Les Rencontres d’Arles: A Pillar of Smoke. A Look at Turkey’s Contemporary Scene

on Monday, 13 August 2018. Posted in ---2018---

A review by Lotte Laub

Les Rencontres d’Arles: A Pillar of Smoke. A Look at Turkey’s Contemporary Scene, curated by Ilgın Deniz Akseloğlu and Yann Perreau

“Photography is often the best-placed medium for registering all the shocks that remind us that the world is changing, sometimes right before our eyes.” These are the words of Sam Stourdzé, director of the photo festival Les Rencontres d'Arles, whose 49th edition is taking place this summer from July 2nd to September 23rd in the south of France. In its official programme, Les Rencontres d'Arles has thirty-six exhibitions at thirty venues, including historical places, such as medieval churches and museums, in addition to galleries, former warehouses or abandoned houses. There are newcomers among the photographers shown, but also collections of historical photographs. The immediacy to which Stourdzé refers in the above quotation applies particularly to one of the exhibitions in the 'Le Monde tel qu'il va / The World As It Is' section at Arles, namely 'Une Colonne de Fumée / A Pillar of Smoke', curated by Ilgın Deniz Akseloğlu and Yann Perreau, which is on show at the Maison des Peintres, a two-storey abandoned house on Boulevard Emile Combes.

Positioned at the entrance to the 'A Pillar of Smoke' exhibition is a small cube with a miniature figure embedded in it. The cube is light blue and transparent, and it looks like a cut-out of a swimming pool. The cube is mounted on a pedestal and the figure is visible from above and from all sides. It’s a pleasant sight on first glance: we’re in Arles, it’s hot outside and inside, actually too hot for the artworks as well as for the visitors; also, Arles is not located on the coast, so you could easily be dreaming of diving into a swimming pool to cool down. However, it is unusual for the figure in this pool to be wearing a dress, seemingly made out of light gauze, like dancewear. Her toes touch the floor, her head is bent backwards, her face, neutral, is just above water, and her arms are floating in the water. Looking at the piece again, it isn’t clear whether the figure is actually enjoying the refreshing, life-giving water, or whether she is more focused on preventing herself from drowning, i.e. she could be in a life-threatening situation. The title of this piece by Sinem Dişli is 'On the Verge (Self-Portrait)', which also suggests some kind of struggle.

Sinem Disli, On the verge, 2015, (self-portrait) sculpture (detail)
Sinem Dişli, On the verge, 2018, [self-portrait] Sculpture and mixed media, 27 x 27 x 26 cm

Arles has a long tradition with photography. It was the first city in France to open a photography department in a municipal museum, the Musée Réattu, in 1965. The photo festival has existed since 1970 and is thus the oldest event of its kind in Europe and one of the most important gatherings on the photography scene. Arles isn’t just well known for photography, as it is also linked with another important name in art history: Vincent van Gogh. Although no van Gogh painting was on display in Arles until 2014 (when the Fondation van Gogh opened), the artist spent over fourteen months here and the city was the inspiration behind many world-famous works, including the Night Café (1888), which still exists today. It was also during van Gogh’s time in Arles that he was on the verge of insanity (the name of a 2016 exhibition in Amsterdam), as evidenced by his painting Self-Portrait With a Bandaged Ear. But what does the ear of van Gogh have to do with the exhibition A Pillar of Smoke?

To stand on the verge, to question one’s own existence as an artist, is an old topos that becomes virulent, especially in times of political unrest and war. L'art pour l'art, or taking a stance, even by merely documenting what happens “right before our eyes”, are different approaches that artists can take, and it’s the latter that is represented in 'A Pillar of Smoke'. In its selection of both journalistic and artistic works, the exhibition keeps track of what is happening in the world and thereby deconstructs the official discourse. In some parts of the exhibition, we are being explicitly informed about current events, for example the room dedicated to the Gezi protests in 2013. It features a series of initiatives, including Turkey’s new media journalism project 140journos, which, according to Time magazine, has changed the face of journalism in the country. But there are also a number of works here where documentation is less explicit, where the expression of the artist’s voice also includes the negation of it, i.e. becoming and being silent, moving beyond speech. Remaining on the verge of explicitness may be related to questions of censorship and self-censorship, but perhaps also to the immediacy of artistic processing when facing an open wound, i.e. being confronted with catastrophic developments.

Sinem Disli, Sand in a whirlwind, 2015, Archival Pigment Print
Sinem Dişli, Sand in a whirlwind, 2015, Archival Pigment Print, 130 × 180 cm

Opposite Sinem Dişli’s water cube is her photograph 'Sand in a Whirlwind', and we can note a strong parallel between the two works: the longitudinal axis of the body, the tips of the toes touching the ground, the face above the surface of the water. In the photograph it is a pillar of sand that forms the central axis, extending from a barren landscape at the lower edge of the picture up into the sky, which we have to imagine beyond the upper edge of the picture, out of sight, as if a vengeful power were at work. This formal connection between a cube and photography, which arises via the longitudinal axis, points to the common theme of both works. Dişli is referring to a very specific phenomenon associated with her hometown Urfa in southeast Turkey. Although this Anatolian city became rich thanks to the dams on the Euphrates River, villages and Mesopotamian ruins were also flooded and erased from the map as a result. Local residents were displaced and there were water shortages and droughts beyond the Turkish border, in Syria and Iraq, causing sandstorms that boomeranged back into Turkey. Dişli’s work denounces this cross-border ecological disaster. We understand the message: Mesopotamia, home to the earliest human settlements and the Paradise rivers of ancient times, the Euphrates and Tigris, has been turned to an inhospitable area through ruthless exploitation.

How do we deal with radical historical changes, when the familiar and generally accepted concept network no longer conforms to reality? When, deprived of an escape route, the degree of tension becomes unbearable? Cengiz Tekin’s video 'Low Pressure' (2017) appears to show that a poetic style may be a way of handling irrationality too. 'Low Pressure' can be described as an “audio-visual poem of silence”, a phrase used by Işın Önol, the co-curator with Ekmel Ertan of the exhibition 'Black Noise' (2017) in Istanbul where 'Low Pressure' was first shown. The video was shot in Tekin’s hometown of Diyarbakir. It shows the construction site for a future building. Reinforcing bars protrude from a concrete floor and mark out vertical meshes of quadrangular spaces. Young men, actors, run back and forth like caged tigers, roughly in the same rhythm as the soundtrack, which was composed by Cevdet Erek who represented the Turkish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2017. As Önol has aptly stated: “This rhythm brings the tension where energy accumulates without finding a chance to release.”

Cengiz Tekin, Low Pressure, 2017
Cengiz Tekin, Low Pressure, 2017, HD Video, 5 minutes 19 seconds, Courtesy Pilot Gallery

There’s no text. Are the many restless-looking young men perhaps in the process of finding a way out, a solution to a problematic situation? Are they facing the dilemma of staying in a hopeless situation or leaving with the risk of failure? The structure of the video is in three parts with the first phase followed by a static middle section. You’re looking at the same scene but this time it’s deserted. Shortly before the end you see some actors again, but this time there’s only two of them, measuring their limited space in the same way as at the beginning. The gradual desertion of the rebar environment leaves room for questions and assumptions: where are the young men now? Did they want to build a house, figuratively speaking a future, and then they did not have the means to do, or were they prevented from doing so? Or did they flee? Or are they prisoners? Or is the video a depiction of the absurdity of human existence, the empty middle section a reflection of the futility of all efforts? The young men have gone away, been expelled or abducted, or died. The work they began is left abandoned.

Ali Kazma shows two videos, 'Prison' (2013) and 'School' (2013), from his series Resistance. Two screens are mounted on opposite walls with a bench is positioned in the middle, preventing viewers from seeing both videos at the same time. The theme of both videos is the subjection of the body to regimentation, either through discipline or supervision. 'Prison' was recorded in the Sakarya detention centre in Turkey; 'School' at the Galatasaray School in Istanbul. Filmed at night, both locations have something scary about them, and it is especially their desertedness that intensifies their threatening impression. It is as if the viewer were the first to enter the danger zone.

Çağdaş Erdoğan’s series 'Control' (2016) is its own small parcours within 'A Pillar of Smoke', beginning with night shots from a surveillance camera. The other photos have also been taken at night, but in this case the light setting – high-contrast black and white shots – consciously stages the event. In Erdoğan’s photographs, we see illegal dog fighting alongside prostitution, and both seem to blur into each other. Erdogan illuminates everything that is officially banned, repressed or ignored. The suggestion is that the more the restrictions in a country increase, the more active the underground scene becomes. Erdoğan exposes the subversive power of a particular underworld, breaking taboos in order to shed light on circumstances hidden from public discourse. At the same time, the work is also about the omnipotence of money and the hypocrisy of a regime that dissolves all human relationships. He shows his resistance and opposition openly and considers this to be a necessary stance sooner or later all around the world.

