[-empyre-] ISEA2011 + Istanbul Biennial: Reversing the Roles

Timothy Conway Murray tcm1 at cornell.edu
Sat Sep 17 21:23:48 EST 2011

Hi, everyone,

As you've heard, the participants of ISEA Istanbul have had to make a lot of adjustments to trying to think within a corporatized/militarized zone where participants must pass through innumerable security checks and x-ray machines before finding themselves in bunkered basement seminar rooms (underneath a gleaming, 40-something or more storied business tower) where new cyber-security systems block out the chance of our capitalizing on the same mobile networks we came to ISEA to discuss and exhibit.   My silence has been the partial result of having my mobile phone (blackberry) blocked while in that building, which has required that I leave the security zones for simple communications.  I even watched a security guard appear miraculously through a door when an ISEA participant was lingering for a period outside a bathroom, asking her what she was looking for (I don't think she responded "shit" but that would have been appropriate).

Renate and I came to Istanbul expecting that we would posting contrasts between the liberatory, experimental nature of ISEA and the likely corporate/capitalist grounded Istanbul Biennial, which occur at the same time.  What a surprise we had yesterday to pass through the Biennial much less unencumbered by security and surveillant thought.  Rather than asking for donations of 300e for paper presenters, the Biennale is charging something like 15e for admission to two warehouses full of work.  What's more, the express Biennale theme of "politics and art," in homage to Felix Gonzalex-Torres, stands in distinct contrast to the corporatized style of ISEA where plenary speakers talk under huge logos and the canopy of the SA corporate structure, mentioned by Nick Knouf.  

We're struck as well by a complete reversal to our accustomed DIY and Tactical Media communities.  While these communities are represented at ISEA, they are not forcefully present.  Indeed their workshops, talks, and exhibitions are strategically dispersed in different locations across the city (at the insistence, from what I understand, of Sebanci University or, most likely, SA itself).  In contrast DIY and Tactical Art shout out in the Biennale from AIDS activism to politic work with archives and social memory.  

What's odd, however, is that the digital is virtually missing from the Biennale, as if politics and art can't happen in the realm of digitality, art and culture.  Virtually no interactive works, no references to Tactical Media or DIY, which also are deeply resonant with Gonzales-Torres work, and even very little video (no VIDEO AIDS pieces, for instance, in the huge and important section on AIDS inspired artwork).

So we're left with a very strange paradox: art and politics over here, digital and corporatization over there.  And now the gallery and museum work can claim the politics while the university and the digital conference are tied to the corporate.   As for the problematic question of the global biennial, this one somewhat break the mold, even by questioning the "global" by focus on distinguished geopolitical parameters from Latin and North America and the Middle East and a tad of Africa (Asia just doesn't seem to be on this "global" map.

Lots of room for thought.


Director, Society for the Humanities
Curator, Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art
Professor of Comparative Literature and English
A. D. White House
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York. 14853
From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] on behalf of Cicero Inacio da Silva [ciceroinaciodasilva at gmail.com]
Sent: Friday, September 16, 2011 6:13 PM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Layers of ISEA2011: Corporate/Financial

Wow...it sounds a lot like the kind of "universities of Phoenix" that
we also have in Brazil...run universities like a business seems a new
trend in global economy for 3rd world countries....

2011/9/16, Nicholas Knouf <nak44 at cornell.edu>:
> Hello -empyre-,
> I'd like to add another layer to the list: the corporate/financial one.
> I want to write about the experience of entering into the main location
> for the conference, Sabanci Towers.  This requires being checked off of
> a list and then traveling through a metal detector with your belongings
> x-rayed.  You find yourself in front of two gleaming towers of uncountable
> numbers of floors that reflect
> the blue sky.  You realize that this is
> not the university, but rather the headquarters for Sabanci Holding
> (https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Sabanci_Group), which
> appears to be the largest industrial and financial conglomerate in
> Turkey, while also the organization behind the founding of Sabanci
> University.  Once you make your way through men and women in perfectly
> tailored business suits and executives being escorted into Mercedes to be
> driven to power lunches, you find yourself in front of another metal
> detector and x-ray machine which may or may not be used (I didn't have
> to go through it when I entered).  Inside is bland corporate decor not
> unlike anything else in the globalized world.  Hacker or DIY space this
> certainly is not, and the internet seems to block anything that doesn't
> travel on ports 80 or 443 (meaning any local e-mail clients on computers
> or smartphones won't work; Blackberries won't work; and seemingly only web
> traffic will go through).  For your
> 400EURO fee you are still required to pay for pastries.
> I find the totality of this environment rather problematic for an ostensibly
> academic
> and artistic conference and could write much more about it, but will
> refrain for the moment.  But I did want to describe this for those of
> you who are not in Istanbul.
> Best,
> nick knouf
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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