The Seventh Continent

16th Istanbul Biennial: The Seventh Continent
Various venues, Istanbul
14.09.19 – 10.11.19

You might think that the European curator of a major international exhibition would shy away from comparisons with Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo ( 1982 ), in which a rubber baron works a cast of indigenous labourers to death in order to realise his dream of an opera house in the Amazon. Particularly when the exhibition takes for its subject the ecological catastrophe set in motion by the exploitation of natural resources and proposes that we should look beyond the systems of knowledge enshrined in canonical Western art. So eyebrows were raised when Nicolas Bourriaud, speaking at the opening of the 16th Istanbul Biennial, chose a film famous for the catalogue of disasters that dogged its shoot, as analogy for his experience of putting the show together.

Beyond its focus on capitalism’s impact on the environment ( the titular ‘Seventh Continent’ describes the vast island of discarded plastic floating around in the Pacific ), the Biennial’s most obvious parallel to a story about hauling a steamship over a mountain is the last-minute relocation of more than forty projects from a site in the Istanbul Shipyards that was found to be riddled with asbestos. The replacement is a waterfront warehouse in the final stages of its transformation into the Istanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture, a maze of steel walkways and purposefully sterile spaces in the institutional style. The impacts of this chaotic resettlement are not immediately apparent, as visitors are welcomed into the exhibition by Dora Budor’s minimalist installation of three standing glass chambers, clouded by different shades of prettily coloured fog. Closer inspection of the interior of Origin III ( Snow Storm ) ( 2019 ) reveals small geysers that intermittently puff out tinted dust particles into its sealed atmosphere, the eruptions of which are determined by noise patterns from neighbouring construction works.

The work successfully dramatises ideas that the visitor might expect to become motifs of an exhibition addressed to art in the Anthropocene: the aestheticisation of climate change ( the colours allude to the skies painted by J. M. W. Turner, their dramatic hues later attributed to atmospheric pollution ); the transgression of boundaries separating art from the world, which is to say nature from culture; and partial surrender of authorship to environmental factors beyond the artist’s control. And yet this promising start is not followed up. Moving through the building, the visitor encounters different ways of encoding a disorderly world in art – among them Agnieszka Kurant’s Conversions ( 2019 ), an LCD screen-painting that likewise outsources its compositional intelligence and calls to mind Gustav Metzger’s Liquid Crystal Environment ( 1965 ) – but the overwhelming impression is of branching paths that soon peter out.

Reorganising the show to fit a different architecture at such short notice is bound to upset any curatorial scheme, but the intellectual framework for the exhibition is so broadly defined ( ‘a relational anthropology,’ says Bourriaud, ‘which endeavours to account for all of the existing modes of thought or life’ ) as to be unaccountable. There is little sense of the coordination of ideas into a coherent proposition, even a ‘relational’ one, although interesting themes emerge in isolation. Take the patchwork monster at the centre of Eva Koťátková’s Machine for Restoring Empathy ( 2019 ), a room-size installation and functioning sewing workshop, which suggests that recycling unsettles the fixed identities on which a consumerist society depends. Which is to say that if you can get used to the idea that materials can serve different purposes – can be rehabilitated and reincorporated into new things – then you are less likely to see the world as a collection of discrete objects, organisms and people with a finite shelf life, like all those single-use bottles clogging up the ocean.

The transfer of energies is also a subject of Jonathas de Andrade’s O Peixe ( 2016 ), which films Amazonian fishermen at their work. Each of these vignettes concludes with a bare-chested man clutching a fish to his chest, seeming to comfort the animal through its passage into the next life. The impulse to well up over this interspecies empathy is tempered by the lurking suspicion that the artist is playing with the liberal pieties of his audience, but the film suggests a way of life that does not privilege the individual human subject, even as it parodies the art world’s tendency to fetishise ‘authentic’ indigeneity. Elsewhere, the inclusion of artists such as Suzanne Husky – whose New Age-y film Earth Cycle Trance ( or Tree Cycle ) ( 2019 ) follows a witch, priestess and sacred earth activist named Starhawk – feels like a gesture towards non-Enlightenment traditions of thought, to which the show as a whole does not subscribe.

