Sunday, September 09, 2007


We are living in a time of global wars.

Most of these wars, conflicts and clashes take place in the developing world. The centre of the Empire has ruthlessly exported violence to other parts of the world. On the other hand, there is a difficulty faced by the developing world in enduring and suffering the challenging transition from decolonization, independence to modernization and globalization.

The Third World is a project by the non-western world to become independent after years of colonization, and to invent their own nation-states based on the principles of self-recognition, independence and equality. Modernization becomes the route towards such a goal, and multiple modernities provide the very ideological guidelines. Thus, the Third World is by definition a global project. To convince the masses of the importance of modernization as the only way for the Third World, the elite class has to resort to top-down models of imposing modernities and reforms that depend on the acceptance, cooperation and support of the �lower� classes, the military forces, and international aid. This imposition has often been violent and dictatorial, and people respond to the degeneration of their living conditions by protesting against the privileges of the dominant classes, reclaiming their social rights through mass mobilization and protestations against external and international agencies of liberal capitalist powers such as IMF and World Bank. These social mobilizations have also awakened some longtime �buried� conservative ideologies and values such as rightwing nationalism, ethnocentrism, racism and religious fundamentalism, and have allowed these groups to be �resurrected� and become popular within dramatic social vacuums.

The Third World is now facing a contradiction; it has become both a crisis and challenge to arrive at a �renaissance�. The key question is whether the non-western world can still reinvent effective models of modernization to face the challenges of globalization which are driven by liberal capitalism and dominated by Western powers.

Turkey, as one the of first non-western modern republics and a key player in the modernization of the developing world has proved to be one of the most radical, spectacular and influential cases in this direction. But, a fundamentally crucial problem is that the modernization model promoted by the Kemalist project was still a top-down imposition with some unsolvable contradictions and dilemmas inherent within the system: the quasi-military imposition of reforms, while necessary as a revolutionary tool, betrayed the principle of democracy; the nationalist ideology ran counter to its embracement of the universality of humanism, and the elite-led economic development generated social division. Populist political and religious forces have managed to recuperate and manipulate the claims from the �bottom� of the society and have used them to their own advantage.

In this age of global wars and globalization of liberal capitalism, it is not impossible but also necessary to revitalize the debate on modernization and modernity and put forward activist proposals to improve social progress. Today, modernization should be carried out in diverse models, relevant to local conditions and ideals, and in the negotiations between individual localities and the �global�. In other words, a bottom-up, truly democratic project of modernization and modernity that is based on the respect of individual rights and humanist values is necessary to bring Turkish society out of its contradiction. And this is also true of the global situation in transition.


Contemporary art has been a product of modernization and modernity. Along with globalization and the integration of many developing countries in the global system of production and communication, contemporary art is now being created and presented everywhere, far beyond the West.

Founded 20 years ago, the Istanbul Biennial should be understood as a part of the modernization project of Turkey in her search for both internal cultural development and international status. The Biennial has gained a certain maturity and is now facing the task of injecting new blood and reinventing itself as a forerunner in the creation of contemporary art.

In today�s geopolitical reality, it is necessary and urgent to deal with the question of modernization. Urbanization, or explosive urban expansion in the Istanbul fashion, is the most visible and significant sign of modernization. Exploring the urban and architectural conditions of Istanbul has hence become a starting point and a central reference to the conception of this Biennial. And contemporary art as an avant-garde in cultural experiments should engage with the city, and it is through this engagement that the biennial will acquire fresh energy and significance in a new reality. The biennial should become a laboratory for innovative projects and strategies, and a site for experiments and productions with different, multiple models of modernization.

To critically reexamine �the promise of modernity�, we have chosen some of the most significant modern edifices and venues including the AKM, İMÇ, Antrepo, santralistanbul and KAHEM. They symbolically and physically mirror the various facets and models of urban modernization in the city. In these sites, the utopian project of the republican revolution and modernization meets with the lively, ever-changing and �chaotic� reality, at once harmonious and conflicting. They are sites where the top-down vision of the modern city clashes with the bottom-up imaginations and actions promoting difference and hybridity.


In such a debate, artistic actions, including the Biennial itself, can certainly find their roles in prompting cultural and social changes through innovative forces of intervention -a form of the urban guerrilla. Facing this infinitely dynamic, complex and exciting reality of a metropolis, artists and other creators are highly inspired to mobilize their imaginations and creativities.

From the very beginning, the Biennial project has been clearly defined and structured beyond a conventional exhibition model. It embraced the rationale of merging it with the vibrancy of real urban life: from research to the development of the project; selection of venues and forms of actions and presentations in these sites; dialogues and collaborations among artists and other participants; spatial designs and their realizations through interventions and transformations of spaces; as well as defining communication strategies. It is a project of collective intelligence, reflecting perfectly the structure and function of the Multitude.

Spatially, the Biennial project will cover a wide range of urban zones, from theEuropean to the Asian sides, from the central areas to the peripheries. In terms of time, the project goes beyond a conventional �office-hour� presentation and takes on the reality of life in this sleepless city; it will function twenty-four hours a day continuously in different sites. With four major �exhibitions� and numerous special projects and parallel events, the Biennial is a dynamic complex system. It is an non-stop machine for production of new urban life. It is an endless urban maze.

Hou Hanru


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