I first watched them on May 11 as they were performing their art at the entrance to the Arsenale where a number of works are being exhibited or performed at the 57th International Exhibition in Venice, or the Venice Biennale.
It is an “arts collective” as they call themselves; a production by the Museum on Tour Austria and the XXXism project. Ten young people – you cannot tell their gender because of the police-like uniforms they wear – simply block the road and imitate the police measures that have become familiar in our lives, not just because of terrorism but many other reasons as well.
They try to give a message of peace by agitating the peaceful atmosphere of an international arts event which also attracts art collectors and world millionaires. But when you start watching their police-like stance, other members of the team approach you with infra-red night-vision googles. When you look through them, you can read peace slogans written on their chests; a smart combination of arts with high-tech material and equipment which you can observe in very innovative ways in many examples at the biennale.
The second time I saw them was in the Giardini, the famous Napoleon-built gardens of Venice which will host the majority of the country pavilions at the exhibition for the next six months. Görgün Taner, the head of the Istanbul Arts and Culture Foundation (İKSV), with whom we went to appreciate the exhibition, said there was something wrong while I was trying to communicate with Istanbul for the next day’s issue of the Hürriyet Daily News.
As they were lined up to cut one of the lanes in the Giardini, about 50 meters away from us, real life anti-terror policemen approached them. It happened so quickly that neither Görgün, nor myself were able to capture the moment. Dressed in camouflage uniforms and with machine guns in their hands and with exactly the same expression as Turkish police, the Italian police dispersed them at once. The owners of the project tried to explain to the police that it was not a protest demonstration but an arts performance, but to no avail.
The idea of me being there was to take an opportunity as a political journalist
to observe a whole different world out of politics. (Perhaps I was the subject of an arts experiment by the İKSV, which invited me, in a way, with no objection.) If so, the İKSV was right and it worked well; it was also very interesting to observe that arts in today’s world, especially contemporary art, is inseparable from daily politics.
Actually, if it is possible to describe the Biennale from the eyes of an outsider like me, I would say that the contemporary arts scene is signaling the accumulation of intellectual and social energy from within the global system upward against rising populism and the authoritarian measures it brings.
It was possible to observe it from many examples exhibited or performed in Venice.
Artist Anna Imhoff’s work, which is a combination of painting, sculpture, installation and performance and which is exhibited in the German
pavilion, has been regarded as one of the most interesting examples of Venice 2017. It’s about trying to resettle in changing times and spaces. You can find traces of being under new forms of pressure, including the immigration problem, there.
In the Russian
pavilion, Grisha Bruskin, the Recycle Group and Sasha Pirogova have created a mind-blowing interpretation of hell on earth, sourcing their material from bans and persecutions by using cutting-edge digital technology. I would recommend you take your smartphones or tablets along with you to avoid missing the unique presentation inside.
Turkish artist Cevdet Erek’s work “Çın” is another successful example of the deep-down unease; you can hear the noises trying to reach you only if you listen to them carefully; again there is always the risk of winding up in places whose access is denied to the public, such as a locked space with fences.
Georgian artist Vajiko Chachkhiani constructed a whole log cabin with rooms, furniture and everything under heavy rain. But the rain is to demonstrate the isolation and the contradiction between the inside and outside, again by using all technological means as Erek does.
In the spectacular performance of Turkish artist Nevin Aladağ who lives in Berlin, seven women steps on seven individual podiums one by one with women-awareness slogans on their T-shirts to dance to different types of music from their headphones with their own rhythms. The audience does not hear the music, but they don’t have to in order to get the message.
Here is another detail again in the eyes of an outsider to the world of art. It’s not just Aladağ, but a number of artists whose works are exhibited in Venice 2017 live and work in either Berlin, or Paris
or another Western European city. Can that be related to the quality of freedom of expression there? The answer might be food for thought.
Politicians all around the world should try to value signals from artists, like this political reporter, for a better and more peaceful world.