the story behind “a good neighbour”.


Two years have finally passed, and it’s time for another biennial in my lovely city, Istanbul. This weekend, I had the chance to visit the Istanbul Modern Art Museum, Pera Museum and Riverrun, and wanted to write a blog post about the biennial as a whole.

For me, the most enjoyable aspect of observing art is learning the story behind the work. So, for those of you who’re interested in visiting a good neighbour, I’d like to share some of the background information the artists provided in their Introduction, because I think that it gives a good overview of the development of modern art in İstanbul and the biennial itself.


The curators, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset met at a local gay club in Copenhagen, later finding out that they were actually neighbors. Later on, they travelled and lived together in several cities around the world. When they first visited Istanbul, trendy neighbourhoods, such as Karaköy, weren’t full of the cafés and design stores we see nowadays, but rather consisted of hardware stores and wood workshops.


In 2001, there weren’t any museums of modern art, and there were a very small number of galleries in Istanbul. Art was usually presented on the groundfloors of banks. The only significant venue was Platform, directed by Vasıf Kortun, which was an art space and meeting point that “had facilitated exchange between the Turkish art scene and the international art community”. (42)

Elmgreen and Dragset made their first artwork, a “ruin”,  near Hagia Sophia, 3 years before Istanbul Modern- the city’s first contemporary art museum-was established. The artists’ second “ruin” was built at Karaköy, during the district’s gentrification period.

In a survey conducted in Turkey in 2009, people were asked who they would prefer the least as their neighbour, and the most popular responses were a homosexual, an alcoholic, an American, a Christian and a Jew. Evaluating these answers by taking societal factors into consideration, Elmgreen and Dragset believe that neighbours do matter.

The artitsts state:

“The 15th Istanbul Biennial explores how our perception has changed over the past decades, how we protect, shelter and express our identities within our domestic settings but also how these private spheres, our homes, function next to each other. By naming the exhibition a good neighbour, we aim to steer focus away from home as dwelling and design, and instead focus on those who are living side by side.” (43)

With a good neighbour, Elmgreen and Dragset aim to bring societal politics home and encourage the audience to imagine the co-existence of multiple identities in a single neighbourhood.

Fun Fact: Five out of six of their venues are within walking distance of each other, constituting a neighbourhood within themselves. (45)


Some of the artwork I enjoyed:

Crowd Fade by Latifa Echakhch- Istanbul Modern 


Echakhch’s work is about progress, democracy, and rebellion. It reflects political and economic turbulence in the 21st century. Reminded me of Gezi Parkı.

Colosse Aux Pieds D’argile by Rayanne Tabet- Istanbul Modern


Tabet’s work is about the destruction of nature, buildings, and architecture for the sake of capitalist profit-making.

Horror Vacul (Lake Scene) by Alejandro Almanza Pereda- Pera Museum


In Pereda’s work, the placement of concrete on a romantic landscape symbolizes the corrosive process of humans shaping (destroying) geography for their own will.

In general, I could confidently say that a good neighbour is worth a visit and is a powerful exhibition, inspiring its audience to question the living standards of the 21st century.

Other venues you could visit: 

ARK Kültür

Galata Greek Primary School

Yoğunluk Artist Atelier

Küçük Mustafa Paşa Hammam

Link to website:


iyi bir komşu/ a good neihbour, The Book


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