Indeed, it can be argued that the anthropocentrism rejected by Husky finds its highest expression in the designation of our geological era as the Anthropocene, a word sprinkled liberally through the exhibition literature. The transdisciplinary Feral Atlas Collective draws attention – through case studies into the environmental effects of major infrastructural projects – to some of the controversies surrounding the art world’s latest pet term. A three-part installation of videos, poems and reports demonstrates how the notion that humanity has unilaterally shaped the biosphere implies the possibility of control over it, and how misguided the assumption that humans could ever be guardians ( meaning masters ) of nature. That delusion was contradicted at the dawn of the Industrial Era by the Romantic experience of the natural world, a state that Deniz Aktaş’s monumental drawings flip on its head. A vast heap of tyres suggests something like an artificial sublime in which nature, in an inversion of the landscapes of Turner or Caspar David Friedrich, is overwhelmed by humanity.

Yet talk of undermining the great divide of nature and culture led me to expect an exhibition that did more in its staging to upset conventions of inside and outside, for all that individual works by Suzanne Treister and Korakrit Arunanondchai challenge the separations of self and other. It is perhaps revealing that the symbol chosen for ecological crisis is the spectacular, but distant, ‘seventh continent’, rather than the credit card of plastic that each of us now ingests every week. An exception to the lingering feeling that the art was on the whole too thoroughly insulated from the world was provided by Hale Tenger’s Appearance ( 2019 ), the pick of the works stationed on Büyükada island. Set in the grounds of a prettily ruined palace, this sound installation featuring a poem by the artist was complemented by obsidian sculptures dotted around a scruffy garden. I can’t speak for the poem, but the artist’s provision of a space in which to reflect on the creative potential of overgrowth, decay and non-intervention was welcome.

There has recently been a tendency in the art world to confuse alternative ways of thinking with the creation of fictional realities. Visitors to the Pera Museum will have an abundance of time to reflect on this. Again, the presentation starts promisingly: a large part of the third floor is occupied by a display of artefacts from the Lihuroscian civilisation dreamed up by Norman Daly and preserved in devotional objects that closely resemble mid-twentieth-century hand tools ( such as the ‘Icon of Shoor-noo from the Temple of Phallus at Draikum’, a wood clamp dated to the civilisation’s ‘middle period’ ), alongside witty assemblages, catalogue entries, poems and quasi-archaic marble carvings. The appeal of the fantasy is that it does not seem designed to carry any allegorical weight beyond its own internal logic. The consequence is that it’s possible, counter-intuitively, to invest it with all kinds of speculative significances that seem pertinent to the Biennial’s theme: it is revealing of the human compulsion to build worlds; plays on the relationship between object and its framing narrative; and pokes fun at the conventions of anthropology and the designation of non-Western cultural products as artefacts rather than art. By comparison, the dystopian island society imagined by Charles Avery’s superficially similar The Islanders ( 2004 – ) is a vehicle through which to deliver a message. As one walks through the museum’s three floors, an apparently endless series of works ( including Paul Sietsema’s trompe-l’oeil films and the paintings of Piotr Uklański ) seem designed to lure the viewer into misreading the presented information, only then to ‘surprise’ them with the unexpected news that knowledge is fallible and history is fabricated.

My frustration at being so repeatedly beaten over the head was exacerbated by reacquaintance ( as part of a separate group exhibition at Arter ) with Jonas Mekas’s Reminiszenzen aus Deutschland ( 1971/93, edited 2012 ). This account of the Lithuanian filmmaker’s wartime incarceration offered a reminder of how it is possible formally to represent the construction of history – through montage, stills and voice-over, in the case of this short film – without compromising the truth. I was left with the question of what it means, in a city where artists who draw attention to inconvenient historical truths risk imprisonment, for this exhibition to focus instead on alternative realities or, as they have elsewhere been called, facts. A comparable suspicion of scientific authority underpins denial of the climate disaster that the Biennial affects to protest, and we might look beyond the grand rhetoric to consider precisely how much carbon and plastic was produced in staging this Biennial. An exhibition that recognises the ‘end of the separation between nature and culture’ might more honestly foreground its own implication in the crises it identifies.



你可能会认为,一个大型国际展览的欧洲策展人或许会羞于与维尔纳·赫尔佐格( Werner Herzog )的《陆上行舟》( Fitzcarraldo )相比。在这部电影中,一位橡胶大亨为了实现自己在亚马孙地区建造一座宏伟剧院的梦想,不惜让一群土著劳工辛劳至死。尤其是当展览以因开发自然资源而引发的生态灾难为主题的时候,它建议我们应该超越传统西方艺术所推崇的知识体系。因此, 尼古拉斯·博瑞奥德( Nicolas Bourriaud )在第16届“伊斯坦布尔双年展”开幕式上发表讲话时,他选择了这部以灾难而闻名的电影,并且将其与自身筹备展览的经验进行类比,这令所有人都感到惊讶。

