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Call to Rethink the 13th Istanbul Biennial and Response of the Biennale Curators

June 9, 2013

via Anti Istanbul Biennial 2013


A declaration to the Public by Kamusal Direniş Platformu (Kent Hareketleri, Açıkalan Sanat Kolektifi, Kamusal Sanat Laboratuvarı, Homur Mizah ve Karikatür Grubu, Öğrenci Kolektifleri, ArtHack, Gündoğusu Sanat ve Düşün Topluluğu, Red Fotoğraf, Independent Artists, Independent University Students)  

Istanbul is Brought to Death.
Istanbul, Out in the Market for International Corporates and Capital Groups.
The Biennial artists, designers, curators,intellectuals;
Don’t Play Their Game, Don’t Be a Mere Instrument in This Trickery!


In recent years, Istanbul has become a construction yard. Especially in the immigrant-receiving neighborhoods, the destructions trigger a rebellion; because they’re shown to be legal occupations under the name of gentrification projects. The depredation project, the “urban transformation”, reconstructs the cities and its outskirts as an income area for the benefits of certain capital groups, by removing the poor from city centers and usurping the rights of sheltering.

Under the management of AKP Goverment, there is an ideologic attack that mainly targets the social transformation; besides it also provides income areas to capital groups by looting natural sources, annihilating the culture and turning the city names to brands. The gated communities and residences which are built upon the former quarters of the exiled poor show us this transformation is a gentrification project. On the other hand, while natural areas, historic and cultural buildings are usurped; malls, luxury hotels, plazas are being constructed instead.

Urban transformation project extremely encouraging the social discrimination, became a real threat after the new disaster act which is legislated after Van Earthquake. Within the scope of this act, natural areas are becoming zones for construction and this provides the legal basis for the government to destruct the neigbourhoods. Even the safe buildings will be exposed to destructions by the excuses of “ unity of practice” and “increase of precedents”.


In this big transformation process, the labour force is not only exiled from living quarters. The Ministry of Environment and Urbanization of the goverment declared that 6,5 milion buildings will be destroyed with 440 kg of explosives until 2020, by ignoring the risks of asbestos. Considering that the buildings built before 2010 all have asbestos included in the structure and if this asbestos will be breathed by workers and the residents, we’ll soon face health problems reaching to terrifying ratios. Also it is a clear fact that the sea is filled around Yenikapı and Maltepe Coast with the rubbles of demolished buildings of urban transformation areas, under the disguise of creating landscape .


Most crucial part of urban loot process increasing after 2012 is the olympics, planning to be held in Istanbul in 2020. Thanks to the olympic preparations which are presented as an opportunity for prettifying and developing the city; the urban texture will be demolished, forestlands will be available for housing, many neighborhoods will be sacrificed to tourism via urban transformation process.


Projected budget of 20 million liras for the olympics will cause an enormous financial collapse. The cities that held olympic games so far all over the world, are the living proofs of this fact. In Athens, the projected cost of the olympic games was 1,6 million dollars, whereas the actual cost was 16 million dollars. Also in London Olympics, the final cost was 24 million dollars while it was projected to be around 2,37 million dollars. It took 20 years to pay back the debt of Montreal Olympic Games. Athens’ current condition shows that the people are paying the price via the belt-tightening politics. On the other hand, in this process, the urban transformation will grow exceedingly. According to COHRE ‘s (Center On Housing Rights and Evictions) report; between the 1998-2008, more than four million people were forced to evacuate their habitats for the olympic games preparations.


In 1992, 2500 people were affected by eviction process, due to Barcelona Olympic Games . The number was 720 thousand for The Seoul Olympic Games and 1 million 250 thousand people were forced out of their social surroundings, neighborhoods and houses in Beijing, while their living quarters were being occupied. In addition to that, during the Olympic games the public services will be provided with less care, the already hectic traffic will be more problematic, and safety precautions will be another element of pressure upon the locals. The sport facilities that are built for billions of dollars for the Olympic Games will be of no use after the event, just as it happened in the case of Formula 1 track in Istanbul.


Outlined here by this text, the case is ironic: the 13th Istanbul Biennial, which is organized by an Eczacıbaşı establishment -İKSV- and sponsored by Koç Holding, is framed with the concept of “Public Alchemy”. It is very much clear that there is no other function of Istanbul Biennial (organized by these two groups which are also financiers of urban transformation) other than occupying the public areas and legalizing the attacks of the goverment and capital groups. In this sense, when an art event such as Biennal is financed by .