Çağdaş Erdoğan, Control Series, 2015-2016
Çağdaş Erdoğan, Control Series, 2015-2016

In the last part of the exhibition, there are two rooms showing photographs by Nilbar Güreş. These photos work very well in the rooms of the deserted Maison des Peintres with its peeling walls and patterned tile floors. In her series 'TrabZONE', based on Trabzon, the artist’s Anatolian homeland on the Black Sea, Güreş shows surrealistic photographs reminding her of the summer of her childhood. A photograph from the series 'Ana-Kiz/Mother-Daughter' (2010) depicts two generations, mother and daughter, standing on the edge of a road and looking out into the distance. It could be a normal scene, but Güreş injects confusing dreamlike elements into her photographs. We see both figures from behind, standing side by side with a certain distance between them, but the same patterned headscarf is stretched over both heads. The veil symbolises social conventions, connecting the two bodies, but at the same time the two signposts point in opposite directions, symbolising the parting of their ways. While many works in 'A Pillar of Smoke' deal with freedom of expression, this photograph explores the tension between tradition and an individual’s liberation from restrictive social conventions.

Nilbar Güres, Ana-Kız (Mother-Daughter) from the series TrabZONE, 2010
Nilbar Güres, Ana-Kız (Mother-Daughter) from the series TrabZONE, 2010

The final image in the exhibition shows two boys from behind, one of them pointing with his outstretched arm into the distance, at a pillar of smoke across the border with Syria. We are reminded of Sinem Dişli’s pillar-of-sand photo in the first room. 'A Pillar of Smoke' uses both motifs to create a formal framework, both the pillar of sand and the column of smoke resulting from bomb attacks, signs of approaching man-made disasters.

'A Pillar of Smoke' was curated for Les Rencontres d’Arles for a French and international audience. 'Regards sur la scène contemporaine turque' / 'A Look at Turkey’s Contemporary Scene', the subtitle of the exhibition, thus sets a geographical focus, not necessarily on the contemporary photography scene in Turkey, but rather on the artistic processing of disturbing political developments. In view of the massive changes in Turkish politics, there is a question about whether controversial topics, such as the undermining of freedom of expression, should be tackled, or whether a different picture should be presented. The curators were therefore faced with a dual responsibility, namely to take a critical look at contemporary history but without falling into the trap of potential stereotyping. As Yann Perreau points out: “One should always avoid generalisation and reductionism when it comes to artists’ work and ideas.” The two curators have succeeded in presenting a great diversity of works.

Photo books of the individual series, for example by Çağdaş Erdoğan or Korhan Karayosal, the latter’s photo essay dealing with social gatherings in Turkey in an increasingly divided society, were featured on the bookstand at the Istanbul Photobook Festival during the satellite event Cosmos-Arles Books, which was held during the opening week of the Rencontres d’Arles and was one of this year’s main meeting points at the Arles festival. Books by both established and upcoming photo artists from Turkey were also on show at the satellite event.

The exhibition 'A Pillar of Smoke' features works by 140journos, Halil Altındere, Volkan Aslan, Kürşad Bayhan, Cihan Demiral, Sinem Dişli, Mathias Depardon, Çağdaş Erdoğan, Nilbar Güreş, Korhan Karaoysal, Ali Kazma, Nar Photos, Desislava Şenay Martinova , Ali Taptik, Cengiz Tekin, Furkan Temir and Mehmet Ali Uysal. It will run from 2 July until 23 September 2018 at the Maison des Peintres during the Les Rencontres d’Arles festival.

Mike Bode’s '2 or 3 things I know about Turkey' at Depo

on Saturday, 12 May 2018. Posted in ---2018---

A review by Lewis Johnson

Sound and vision, word and image, installation and archive: Mike Bode’s '2 or 3 things I know about Turkey'

Reaction to this recent work in Istanbul by Mike Bode has included some raised voices questioning just why the artist brought together, carefully selected and as if in equal measure, photographic, videographic, sonic, linguistic and diagrammatic materials concerning the work of internationally-celebrated, if not obviously well-known Turkish composer, İlhan Usmanbaş, and the recent establishment, design, construction, opening, and then closure of the Formula 1 race track at Tuzla on the outskirts of Istanbul. This review aims not simply to provide an answer to that questioning. Perhaps to answer to it, however, given the sense that something this exhibition offered up was the chance to consider some memorable experiences of the sonic, with those raised voices, apparently protesting as much as questioning, leaving this reviewer with a sense of a desire to divert the more productive effects of those experiences back towards a rather-too-familiar cultural norm of the voice as arbiter of space.

DEPO, Istanbul, 29 March to 29 April	2018

It’s like those oddly familiar phenomena in concert halls accompanying performances of what is, like work by Usmanbaş, sometimes termed serious music involving coughing and sometimes speech, if also furniture, bags, packets, which not infrequently occur just when they should not, in the quieter passages or when a new motif is being introduced. John Cage’s oft-quoted prescription for a non-classical music as ‘a way to wake us up to the very life we’re living’ through and as the sounds around us doesn’t quite make sense of this sort of phenomenon of the reframing of music in which the instrumentalising of the body, sometimes through its proximate adjuncts, competes with the powers of the uses of other instruments of sound, even when the coughing is politely saved up for the breaks between movements.

Bode’s installation managed to solicit a sort of gallery equivalent of this sort of reaction through the creation of a space in which critical vocabularies about culture, technology and art could be re-experienced, not as emphatic pronouncement, but as a sort of open archive through which other powers of the sonic helped to unravel desires for cultural dogmatism. There was quite a lot of language, in the form of quotations, elegantly printed and adhering to the walls, by Usmanbaş, fellow composer Mehmet Nemutlu, Serhan Acar, assistant director of the company set up to bring about the Turkish Grand Prix, their associates, with printed material, some of it authentic publications and documents, of musical and critical work by Usmanbaş and others, as well as statements by Hermann Tilke, chief designer of the race track, the chief executive of Formula 1 (this a photocopy of Bernie Ecclestone’s letter supporting the bid for a Turkish Grand Prix), arranged in two glass-topped display cases on the longer sides of the space of the installation.

With these two cases dedicated to Usmanbaş and to F1 respectively and quotations and photographic prints on the walls also alternating between the two, the authoring of the installation was, paradoxically enough, strongly suggestive of an even-handedness, even a neutrality of interest, switching in controlled fashion. Flatscreen video displays on the walls and on two wooden structures, carefully designed by the artist, creating a central spatial aisle, through which the other installation materials, as well as other visitors, could still be seen, continued this sense of judicious care and clarity of purpose, a style of authorship solicitous of a provocation to and the frustration of that desire for certain knowledge of the aims of such exhibition design.

This, however, is how Mike Bode’s work in this space of exhibition in Istanbul with the topics of his carefully researched and arranged display, for me, came to generate their most interesting effects. On my first visit, it was this central aisle that pulled me in, with soundtracks of the video on Usmanbaş’ career at the conservatoire, music and interviews and footage from the Grand Prix in Tuzla, including the near-traumatic high-pitched chorus of the engines at its frenetic start, echoing down the length of the gallery. Judicious editing had Usmanbaş’ music, from the early, post-serial Dali’den Üç Resim [Three Paintings by Dali] of 1952-5 to the Yaylı Dördül için Adagio [Adagio for String Quartet] of 1999, among other pieces, resounding the length of the gallery, as if pointing to the old loading entrance of this one-time tobacco warehouse at the head of Bode’s central aisle, out into the city beyond, perhaps off to the site of the triumphs and disasters (none fatal, as is pointed out) at the now disused F1 track somewhere over the horizon. The photo of the helmeted racing driver, winner of the inaugural 2005 race, looking back and waving while walking away, hung between that doorway and an exit from the space seemed a melancholic echo of a gathering sense of the perdurance of space across the finitude of the purposes staged in them, by architectural and other means.

Yet another effect, however, came to supervene on this one when I went back for another visit, an effect that recalls what I take to be among the more important reasons for artists to move away from the production of discrete, tangible things, or things which may be taken to generate effects that simply derive from and return to the visual. If artists since Duchamp have denounced, if not renounced, the making of visual things to try to encourage more active forms of participation by their audiences, then my second visit had me engaging more with the (now less crowded) sound-space, listening more carefully to extracts of Usmanbaş’ often difficult music, with complex sonic events that I would call ‘trans-tonal’, encouraging, if not enabling a sort of mourning of the historic drama of the desire for Turkey to show itself as modern and up-to-date, generating a sharable future on an idealized international and universalist stage. Prompted by Bode’s citations of Nemutlu and Usmanbaş, concerning Republican composers’ desires to ascend to universalism through the sharing of a cultural language, with the latter encouraging criticism but then later, from a 1977 interview, questioning Turkish culture for its failure to ‘transcend boundaries’ and disturb ‘norms or habits’, as it seemed to me on this second visit, Usmanbaş music in this space offered up a chance to re-experience a relatively recent instance of technologically-led Turkish cultural optimism as misguided. The racing driver waving goodbye from the corner of the room seemed now either irresponsible, deluded, or both.