除去关注资本主义对环境的影响( 展览标题“第七大陆”意指漂浮在太平洋上的由废弃塑料垃圾组成的巨大岛屿 ),此次双年展和《陆上行舟》中拖着一艘蒸汽船翻山越岭的故事最为相似的是在开幕前的最后一刻,策展人将40多个展览项目从石棉遍布的伊斯坦布尔造船厂搬走。临时投入使用的替代空间是一座滨水仓库,正处于被改造成伊斯坦布尔绘画和雕塑博物馆的最后阶段。这座由钢铁走道组成的迷宫自觉地具备机构风格的清洁枯燥的特点。混乱的重新调整对展览造成的影响并不明显,多拉·布多尔( Dora Budor )的极简主义装置—三个竖立着的玻璃房间,被不同色调的彩雾所笼罩,将欢迎观众进入展览。如果仔细观察布多尔的作品《起源III(雪风暴)》( 2019 )的内部,就会发现带有颜色的尘埃粒子会被间歇性地喷射到封闭的环境中,而其喷射频率则是由临近的建筑工地发出的噪音模式所决定的。

这件作品成功地将观众心中所持有的对人类世艺术展览议题的期待和想法加以戏剧化:气候变化的美学( 那些美丽的色彩暗示着J.M.W. 透纳描绘的天空,其引人注目的特征后来被归因于大气污染 );艺术与其他世界之间的界限,即自然与文化之间的界限被打破;以及艺术家因为无法掌控的因素而在一定程度上向环境表示屈服。然而,这个看似充满了希望和期待的展览开端在后续部分并未得到跟进。 于建筑中继续穿行,观众将感受到通过艺术对一个混乱无序的世界进行编码的种种方式—比如阿格涅什卡·库兰特( Agnieszka Kurant )的《转化》 ( Conversions,2019 ),一件似乎是展现了其合成智能的LCD屏绘,使人联想到古斯塔夫·梅茨戈尔 ( Gustav Metzger ) 于1965年创作的《液晶环境》 ( Liquid Crystal Environment ) —但展览留给人最为深刻的印象是那些分叉路径很快便消失了。

在如此短的时间内重新组织展览以适应截然不同的建筑空间势必会打乱任何策展计划,但展览的智识框架是如此宽泛( “一种关系人类学”,尼古拉斯·博瑞奥德说道,“试图解释所有现存的思维或生活方式” ),以至于到最后无法提供任何解释。虽然有趣的议题频频出现,但它们互相孤立,思想几乎没有彼此协调,使展览成为一个连贯的命题,甚至是一个具有“关系”的命题。以伊娃·科塔洛娃( Eva Koťátková )2019年的作品《恢复同情机器》( Machine for Restoring Empathy )为例,艺术家搭建出一座房间大小的装置,以模拟正常工作的缝纫车间,暗示循环利用动摇了消费主义社会所依赖的固定身份。换言之,如果你可以接受材料能被用于不同的目的—能够被修补,重新成为新的事物—那么,你就不太可能将世界看作是一个个互不相关的物体、生物体和寿命有限的人类的集合,如同所有那些堵塞海洋的一次性饮料瓶。

能量的转移也是约纳塔斯·德·安德拉德( Jonathas De Andrade )作品《O Peixe》(2016)的主题。这部影像记录了亚马孙河流域渔民的工作。每个片段的结尾都展示了相似的画面:一名赤裸着胸部的男人将一条鱼抓在胸前,似乎是在给予它安慰,让它进入来生。这种跨越物种的移情的冲动虽然潜藏着某种怀疑,即艺术家是在玩弄观众的自由虔诚,但作品暗示了一种生活的方式:不赋予个体人类主体以特权,即便它模仿了艺术界对于所谓“真实的”原生性的迷恋。而出现在展览中的其他作品,如苏珊·福捷( Suzanne Husky )的新时代( New Age-y )影像作品《地球循环传说( 或树的循环 )》[Earth Cycle Trance ( or Tree Cycle )]则讲述了一位名叫Starhawk的女巫、女祭司和“神圣地球运动”活动家的故事—感觉像是对非启蒙思想传统的致意,而整场展览似乎在整体上并不认同这种思想。