For the benefit of this operation which was started by AKP to open new income-oriented areas and interfere with the social life, The Ministry of Environment and Urbanization made a statement: “ Whoever is against the urban transformation, is a traitor”. We, who are named as traitors , choose to stand against all kinds of pressures, molestations and unlawful attempts that the government provides for us. And we ask you to take a stand against the Biennial as a part of this gentrification process and support our cause.



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We wrote the following text on May 25th, 2013.  With the beginning of the protests at Gezi Park, our priorities shifted and we decided to postpone  its circulation. Today, especially after  “last week’s“ experiences, when we rethink what happened on May 10th, we are even more convinced of the urgency of this letter.

We the undersigned, who are all working in the field of art, condemn the reaction of The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV) and 13th Istanbul Biennial curatorial team, to the protest that was performed by Public/Common Resistance Platform members at the  “Public Capital” event on May 10th 2013.

The protest was organized and performed by a group of activists wearing T-shirts printed with the names of forcibly gentrifying neighborhoods in Istanbul; at short intervals, one would stand up from the crowd and drape him/ herself on the floor in the middle of the room using a piece of cloth printed with the logos of  related companies. The performance was finished by IKSV team lifting the protesters up roughly and carrying them off from the venue.

Whilst pretending to have a “public” discourse , this applied intolerance towards critical and different voices, the violence towards protesters, and the attempt of detaining a platform member because he was video recording the activity, and  calling the police and taking him to police station and making charges against him cannot be an acceptable attitude.

The authoritative, judgmental and uncommunicative attitude of the 13th Istanbul Biennial towards different voices of the public is highly in contradiction with its claims to “activate social engagement and public fora to generate a possibility for rethinking the concept of “publicness”.

We would  kindly and urgently  invite you to change this authoritarian reflex and rethink the proposed process (structure) of the 13th Istanbul Biennial.

Please reply to if you like to join us.


Ahmet Öğüt, Ahmet Şenkart, Ali Asker Bal, Ali Cabbar, Ali İbrahim Öcal, Ali Mete Sancaktaroğlu, Ani Setyan, Arzu Başaran, Arzu Yayıntaş, Asena Hayal, Asena Günal, Aslı Çetinkaya, Atalay Yeni, Atilla Atala,  Aylin Kuryel, Aysel Miman, Azra Deniz Okyay, Barış Acar, Barış Mengütay, Barış Seyitvan, Banu Cennetoğlu, Berk Demirbaş, Bubi, Burak Karacan, Burçak Konukman, Burçin Başar, Canan Beykal, Ceren Oykut, Çiler Belen, Demet Yalçınkaya, Deniz Erbaş, Deniz Gökduman, Deniz Gül, Deniz Ilgaz, Deniz M. Örnek, Deniz Pireci, Derya Aydoğdu, Didem Erk, Didem Özbek, Dilara Hançer Sebah, Dino Dinçer Şirin, Eda Gecikmez, Ege Berensel,  Elif Zeynep Karagöz, Emine Corduk,  Emre Zeytinoğlu, Endam Acar, Erdağ Aksel, Erden Kosova, Erinç Seymen, Esat Başak, Evrensel Belgin, Evrim Altuğ, Evrim Kavcar, Fatoş Karadağ, Ferhat Özgür, Feyyaz Yaman, Fırat Arapoğlu, Foto Akbaba, Fulya Çalışkan, Fulya Çetin, Füsun Turcan Elmasoğlu, Gonca Sezer, Gözde Kazaz, Gül Bolulu, Gülçin Aksoy, Günay Demir, Hakan Akçura, Hakan Kamışoğlu, Hatice Arıcı, Itır Demir, İbrahim Koç, İlhan Sayın, İlke Yılmaz, İnci Furni, İnsel İnal, Kardelen Fincancı, Komet Gürkan Çoşkun, Lara Fresko, Leyla Sakpınar, Lütfiye Bozdağ, Mahmut Koyuncu, Malik Bulut, Murat Morova, Murat Seçkin, Nalan Yırtmaç, Nejat Satı, Neriman Polat, Nihan Tahtaişleyen, Nilbar Güreş, Nur Ataibiş, Nurcan Gündoğan, Nur Gürel, Onur Ceritoğlu, Onur Gülfidan, Onur Kaçmaz, Osman Bozkurt, Oya Kasap, Özcan Yaman, Özge Açıkkol, Özgür Atlagan, Özgür Çimen, Raziye Kubat,  Saadet Sorgunlu, Sakine Çil,  Selen Usanmaz, Selin Kocagöncü, Sema Efe, Serpil Odabaşı, Seçil Yersel, Seçkin Aydın,  Sevil Tunaboylu, Sevinç Altan, Seydi Murat Koç, Suat Öğüt, Sylvia Kouvali, Şefik Özcan, Şehmus Atasever, Tahir Ün,  T. Melih Görgün, Ulaş Başar Gezgin, Uluç Ali Kılıç, Ümit Turgay Durgun, Vahit Tuna, Yahya Mete Madra, Yasemin Özcan, Yasemin Nur, Yavuz Parlar, Yeşim Ağaoğlu, Yeşim Şahin, Yeşim Us, Zeynep Yasa, Zeyno Pekünlü


