4th International Mardin Biennial: Interview with Nazlı Gürlek

Could you please talk about the conceptual framework and the title “Beyond Words” of this year’s biennial?
We are opening the 4th International Mardin Biennial entitled “Beyond Words” on May 4, 2018, with the participation of around 50 artists. The biennial which I am co-curating along with Derya Yucel and Fırat Arapoğlu, will transform Mardin’s historical spaces into creative platforms where the potential for communal space and a common language can be experienced. We are bringing together works by an international list of artists exploring various ways in which meaning is created and communicated beyond words. The exhibition will unfold in three interrelated sections: “Infinite Sight” curated by Fırat Arapoğlu and “Borders and Thresholds” curated by Derya Yücel along with “Body Language” curated by myself. In other words, each one of us has a different yet inter-related thematic section under the main title “Beyond Words”. We have developed these three themes in dialogue with each other; so the themes talk to and complement each other. All of the works will be exhibited together in the same venues. We are paying particular attention to artists from the region and especially to the young ones that are yet unknown to wider audiences.
You have taken the role of curatorship of the biennial with Derya Yücel and Fırat Arapoğlu. Could you define the experience of working and producing as a group of 3 curators?
This is the first time the three of us are working together. It is being a creative and productive process. Each of us has different interests and research areas, yet we listen to and understand each other well. The commonality of our aims and intentions regarding Mardin has helped us find this harmony.
What kind of process do you follow when determining the biennial venues and on which factors are your venue preferences based?
We are going to use The German Headquarters (Alman Karargahı), a Turkish bath, Mardin Museum Gallery, Arcaded mall shops (Revaklı çarşı dükkanları) and Carpenters’ Coffeeshop (Marangozlar Kahvesi) as biennial venues.
We have started with the venues that were used in the previous editions and that we were quite sure we could get again this year, such as The German Headquarters. This is one of the biggest available spaces in the city and it is our main venue. Then we have searched and found some new ones like the Turkish bath based on one of our artists’ request. So the venues came together in response to various needs.
What will be the structure of the events to be organized apart from the works exhibited in the Biennial?
We have dance, movement and visual arts workshops for local women and children, city exploration activities and movie screenings. Additionally, we have projects that are being developed in collaboration with a few partner spaces and initiatives in Mardin as well as in other cities.

Could you talk about the crowd funding system that you created to make funds for the Biennial?
We are running a crowdfunding campaign to raise a percentage of our total budget, because we care to reach out to people and seek their participation in the biennial through supporting its realisation. We want to be able to say that we have realised this event with the help of “the friends of the Mardin Biennial”. Our campaign accommodates support from every budget, what is most important is just willing to make a contribution. This campaign has created a very positive reaction in public because, I think, it responds to an urgent need that we have in the field of art as much as all other areas of life at the moment: working together toward a common goal. What is really at stake is togetherness and unity. And I’m also a great believer in the importance of making the cultural institutions public, the public taking the ownership of the institutions and the systems becoming more transparent.

This year, the Mardin Biennial has become a member of the International Biennial Association. What are the future benefits of joining the association for the biennale?
Yes, as of this year, the Mardin Biennial is a member of the International Biennial Association that has all of the recognised and most established biennials worldwide as its members. This includes the Venice Biennial, the San Paolo Biennial, the Sydney Biennial to name just a few. The aim of the biennial is to create a meeting point in Mardin through contemporary art. Making the voice of local and international artists heard. Contributing to the visibility of the artistic potential in the region and creating a point of influence. Creating an inclusive, unifying and positive space where both its diverse public and its makers would feel good to be part of. The international visibility that will be provided by the International Biennial Association will contribute to the realisation of these goals at an international level. Such belongings are important in the current globalised order of the world.
Interview: Özge İnal
Translation: Verda Sigura
Photography: Nadir Akıncı
February, 2018