• Ideas
  • Oct 01, 2019

16th Istanbul Biennial: “The Seventh Continent”

Nicolas Bourriaud, curator of the 16th Istanbul Biennial, began his press conference at the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University on September 10 with a scene from Werner Herzog’s 1982 film Fitzcarraldo, showing a giant steamship being hauled over a hill in the Amazon jungle. As Bourriaud explained, the promethean task in Herzog’s film mirrored the Biennial’s own last-minute migration from a former shipyard on the Haliç (Golden Horn)—due to an asbestos problem—to the newly constructed Istanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture near Istanbul’s other iconic waterway, the Bosphorus. Bourriaud added that the film, about a European colonialist whose plan to build an opera house in the Amazon is ultimately stymied by the locale, has additional resonances about the place of culture in relation to the environmental devastation of the Anthropocene. 

The Biennial’s title, “The Seventh Continent,” refers to the swirling mass of plastic in the Pacific Ocean. For Bourriaud, the distinction between human and nature has collapsed in the environmental catastrophe we have wreaked on the Earth and on ourselves in the process of modernization. The plastic “seventh continent” represents, as he claims, the “massive and distant consequences of the ideology of ‘progress’ and of the industrial production and consumption society.” Through the Biennial, he was interested in looking at contemporary artists working with what he called “molecular anthropology”—those focusing on the “study of the effects, traces and marks left by human beings on the universe, and of their interactions with non-humans.”