artist: Carlo Crovato, Cynthia Zaven, Adham Hafez, Ceren Oykut, Cevdet Erek,Collective Position (Rémy Rivoire, Renaud Vercey and Bruno Voillot), Marseille, Borut Savski, and Marko A. Kovačič
coordinates: Istanbul, 2007-2008
The launching project of the international artist-in-residence programme of santralistanbul, “Light, Illumination and Electricity”, was planned as an event in process. The project attempted to follow the journey of the resident artists and their works, progressed in İstanbul, with various presentation formats and fields of research. The inputs of these formats (talks, presentations, performances and workshops) have shaped the outcome of this journey into a two-fold display: open-studio presentations at the artists’ studios athe exhibition at the Museum of Energy. The exhibition documented the multiplicity and diversity of ideas and practice around the extensive substances of electricity and light. At the same time, it engendered and illuminated artists’ reflections and perceptions of the city, along with sequences and narrations of memory.
“The Continuous Birth of Light in Our Installations” by Sarkis with resident artists
“Cyclop” by Ceren Oykut with children (aged between 6 and 10 years old)
“Light Travels Through My Body” by Aylin Kalem and Beliz Demircioglu with children (aged between 8 and 12 years old)
“Sounds Light Work” by Carlo Crovato with children (aged between 11 and 12 years old)
“Alternative Current: A Stop-Motion Animation Workshop” by Erhan Muratoğlu with children (aged between 10 and 12 years old)
“Machine Lights—Projected Light in Contemporary Art” by Andreas Broeckmann
“Light and Narration in Sensible Environments” by Paolo Rosa
“Art and Knowledge in Balance: Light Art from Artificial Light” by Gregor Jansen
“Borders & The Infinite—Forming Gas and Electromagnetic Waves: “sonArc-ion” Project” by Jan Peter E. R. Sonntag “Delay~” by Etienne Rey
Carlo Crovato, Cynthia Zaven, Adham Hafez, Ceren Oykut, Cevdet Erek, Rémy Rivoire, and Borut Savski
RECORDING IN THE LOG
“Our senses enable us to perceive only a minute portion of the outside world. Our hearing extends to a small distance. Our sight is impeded by intervening bodies and shadows. To know each other we must reach beyond the sphere of our sense perceptions.”
In 2006, the Townhouse Gallery in Cairo organised “The Open Studio” residency programme dedicated to sound. In the course of the programme, seventeen participants mostly from the Mediterranean region shared aural practices and experiences by following an intense schedule throughout fifteen days in downtown Cairo. It was a rocess-oriented programme and adeptly enriched with presentations, workshops, performances, screenings, and a panel. I was part of this process as one of the resident curators and had the opportunity to shape the entire programme collectively with the other participants.
An abandoned hotel Viennoise, Townhouse Gallery, Factory, Annex and the studios were chosen as the Open Studio performance-based event venues. Taking Cairo as the main source of their artistic production, the artists worked on various performances and site-specific installations, while the Open Studio Project continued with the Public Programme series. The programme succeeded in bringing diverse approaches and artistic practices together, as well as forming a temporary platform to share all possible assets of the participants.
Following the residency, we started to discuss the possibilities of developing an extension of this project in Turkey with Clare Davies of Townhouse Gallery. In the midst of our discussions, I received an invitation from santralistanbul asking NOMAD to work together on a residency programme in partnership.
Actually, santralistanbul’s invitation was appropriately based on the objective to develop a residency programme with an explicit emphasis on the Mediterranean region. Throughout the first meetings with santralistanbul, in reference to the characteristics of the Silahtaraga Power Plant site along with the university campus and the new museums, the general framework of the project was given as “Light, Illumination and Electricity.” Although it seemed to be a resolute theme for the entire project, these conceptions inhabited many overlapping issues with the extension of our sound-based project. Furthermore, santralistanbul’s approach to the content of our project was positive and this enabled us to discuss the possibility of processing our content together with the themes of Light, Illumination and Electricity. Again, it would be designed as a process-based international project, containing multi-layers of artistic and curatorial collaborations in a similar way, thus, we agreed on merging the projects and started to work on the spine of the “Light, Illumination and Electricity” project by the end of 2006.
