May 21, 2009 - Istanbul Biennial - 11th International Istanbul Biennial
May 21, 2009

11th International Istanbul Biennial

11th International Istanbul Biennial
September 12 – November 8, 2009

What, How and for Whom / WHW

İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts
İstiklal Caddesi 64 Beyoğlu 34435
İstanbul, Turkey

What Keeps Mankind Alive?

The 11th International İstanbul Biennial takes its title from the song ‘Denn wovon lebt der Mensch?’, translated into English as ‘What Keeps Mankind Alive?’. The song closes the second act of the play The Threepenny Opera, written in 1928 by Bertolt Brecht, in collaboration with Elisabeth Hauptmann and Kurt Weill. Based on Brecht’s assertion that ‘a criminal is a bourgeois and a bourgeois is a criminal,’ the play set out to revolutionise theatre as both an artistic form and a tool for social and political change. ‘What Keeps Mankind Alive’ will serve as a script for the exhibition––even a quick look at the lyrics discovers many possible themes, such as the distribution of wealth and poverty, food and hunger, political manipulations, gender oppression, social norms, double morality, religious hypocrisy, personal responsibility and consent to oppression, issues certainly ‘relevant’, almost predictable.

It certainly seems that, seen from the dominant contemporary perspective(s), Brecht’s Marxism and his belief in utopian potential and open political engagement of art all look a bit dated, historically irrelevant, in dissonance with this time of the crumbling of institutional Left and the rise of neoliberal hegemony. But the real question is, isn’t this in fact symptomatic? Isn’t the way in which Brecht is now ‘forgotten’ and ‘unfashionable’—after his immense popularity in the 1960s and 70s and a smooth transformation into ‘a classic’—precisely the indicator that something has gone wrong with contemporary society, and with the role of art within it?

The similarities between the influence of rapid developments of liberal economy on the disintegration of hitherto existing social consensus in 1928 and in contemporary times are striking. Again we live haunted by the fears of approaching global changes, consequences of which could have lasting disastrous effects, not unlike those that transformed the world after the economic collapse of 1929, and today’s questions about the role of art in instigating social changes are equally pressing as they were in the 1930s, when the Left confronted fascism and Stalinism. Or do we really consider them to be solved within an all-encompassing system of cultural industry and its contemporary malformations, confined to art genres, predictable as cultural trends, and profitable for the purposes of marketing?

As a writer and a director, Brecht continuously sought to slice open and display, then deconstruct and transform the theatre’s ‘production apparatus’—it is this approach that should lead us out of the current deadlock of ‘contemporary art apparatus.’ It is not about deus ex machina solution or forgotten method that we can directly translate, but about certain puzzle that could stimulate us to properly formulate problems of the present and revive the function of pleasure and entertaining and didactic role of art. At this time, the question of ‘usability’ of Brecht means first and foremost a repeated need to observe the interaction of art and social relations.

Venues: Antrepo No.3, Feriköy Greek School, Tobacco Warehouse

Professional Preview:
September 10 – 11, 2009
Press Conference:
September 10, 2009 – 10:00

For accreditation information, please visit

International İstanbul Biennial
İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts
İstiklal Caddesi 64 Beyoğlu 34435
İstanbul, Turkey
Media Relations
Mr. Üstüngel İnanç

Istanbul Biennial
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