事实上,我们可以这样说,赫斯基所拒绝的“人类中心主义”在我们将自身身处的地质时代命名为人类世时得到了最高的表达,而这个词遍布于展览的文献之中。跨学科艺术团体“Feral Atlas Collective”通过大型基础设施项目对环境影响的案例研究,使人们对围绕艺术世界最新流行术语的一些争议产生了关注。由影像、诗歌和文字报告组成的三部分装置展现了人类单方面对生物圈的概念进行塑造的过程,以及以此对后者进行控制的可能性,并证明了人类能够成为自然的守护者( 或主人 )是多么错误的假设。这种错觉在工业时代初期被自然世界的浪漫体验所驳斥,德尼斯·阿克塔兹( Deniz Aktaş )的大尺幅绘画颠覆了这种观念:一大堆汽车轮胎构建出人造的崇高,而在这种崇高中,大自然被人性所淹没,这与透纳或卡斯帕·大卫·弗里德里希( Caspar David Friedrich )所描摹的风景迥然不同。

然而,加诸自然与文化之间的巨大鸿沟的讨论,让我认为此次展览会在颠覆传统的方面做得更加彻头彻尾,如苏珊娜·德雷斯特( Suzanne Treister )和寇拉克里·阿让诺度才( Korakrit Arunanondchai )的作品都展现了自我与他人的分离情状。或许,壮观但却遥远的“第七大陆”被选择用来象征生态危机—而非我们每个人每周都在使用的塑料信用卡片—能够激发几丝启迪。展览中令人挥之不去的感受是艺术在总体上与世界隔绝得太彻底了,唯一的例外来自黑尔·坦格尔( Hale Tenger )的《外观》( Appearance,2019 ),这件作品被安置在比于克阿达岛上。在一处被废弃的美丽的宫殿中,声音装置凸显了艺术家写下的一首诗,而点缀在颓败的花园里的黑曜石雕塑则成为了创作的补充。我无法就这首诗歌发表什么意见,但艺术家创造出了一个空间来反映过度增长、衰败和不干涉等议题的创作潜力,这样的方式是应当受到欢迎的。

最近艺术界流行的趋势是把另类的思维方式与虚构现实的创作混为一谈。前去佩拉博物馆参观的观众将有足够的时间用来思考这一点。再一次的,展览看似大有可为地铺陈开来:三楼的大部分空间被诺曼·达利( Norman Daly )的作品所占据:他构想出一次与利胡罗斯( LIhuroscian )文明有关的文物展示,那些物件被虔诚地保存在柜子中,类似于20世纪中期的手工工具( 比如来自德拉库姆菲勒斯神庙的Shoor-noo圣象,某种可以追溯至该文明“中期”的木夹 ),一旁还饶有兴致地搭配了词条目录、诗歌与类似古代的大理石雕塑。这种幻想的吸引力在于作品似乎并没有被设计用来承载任何超越自身内在逻辑的寓意。但相反的是,这让各种与双年展的主题相关的投机成为可能:它揭示了人类建造世界的冲动,在物体和它的框架叙事之间把握关系,并且还拿人类学的传统开玩笑,非西方的文化产品被认定为手工制品,而不是艺术。相比之下,查尔斯·埃弗里( Charles Avery )在极其相似的作品《岛民》( The Islanders,2004 – )中所描绘的反乌托邦的岛屿社会则可以被视为传递信息的载体。当走过博物馆的三楼时,你会看到许多仿佛无穷无尽的作品( 比如保罗·希特塞玛[ Paul Sietsema ]的视错觉影像和约克·乌拉斯基[ Piotr Uklański ]的绘画 ),它们引诱观众误读自身所呈现的信息,只有这样,他们才会惊讶地发现,知识是不可靠的,历史是伪造的。

屡次被打击的挫败感在再次遇到乔纳斯·梅卡斯( Jonas Mekas )的《追忆德国》( Reminiszenzen aus Deutschland,1971/1993, 2012编辑版 )( 作为Arter文化中心一个单独群展的组成部分 )时加剧了不少。这位立陶宛电影制作人于战争期间被监禁的经历—在这部短片中,通过蒙太奇、静止画面和画外音—提醒着我们,在不损害事实的情况下,如何适当地再现历史的构建。留给我的是这样一个疑问:在这个城市里,将注意力放在令人不快的历史真相上的艺术家,会面临被监禁的风险,而这次展览却聚焦于另一类的现实,或者它们在其他地方被称为事实,这意味着什么?对科学权威的类似怀疑似乎否认了气候灾难,而这正是此次双年展假装关切和试图抗议的。我们或许可以超越一切华丽的辞藻,去仔细探究举办一次双年展究竟产生了多少碳和塑料。一个承认“自然与文化的分离已经终结”的展览,可能会更真诚地在自己所描绘的危机中挖掘出自身的含义。