Following a series of meetings, online correspondence among institutions and fundraising efforts, the project had received support from the Anna Lindh Foundation in collaboration with the partners—santralistanbul (İstanbul), Townhouse Gallery (Cairo), NOMAD (İstanbul), ZINC/ECM (Marseille) and SCCA-Ljubljana. According to the structure programmed, curators assigned by these partners started to design the project. In the attempt of putting the ideas together, Dušan Dovč of SCCA-Ljubljana, Emre Baykal of santralistanbul, Mohammed Yousri of Townhouse Gallery, Claudine Dussollier of ZINC/ECM, and myself representing NOMAD, exchanged ideas through online correspondence and with regular meetings.
Accordingly, santralistanbul, NOMAD and Townhouse Gallery decided to invite Ceren Oykut from Turkey, Cynthia Zaven from Lebanon, Carlo Crovato, a British artist living in Leipzig, and Adham Hafez from Egypt. These artists were part of the Open Studio project and the desire to continue the project was still at stake. Then Cevdet Erek from Turkey was also invited to receive a residency in Cairo whilst the residency programme in İstanbul continued. He was asked to develop a project in sync with the process in İstanbul and to present it at santralistanbul together with the others at the end of the entire process. In addition, the project’s Slovenian partners selected Marko A. Kovačič and Borut Savski, while ZINC/ECM invited the group Collective Position composed of Rémy Rivoire, Renaud Vercey and Bruno Voillot to the project.
However, the point to be observed is that the structural process of the project required a long time frame, and for various reasons, the curators’ involvement and commitment had been distracted and unstable over such a period. Yet, the partners were still active, and of course, it had been quite feasible to combine the curators’ efforts on all levels. Eventually, the project succeeded in processing the initial input of the curators.
In June 2007, I was asked to complete the process as “the curator” of the project. santralistanbul’s intention was to precede the project and for them, it was a reasonable appeal to approach a curator attached to one of the project partners who was based in İstanbul. On the other hand, it was a challenge on its own to complete a collaborative project alone whilst most of the parameters were already set. It was also a very difficult decision to be made in terms of the responsibility towards the other partners and the artists. I was hesitating while anticipating the results. Yet, at the end of August, two weeks before the artists arrived in İstanbul, I accepted the role as the project’s sole curator.
THE CURATORIAL PASSAGE
Motives and the Process
There was a multiplicity of motives which inspired the structure of the project, as well as the methodology of working with the artists: the artists’ personal reflections on the residency as a process; the influences of the city on this process; exploring formats for articulating memories; developing works associated with questions concerning technology; the desire to engage the audience by means of interaction; the public display of the entire process; and finally, socialising and operating together as a group, simultaneously speaking multiple languages—French, English, Turkish, and Arabic. The collaborative process has affected all subsequent forms of communication, and has left its trace in the process and result through the works produced. Therefore, the project took shape and became modified as time went on by undergoing the adventure of following the journey and works of the resident artists, along with the hardships of the residency. The artists’ movements were also determined by the mobile environment and conditions of the residency, and contemplated on the process with various experiences, thought paths, presentation formats, and fields of research.
Other inputs such as talks, presentations, performances and workshops accumulated in the course of the process and shaped the outcome of this journey into a two-folded display: open-studio presentations at the artists’ studios, and the exhibition at the Museum of Energy. The open-studio presentations at the artists’ studios, along with some extension of the artists’ works presented in the museum, inhabited the hints and snapshots of the process, while the exhibition documented the diversity of ideas and practices around the extensive substances of electricity and light. Furthermore, both venues revealed artists’ reflections and perceptions of the city, along with sequences and narrations of memory.
implementing an Exhibition within an Exhibition
“When existence becomes a measurable science for control, then non-existence must become a tactic for anything wishing to avoid control.”
—Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker
One of the main challenges of the project was hidden beneath the collaborative fascination and will to use the Museum of Energy as the exhibition venue. The building itself, along with all the machinery, control room, turbines, columns, relics, pipes, windows and walls was an exhibition on its own. From floor to ceiling, each and every single structure was part of a giant exhibition. The idea, and concurrently the limitation, was to preserve the identity of the Museum as it was and subtly infuse it as another system into this massive exhibition. Nevertheless, the works were still able to trespass some substantial limits of the space as well as bypassing some of the control mechanisms applied specifically for this historical site. Therefore, the exhibition’s spatial design designated a playful navigation through which the audience would discover and recognise the works to activate. Hence, their relationship with light and electricity functioned as a compass for the routing of the audience. The works were not shouting but whispering in the Museum.
Electricity, Light and Technology
During an interview with Geert Lovink, the Mexican/Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer once stated that “an alternate operation to contextualise the visual arts regards to Light might be to trace technological developments rather than scientific models” (Lovink, 2004: 305). In the same line of thought, technology altered the essence of this exhibition. As the history of the Museum of Energy indicates, the power plant site in which the entire project took place had always been one of the focal points where technology was highly admired. Inevitably, the works, independent of content, produced in that very specific and loaded site were also about the medium itself, either through their relationship with the memory of the site, or through the usage of electricity and light. In reference to Heidegger, technology as an agent to control always dictates various ways of perception through its manifestations. The existence of technology forms its design: a design in which everyone who participates continues to interact with each other and with other systems.
Each work in the exhibition could be considered as mimicking “distributed networks”. Galloway observes “distributed networks”—by referring to Hall’s “Protocol” definition as “Each point in a distributed network is neither a central hub nor a satellite node […]. The network contains nothing but ‘an intelligent end-point system to communicate with any host it chooses’,” (2004). Both Carlo Crovato’s Little Buggers (2007) and Ceren Oykut’s Sketch Repair (2007) were autonomous and at the same time connected to the other units of their works spread out in the Museum. Hence, they had the same protocol with the audience.
Ceren Oykut took the Museum as the source of her work. She recorded the sounds, actions, and narrations of the site. During her residency, she spent hours drawing her sketches in the Museum, thus at the end, these sketches composed short animations presented on a small LCD screen in the hidden corners of the Museum, along with the sound they generated. She preferred to leave traces of her sketches in her studio—those that she considered to be malfunctioning or lacking mechanisms and needed to be fixed. These traces were therefore connected to her works at the Museum every time the audience visited them in her studio. Likewise, Carlo Crovato’s autonomous, sound generating robots, Little Buggers (2007), detected light sources to create sounds, so they were not in communication with every host, but only the ones that they chose. In his studio, Crovato showed the process in order to produce these “buggers”: it was a simple act of showing the inner mechanisms of a technological device/apparatus that generated energy as an autonomous piece. However, these “buggers” that were spread out on a column and the windows in the museum, practically camouflaged themselves. Similar to Oykut’s works, they required an effort on behalf of the audience to be noticed.
Cynthia Zaven, on the other hand, followed a different path in processing her project, Missing Links (In Search of A. Manass) (2007). The contradiction emerged from dispersed parts that formed the story of her work. Although her approach to link these parts came from completely opposite directions, they all produced the same impression in terms of connectivity. Each part of her project was located within a perceptible distance in the Museum, thus enabling each piece to have a very effective presence. However, to complete the story, one had to be determined to follow the links attached to these parts, and visit her studio, which had been transformed into a hotel room. During his residency, Marko A. Kovačič collected and recreated mundane “things” and gathered them together in his studio. Each and every piece indicated a slice of “memory”, which could be deleted from, downloaded, and installed to the minds of the audience. With every new audience the room hosted, these things were being uninstalled, reloaded and reshaped. Switch off the Light (2007) also manifested as a video extract displayed in one of the dark corridors of the Museum. In both cases, the work was navigating through an ever-changing sea of references.
