Curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the 14th Istanbul Biennal entitled “SaltWater: a Theory of Thought Forms” is a city-wide art exhibition taking place in 35 locations spread out across Istanbul from 5 September 2015 to 1 November 2015. Impossible to see everything in one day, since it spans from the Northern Bosphorus from the Black Sea coast to the Prince’s Islands in the Marmara Sea.
To kill two birds with one stone we went to the Adalar (Prince’s Islands) venue since I hadn’t made the trip to Büyükada yet. The perfect way to start the “SaltWater” experience by relaxing and taking a beautiful, scenic ferry ride on the open (salt) water.
The salt water theme is multilayered in its meaning, drawing on salt water as a metaphor that ranges from the sea and the Bosphorus of Istanbul to the flow of peoples across the world, the waves of history and trauma in the world, and in the history of the ancient city of Istanbul. Salt water both heals and corrodes, water flows, creates knots and eddies, passage and barriers.
I was impressed to find helpful signage and maps along the way that made navigating to the seven spread out exhibitions, easy to find. There was one exhibition that stood out against the rest and was my favorite by far, Adrián Villar Rojas, “The Most Beautiful of All Mothers”.
It began at the Yanaros Mansion, built by Nikola Demades in the 1850’s, and was home to Leon Trotsky. Exiled from the Soviet Union and sent to Turkey, Trotsky lived here between 1932 and 1933 at the end of his four-year exile on the island. The abandoned building has long collapsed and overgrown after suffering a fire.
We walked past the house through the backyard and down the hill along the wooded, winding path to the sea. The path ended and as you walked through the door you were greeted by a pair of life-size giraffes, among a collection of animals emerging from sea.
Adrián Villar Rojas lives and works in Rosario, Argentina. Working with perceptions of time and its symbolisation in human culture, his production exists in a temporal, unreal dimension where humans face their obsolescence and ultimate extinction as a way of confronting the field of artistic research to explore how art practices can be re-thought.
He relates “The Most Beautiful of All Mothers” to a deeper tug-of-war, in his work and in himself, rooted in the tension between ephemerality and permanence. “There’s always this tension between control and uncontrolled elements”.
Adrián Villar Rojas, The Most Beautiful of All Mothers, 2015