I said above that this review would not aim exactly to satisfy those who wanted to know why Mike Bode had confected Usmanbaş with the Turkish F1 Grand Prix. Perhaps I am right, and, like me, he found in Usmanbaş’ music a sort of summons to try to understand different things happening simultaneously, with some more clearly distinguishable, closer, as if in the foreground, and some less so. Several of the remarks about Tilke’s track, however, suggest that the race as spectacle was not thought of like this, for while it was much-admired by the drivers as a test of their skills, producing lots of drama, because of the forty-metre rise and fall of the track for many of the spectators in Tuzla the experience of viewing was limited. Other simpler circuits give their spectators more opportunities to see the cars further away as well from closer to. The careful judiciousness of Mike Bode’s installation, on the other hand, allowed precisely for an experience of events crossing into the time-zones of others, with those generated by Usmanbaş’ work, given over in advance as composed work to recurrence and reconsideration by different audiences to come, passing on the values of its complexity to that installation.

In a statement prepared by Mike Bode’s collaborating critic, Jonatan Habib Engqvist, available along with a thin, but elegantly red linen-bound volume of images and quotations from the exhibition, the suspicion that the title of the exhibition draws on the well-known 1968 film by Godard 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle deepens. Engqvist provides a careful account of how we might read the conjunction in Bode’s, or Godard’s, title. Is it ‘or’ as an alternative, different or the same? Correlation or correction, Engqvist seems to favour what he identifies as the uncertain ‘or’, with us not knowing whether we know 2 or 3 things. Recalling that Godard’s film involves a directorial voice-over that often digresses, either from the representational shots of bodies and locations or from the frequent shots of linguistic text, I want to remark on a difference here, one that seems to me to follow from Bode’s citation of Godard (if that is what it is) but differs from it. Godard’s well-known whispered voice-over is, however, sometimes not less authoritative in some of its effects than more traditional uses of the voice in cinema. That voice discourses on the referent of the pronoun ‘elle’, whether it is the character played by the actress, that actress, or the city of Paris, or some other object beyond. Thus, with a swerve facilitated by the camera and its mobility, the image inventively but insistently coming to support the authorial instance, Godard’s voice-over insists on uncertainty in the more-than-two.

Pressing Godard’s interests in exploring looking and listening to the world further, designing and redesigning a space for the experience of sound and vision, Bode’s installation offered up an opportunity for our experiences of images, words and sounds to be readjusted. If Godard’s voice-over takes place from a space from which authorial control seems to unfurl, Bode’s installation offers us the chance to free ourselves from this sort of identification. Does the solicitation of uncertainty revive a traditional Western exoticising of Turkey as a feminized and capricious oriental space? Not, I think, if we take the ‘or’ as correlation, signifying a difference between one way of experiencing the exhibition and another. 2 or 3 things I know about Turkey offered an opportunity not just to try to get to know the work of İlhan Usmanbaş better, said not to be well-known by Engqvist among others, or the history of F1 in Turkey, but to let that work challenge senses of space which would be ruled by certainties of the authoritative voice or by desires for certain and indubitable knowledge of the outcomes of events and representations thereof. The event, apparently passed, but still generative, of Bode’s enquiry into events and events-of-representation of Turkey and their excesses quietly insists on spatial reinventions of cultural experience, if also on a disqualification of monological spaces of the voice.

After Alexandria, the Flood - Interview with Naz Cuguoğlu

on Thursday, 31 March 2016. Posted in March, ---2016---

by Anna Zizlsperger

As part of a year-long series of exhibitions by emerging artists and curators, PROTO5533 is hosting the exhibition 'After Alexandria, the Flood' from 2-23 April 2016. I talked to the show's curator Naz Cuguoğlu about her passion for books, the future of libraries and the dangers of the increasing information monopoly of the internet.

After Alexandria, the Flood at Proto5533

You were chosen by Mari Spirito as one of the curators of the project Proto5533, can you tell us a bit about this project?

5533 is a non-profit art space run by artists Nancy Atakan and Volkan Aslan, who like to work collaboratively and assign different directors defining the programme of the space each year. When Mari became the director of 5533 for 2015/2016, she decided to take this collaboration one step further and invited young and emerging curators from Istanbul with different backgrounds such as writers, gallery and museum professionals and independent curators. She asked each of us to propose and organise an exhibition. Most of the curators chose mainly artists from Turkey. During the process we were all given feedback on our proposals from prominent mentor curators such as Çelenk Bafra, Anne Ellegood, Övül Durmusoğlu, Anthony Huberman, November Paynter, François Quintin, and Yasmil Raymond.

Can you tell us about your experience with Spirito’s project? How is it different from previous exhibitions you worked on?

The main goal of the project is to provide emerging artists and curators with a space to gain experience with exhibition-making. Its key approach is ‘learning by doing’, which I find very important because an exhibition never looks the same in real life as on a piece of paper. On top, we have the advantage to work together closely with Mari and the aforementioned mentor curators, getting their feedback on our proposals and thus benefitting from their experience. This gives us the opportunity to look at our approaches to exhibition-making from different perspectives; we have space to develop our curatorial skills. Mari has been organising meetings with us and invited different art professionals and artists to join, so this process created a feeling of community between us.
As a young and emerging curator from Istanbul, I truly believe in the power of collaborative projects. I always say “if we are going to succeed, we will together and if we fail, again together”. I believe that this is the only way to progress and develop. This is one of the reasons why Mine Kaplangı and I initiated the project ‘Creative Çukurcuma’ - to create a platform to bring people together, talk and create. This platform, especially the members of our reading group, were very much involved with the developing process of my show. Our conversations just kept on inspiring me. We exchanged many emails, critical input, thoughts, reading suggestions, etc. In a way, we all created and curated this show together.

Could you elaborate on the meaning of the title of your exhibition ‘After Alexandria, the Flood’ and tell us how you came up with it?

The title of the show stems from a quote of Louis XV, King of France “After me, the Flood.” For me, this statement has a two-sided meaning: ‘After my reign, the nation will be in chaos and destruction’ and ‘After me, let the flood come, it can come, and it makes no difference to me.’ In the same way, I believe that the title of this exhibition refers to the information chaos, which we are facing nowadays. The Library of Alexandria - one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world - was built with the goal to hold one copy of each book on earth. Today, we have a similar approach building up digital libraries, we are facing the information flood and chaos after the Library of Alexandria was completely destroyed by fire. In this context I am asking myself and the viewer: How are we dealing with this situation? Do we even care or are we like Louis XV, will that make no difference to us?

Your exhibition references ‘The Library Of Babel’, a short story by Luis Borges. Could you tell us how this story inspired you to curate this show?

Next to my curatorial and art writing practice, I am personally very passionate about literature. I used to write short stories and attended the CeRRCa writing residence in Barcelona last spring. There, I mostly read magical-realists such as Borges and Cortazar. My residency was not long after the Gezi Park protests so my mind was still preoccupied and I was asking myself: What is real, what is not? How do we find our reality in this information chaos? When I read Borges’s ‘Library of Babel’, I was intrigued! His ‘library-universe’ with all the possible books that could ever be written, and the librarians wandering around this library looking for a meaning in all of this chaos - without success - were just fascinating for me. As Borges states, even if we have all the knowledge in the world, there is the truth, the lies, the truth about the lies and vice versa. The entirety of all knowledge cannot only contain meaningful and true information, there has to be some misleading content as well. Infinity creates confusion.

How does this relate to our contemporary culture and the new digital age?

The Tower of Babel is an etiological myth in the Old Testament, meant to explain the origin of different languages. According to the story, a united humanity speaking a single language agreed to build a tower to reach the skies. God confounded their language so they could no longer understand each other and succeed in this. Borges’s ‘Library of Babel’ can be compared to the internet and digital information containers with its infinity and dark architecture. We tend to think about the positive qualities of the internet but the question we need to ask ourselves is: How do we really navigate in this information chaos when we do not have a manual in hand, surrounded by all this meaningful and meaningless information?
When I read Alberto Manguel’s ‘The Library at Night’, I got excited about his ‘library’ reference. I can highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the relevance of libraries from different perspectives. It starts with the Library of Alexandria, continues with Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and moves all the way to the establishment of the Google Print Initiative and Amazon’s launch of the Kindle. This book, illustrating the fast moving history of the progress of libraries and books, made me think about the fact that humanity has always been thinking about going beyond the limits when it comes to collecting, organising and preserving knowledge. The internet is another new way to achieve this aim as it can be seen as our single common language, that we communicate through today. So let’s hope that some kind of power does not confound this singular language again so that we can no longer understand each other. We need to question the increased level of power mechanisms over the internet.

Meriç Algün Ringborg, A World of Blind Chance, 2014
Meriç Algün Ringborg, A World of Blind Chance, 2014, video, 32’27’’

Can you tell us about the works in your exhibition at 5533 and how they relate to your curatorial concept?