Cevdet Erek’s work, Dark Light Dark (2007) was similar to Zaven’s work in the sense that the work during his residency consisted of linking the connections of the process that he had started in Egypt. In Egypt, he had collected various references from different fields such as music, architecture and traditional rituals. Naturally, the audience would assume that any work dependent on a process would carry along links from its past. However, Erek was not necessarily bound by these links, and therefore, also transformed the structures so that he demonstrated their technical details and mechanisms. For example, he chose to manifest the working mechanism of the “sequencer” beneath the “frame drum”. This allowed the audience to link the operation with the running led. Every part of the work became connected by a multiplicity of references and data that were recalled from the non-existing past of the process. In this case, it was consistently presented in this particular order. Nevertheless, the work displayed complex patterns of linear and non-linear narratives existing together and in a constant exchange of references. On the other hand, Collective Position (Rémy Rivoire, Renaud Vercey, Bruno Voillot) created a closed-circuit system by placing their work Disposition (2007) in an isolated dark room that cut itself off from the surrounding sounds and light to present the flow of references that re-constructed ‘memory’.
Likewise, the experience Borut Savski proposed with his work The Fluidity of Space (2007) indicated a perpetual or continuous re-patterning and re-processing through interaction. Adham Hafez’s opening performance practically revised the process of creating interactivity. It was announced that the performance would take place in the Museum (as a pre-coded domain for an art performance) during the opening. Therefore, the audience consciously made a decision to watch, observe and even to participate in the performance from the very beginning. The audience was also pre-conditioned whether or not to be engaged emotionally and intellectually during the performance. The process of the interaction started before the performance, when the audience prepared themselves to watch a reciprocal or mutual action. The more information the audience was provided about the performative action, the more the expectation for the interaction became shaped. This phase worked in two different directions: while mounting the tension for the action, it also eliminated the unpredictable nature of the performance. In my opinion, Hafez killed the “tension” and the impulse of “unpredictability” as the most significant and powerful qualities of any performance or performative action for the sake of creating and/or mimicking suspension. His installation Suspended… Dispersed… (2007) which re-mimicked and translated this performance to a sound piece, created a repetitive pattern that was subtly waiting to be detected by the audience.
Finally, talks given by Andreas Broeckmann and Gregor Jansen, experiences conveyed by Paolo Rosa, Jan Peter E. R. Sonntag and Sarkis, and Etienne Rey’s presentation all enriched the project during the entire process. The four workshops that were held—especially the ones for children—were invaluable in providing a hands-on experience in learning to use technology in the context of the project.
I have no doubt that, in time, what we have collaboratively accomplished here will eventually form a basis for the infrastructure of presenting and perceiving digital art projects in Turkey. In this sense, the entire project was a demanding yet decisive experience.
Galloway, Alexander R., and Thacker Eugene. The Exploit: A Theory of Networks. (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2007).
Galloway, Alexander R. Protocol. How Control Exists After Decentralization. (Cambridge, Mass. and London: MIT Press, 2004).
Heidegger, Martin. “The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays”: in The Turning. Trans. W. Lovitt. (New York: Harper & Row, 1977).
Lovink, Geert. Uncanny Networks. Dialogues with the Virtual Intelligentsia. (Cambridge, Mass. and London: MIT Press, 2004).
Tesla, Nikola. “The Transmission of Electrical Energy Without Wires as a Means for Furthering Peace”: in Electrical World and Engineer, 1905. 34
published in Light, Illumination and Electricity. Ed. Deniz Ünsal. santalistanbul. Istanbul Bilgi University Publications. 2008.