Caroline David is a specialist in contemporary art and she has curated many exhibitions. She was Director of the Regional Fund for Contemporary Art (FRAC) Nord Pas de Calais in 1984 and then Director of the Foundation for Architecture in Brussels in 1996. In 2000 she was part of the founding team of lille2004 European Capital of Culture where she headed the department of visual arts and exhibitions. She continued the adventure in 2006 as Director of Visual Arts for the city of Lille (France) and then for lille3000. In 2015 she moved to Turkey for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Director of the French Institute of Izmir. Since 2020 She has been artistic advisor and exhibition curator at lille3000.
“İzmir Mediterranean Biennial is not only courageous but also visionary”
Curator Talk: Caroline David
Prepared by Nazlan Ertan
Let us start with the theme of the İzmir Mediterranean Biennial, “Looking at the Same Water.” How and why have you chosen this theme?
Mediterranean people have always looked at the same sea. This sea that stretches among different shores is historically described as an area of cohesion. It is also an essential strategic space of transition between different continents – Europe, Asia and Africa.
A source of mythological inspiration, the Mediterranean is currently a sea of exchanges, encounters, conflicts, and opportunities. It is a volatile, heterogeneous, ever-moving space filled with paradoxes and contradictions. This diversity is a source of inspiration and commitment for artists today more than ever. Their works aim to strengthen the relationship between the inhabitants of the Mediterranean and to create an open platform.
İzmir, of course, has a special place in the Mediterranean. Located at the head of a gulf, it has been a popular mercantile space on the Mediterranean Sea and a center of civilization that brought many different people together throughout its history. So it seemed natural that the city’s new biennial took this theme “Looking at the Same Water” in homage to the great activity in and around Mare Nostrum.
What has drawn you to the İzmir Mediterranean Biennial?
I am a Mediterranean – by blood and by conviction. I am of Corsican grandparents, and my role as the director of the French Institute of İzmir for five years has helped deepen my knowledge of Turkey and its multicultural heritage.
Therefore, I was both happy and proud to be invited by the İzmir Metropolitan Municipality and the K2 Contemporary Art Center to curate a brand-new biennial to bring together young artists under 35 from Mediterranean countries. With the first edition of the İzmir Mediterranean Biennial, everything had to be invented and discovered – and this exploration into unchartered territory fascinated me. I like the unpredictability of artists who are always on the move. I also loved getting out of my comfort zone of primarily working with renowned artists, and diving into the world of young artists.
In many European countries, there are a lot of means, such as prizes, scholarships, and residencies for emerging artists. Unfortunately, outside Europe, the visibility of emerging artists is more difficult, at times almost impossible. Here we have an opportunity to provide a spotlight for young artists from every country surrounding the Mediterranean and present them with an open platform, a space of exchange, and a brand-new biennial.
İzmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, has long wanted to host a biennial. But does the world need one more biennial?
Many say that at a time when art biennials are flourishing all over the planet, having one more biennial seems superfluous. Yet if there is a place where a major artistic exhibition is legitimate, it is undoubtedly on the shores of the Mediterranean.
It took us many months to identify emerging artists often absent from the well-known paths of contemporary art. We selected approximately 50 works by around 40 artists whom we reached through social networks and by privileged contacts in schools, museums, institutions, or among collectors. We also strived hard to balance all the artistic practices of the visual and plastic arts (painting, sculpture, photography, installation, performance, digital art).
All this had to be done against a challenging global economic context and galloping inflation in Turkey, as in many Mediterranean countries. Yet, paradoxically, the international art world is recovering from the pandemic, as people now seek more than ever the reassurance provided by art and culture. So launching a new biennial under these conditions is not only courageous but also visionary. It opens new horizons for the İzmirian youth and visitors, allowing them to breathe and dream.
How did the world’s challenges impact the artists’ work in the Biennial?
With four months to the opening, our selection has great freshness and variety. First of all, we have a selection of artists from every country around the Mediterranean Sea. Some of whom are exhibiting for the first time and others who already had their works displayed on important platforms.
Then, we are experiencing a strong comeback of the painting and a tendency to favor figurative art over pure abstractionism. It was a challenge for me to choose explicit and outspoken works on the major subjects evoked implicitly by the artists, such as conflicts, pacifist aspirations, forced displacements, diasporas, biodiversity, ecological disaster, and urbanism. The artists have taken up a wide variety of themes, but they primarily focused on conflicts, borders, territories, and urban reconstruction.
While selecting the artworks, I was seduced by a nuanced approach to these sensitive subjects whilst avoiding the brutal use of images.
Each one of the artists revealed their own sensitivities as they challenged the “blind spots of modernity,” as artist Kader Attia calls them. In some of the works, ancient mythologies surged, which I found moving.
Also, without intending to do so, a major part of the artists are women. This reflects the reality of the emerging Mediterranean art scene where women are particularly present. So, we look forward to meeting you at the first edition of the İzmir Mediterranean Biennial, which will continue until May 7, 2023. The Atlas Pavilion, a place dear to the locals, will host this insightful and poetic cartography.