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WALKING ISTANBUL, NOTES FROM THE QUARANTINE
curator:
Basak Senova and Erden Kosovar
artists: Nermin Er, Memed Erdener, 2/5 BZ, Aydan Murtezaoglu, Bulent Sangar, Kemal Aratan, and ZeN
performance: Anabala
film: “9” by Umit Unal
venue: Digital Art Lab
coordinates: Holon, 2003 - 2004
websites: http://www.nomad-tv.net/walking_istanbul
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WALKING ISTANBUL, NOTES FROM THE QUARANTINE

Istanbul project consists of series of formats. The exhibition “Walking Istanbul, Notes from Quarantine"; is a continuation of the exhibition: “Daydreaming in Quarantine”, Graz, 2003, istanbul.mur.at This project is a projection of a particular period in the recent history of Turkey via Istanbul. It is such a period that is blurred with the terror imposed by the harsh dynamics of politics and economics that shaped life. It is also such a period that is neglected by the consequences of these dynamics. From political climate to IMF-dependent economy; internal migration attack; and a constant cultural schizophrenia fed by conflicts between East and West, secularism and fundamental Islam, left and right, and eventually nationalism and separatism. By departing from that flux of political and cultural conditions, the whole project addresses the visual and aural representations and productions of a targeted generation that was stuck in between two generations -that of early 70's as highly politically engaged and has been severely punished for it and 80's sleeping generation that has been totally apolitical. Yet, the production mechanism and the assembly of this in-between generation was either neglected or dissolved in the fast pace of life before.

In its consequential level, a breakdown of this cacophonic yet treasure like sub-cultural mass reveals the suppressed resisting mechanisms of the period veiled with black humour and parody. It also aims at providing substitute modes of readings of the urban contingent culture developed on or after 80's.

The exhibition focuses on the visual notes, remarks and traces of the city as the reflection of the inner-world which is trapped in the mundane and untamed realities of the streets.

ARTISTS

Nermin Er
She works with all kinds of paper to produce cinematographic silhouette effects and extracts which are taken from the ordinary scenes of daily life. She picks up enthralling details from mundane circumstances of the city and form stories by juxtaposing these details. The influence of comics and action films is noticeable in her work and she is fascinated by little deformations of these visual worlds She is very productive and constantly reflects on these deformations by using her own surrounding as the source material to transform.

Aydan Murtezaoglu
Born in 1961, Istanbul. Her works renders an elaborated concern in the conceptualisation of the negotiations on gender, space -public and/or private- and on the (im)possibility of the artistic agency in the Turkish context.

2/5 BZ
Born in 1968, Istanbul. Since 1986, serhat köksal aka 2/5 BZ has been performing with tapes, samplers, saz, darbouka, electronics, drums, vocals and spoken word. The style varies between traditional music via experimental electronic sounds to improvisation with elements that stem from Turkish cinema. He also makes audiotapes, photocopy fanzines, stickers, CDR, flyers, posters, and video cut-up works as collages of 70s and 80s Turkish melodrama and action films, political propaganda and media imageries of social phenomena.

Extramücadele*
Born in 1970, Istanbul. In mid-nineties extramücadele worked for a Turkish humour magazine, deli as a cartoonist. extramücadele aka memed erdener transfers his graphical visual language to alternative modes of visual production. Thereby, he produces imageries as an amalgamation of national and popular signs, codes and symbols with black humour.
(*extrastruggle)

Bulent Sangar
Born in 1965, Istanbul. His photographic works initially commented on the internalisation of violence and terror by the individual subjects in the society. Later, €angar shifted towards interpretations on the familial, domestic space ­on its closures and tensions and also its enabling dimensions. This interest in the traditional values also brought in the issue of friction between the urban culture and the values of the migrating masses to the big cities.

ZeN
A pioneering band of the alternative music scene in Istanbul which has fused the energies taken from the various bodies of radical inputs of the modern era as dada, punk and psychedelic together with Sufi transcendentalism, Turkish folk music, gypsy tunes, historical and contemporary music schools embedded in the city's memory. The band started to perform its improvisation-based music in the year 1989 and after a couple of bootlegs produced its first legal album in 1995.