‘The Borges Library and Study for Borges Library’ by Jorge Mendez Blake consists of a mural with rectangles resembling spines of books and mirror modules positioned on the floor. Alluding to Borges’s infinite library, the mirrors also invite the audience to participate using their own reflection while questioning its possibilities as the architectural structure, knowledge container and public space.
Meriç Algün Ringborg’s video titled ‘A World of Blind Chance’, is a play where the script is composed by found sentences from the Oxford English Dictionary. Each act shows an actor, rehearsing a monologue on Borgesian topics. His movements are directed by the author’s voice, questioning the control mechanisms and hierarchies of knowledge.
‘Tweetrary of Babel’, an interactive work by Eşref Yıldırım, questions the difficulty in trusting the accuracy of data and the ownership of information control by inviting the audience to contribute to a Twitter feed with autocomplete feature. The work can be seen as a manifestation of infinite information flow, a library full of meaningful and meaningless statements by un-known sources.

Jorge Mendez Blake, The Borges Library and Study for Borges Library, 2010
Jorge Mendez Blake, The Borges Library and Study for Borges Library, 2010, wood, mirror and paint on wall, 2010

Can you tell us why you included the Recai Mehmed Efendi Library as a venue for your exhibition and how the works you placed there fit in this context?

It was all by chance and a magical moment! One day, we just decided to walk around 5533 and got lost on the way, finding ourselves in front of Recai Mehmed Efendi Library, which is located in a building almost 250-years old and largely unknown to the public. I fell in love with the place. It is a small, Borgesian stone building, with small windows, letting in only very little light, which makes it even more mysterious. I felt as if I am in one of the hexagons of the Library of Babel. I spent a long time there reading. I was also surprised to see how much it was frequented and just wanted to share my magical experience.
Sultan Burcu Demir’s work ‘Index’ and Ekin Bernay’s performance create an interesting dialogue with the library space. Demir’s ‘Index’ installation consists of paper-cut globes, creating ‘text-forms’ that present content, which is physically impossible to read. She creates a visual library in reference to Borges’s ‘library-universe’ while also questioning the hierarchical presentation of libraries and the current boundaries of accessibility of information. Referencing the librarians of the ‘Library of Babel’, wandering around and looking for an answer in the infinite library, Bernay’s performance titled ‘You who read me are you sure of understanding my language?’ invites the audience on a journey, taking different routes through library books. The performance meditates on the possibility of interpreting stories using human inventions like language in a world where information is under control and writing exists for its own sake.

Sultan Burcu Demir, Index, 2016
Sultan Burcu Demir, Index, 2016, mixed media

You decided to make 5533’s library part of your exhibition, can you tell us a bit about it and about the venue itself?

I have always been impressed by 5533’s library. When I decided to make an exhibition about libraries, I went for a little research trip to 5533’s library and found myself spending hours there. I like how it is not organized in any kind of hierarchy so you can just write your own art history out of all these documents. Most of the books in the library focus on the Istanbul art scene, it also contains artist books and memos from 5533’s history. I think that 5533 is a very important art space for Istanbul with its location within İMÇ, which used to be a very popular mall in the 1960’s. I believe this place bears important and interesting memories, which everyone should know about. The transformation of this place shows the dramatic change of Istanbul’s city structure and the effect of gentrification. How could it become outdated so quickly? 5533 is part of this story somehow, when you look into its library, you learn more about these changes.

What are your thoughts on the current role of libraries in today’s digital world, is it shifting and if so how?

I find this question very important as it was my second step for research. As a book addict who is in love with the smell and texture of the physical books, I personally find it very hard to imagine that books and libraries would become irrelevant today or will be in the future. But of course they are changing like everything else. Most of the international libraries are trying really hard to catch up and adapt with the new age of technology and many of them succeed to do so. Of course in Turkey, we are facing an even bigger challenge with incidents where big libraries even threw away their books! This just reminds me of the book ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury, describing a fictional future American society where books are outlawed and ‘firemen’ burn any found books. Maybe we should consider memorising our books before it is too late! I believe that books will always keep threatening the ones in power. They will never loose their relevance, be it digital or non-digital.

One of the central topics of your exhibition seems to be the question around the control of information in the age of the omnipresence of the internet in our lifes through social media. How does the exhibition address this question, does it offer a solution?

One of the key works in the show addressing this issue is Eşref Yıldırım’s ‘Tweetrary of Babel.’ The work aims at making the audience experience this feeling at first hand. They get the chance to contribute to the information flow of twitter with both meaningful and meaningless tweets. And when they plan to post a tweet, they face the surprise that they cannot just write whatever they want, even their tweets are under control by some kind of power mechanism. However, none of the works in the exhibition tries to come up with a solution, we are more interested in creating an awareness and opening a platform for discussion than finding answers.
With this exhibition, I am asking this question to you and everyone who visits. We also published a catalogue, edited by Gökcan Demirkazık, with texts by Sine Ergün, Mine Kaplangı, Serhat Cacekli, Simge Burhanoğlu and Lesli Jebahar sharing further thoughts addressing this dilemma. Please come to our talk on April 16th at 5533 and let’s have a conversation. Maybe we can find an answer if we think all together!

Naz Cuguoğlu lives and works in Istanbul. She received her BA at Koç University’s Psychology department and MA at Social Psychology department focusing on cultural studies. She writes art critics and conducts interviews for various magazines including Artful Living, Trendsetter and Istanbul Art News. Cuguoğlu is the co-founder of Creative Çukurcuma, co-curator of Identity Lab Project in collaboration with Verkstad Konsthall and works at Galeri Zilberman.

There was a world, once, you punk - Interview with Point Project

on Saturday, 19 November 2016. Posted in ---2016--- , November

by Anna Zizlsperger

Istanbul based gallery Blok Art Space is hosting the exhibition 'There was a world, once, you punk' from 18 November 2016 - 6 January 2017. I talked to the show's curators Anna-Lena Werner, Anneli Botz and Lars Bjerre, who form the Berlin-based curatorial collective Point Project about poetic art, the relation between human, nature and technology and why it is important to make an exhibition in Istanbul at the moment.

There was a world once, you punk

Can you tell us a bit about your curatorial collective Point Project?

PP: Anneli and Anna-Lena are art historians, Lars is an artist. We all share interests in both aesthetic and socio-political themes; especially when these meet common ground. The three of us like to work with poetic forms of art that require a spatial, sometimes immersive experience. Our last project took place in an old GDR building in Berlin, which used to be a former Czech cultural centre that houses a beautiful, wooden cinema. Six international artists reflected on the creation of illusionary spaces within the somewhat sterile communist architecture, paying reference to immersive and conceptual approaches.

How did you come up with the title ‘There was a world, once, you punk’?

PP: Lars branded our working title as 'NO GREEN.' We discussed how the deficiency of all botany in urban surroundings affects global cities, turning them slowly into cityscapes that we previously mainly knew through watching dystopic movies, such as ‘Soylent Green.’ The movie describes a world in which there is no more nature. Instead nature has become a myth, a legend to the young. In the movie’s world, when people reach a certain age, they go to a place to die. It’s a plain room, turned into a cinema that shows images of nature and animals – a last view on the beauty of our planet. That’s why we turned this particular quote from the movie into our exhibition title. It resembles a futuristic fear we all have in regards to what is happening to our planet.

Serkan Taycan, Shell Series, 2010-2012
Serkan Taycan, Shell Series, 2010-2012, Archival pigment print on aluminium

One of the themes of your exhibition is the political symbolism of nature. Could you elaborate on this theme and explain which artists in the exhibition address this topic in their works and how?

PP: Nature is directly connected to freedom. As humans we should be entitled to the access of nature within our close surroundings. Nature is life, it is communication in terms of a gathering point, it is a prime form of aesthetics. The repression of nature is also an elimination of freedom and democracy. We think that a good relation with nature requires us, as humans, to accept that we cannot control everything despite the industrial thinking our modern world is driven by. Serkan Taycan’s photographs of new urban settlements in the outskirts of Istanbul show exactly how nature is often being subordinated to the power of man. In Lars' painting this relation between human and nature is more symbolical, shown along dozens of watering pots locked to a structure so that nobody steals them. And in Dunja Herzog’s installation we are confronted with a new territory, a new natural habitat, claimed by seaweed sheets attached to the window. Florian Meisenberg’s work on the other hand focuses on artificial intelligence and how it is hardly in any emotional connection to our natural origin. AI - an innumerable amount of digital intelligence, detached from individual feelings.

Is there a specific work in the exhibition which gave you the initial idea for the exhibition or triggered your curatorial process?

PP: One of the first artists we picked for this show was Markus Hoffmann. His work focuses strongly on how nuclear power manifests itself in what he calls ‘containments’ – mushrooms or coconuts, for example, that are contaminated because they were or are still exposed to nuclear radiation. They are symbols of this radical change in nature, that we are currently witnessing. His combination of socio-political themes and an immersive and simultaneously minimalist aesthetic is coherent with the overall philosophy of our concept.

What do you feel people can get out of your exhibition? Is there a message you would like to convey to the visitors?

PP: We would hope that visitors reconsider the relation they have with nature, and therefore also reconsider the relation they have with each other – being a part of nature. It’s about becoming aware of the natural heritage. While Lydia Ourahmane’s and Markus Hoffmann's works discuss the extraction of resources, such as oil and uranium, Andreas Greiner’s work focuses on animal rights in terms of how unequally we treat other lifeforms to ours, even if it is only a fly. Every work has its own story to tell, but they all observe the changes that are happening. In uttering their opinion we want to point that we all have a right to advocate the preservation of our own planet and how important it is to stay in constant discourse.

