2nd Mardin Biennial

Connceptual Framework


The Mardin Biennial is a unique opportunity to work with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds in the heart of a historically rich region. Deriving from the richness of the city in terms of its architectural, historical, and cultural layering, the Mardin Biennial creates a new path by interweaving art and urban texture, and by presenting uncommon dialogues and coincidences. The show explores the familiar and the unfamiliar with the aim of inspiring a double take in the viewer: a recurring afterthought as to what is art and what is an everyday object, and how a thin line divides or connects them. Confronting the past, present, and future, and blending today’s visual culture into the texture of this multicultural city in Turkey, the aim is to graft contemporary art into the narratives and spirit of this region.

The Biennial also explores the weight of personal histories within a wider, layered, and traditional context. Our goal is to enter into the life of Mardin in an unobtrusive way, not to disturb its pace nor its space–to integrate the artists’ works into the fabric of the town in an organic way, as if the artists’ output had always been a part of it.

The Biennial will consist of diverse venues revolving around the daily lives of Mardin citizens, ranging from historical mansions to barber shops, from kıraathanes (coffee houses) to open air cinemas. Each venue represents different physical, psychological, historical, and cultural realms as well as realities. Within a short walking distance from each other the venues will house 29 artists. Some artists will introduce site-specific work that organically relates to the setting, others will present work incorporating and employing space in a contemporary manner.

The main venue of the Biennial is Tokmakçılar Konağı, the largest mansion in Mardin, a complex whose foundations date to the 16th century. The layers and the intricacies of this mansion mirror those of Mardin with its colorful complexities. The walls of the Konak will function as a shell that houses art; left untouched, they will establish the historical and cultural context for the presentation of the works. The majority of artifacts will be displayed in free-standing vitrines, the purpose of which is to build an extensive, house-wide horizontal plane of viewing. These self-contained spaces, at the same time archives and exhibition devices, will require the viewer’s focused attention, and hopefully encourage a one-to-one reading of the artwork. The presentation is inspired by the desire to tip toe into Mardin, and to shun bold, declarative statements. Ranging from video to site-specific installations, the works presented in the Konak will explore different notions of personal histories and narratives as in Anri Sala’s Byrek, in which the artist’s grandmother engages in the seemingly timeless ritual of making puff-pastry. Per­so­nal me­mo­ries of his fa­mi­ly’s his­to­ry are su­per­im­po­sed he­re wi­th the ge­ne­ral dif­fi­cul­ty in­vol­ved in pre­ser­ving and han­ding down the tra­di­ti­ons of one’s own orig­ins over geo­gra­phi­cal and chro­no­lo­gi­cal dis­tan­ces. As the preparation of food represents a symbol of the past as well as a fantasy of belonging, Byrek commences as a personal work yet speaks to all of us.

In Memories beneath the dining room, food is the main character as Seyit Battal Kurt provides an insight into South Korean ladies preparing sea food dishes for restaurant customers. The video’s display within the Konak’s kitchen conjures a concrete link between the creation of food with all that is entailed, and the work’s presentation. In the video Pony, also by Kurt, we see the friendly animal trying to invite us into his surroundings, that of a dilapidated house (reminding one of the biennial venue).

Exploring the idea of home and the issue of displacement, the carpet of Mona Hatoum Shift presents the world map as both a potentially dangerous, seismic place as well as a target. With his attention to detail and physical nature of his sculptural practice Mike Nelson will create a site-specific installation in the basement of the Konak as Hrair Sarkissian presents images of different structures made of Kapla, the wooden block construction toy consisting of identically sized and shaped pieces of pine. He constructs from his imagination the houses from his grandfather’s village. Home becomes more than a concrete building but an embodiment of life or the absence of it. In this Konak where throughout centuries, thousands of individuals have lived, Latifa Echakhch presents a dress on a music stand, a phantom of the presence of a woman in the house. Rosemarie Trockel will show two early videos, Interview and Mr.Sun that refer specifically to the domestic context. Hiraki Sawa’s video Dwelling dreams of fantastic domestic situations, produced in his charming London apartment and resemble lucid dreams narrated in a codified language, based in a pictorial alphabet often repeated in his works. Manfredi Beninati will create a ‘memory room’, an enclosed space that is the depository of the simulacra of an imaginary household. Edy Ferguson will occupy a room with vitrines doubling as archives for her art practice, with notebooks, works on paper, projects for installations and a sound piece. Murat Şahinler and Sami Baydar will occupy a small room in the Konak, with a presentation of sketchbooks by Şahinler and a wall of drawings by Baydar. The film La Ricotta by Pier Paolo Pasolini is a short narrative of dejection and salvation. It is a parable of innocence and social marginalization set during the shooting of a film in the time of Italy’s uncontrolled economic boom. Francesca Gabbiani will show her trademark cut-outs and layered collages along with the instruments she employs to make her art in two vitrines; hers is a meticulous and humble trade that has its distant roots in early 19th century paper silhouette making and in folk art. Nasra Şimmes is also the practitioner of a traditional form: paint on fabric along with wood-block printing. She uses blocks carved by her father and her iconography is mostly Christian; over the years, she has painted a number of curtains for the churches in the region of Mardin. Her work stands out for its perfect composition and unwavering energy. Within the Christian parameters of representation, she stands out for her fresh and innovative palette, and for her bold imagistic narrative, by all means, a contemporary artist within the framework of an ancient art form.