Comics Artist

Kemal Aratan
He belongs to a generation of humour magazine artists in Turkey, when the Girgir ecole had disintegrated and sprawned to new magazines which is lead by Limon Magazine, in 1986. He was welcomed by a particular university youth in those years when the state politics was against the political action of young people. Aratan soon became a cult artist owing to the fact that he had a unique way of narration and a professional drawing ability. He was quite prolific during the period of late 80's and all along the 90's. He inspired many young talents who tried to draw just like his sytle. One of his co-project with Metin Kaçan was a great success. He still produces for Leman Magazine.

Performance

Murat Ertel of Anabala

Anabala is multidisciplinary project concentrating on Istanbul’s sounds and cult. For Israel performance, the visuals were produced by Ceren Oykut and the performance with electric saz, electronics, percussion and radio will be realized by Murat Ertel.

Film

9

Opening with a quote from Franz Kafka's In The Penal Colony about the invisible workings of the system, 9 underlines the daily life fascism by questioning how “reality” and “truth” can be perceived differently. The film orbits around the interrogation of six inhabitants of a quiet district of Istanbul who accuse each other for the murder of a young female street bum.

Directed, written by Umit Unal, Produced by Haluk Bener, Aydin Sarioglu, Umit Unal, Camera: Aydin Sarioglu, Editor: Ismail "Niko" Canlisoy, Music: ZeN, Art Director: Haluk Bener, Running time: 94 min, Cast: Ali Poyrazoglu, Cezmi Baskin, Fikret Kuskan, Ozan Guven, Rafa Radomisli, Serra Yilmaz, Fuat Onan, Sezgin Devran, Esin Pervane.

 

INTERVIEW -- Stéphanie Benzaquen
October/December 2003



Stéphanie Benzaquen: To start this interview, I would stress a certain absence of ‘communication’ between out two countries, Turkey and Israel. If one may (perhaps…) evoke some isolated -or better said sporadic- collaborations or contacts, we remain far away from continuous exchanges and reciprocal knowledge. This lack of information explains, somehow justifies, the general aspect of my first question: could you give an overview of the situation of the contemporary art scene in Turkey (involvement of the State, presence of private galleries and sponsorship, art spaces and events, situation in the art academies, access to international publications, specific situation of Istanbul, main changes in the last decade…)?

Erden Kosova: The lack of communication is caused mainly by the nationalistic discourses running through the twentieth century, I guess. And even after the traumatic conflicts were healed between the neighboring cultures, the addressed interlocutor of cultural interaction was chosen not from the closest geographies but from the powerful cultures that are perceived as models. I think that is a global symptom. The exemplary practices of contemporary art in Turkey were based on isolated and quixotic struggles of the artists who were isolated but active in the seventies and eighties. Their self-initiated exhibitions prepared a relatively extensive ground for the following generations. They were not supported by commercial galleries; no need to mention the absolute absence of public funding and the state is still non-present in the field, which gives the paradoxical advantage to the artist to maintain a politically autonomous enunciation. To a great extent, the artists with experimental tendencies and radical engagements with social phenomena haven’t been allowed to have places in the academies advocating a formal bigotry. Yet, along the establishing of the Istanbul Biennial and the accession of younger artists to European art circuits, the picture seems now to be rapidly changing. The autonomy, the quality which has characterized and enriched the scene is being replaced by a tendency towards institutionalization. New institutions backed up by some corporate and financial companies opened up venues for exhibiting more daring works. We haven’t seen clearly the results of this change yet.