Markus Hoffmann, Bikini Atoll Containment, 2016
Left: Dunja Herzog, Shoji (Living Space), 2014/2016
Right: Markus Hoffmann, Bikini Atoll Containment, 2016, Coconuts from the Marshall Islands, lead plate, salt water, glass cube

Do you feel it is important to organise an international exhibition in Istanbul at the moment?

PP: Yes, it seems like exactly the right time to do this. We find artistic reflection on current social issues and moods more sensitive, and certainly less propagandistic than many other sources available to the public. Sometimes images are stronger than words. Istanbul has been a thriving creative center in the past years and this is what we hope to support.

Anna-Lena Werner, Anneli Botz, Lars Bjerre
From left to right: Anna-Lena Werner, Anneli Botz, Lars Bjerre.

POINT PROJECT is a Berlin-based curatorial collective, joining poetic strategies, immersive aesthetics, and conceptual ideas to reflect on social and aesthetic issues through art and debate. The collective is initiated and run by Anna-Lena Werner, Anneli Botz, and Lars Bjerre.

FLOW: Sketchbooks Drawings Paintings - Interview with Diana Page

on Thursday, 05 February 2015. Posted in March, ---2015---

Özlem Özdemir in conversation with Istanbul based South African artist Diana Page (b. 1965). Page's artistic practice deals with an interconnected complex creative process of drawing, thought and painting which can only be separated from each other by the perception of the viewer.
Diana Page's exhibition 'FLOW: Sketchings, Drawings, Paintings' was on view at BAUART Gallery Istanbul from 4 February until 29 March 2015.

Diana Page, it sounds very exotic - a South African artist, coming from Cape Town, living and working in Istanbul. What’s your own take about your position? Do you feel that your existence is somehow an exceptional one?

There were only a handful of South Africans when I arrived here with my family, and even now they tend to pass through the city quite quickly, whereas for me, Istanbul has become my adopted city. I like the fact that I live a pretty ordinary life in a Turkish neighbourhood. I love to walk the city, and enjoy my time spent on public transport. I arrived as an awe struck traveller, but eight years on, I live a much more settled existence, living close to my studio in Çayırbaşı. I spend a lot of time on my own in my studio but eventually you have to go outside, ride your bike and play with friends! So my time is divided between the solitude of my studio, and collaborating with other artists, designers and performers. I like to do things wherever I find myself. In 2012 I collaborated with ceramicist, Joicy Koothur, from India, in a two person exhibition entitled 'Between Colour and Line.' We also embarked on a series of workshops with young people, ostensibly teaching English through video art, but perhaps more importantly encouraging young people to think in a way that embraces ambiguity, chance and humour in a re-examination of their own lives.

Due to your artistic work you also have relations to London and New York and you love to travel. According to that, you developed the notion of “wa|ondering artist” in order to describe yourself. How did you come up with this linguistic creation? What does it mean for you to “wonder” and to “wander”?

It’s the artist’s job to notice and to think, and to 'wonder' and to pass on that capacity. In my work I realized that my life as a curious wanderer and observer in the city - informs all the work I do.

You once pointed out that Cape Town, the city where you come from, is a harbour city like Istanbul, which obviously should be a hint to the importance of the water and the sea and ships, all playing an important role in your oeuvre - and in your Istanbul-period. Can you tell us about these pervasive cross-border elements?

I suppose it’s about that sense of transience, people moving in and out the city all the time, over seas and centuries, and then my own sense perhaps of floating in between, not exactly part of this world I find myself in. Perhaps the ship paintings have also been a vehicle to explore what David Elkins refers to as the alchemical aspect of painting. Elkins asserts that paint is water and stone but it is also liquid thought. I am interested in the suggestive and the philosophical potential of painting.

What in essence has Istanbul as a particular urban situation contributed to your development as an artist?

Edward Said says the exile, including the expat, has a peculiar opportunity to cultivate a ruthless but not sulky subjectivity. He writes of a contrapuntal awareness that is peculiar to the exile: most people have one home, exiles have at least two and this affords them a particular kind of awareness. I think I have an opportunity as an observer to appreciate the city in a new way. I try and fathom something from the ordinary experience of a commuter or citizen.
Having lived here for seven years I have been aware of the accelerated change of the city landscape: as the focus fell most dramatically on Gezipark I watched the hillsides shaved in preparation for the third bridge. Perhaps idealistically, I still believe the images I make redeem something from the wholesale and thoughtless gentrification of the city.

And what do you think about Istanbul’s art scene?

Over the years I have attended many gallery shows and fairs here and elsewhere and it is interesting how painting prevails, although video, photography and project-orientated art seem to dominate. Painting is far from dead in Istanbul, in fact I think like elsewhere it is having a resurgence, but I think painting has to be somehow rehabilitated properly; it is often viewed as too traditional, something associated with a past vision. There is something eminently practical about painting, drawing, doing stuff where you get your hands dirty. In our slick, commercial, technological world it can remind us of our humanity, our bodies, and also the physicality and fragility of the earth. I like that about it.

You have worked in Cape Town for close on two decades and you had many exhibitions there too and of course you still have connections to your home country, but now, having lived and worked in Istanbul for nine years, I guess you have already reviewed your own development since your beginning as an artist, especially as a painter. What I’m curious about is the way you think your style has been influenced by this relocation and also by this regular commuting between different cultures.

I think it’s become an intrinsic aspect of the language of my work - this layering of meaning. While the paintings reference things in the visible world - because I like the tension created between recognizable visible detail and the fact of the paint - the images layer different experiences within time and space. In Greece, and of course here in Turkey, I discovered something about sacred space and geometry that continues to pervade my work, whether I’m painting the walls of Çayırbaşı or evoking a memory of Ephesus or Delphi. It’s this layering of time and space in a new kind of narrative that really interests me at the moment. Kapuscinski in 'Travels with Herodotus' quotes T.S.Eliott speaking about a provincialism in attitudes towards not only space, but also time. Living in this part of the world, I have become more aware of these other worlds, both geographic and temporal, that inform our world.

Diana Page, Damp Light, 2014.

Diana Page, Damp Light, 2014, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 cm.

I’ve read that you had a lifelong fascination with the French painter Pierre Bonnard. Could you tell us something about what impresses you about Bonnard’s work and are there other influences you would like to mention?

Last year I came across two paintings during a visit to Prague: there is a kind of visual shock you get from his paintings – it’s in his visual language which utterly transforms the quotidian event of his subject matter. They are hugely entertaining, full of visual wit and agility. But many things influence me. I am inspired by Marlene Dumas, also originally from South Africa, I think she paints with bravery and intelligence. Her oeuvre is a real life work. She is courageous in the ideas that she tackles but also in the way she handles these ideas in paint. And she’s funny and humble too. But I am inspired by many things, including film. In 2008 while improvising the New York voice performance ‘Pitch Blue’, I caught Lou Reed and Julian Schnabel in conversation at the Tribeca Film Festival, talking about the making of Reed's 'Berlin'. I realized that the relationships that exist between the people in the making of film and directing performance can become key to the meaning. Julian Schnabel is a painter and filmmaker: in a visual sense the film works on quite an abstract level, incorporating Lola Schnabel's scratched and drawn film, but it also focuses on the performer's faces and beings in a very intimate way. I like this combination of abstraction and intimacy. I saw the same thing at work in the film ‘Le Quattro Volte’ ('The Four Times') by Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Frammartino. All sorts of things have an impact on my work, not only things I see: exhibitions, novels, films, conversations.

Diana Page, Pitch Blue NYC

Diana Page, Pitch Blue, 2008, voice performance in New York. Photo: Gary van Wyk

Having seen paintings of yours like ‘As the city wakes’ (2005) and ‘Jazz City III’ (2005) I was reminded of Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, a Portuguese painter, who also travelled a lot during her childhood. In these paintings of yours urban space, with all its hidden structures, rhythms and perception of layers seems to be very important, as it was for da Silva as well. On the other hand one can discern quite a different period in your work, which suggests a Turner-like atmosphere in paintings like ‘Sea Change’ (2011) and ‘Trip’ (2012). Could you tell us something about these periods which are quite apparent?

These are not distinct periods in that they actually happen at the same time; rather, they are parallel activities and a way of working which allows me to work in quite different ways simultaneously. I usually work on about 5 or 6 different canvases at once. The ones which happen quickly are usually quite graphic and sometimes atmospheric, usually a transcription in the moment of a very specific feeling. I think I’ve reached a particular point in my life as an artist where I feel a tremendous freedom to do what I want. It’s no longer an issue whether I paint abstract or referential images, with thick or thin paint, very layered, worked images or quickly realized paintings. I have a confidence in my visual language and this, linked to an insatiable desire to make new discoveries, creates surprising compositions. Drawing continually refreshes my vocabulary. Some works finish themselves almost effortlessly while others become like palimpsests, several different paintings layered within one. Some works become almost completely abstract while others suggest, teasing the viewer with a subject that ultimately must elude him or her.
Like Da Silva I have always been interested in the layers in paintings and in the layers in cities: what emerges below the surface, what cannot be hidden and continues to give life to the surface. In Cape Town, I was drawn to these weathered, colourful, corner cafes, crossroads of conjoining histories and communities. A recent series like the charcoal drawings are almost like movie stills.