Yeni Otel will continue “business as usual,” with its rental of rooms, and sale of eggs, while serving as a venue for the Biennial, it will also remain as a hotel. Viewers will be able to experience art in Mardin’s everyday context as they sit and converse in a room partially decorated by Pae White, one of the most challenging public space artists. Dominique Gonzales-Foerster in De Novo voices how as an artist she experiences the art world, and more specifically the pains and stakes present in the creative process, in this case, those of participating in the Venice Biennale. Eli Cortiñas will show her video Confessions with an Open Curtain in one a room of the Yeni Otel, suggesting the vagaries of love through a collage of scenes from Hollywood films, and the emotional life of an imaginary transient population at the hotel. Sebastian Moldovan’s Doors is a video that documents the spaces where the artist has lived and worked in the last years. Despite the fact that the artist calmly invites the viewer in the intimacy of his surroundings, the work constructs with care each part of his environment and captures the memory of the space and prolongs his own memories into space. Hakan Irmak and Nurullah Görhan reflect on the nature of chance and coincidence in their video work.

Sometimes the works of art will not be easily detectable, as they will be embedded in the town’s life. One paradigmatic example is the Los Angeles based artist Pae White who has designed seven different fabrics, one of which will cover the sofas at the entrance of the Yeni Otel, and the others will be sold by fabric stores at the market. The traditional art viewer might have to search them out in stores, whereas the regular local shopper might acquire yardage to make clothes or cover furniture, strictly for the pleasure the fabric gives and unbeknownst of its artistic value.

The Biennial will flow into the streets of Mardin as well, through different shops which will constitute venues. Likewise, Anne Sauser-Hall will present a specially sewn jacket in a clothes store with references to the Zeybek dance. This is the type of fruition that we strive for. We feel this is the purest form of aesthetic appreciation: instinctive, skin-deep, based on “liking” without any monetary, artistic, or historical consideration for an eventual plus-value of the acquired object. The Museum of Everything makes a “guest appearance” at the Mardin Biennial in one of the stores of Mardin, presenting the Syrian self-taught artist Adib Fattal. Fikret Atay, in his simple, unaffected style lends an apparently straightforward authenticity to the images in his new work Duel where we witness a confrontation, however, the winner is still yet to be determined. Rä di Martino shows a different type of phantom, those of the movie sets, and what happens when the Star Wars set in Morocco is no longer active. Martino shows us what is left behind. This subject indeed has a connection to Mardin, as the city has been and is still used as a location for numerous TV and movie productions.

A number of videos will be shown in barber shops and kıraathanes, where normally regular TV programs such as soccer games or news are broadcast. In their work Marisa Maza, and Wood and Harrison, explore the human body in space and a desire to examine and understand performance, art, architecture, and sports using a visual language adapted from encyclopaedias, physics books, and sports channels. These videos have no words and mostly little sound: easily understandable by all, and by all ages, they will offer an artistic and aesthetic experience, quietly introduced in traditional spaces of socializing and leisure, and mostly dominated by men. Or at times will make the viewer wonder whether they are looking into the daily routine of the residents or if there is something beyond the visible. In the realm of “beyond the visible,” Eleni Panouklia’s pencil drawings appear as explosions of protons, complicated nuclear diagrams that describe the origin of creation. Their formal rigor belie the high emotional world of the artist, which the viewer will grasp upon a serious examination of her work (double take.) The attentive observer will discover a surface pierced by numerous tiny pin-holes, that add to the sensitivity of the paper support, and to the light vibration that pervades the precise chiaro-scuro line drawings that are the core of the work on exhibition.

The living metaphor for the Biennial is the Mardin pigeon, a recognized and prized local breed. With its unique characteristic of doing a backflip in flight, the Mardin güvercin is able to do a “double take” in direction and scope. This leap mirrors the manner of the artist, as Viktor Shklovsky, the Russian literary theorist and formalist writer, so well described in his seminal 1923 text The Knight’s Move. Astutely aware of the developing endgame atmosphere in Germany, Shklovsky sequenced his tangents and incursions into what amounts to an epigrammatic handbook of resistance conveyed with wit and formal ingenuity. Just like in a chess game, the artist’s move is a tactical one, relying upon stealth, surprise, and sidelong views. Shklovsky ends the book with the following:

This is the end of the knight’s move.

The knight turns its head and laughs


Paolo Colombo

He has been an art advisor of Istanbul Modern since 2008. He was a Curator for the 3rd Thessaloniki Biennial in 2011 and in 1999 he curated the 6th Istanbul Biennial. From 2001 to 2007 he was the Curator of the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo in Rome. From 1989 to 2000, he was the Director of the Centre d’art contemporain in Geneva. He has been the associate producer of a number of award winning films.

Lora Sarıaslan

She is an art historian and curator who has curated exhibitions both abroad and in Turkey, most recently Life in the UK/ Balance of Probabilities as part of the Asia Triennial Manchester 2011, UK. She was the Curator at Istanbul Modern from 2005 to 2011 and prior to this post, she was the McDermott Curatorial Assistant from 2001 to 2005 at the Dallas Museum of Art, USA. She is the Turkish National Correspondent for the European Museum Forum.


Biennial Team

Director:Döne Otyam
Curators:Paulo Colombo / Lora Sarıaslan
Consultant:Ayşegül Sönmez
Visual Director:Hakan Irmak
Director Asistans:Bahareh Mirzazad
Coordinators:Mehmet Hadi Baran / Mehmet Sait Tunç
Translations:Arzu Altınay
Architect:Bahareh Mirzazad
Photograph:Uğur Aydın
Technical Director:Koray Erkinay
Graphic Design, Web, Social Media:Çivi Ajans
Projection, Sound, Light:Koray Erkinay