Basak Senova: Basically the lack of communication has not been inhibited in the conflicts or hostilities between two countries. It is simply based on a lack of mutual acquaintance because of the suppressive policies of the countries and how these policies impose cultural domains and their representatives on the surface. This lack of communication has also appeared as an internal issue within the cultural landscape of Turkey. Stemming from its cycle in unitarian state policy, the representative scenery of the Turkish culture politics has always been cohesive, yet the tendency is to sustain stability by labeling a “contemporary” artistic act as “highly regarded and enlightening” concession with a confirmation of “modern” Western criteria. This consideration has widened increasing gaps not only between the public and the contemporary art sphere but it has also addressed a lack of information, interaction, and communication among the actors of this sphere. I must say that for some of the parts of this sphere both governmental support and strategies of commercial galleries have been existing and beneficial. Yet, as Erden has just stated that for the part of this sphere which we are interested in and in some ways feel familiar with has been ignored for a long time. Now this mentioned part of this sphere is the most acknowledged one by the cycle of international contemporary art scene. Eventually, this has been mostly the outcome of individual efforts and successes. Turkish contemporary art scene or may be I should rephrase it as “Istanbul contemporary art scene” has developed and enriched so rapidly for the last 10 years. In its most natural and classical way, institutions are taking place. However, surprisingly the communication gap among the parts of the contemporary art sphere is insistently increasing. At this very moment, I am very excited and hopeful as alternative “independent” formations have started to come up and who knows they can challenge the agenda and may bridge this gap.

SB: Since a few years, we attend the strong focus from the international art scene on the Balkans and South Eastern Europe ­ with the danger of reducing local art scenes to fashionable products. The Turkish art scene appears as a part of this current tendency. Has this trend changed the situation in Turkey? How is it perceived from the Turkish side?

EK: Within a single year, three big exhibitions are held in the institutions of Central Europe, organized by three big curatorial names from the German-speaking terrain. You can explain this ‘coincidence’ either through historical links [the heritage of Habsburg], current macro-interests [extension of EU eastwards, internal politics in Germany in relation to the migrated populations from the SEE for the last four decades] or define it, more cynically, as the search for the new geographical hype. This special interest in the Balkans in its cultural specificity will be in the future replaced by the coming, economic and political hierarchy within the castle of Europe. These three exhibitions and the exhibition series of Balkan Konsulat by rotor gallery hasn’t been discussed at all, in the Turkish national press. It was confined to the narrow circuit of participating artists. Yet, these shows were incredibly beneficial for Istanbul art scene (and perhaps also for the Diyarbakir scene) to consolidate its status within this region. The geographies of the Balkans inhabit an incredible intellectual capacity and the Turkish art scene succeeded to communicate its vivid, emphatic production to this highly developed discursive field. Similarities and differentiations between the regions gave the way to a self-reflection. It was also a progressive opportunity to redraw the historical traces that tie-up these geographies. I hope, even the after the passage of the hype about the Balkans, this recently attained transversality can generate further interaction.

BS: For me, there is no such thing as a unique Balkan reality at all. In a very ironic way, the polarization of idyllic “Balkan” identity is so visible. It is a fiction by itself. All of these large and/or small-scale Balkan shows present a highly schizoid picture for framing the South Eastern Europe in a homogeneous understanding. Yet, when we consider the social-political and economic traces of the recent history of this region, it would not be surprising to detect searches for uniform identities, collective memories and even a desire to believe in meta-narratives. Yet, every time it is easy to decipher the same story and patterns for all region-based trends for the last decades such as shows on Baltic, Arabic Speaking Countries, Far East…etc. On the other hand, as Erden underlined, it is also interesting that they give the opportunity to reveal new energies and potentials at the hidden corners of the world. Nevertheless, it also works as an elimination system for the artists and curators so that you can detect who fulfils the gaps that these trends impose and on the contrary who can resist and/or open up alternative spaces within this system.

SB: The coup d’état in 1980 has been the knell of a certain type of society in Turkey. The militaristic apparatus and pressure, the new governmental line have destroyed the former social texture, followed in this by the disastrous consequences of the neo-liberal policy the State initiated, the escalation of fundamentalism, the increasing daily violence of the Turkish society, the migration. In some ­too- clear cut way, could one consider the Turkish art scene as torn between political (and critical) positions and the commitment to social issues or as managing to combine and articulate the different realms of analysis and translations through artistic forms?

EK: The contemporary art production in Istanbul is heavily based on narrative interpretations on the social phenomena, like some of the neighboring geographies. Yet, the enhancing politisation of the content throughout the nineties was built up onto the formal efforts of eighties towards conceptualization. In addition, as I said before, the increased communication with the other art scenes produced a more experienced and confident enunciation among the young artists. Formal reflections on the separate visual disciplines and experimentation on the new media have not been the primal concern, but there is a considerable meticulousness in pursuing efficient strategies of presentation and an effort to benefit from the emerging technologies to be employed in artistic expression. In parallel to the relative political stabilization (or paralysis) in the country in the last couple years, the confrontational attitude towards the plethora of social conflicts gave way to an emphasis to subtler and multi-faceted issues on social texture. And perhaps more irony, more playfulness and more erotisation…

SB: If we aim at defining a certain relation to power, especially to the establishment and political power, are there alternative and experimental projects and places as well as activism beside artists, works, spaces and exhibits that one may know? Would you say there is some censorship, indeed self-censorship, in Turkey?