Diana Page, As the city wakes, 2005

Diana Page, As the city wakes, 2005, oil on canvas, 129 x 161 cm

Diana Page, Sea Change, 2011

Diana Page, Sea Change, 2011, oil on canvas, 120 x 120 cm

I know from my visits to your studio that you really are a prolific artist, not only in terms of your openness to so many different mediums, like oil, charcoal, ceramics, painting, sketching, performance and video, but also in terms of how much you produce.

Yes, it’s about balancing my time between solitary hours in my studio, and getting outside into the world. Recently I have been collaborating with artists working in performance, poetry and dance. I am pursuing a project bringing together voices as a way of animating the city from its rooftops. So far the performances, first initiated in Istanbul (‘Kadının Sesleri’ – ‘Women’s Voices’, 2007) which sought to bring women’s voices into the public sound space of the city, have also been completed in New York (‘Pitch Blue’ 2008) and for ‘Infecting the City’ public arts festival Cape Town (“Ek sê”, 2012). Ziya Azazi, contemporary dervish dancer from Antakya, Turkey, participated in the Cape Town performance. Key is the input of the participants in these encounters or conversations. Each performance, emerging completely anew with each new rooftop, is spun from the city itself. The rooftop is not unlike a painting, in the way in which its formal constraints create a discipline within which the performers are compelled to develop relationships, forge a new language in specific response to the rooftop and the surrounding city.

Sketching plays an important role in your working process. You have a fascinating collection of sketchbooks, in all possible sizes, which sparkle with energy, playfulness and zest for urban - life. What can you tell us about this working tool, which almost seems to be an art of its own in your oeuvre?

Yes! This is the aspect of my work that Jochen Proehl has chosen to focus on as the curator of my current exhibition at BAUART Gallery: FLOW: Sketchbooks Drawings Paintings. The exhibition includes a digital presentation of approximately 500 double sided pages from my sketchbooks. The sketchbooks are where I develop my language - it’s the playground and the laboratory of all my work. The exhibition also shows some works from my recent sketchbook, an ipad! In these the idea of process is taken even further as I have been able to record the passage of a drawing from its initial marks right through to completion. So these together with the sketchbook presentation really add to an understanding of the paintings and charcoal drawings.

Diana Page, digital presentation of a sketchbook at BAUART Gallery Istanbul, 2015

Diana Page, digital presentation of a sketchbook at BAUART Gallery Istanbul, 2015. Photo: exhibist.

It’s always a delicate question to ask an artist about how she would ‘classify’ herself amidst the vast variance of styles and directions in the art-scene. But perhaps there is always a kind of subconscious pre-occupation with this question: ‘Where do I belong in terms of ‘art theory’ or even ‘art history’, or to which artistic movement or artist/s, whether from the past or the present, do I feel close.’

At the end of the day the art world is a fickle place and I think it is far more important to pit yourself against yourself, trust your intuition and judgment and keep courage in the pursuit of your vision. Having said that, one has to be curious about everything and see as much as one can, all the exhibitions and the fairs. As an artist you do need to have an awareness of what you are up against but there are also times you have to close your studio door. But yes as a painter I am crucially aware of being a part of a long line of painters stretching as far back as the first marks on a wall! I feel a real kinship with contemporary painters like Marlene Dumas, Peter Doig, Neo Rauch, Julie Mehretu, Leon Kossoff (a lesser known painter of London whose recent exhibition at Annely Juda completely blew me away!) These are painters who have gone the distance and for whom painting has become a way of living and liking and exclaiming the things of their own time. That’s why it’s exciting to have Mehmet Güleryüz having a major retrospective at İstanbul Modern at the moment. In Turkey I also like the paintings and ideas of Gülsün Karamustafa, Irfan Önürmen and Antonio Cosentino. I have always liked the conceptual work of Hale Tenger and I recently discovered the work of Handan Börüteçene and the videos of Ferhat Özgür and I am discovering more all the time.

Finally I would like to ask you about your current work and if there are any exhibitions or other projects you’re preparing for. What about future projects for your Istanbul-period? Are there any kind of dreams you would like to realize while you’re living here?

Recent images take as their starting point the Cayırbaşı neighbourhood and particularly the square, site of football matches, weddings and the daily passage of its inhabitants. Not unlike a painting or a rooftop, it is an arena for a conversation, a ritual or a happening. Cayırbaşı is a neighbourhood surely poised for change; it is a fragile history I am recording. In 2012 I came full circle, in Cape Town, completing the trilogy of performance pieces. I am currently editing the final videos of the trilogy. In the BAUART show I have been working closely with curator Jochen Proehl in putting together a presentation of the recent years of work. It is important to me to be able to link the various aspects of my work: the sketchbooks, drawings and paintings and also the recent series of ipad drawings. I think there is something filmic about the way that I work both out in the city and then back in the studio. I hope that this exhibition will share this process with the viewer. The exhibition is more about a process of working, the drawing, the layering and also a poetic distillation than it is about hanging some pretty paintings on the wall. I realize also that the performance and video work is as much about a way of being in the city, or indeed in the world, as it is about the finished product. I would really like to bring this aspect of all the work I do to the fore, and to do this I need to show the paintings together with the drawing books, film and performances. Like choosing the right rooftop for a performance, this is going to require finding a particular kind of space to present the work.

Exhibition view of Diana Page 'FLOW' at BAUART Gallery Istanbul, 2015
Exhibition view of Diana Page 'FLOW' at BAUART Gallery Istanbul, February 2015. Photo: exhibist.

Artists from Turkey at Transmediale Festival Berlin

on Tuesday, 14 July 2015. Posted in February, ---2016---

by Tuce Erel

Berlin’s transmediale festival is hosting its 29th edition from 3rd February through 7th February, 2016. We talked to the artistic director of the festival, Kristoffer Gansing, about this year’s transmediale titled 'conversationpiece' and it’s four-layered theme: 'Anxious to Act, Anxious to Make, Anxious to Share, and Anxious to Secure'.

Sophie Hoyle, Membranes, 2015, Photo: Rebecca Lennon
Sophie Hoyle, Membranes, 2015 at transmediale Berlin 2016, Photo: Rebecca Lennon

During his time as the artistic director of transmediale since 2012, Gansing has reshaped the festival not only in content but also by replacing the ‘transmediale awards’ with an artist residency programme to create an organic relationship with artists during the development of the festival. His curatorial approach aims to change the renowned festival’s position from one of the best for new media art of the year (in German ‘Leistungsschau’) towards a media festival, which creates a space of discussion for artists, academics, and students. Transmediale provides a networking platform for people from the field with its popularity increasing more and more in the last couple of years. “What is the role of meetings after ‘the networking’ of everything?” Gansing states and further mentions: “We even try to question our own role and not to repeat ourselves every year.”

The title 'conversationpiece' references a genre of group portraits common in the 17th and 18th centuries showing bourgeois families at tea parties and gallery viewings engaged in conversations. Very much in contrast to this restricted and hierarchically organised view on ‘conversations’, this year’s Transmediale aims to point at the inherently fragmented nature of conversations, trying to trigger a dialogue between its participants and ‘democratising’ the conversation process so to speak. Artists, academics and art lovers are welcomed to contribute to and participate in a conversation within the aforementioned four-layered theme. According to Gansing, this year’s theme has been a key concern of transmediale since its inception. Questions and debates related to media activism are brought together under the title of ‘Anxious to Act’. The theme 'Anxious to Make' questions DIY culture, while questions on different organisation of resources and digital economies will be discussed in 'Anxious to Share'. The 'Anxious to Secure' section will deal with the topic of surveillance. The Berlin based new media festival aims to connect the problems of post-digital culture with anxiety. "Transmediale is always good at portraying the ambiguity of technological development and its relation to society and art. Art is important to point out contradictions that are obvious, it helps to open up and point out these problems" says Gansing.

According to Gansing transmediale/conversationpiece will not end after the five-day long festival. They plan to publish documentation of the discussions and articles about the sessions, together with video or audio recordings. Gansing hopes that this year’s discussions will also be a transition point for the 30th anniversary of transmediale, hinting at next year’s celebration. He also mentions that in 2017 there are plans for an exhibition portraying the success of the last 30 years of the festival. The team is currently working on a referencing system that will connect the artworks in the next edition with the festival’s past.

