The 11th International Istanbul 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 exactly 80 years ago by Bertolt Brecht in collaboration with Elisabeth Hauptmann and Kurt Weill.
Despite countless popular interpretations, undertaken by artists from varying backgrounds (such as Tom Waits, William S. Burroughs and the Pet Shop Boys, to name just a few), the song 'What Keeps Mankind Alive' has lost nothing of its power to unsettle and mobilize. Still, as the title of the exhibition, it surely could be seen as being grandiose-not to mention the question mark, implying that the point is in the asking and not the answering-making it even more pretentious. And why not? Isn't the question posed by Brecht equally urgent today? And is it not true that 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? Aren't today's questions about the role of art in instigating social changes equally pressing as they were in the 1930's, when the Left confronted fascism and Stalinism? Or do we really consider them today 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?
However, the International İstanbul Biennial is a highly representative art manifestation, burdened as such by the usual complexity of dynamics between the local, the national, and the international in all its guises and titles, and a grandiose title seems quite appropriate-sufficiently open to marketing, political, theoretical and artistic uses and misuses.