EK: The political power doesn't see the field of contemporary art as a threatening platform, which is understandable when considering its limited access to the public and the mainstream media. Therefore we saw only a few of conflictual instances in the recent past. I remember a work of Hale Tenger was brought to court with the accusation of offending the national flag after the third biennial in 1992. And in the year 2000, Halil Altindere was attacked by one of the conservative parties in the parliament since he used nudity on a work employing a Turkish identity card. There have been also some accusatory tone expressed in some of the conservative art press linked to academic orthodoxies about the extent of criticality in the works of Turkish artists that have been exhibited in the European institutions - I m not sure whether it is out of jealousy or nationalism. So, as for the contemporary and radical art scene, I don't see a self-censorship at all; just the opposite, there has been a quixotic courage to tackle the political issues.

BS: As the outcome OF “bad” affairs of state (with plentiful coalitions) for the last several decades, people have long previously lost their faith in politics in general. This deadliness can also be perceived in the various art scenes in Turkey. Thereby, currently produced politically oriented works cannot really go further than imitating the 80’s type of protest art models with dry and worn out concepts. Nevertheless, you may detect evident reactions in different cultural productions, which operate far away from the label of “contemporary art”.

SB: You reject binaries, like East/West, Islam/Christian, Europe/Ottoman Empire and rather focus on current configurations resulting from the political situation, the internalized violence of the society, the disproportioned population, the imbalance of incomes, the machismo. How do you perceive the understanding from the abroad viewer, since you present a multilayered and complex image of Turkey and certainly not the “image of Epinal” (cliché) which foreign people may await? How are you perceived in Turkey itself?

EK: I'm right now on a search trip in the Serbian capital Belgrade and I observe here a wide and rich range of artistic production that shy away both from the vertigo of traumatic events in the late-Yugoslavian past and the opposite complementary endeavor to depict the 'Other/Second Serbia' disobeying the regime of Milosevic. Last bombings in Istanbul have construed Turkey again as a culture suffering from ever stretching binarisms between the cultural continents. Yet, our exhibitions both in Graz and Holon aim to give glimpse of the hyper-dynamic, megalopoliten specificity of the city of Istanbul. The word 'Istanbul' comes from the Greek expression 'to the city'; people in Greece still call it the 'Polis'; Ottomans called it 'the city of cities'. We wanted to underline, in a humble scale, the urban richness that the City inhabits.

BS:In addition to what Erden stated, I would like to add the aspect of social schizophrenia as a way of surviving in this so-called 'city of cities'. It is an asset of adaptation of any kind of situation, developed as a defense mechanism. So, you see that in many works this mechanism ­mostly disguised as parody- operates in various layers.

SB: Istanbul appears as a focal matter in your curatorial process, with the idea “to stress cultural works (…) fed, challenged and shaped by the reality of Istanbul that [you] have all experienced” (I quote here Basak). How is this experience expressed through the exhibition? How do you conceive the representation, then the communication, of these personal and individual feelings, gathered into this exhibition?

BS: As you know, “Walking Istanbul, Notes from Quarantine"; is a continuation of the exhibition: “Daydreaming in Quarantine”, < rotor >Graz, 2003. This time the exhibition focuses on the visual notes, remarks and traces of the city as the reflection of the inner-world which is trapped in the mundane and untamed realities of the streets. The overall visual design of the Israel exhibition is based on darkness and the uncanny encounters of the works with the audience; now the space inhales another language through unexpected familiarities with the geography it locates. The interaction between the works and the selected artists operate exactly in the same way. I must say that the overloaded yet driving energy of the Digital Art Lab and the physical qualities of the gallery have transformed the setting of the exhibition. It was a nice crash.

         
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