The 13th Istanbul Biennial Public Programme co-curators Andrea Phillips and Fulya Erdemci’s statement on the protests of the 2nd and 3rd Public Programme Events

The 13th Istanbul Biennial Public Programme events were disrupted for the second time by the same group of protestors.

At the artists’ performance by Vermeir & Heiremans on May 10 at the Taksim Marmara Hotel as part of the 13th Istanbul Biennial Public Programme, a group of protestors disrupted the performance by repeatedly entering the stage and lying on the floor covered in a banner.  They were taken outside the conference room by the Biennial production team so that the performance could continue. During the hour long performance, Niyazi Selçuk, who was among the audience, persistently filmed Fulya Erdemci, the co-curator, Istanbul Biennial Director and their guest.

At the end of the performance, Fulya Erdemci asked Niyazi Selçuk not to use the footage of herself without her permission. Niyazi Selçuk said that he regarded this as a threat and he could use the footage in any manner he wanted. When Fulya Erdemci and her guest stated that this was a violation of their personal individual rights and they would file a complaint to prevent the unauthorized use of this footage, Selçuk responded he wanted to file a complaint against them in return. Both parties filed complaints about the other and legal proceedings were initiated. No complaint was filed against the protestors.

Reflections on what happened

The actions of the protestors at this performance questioning the relationship of art and capital can be discussed and considered in the framework of the relation between art and activism to the extent that they do not entail violence or vandalism. However, can Niyazi Selçuk persistently filming Fulya Erdemci for over an hour be regarded as a protest or activism? If this is to be regarded as a protest method, what is the aim of this protest? Is it possible to bring a political issue to the agenda through psychological violence, harassment and violation of individual rights? When protesting ceases to be a means and becomes an end in itself, what does it actually aim for?

How can political thought and action define and respond to the boundaries between activism, vandalism and opportunism?

The aim of the Biennial and Public Programme is to open up the idea of a real public sphere to all kinds of different voices, even conflicting ideas, in which people can talk without fear and without obstructing one another. Impeding such platforms only reproduces the methods that obstruct freedom of expression. We think that talking, listening and trying to understand each other is the only way to enable social, political and artistic change.

Protesters at a solidarity rally in Venice during the Venice Biennale included Turkish pavilion artist Ali Kazma, Turkish pavilion curator Emre Baykal, curator Beral Madra, Istanbul biennial curator Fulya Erdemci, Witte de With director Defne Ayas, and others.

Protesters at a solidarity rally in Venice during the Venice Biennale included Turkish pavilion artist Ali Kazma, Turkish pavilion curator Emre Baykal, curator Beral Madra, Istanbul biennial curator Fulya Erdemci, Witte de With director Defne Ayas, and others.

Support for the protesters in Turkey also came from Venice, from those attending the opening week of the Venice Biennial. It is worth noting that the theme of Ali Kazma’s project for the Turkish pavilion is titled appropriately “Resistance.”

Fulya Erdemci, curator of the upcoming 13th Istanbul Biennial, made the following announcement about the protests:

Istanbul is rising! The events that started upon the tearing the trees and burning down the watch tents in Gezi Park (where became the focus and symbol of resistance against the violent urban transformation) by the police forces have triggered an exponentially growing resistance movement. As the violence exercised by the police is getting wilder,  the masses are pouring down the streets against the repressive governance of the State. I wholeheartedly support the resistance that hundreds of protesters were seriously injured and condemn the violence exercise by the police. Against the barbarians altogether!,

Fulya Erdemci, 13th Istanbul Biennial


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