The 2007 Istanbul Biennial with Matthew Schum

banner image
Interview with

MS:Sergio, can you start by describing the work you contributed to the 10th Istanbul Biennial?

SDLT:My work at the Biennial consists of four large photographs titled Paisajes and a documentary film titled MAQUILAPOLIS. Paisajes is a series of large digital black and white photographs. The photographs are of landscapes of some of the 900 assembly plants in the city of Tijuana. MAQUILAPOLIS is an hour-long documentary that narrates the lives of factory workers in Tijuana.

MS:Your work was exhibited at the World Factory housed in the IMC (Istanbul Textile Traders’ Market) and therefore loosely correlates to subject matter found in your work, such as laborers in Tijuana. The IMC is an anomalous building: it is not so much a structure than a series of blocks housing hundreds of interconnected, family-run, mostly textile businesses which are then served by other restaurants and suppliers. The way the stark concrete architecture houses an operational and entrepreneurial ecosystem gives it a very universal feel comparable to other manufacturing complexes around the world. The implicit curatorial process of the space was to produce connections between a manufacturing center and work such as yours that deals with the subject of labor. Can you say more about how your work was potentially enhanced by the IMC?


SDLT:I am not sure I spent that much time at IMC to give you an answer. However I can tell you that IMC looks nothing like an industrial park (a manufacturing complex) in Tijuana. IMC looks more like a mini mall out of LA—an abandoned one.

In terms of the installation/display of the works and their reception, the works were installed up in the last floor. Half of IMC is abandoned. During my short visit to Istanbul I spent a few days at IMC, before the opening, the opening day and the day after the opening. People that came to the Biennial did not seem interested in other activities at IMC. I can say the same about people working at IMC, they had no business with the Biennial. Again this is just a mere observation, I was not there long enough.

MS: One huge difference between this and other cities in developing countries is how expensive Istanbul is. Did the street environment surprise you by how it manifested its particular (global) economy?


SDLT: There were no surprises at all, it was like being at home and I still do not understand how locals do it. I understand the minimum wage in Istanbul is $75 US dollar a week, in Tijuana is around the same.

MS: You and I talked a little about this idea of ‘multiple modernities’ proposed in ’s exhibition concept. Did you see any striking similarities between Istanbul and Tijuana—regarding either your experience as an artist in the IMC workers’ community, or as a newcomer to the city itself?

SDLT: Istanbul feels a lot like a Mexican urban city: big, chaotic, and anxious to be modern (I was thinking more like Mexico City or Guadalajara, Tijuana is still a young city). I agree with Hanru when he says that the third world is a global project, one designed elsewhere by institutions like the IMF, WTO, The World Bank and of course Washington. There is no surprise that citizens are deploying strategies to come in and out of this modernity in order to survive. The project we brought to Istanbul, MAQUILAPOLIS, documents the lives of factory workers in Tijuana that invent different strategies to cope with a globalized city that completely ignores them. Istanbul wants to be modern without a concomitant process of modernization (to borrow from Urbanist Nestor Garcia Canclini).


MS: You mentioned that it helped you rethink some of the strengths of inSite between San Diego and Tijuana, especially in terms of navigating chaotic cities. Can you say more about that connection, including the differences between an exhibition like inSite and a biennial like Istanbul?

SDLT: I was surprised that no one in the first conference on the history of the Istanbul Biennial mentioned inSite as a viable project. There are/were not many biennials doing what inSite is/was trying to do (Documenta 11 and the Venice Biennale 50th edition are the first ones that were trying to expand and/or question the notion of the public). So there we had 6 or 7 curators Charles Esche, Dan Cameron, Rene Block, etc. talking about possible ways to intervene the so-called public space without mentioning inSite. I am not saying inSite is the ideal exhibition, however some of the strategies they deployed around both cities involved not only local communities but also transient communities, something that I did not see in Istanbul.

MS: How was that 15ytl martini at the famous Hotel Londra where Hemmingway stayed in the ‘20s and you just stayed at for the biennial?

SDLT: I only drank beers that I bought at the local market!