There seems to be a curatorial shift towards sensorial experiences in the field of new media art. In this context Gansing mentions that transmediale/conversationpiece does not only refer to the process of talking. In fact other sensory dimensions are part of the programme, like sound related performances, mixed events, film screenings with discussions and temporary installations also known as ‘hybrid’ events. Burak Arıkan, an artist based in Istanbul and New York, will run a two-day long ‘Graph Commons’ workshop, focusing on the design and understanding of complex networks through mapping and visual analysis. The workshop will ask how to map complex networks and how to read them with methods such as graph analysis. The workshop will also include practice-based work such as sketching diagrammes and drawing graphs. Another artist, Alona Rodeh, based in Tel Aviv and Berlin, addresses the history of sirens and how these sirens are used in popular culture like hip-hop music. The artist’s performance titled ‘Fear of Silence, or A Brief History of the Air-Raid Siren’, together with her workshops in the programme is pointing at new ways of sensorial curating at the transmediale festival. Gansing highlights another event, which is part of the programme – ‘panic room’. Panic room, taking place every day from 2-6 pm, consists of open discussions with participants and an audience facilitated by two moderators. This year’s transmediale hosts four artists from Turkey: Burak Arıkan, Serhat Köksal, Özge Çelikaslan and Alper Şen (bak.ma).

Burak Arıkan will conduct his 2-day long 'Graph Commons' workshop on 3rd and 4th February from 11 am to 2 pm. Arıkan will have a talk on 4th February together with Jussi Parikka at 4.30 pm titled ‘The Map is the Territory’. Multimedia artist Serhat Köksal, aka 2/5BZ, will present his performance ‘Seeing Power – What About That?’ on 6th February at 8 pm. Özge Çelikaslan and Alper Şen who are video artists and the founders of bak.ma, will be participants at a Panic Room session on 5th February titled ‘Post-Digital Anxiety’ together with Bani Brusadin, David Garcia, Brian Holmes, Eric Kluitenberg, Elizabeth Losh, Pit Schultz, and Nishant Shah. The initiators of bak.ma will also talk at ‘Five Years After’, a hybrid event on 6th of February at 12 pm.

All transmediale events will be hosted at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW). Further details of the programme are available on the transmediale website.

Click here for images

The Oxymoron of Normality

on Saturday, 18 October 2014. Posted in October, ---2014---

DEPO Istanbul is currently hosting an exhibition organised by Bialystok-based Arsenal Gallery titled 'The Oxymoron of Normality.' The curator of the exhibition, Monika Szewczyk, was directly inspired by Bulgarian historian Alexander Kiossev's 'Notes on Self-Colonising Cultures' in which he addresses issues of identity and self-definition in the context of the condition of East-Central European and the Balkan countries. In her curatorial statement she refers to Kiossev, who calls those countries “self-colonizing cultures,” emphasizing the fact that this colonisation is in a way “voluntary” and happens without any external force such as the lack of continuity in the democratic process.

With the theme of this exhibition the curator focuses on the complex term of "normality" and the constant struggle of our own values with those that are more universal. She refers to people in her own country asking "when will it be normal here" meaning the way it is elsewhere in Europe. The feeling which, according to Szewczyk, connects Poland and Turkey manifests in the phrase „We are Europeans, but perhaps not in a full sense,” referring to the fact that both Polish and Turkish societies have historically experienced "peripheriality" or remoteness, wether social, economic or political. She describes that post-communist countries feel that real socialism has interrupted the continuity of normal life, whereas in Turkey, each catastrophe such as a coup d'etat, or an earthquake, or a devastating economic and social crisis, is always followed by amnesia as a long-established and legitimized way of "normalizing" the daily life.

In her exhibition Szewczyk wants to encourage an artistic discourse, incorporating artist's statements and diverse voices from Poland and Turkey capable of exploring the reasons and mechanisms, which seem to paralyse their respective countries, without being trapped by the limitations of political or economic divisions. The curator states that instead of recording the ongoing disasters and repeating them as silent witnesses and victims, the crucial element possibly leading to a solution would be the investigation of the mechanisms behind these traps. 'The Oxymoron of Normality' is a refreshing and challenging attempt to draw attention to seemingly invisible forces behind social and economic problems, offering a new perspective on Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

The exhibition is a result of the cooperation of Turkish and Polish artists and two exhibition venues - Arsenal Gallery in Bialystok, Poland and DEPO in Istanbul. After being on show in Poland from 13 June until 10 August 2014, the exhibition is hosted at its Istanbul venue DEPO from 17 October until 30 November. The exhibition was organised within the framework of the cultural programme of the 600th anniversary of the Polish-Turkish diplomatic relations in 2014. It will be accompanied by a panel discussion involving artists and curators.

Participating artists (Poland): Jadwiga Sawicka, Anna Konik, Oskar Dawicki, Hubert Czerepok, Franciszek Orłowski, Marek Wasilewski, Piotr Wysocki

Participating artists (Turkey): Can Altay, Fatma Bucak, Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, Ali Taptık

Visit Arsenal Gallery's website for further information on this exhibition.

The Oxymoron of Normality, Exhibition View at Depo Istanbul, October 2014

The Oxymoron of Normality, Exhibition View at Depo Istanbul, October 2014

The Oxymoron of Normality, Exhibition View at Depo Istanbul, October 2014

The Oxymoron of Normality, Exhibition View at Depo Istanbul, October 2014

The Oxymoron of Normality, Exhibition View at Depo Istanbul, October 2014

The Oxymoron of Normality, Exhibition View at Depo Istanbul, October 2014

The Oxymoron of Normality, Exhibition View at Depo Istanbul, October 2014

The Oxymoron of Normality, Exhibition View at Depo Istanbul, October 2014

Kısmen, Polonya Cumhuriyeti Kültür ve Milli Miras Bakanlığı'nın kaynaklarıyla finanse edilmiştir. Etkinlik, 2014 yılında kutlanacak Polonya-Türkiye ilişkilerinin kuruluşunun 600. yıldönümü münasebetiyle düzenlenecek olan kutlamaların kültür programı çerçevesinde gerçekleştirilmektedir.

Dofinansowano ze środków Ministra Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej. Wydarzenie realizowane w ramach programu kulturalnego obchodów 600-lecia polsko-tureckich stosunków dyplomatycznych w 2014 roku. www.turkiye.culture.pl

Today was Really Yesterday - Interview with Serkan Ozkaya

on Thursday, 28 August 2014. Posted in August, ---2014---

Yonca Keremoğlu in conversation with conceptual artist Serkan Özkaya (b. 1973, Istanbul, Turkey). Özkaya's work deals with topics of appropriation and reproduction, and typically operates outside of traditional art spaces. The artist lives in New York City, USA.

"Ideas, like butterflies, do not merely exist; they develop, they enter into relations with other ideas and they have effects."
~ Paul Feyerabend, Three Dialogues on Knowledge

When we think back to devotions to Antiquity in the Renaissance, at that time new works and techniques emerged through fresh examinations, calculations and imitations of old Roman and Greek texts, and evolved through processes of building from and on the past. Considering it as an ongoing process, Michelangelo’s David is now a concrete symbol; is your ‘David’ a new reproduction of the same propositions made by Michelangelo? What kind of query did you aim to reveal?

To me, I'm trying to query several layers. One of them, I thought, based off the education of art since junior high school, was that they taught us that “there is such thing as Western Art, and such and such are the specified masterpieces.” For example, David is one of them. 'David' is the highest point in the art of sculpture. It is one of the most iconic artworks in our knowledge which we accept as if beauty and aesthetics emerge from it, without any judgment. Just like we accept the sun, sea, mountains and trees without questioning, some icons of Western art have become part of an institutionalized knowledge beyond the artwork itself. Therefore, we're looking at a lot of artworks as cultural assets rather than as works of art, like looking at a sunset. I wanted to re-judge David in an area of deconstruction like I have re-judged Mona Lisa by turning it upside down in 'Mona Lisa Upside Down.'

In 'David,' the interesting point that is created by the sculpture was the feeling and experience of the people who see it when I put it in a place surrounded by mosques in Istanbul, standing upright in the middle of the streets, and was neither coherent with the architectural nor the social structures of İstanbul. Another good and meaningful point was the unawareness and ignorance of the people, not recalling it as a copy of Michelangelo's famous sculpture but as a statue of a naked boy. Still in Istanbul, a lot of people who saw this said, "Oh, you did this, it is beautiful," as if I am the founder of the form... I have generated this deconstruction without any calculation in other ways. For example, in the Istanbul Biennale the sculpture broke accidentally and spontaneously became sensational, which was not my plan. Later I did not want to leave it broken and it was repaired. In New York, with a similar deconstruction, this time I put it horizontally to the ground like a rover among the people. There were a combination of different factors, such as David being in a larger size than the original, covered in gold painting, being hand-made and in the context that is fitted, was Photoshop in itself. My main motivation was to bring two different things together that would not normally overlap with each other.

My reason for choosing Michelangelo's David is that David is considered to be the masterpiece of sculpture. So I did not judge it, not as a fan as but as someone who has learned it like a good student. In this context, I think it is different from Antiquity and the Renaissance as it is closer to inquiring accepted masterpieces. On the other hand, I've never seen Michelangelo's David. I recall it from the computer and books, and actually there is a selfish factor in this as I did it [the work] to see it for myself.

Serkan Özkaya, David, 2006

Serkan Özkaya, David (inspired by Michelangelo), 2012, Lightbox 77.5 x 52.5 cm.

