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Adrián Villar Rojas, The Most Beautiful of All Mothers, 2015, fiberglass, mixed media. Installation view, Trotsky House, Büyükada Island. Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren.

the 14th Istanbul Biennial

Various Venues

Adrián Villar Rojas, The Most Beautiful of All Mothers, 2015, fiberglass, mixed media. Installation view, Trotsky House, Büyükada Island. Photo: Sahir Ugur Eren.

AS WE RODE a crowded midnight ferry across the Bosphorus strait, forty-eight hours into our frenetic marathon of biennial viewing, one of my most patient and scholarly colleagues cried out in exasperation, “Is there anyone who can tell me what ‘Saltwater: A Theory of Thought Forms’ means?!” This koan, equal parts Toni Morrison and MIT Press, is the title of the Fourteenth Istanbul Biennial, presented by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts and curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev.

Part of the answer is a simple matter of historical definition. “Thought-forms” is a concept associated with the British theosophist Annie Besant, and the title of a 1901 book she authored with C. W. Leadbeater. The notion refers to a kind of synesthetic materialization of thinking, through which colors are linked to emotional states, shapes to real and imagined vibrations, and so on; these

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