REVIEW When veteran Istanbulite Orhan Pamuk received the Nobel Prize in literature two years ago, the committee complimented his "quest for the melancholic soul of his native city." Melancholic? The world's third largest city has one big, melancholic soul? I think Pamuk, of all people, would disagree. The 10th International Istanbul Biennial, which was curated by über-busy San Francisco Art Institute faculty member Hou Hanru in 2007, took a more caustic if not realistic theme: "Not Only Possible, But Also Necessary: Optimism in the Age of Global War." The organizers of the "Orienting Istanbul" conference at Berkeley this week have produced a truly interdisciplinary (and free to the public) conference that cuts through the jargon and confronts big ideas head-on. Nonetheless, I'm glad they snuck in some actual art, including "Istanbul-Berkeley," Hanru's selection of video works from the biennial.
Much of Hanru's curatorial work has focused on urbanization and living, breathing cities. The chosen videos do not disappoint. They address spatiality in radically different ways. Sulukule, the oldest Roma neighborhood in Turkey, has recently been subject to changes alternately referred to as "urban renewal" and "forced gentrification." Wong Hoy-Cheong involved his subjects Roma children in the production of Darling Sulukule, Please Sulukule (2007), creating a hyperrealism caught between a flashback to childhood and a dream of the future. Emre Hüner's textural Panopticon (2007) has a healthy tinge of mysticism, making it a good balance to the disorienting Boumont (2006), also by Hüner. Taking interpretation of urban life beyond Istanbul, Cities of Production (2006), by MAP Office (www.map-office.com), the thrilling collaboration between architect-artists Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix, brings a startling sense of playfulness to factory life in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta.
ISTANBUL-BERKELEY Wed/24Sun/28. Wurster Hall, first floor foyer, University of California Berkeley campus, Berk. www.ced.berkeley.edu/istanbulconference