Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Next Istanbul Biennial will be POLITICAL



The September 2009 Istanbul Biennial is being curated by a Croatian Group, all women, called What, How & for Whom. The theme of the Biennial is “What Keeps Mankind Alive?” from Brecht and Weill’s “Three Penny Opera” (which I recently saw live, dark and fantastic).
I’ve edited WHW’s essay on how the Biennial will address the Opera’s themes:

The 11th International ─░stanbul Biennial takes its title from the song 'Denn wovon lebt der Mensch?', translated into English as 'What Keeps Mankind Alive?'. The song closes the second act of the play The Threepenny Opera, written exactly 80 years ago by Bertolt Brecht in collaboration with Elisabeth Hauptmann and Kurt Weill.
...
Isn't the question (What keeps mankind alive?) posed by Brecht equally urgent today? And is it not true that we live haunted by the fears of approaching global changes, consequences of which could have lasting disastrous effects, not unlike those that transformed the world after the economic collapse of 1929? And aren't today's questions about the role of art in instigating social changes equally pressing as they were in the 1930s, when the Left confronted fascism and Stalinism? ...
...
The Threepenny Opera thematicizes the process of redistribution of ownership within bourgeois society and, through a literary narrative, offers a still valid 'representation of capitalism itself—how to express the economic—or, even better, the peculiar realities and dynamics of money as such'.1 ...

'What Keeps Mankind Alive?' will serve as a trigger, as well as a certain script for the exhibition, allowing us and the artists to pose questions of economic and social urgency today. Even a quick look at the lyrics will discover many possible themes, such as the distribution of wealth and poverty, food and hunger, political manipulations, gender oppression, social norms, double morality, religious hypocrisy, personal responsibility and consent to oppression, issues certainly 'relevant' and almost predictable, which many exhibitions—especially contemporary biennial exhibitions—set out to engage with.
Today, biennial exhibitions are elements of cultural tourism through which cities attempt to use their benign and internationally communicative regional specificities to position themselves on the map of the globalized world; they are manifestations tending to 'cultural shopping' in which art is often presented as cool, fun, entertaining... Brecht was certainly critical of what he called a 'culinary' treatment of art solely as a means of entertainment, but he did not shy away from the entertaining role of art. In the popular and mass culture, as Brecht warned us, the problem is not pleasure, but its function...

Brecht invites us to rethink our position again and again, to see the world as amateur actors, without dulling our critical faculties or our potential for intervention and change by learning the rules all too well. As a writer and a director, Brecht continuously sought to slice open and display, then deconstruct and transform the theatre's 'production apparatus'—it is this approach that should lead us out of the current deadlock of 'contemporary art apparatus.' At this time, the question of 'usability' of Brecht means first and foremost a repeated need to observe the interaction of art and social relations. And in ─░stanbul and Turkey, where 'the conflict between an orthodox left position and contemporary art plays a critical role today in the understanding of contemporary art,'4 to exit the impasse of double-bind discourses of global neoliberalism and local ethno-nationalism seems to be the only endeavor worth all the trouble.

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