps Us Not-Alive?“, Istanbul, 2009

[3] Rosler,M. “Take the Money and Run? Can Political and Socio-critical Art “Survive”? e-flux journal # 12, 01/2010. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/107

[4] http://www.lesliensinvisibles.org/

[5] http://www.vincentwj.nl/

[6] http://www.jonasstaal.nl/

[7] http://www.rhiz.eu/person-36662-en.html

[8] http://www.giuseppedibella.net/

Supported by City of Velika Gorica and Ministry of Culture of Republica Croatia. Sponsored by Combis [http://www.combis.hr/] and Museum of Turopolje in Velika Gorica.