Michelangelo's David is the concrete representation of the city he preserves, with the weight of the explosive potential energy and frustration in his eyes and the strong hands with veins symbolizing the city of Florence. As this is a city different from your own, how do you approach to the concept of representation?

There are different approaches to this. For some David is Michelangelo's lover and assistant, a child, and for others David, with a sling in his hands, is made to preserve a religious point of view. Further still, some see him as an opposition against the government, a protest against the Vatican in Rome with a political stance. David's story is also interesting, but as I said, these are my things I did not calculate in advance. What was tampered with was the art history book idea of “the most important painting is Mona Lisa, the most important sculpture is David." If another masterpiece were accepted like that, I would reproduce that one as well.

The experimental works of ‘Steven Toole’ are very ironic in your exhibition 'Today Was Really Yesterday,' which took place in February 2014 at Galerist. How did ‘Steven Toole’ come about?

At first, in 1997, Toole sent a telegram to the Philadelphia Museum stating "My friend is coming to do a small stool." I invented the character of ‘Steven Toole.’ The funny side is that including the works 'Museum Watch' and 'Overall photo Guggenheim' none of the works are actually displayed and there is really no difference between whether they actually exist or not. For example in 'TRT photo,' Toole displayed Bush's devilish image on TRT channel’s news, but the timing of the display made people too oblivious to notice who they were watching and see that it was Bush’s visual image. Sometimes I think I made Steven Toole do my not-so-bright ideas or the ideas that I can’t dare myself to do. In such a way, all the works by Toole are there but not there If you think about whether it is real or not, fantasy or not, you can consider it as both real and fantasy.

Serkan Ozkaya, Steven Toole, 2014

Serkan Özkaya, Steven Toole The Art Lover, 1997-2013, mixed media. Photo courtesy the artist and Galerist.

In the exhibition, is 'Levitation by Defecation' some kind of criticism of the art world?

I do not think so; it totally appears more in form to me. I like to put two different images on top of each other, such as putting a worthless thing like a stool underneath an object of innocence such as a doll. It is not necessarily a metaphor of an art scene but it is suitable as a metaphor, both of a political environment or an art environment. My point is to turn a futile thing such as a stool into something grander with the union of contrasts, like a baby’s innocence on top of the soiled object. I do not have the exact metaphor for something in my mind to name it.

Serkan Özkaya at his exhibition at Galerist, 2014. Photo: Yonca Keremoglu

Serkan Özkaya, Debaters, 2014, mixed media. Exhibition View 'Today Was Really Yesterday' with the artist at Galerist 2014. Photo: Yonca Keremoglu.

In talking about the concept of ‘value,' Pop Art has altered the ‘ordinary’ or ‘banal’ objects, which we may define as worthless, into valuable art forms through various methods, such as replication, scaling, installation and imitation. Your suggestion of David seems parallel to this approach, reproducing an icon in Western art but re-sizing and displaying it publically for the element of surprise. In this sense, might one say that by changing an object that is considered ‘valuable’ and making it ‘worthless’ actually re-values it?

David’s story was already valuable and could not only be narrowed to Michelangelo's genius. As such, the actual making of the sculpture was technologically interesting to me; I guess you can call it the largest three-dimensional printing. In my early years, I made sculptures by hand but eventually also did so through three-dimensional printing, which is technically the same. And yet, the point is not making it like a sculpture, but making layers through the computer and stowing them. We could not predict how it would turn out when the layers were put on top of each other... Computer printouts are made by cutting the islets. Many factors such as resizing, using the technology etc., and other values stepped in. When you look at the result, it is both the work of American research and technology and Italian craftsmanship. Further to this, there were situations during the Istanbul Biennial where it broke so that it was smashed to smithereens, turned into trash, thrown away crumpled, and then recovered again; it thus gained a new sense of value. I also like this journey of recovery. The dynamic and tension between what is trash and what is valuable is always present in the work’s journey and in life.

When the work is finished or on display, is it still in a process? Can you say that David's journey is over?

It is considered finished, but the other day I offered the museum that took David to put one more next to it. The idea for this came from my exhibition 'One and Three Pasta' at Galerist. A mathematician friend of mine and I made these mathematical equations for 92 types of pasta, with computer models and three-dimensional outputs. On each of the 92 shelves, there was the real pasta from the pack, its mathematical equations and the three-dimensional artificial pasta that we produced from the computer. These binary models offered a different experience to people. In contrast to the people’s faith of being unique, of being one in the sense of “I am one, my body is one, my perspective is one looking outside from this body," seeing the same two units side by side left a strange feeling. In fact, they were not the same and the space they occupied was not the same. They were separate objects occupying different spaces despite looking exactly the same, which reminded me little of the idea of parallel universes. It also feels strange to people when the object is large in size and ‘artsy’. So, as a result I suggested something similar for David but the idea did not got accepted. It is a big project that takes time.

Q: Do you intend to do a new project / installation in Istanbul or elsewhere?

I recently made 'Mirage,' where in an empty gallery, a shadow of an airplane goes through every four minutes. I want to do more projects in the public domain, but I'm trying to enter the public sphere in different ways, such as newspapers or vitrines. For example, the newspaper project ‘Today Could Be a Day of Historical Importance’ (2003), with Özkaya’s drawing of two pages of the Turkish daily Radikal) has been printed and distributed and in a way, that seems to be an intervention in the public domain. I'm looking for investigating different ways, and Steven Toole is in this sense compatible with this idea.

Serkan Ozkaya, Mirage, 2013, video installation. Exhibition View at Postmasters Gallery, New York, 2013

Serkan Özkaya, Mirage, 2013, video installation. Exhibition View at Postmasters Gallery, New York, 2013. Photo courtesy the artist

Does reproduction also apply in literature? Can the reproduction of a work of literature create a new context? How do you compare reproduction in literature and plastic arts?

There is a difference in literature. Something performative occurs in contrast to the plastic arts. For example, rewriting Don Quixote or Ulysses, the literal act, seems boring compared to reproducing a work of art. It is easier to see and analyse a work of art. Reading a book like Ulysses is an adventure on its own, something that you cannot share. You would not want to read someone else’s Ulysses. I have myself copied Ahmet Karcılılar’s 'Photo Series' that was exhibited at Borusan as in the newspaper project. I made 500 copies by hand, which were exhibited at a gallery next to the Robinson Crusoe bookstore. You could get the book for free from the gallery whereas you could also buy it with money from the bookstore next to the gallery. In fact, the one you took from the gallery was also considered a work of art. I can’t quite imagine what happens when the adventure of reading is involved, but it is not like sculpture or painting. On the other hand, a work of literature, a book, is very convenient to copy, as it is a replica of the original anyway. When reading it, you know that you are not the only one who is reading it, experiencing that adventure. However, in the plastic arts, a work of art is often unique and single, and thus it is a more interesting comparison to see its copy standing next to it. I wish that what we called art could be copied like music and literature. We could relate to each other easier if we could see them like downloading music from the internet or looking for images. You could simultaneously experience it with hundreds of people where there is no such thing as the original, and the original copy of that painting is nowhere but everywhere, stored as information somewhere.

The Mona Lisa was stolen by an attendant of the Louvre Museum and then put back later. This act of disappearance and return added a new value to the work and led to your own attempts in asking the Louvre administrators to put the Mona Lisa upside down, or suggesting to an institution to put a dollar sign in front of a Mondrian painting. Without the need for approval or positive responses from the museums, do you continue to contact with museums or corporate institutions with similar requests?

A few years ago, I sent an e-mail to the United Nations to organise a happy hour all over the world, to occur at the same time so that we may feel like brothers and sisters, selling drinks at ninety percent discount. In addition to this I am planning to write to the Municipality of Paris to put an Eiffel Tower hologram next to the Eiffel Tower. In these attempts, an individual’s encounter with the institutions seems interesting to me in seeing how the singularity and smallness of an individual may show an impotence of power and how it can turn into an agility that can overthrow the structured power of an institution. The lower you get, the smaller and upside-down that giant structure gets. Even if it does not get overthrown, to conceive of that possibility in our minds can be satisfactory in itself.

Which artists do you find inspiring in Turkey and abroad?

In Turkey, I find Can Altay and Asli Cavusoglu’s works very inspiring. Outside of Turkey, I am a huge admirer of artists such as Janet Cardiff, Tom Friedman and their interesting works.

In 'Mirage' and in many works of yours, a reflection and a shadow of an object forms a work of art it itself without the need for that object. How did you establish this idea and 'Mirage'?

'Mirage' was the shadow of an airplane, which passes over us and is created with light. The first exhibition of 'Mirage' was in New York and was important to me, considering the events of September 11. The venue was illuminated with lights and we mapped the space in three-dimensions. Normally, when you watch the video there was a freaky image. However, through the projected angels in the venue, the ratios of the surfaces and their distance from the projector lenses created an illusion throughtheir mapping and overlapping. Normally white light projection would be used, which creates the feeling of entering a dimly lit gallery. It is technically quite complicated. Thus far, 'Mirage' has only been exhibited in New York. It will be on display at Borusan in November 2014 and also in a museum in Cincinnati. However, I have some reservations about exhibiting it again due to its technical complications.

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