‘Another Biennial Is Possible’: A Study of the Transformations of the 13th Istanbul Biennial

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Alexandra Parrish, King's College London, UK


    Many art institutions are enmeshed in the interests of economic capital; however, there is an emerging understanding of the art institution as a space for criticality and transformation. Of the most significant experimental platforms of this condition is the contemporary art biennial. Considering the global phenomenon of biennials, there have been relatively few attempts of academic analysis on this subject. There is a critical need in the field of biennial studies, and cultural industries in general, to examine the phenomenon of art institutions at the confluence of socio-political developments. How do biennials, flexible as they are, incorporate layers of input from their local context? How can biennials, with a self-reflexive and critical disposition, create a public space for dialogue and debate to activate experimentation and imagination? This paper investigates the transformative potentials of a contemporary art biennial through a case study of the 13th Istanbul Biennial. Through a qualitative analysis of documents and in-depth interviews, this study will extrapolate contextual obligations that prompted the thirteenth edition to restructure the exhibition format and discursive platforms in the aftermath of the Gezi Resistance, a widespread social movement. The analysis will focus on the horizontal implementation of changes to the structure of the thirteenth edition, as well as a consideration of how the exhibition engendered representational space for the public sphere. The paper will emphasise the phenomenological framework behind an institutional practice, however no generalisations will be made from this analysis. This study will highlight how a particular biennial of a critical disposition sought to create an alternate space for imagination and debate.