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Northwestern Artists Converge at Istanbul Biennial

Prestigious art exhibition features Northewestern faculty and students

  • Exhibition theme: “Saltwater: A Theory of Thought Forms”
  • Features work from visual artists, oceanographers and neuroscientists
  • Curated by Northwestern visiting professor Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
  • On saltwater: ‘It’s the most corrosive thing in the technology world.’
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University artists, faculty members and students have a significant role in the 14th Istanbul Biennial, one of the world’s most comprehensive and influential international contemporary art exhibitions.

Held at 30 historical venues on both the European side of Istanbul, Turkey, and on the Asian side of the Bosphorus strait, the event has been drafted by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the Edith Kreeger Wolf Distinguished Visiting Professor at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Art and Sciences.

In addition, Northwestern faculty members will be exhibiting their work and presenting a two-day seminar. Some students will be attending the exhibition as part as an international field study component in a global humanities class; other students will be working with artists and organizers during a five-week internship.

Christov-Bakargiev, a curator, author and researcher interested in historical avant-garde and contemporary art, is considered one of the most high-profile museum curators working today.

Her vision of the show, called “Saltwater: A Theory of Thought Forms,” features new commissions from more than 50 international visual artists and others, including oceanographers and neuroscientists.

The Biennial, which runs from Sept. 5 to Nov. 1, will explore “different frequencies and patterns of waves, the currents and densities of water, both visible and invisible, that poetically and politically shape and transform the world,” said Christov-Bakargiev, who was named the most powerful person in the art world by Art Review, a leading international contemporary art magazine, in 2012.

“For me salt is one of the codes,” Christov-Bakargiev told reporter Andrew Russeth of ARTnews. “It’s about what’s under the surface of things…(Salt) has healing capacities. But one of the interesting coded aspects of it is that it’s the most dangerous thing to our technologies.

“Because if you have an iPod and it falls into water you can put it in a bowl of rice and just dry it,” added Christov-Bakargiev. “If it falls into saltwater, it’s gone. It’s the most corrosive thing in the technology world.”

In addition to Christov-Bakargiev, the Northwestern presence at the Biennial includes:

  • Faculty members Michael Rakowitz, Irena Knezevic and Steve Reinke, whose work will be featured at the exhibit.
  • Students in Northwestern’s global humanities class “Art, Politics and Public Space-Instanbul and Chicago” will attend from Sept. 9 to 16. Led by Jessica Winegar, associate professor of anthropology, and Tom Burke, assistant director of the Kaplan Institute, the course explores how artists -- and art itself -- work to create publics through politics of different scales. 
  • Five graduate students from the department of art theory and practice are participating in a five-week internship program in which they are working closely with artists and providing hands-on assistance to the Biennial’s curatorial project.
  • In cooperation with the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, faculty members from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the department of art theory and practice held a two-day complementary education program called “Freshwater/Saltwater: A Seminar on Aesthetics and Waterways.” The seminar has received critical support from the Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Studies and the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts.

“This convergence of curator and artists from our own faculty in this international exhibition provides a singular opportunity to represent the department, Weinberg College and the University in a highly visible and attended artistic and scholarly program,” said Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, chair of the department of art theory and practice.

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