6/13/2007

With Paola Nicolin

The following was published in the May 2007 issue of Abitare.
The best magazine survey on Istanbul ever.

(a) how did you find when you came back to Istanbul from US?


Except for the biennial, Istanbul was not all that different from those sluggish backwater towns that are now making competitive claims to global visibility. I want to dissociate two things: The congenital aspects of a city, like its extraordinary moments of cultural outburst, like we have seen in Tirana, İstanbul, Mexico City, Zagreb in the recent years is not necessarily coextensive with a city promotion. The preconception is in general that first you have a burgeoning art scene. This is then retooled by city promoters, globalization engineers, large institutions, and etc. But, such a genealogy of cause and effect that puts the contemporary art world smug in the center of this economy can not be taken for granted. However, any new economy city needs a experiential artistic cultural context which has little to do with what we do and how we do it. All the artists and colleagues who made Istanbul for me the place to live have not "sold out." Surely, there is a romance between parts of the art world and the new capitalist class because it is the same desire they are infected with, with their whole range of obesity, from ersatz collectors to mass-media museums. After I came back to Istanbul almost 10 years ago on the last day of the fantastic 1997 Biennial, there was emerging a cozy, critical, and communal context the legacy of which has been quite extraordinary. when you do not have a local demand and are not in the global limelight, you have the time to concentrate. I find that this distance, "the loneliness of the project" is all the more necessary these days.

(b) what were your priorities, goals and dreams when you founded and directed the Proje4L Istanbul Museum for Contemporary Art and then the Platform Garanti?

I should take some of the blame for breaking off with the context I have described and starting Platform Garanti and Proje4L where the focus shifted from my community to the public. The public had to be confronted with the emergent situation. It was the right moment to do so as the country was in a most grim economic crisis, and vile and extravagant sponsorship habits had come to an end. Modesty and responsibility was the new script. Part of this would be to focus on projects that do not have an immediate return. Platform Garanti was set up for the long durée, to retain the memory of the country, with a library and archives, with research and intellectual programming, like an informal academy, and finally residency that is open to the regions surrounding Turkey. Another aspect was to strengthen and normalize the international network so that the artists from here would not have to develop a dependency on here. Our exhibitions have been dealing almost exclusively with the untested. Proje4L, a short-lived affair in its original form, operated like a large Kunsthalle that collected the memory of its exhibitions. It had a youthful arrogance, made space for young artists, and produced some of the most important exhibitions of the decade like Halil Altindere's "I Am Too Sad To Kill You."

(c) Dealing with the Platform, I find the “institutional hospitality project” quite interesting as a complex art process as well as a metaphor of transition, blurring identities and cultural powers. It reminds me also the idea of Xenia in terms of Hospitality, the double Greek concept who links the guest and the host in a mutual relationship of gifts, respect, duties, values, identities and differences, isn’t it?
Could you tell me more about it?

We experiment quite a bit with no foreseeable results. "Institutional Hospitality" came from the question of what the conditions and limits of hospitality would be for institution. Although there is nothing more precious than a smart guest that forces the institution to rethink and reorient itself, guest to host relations in institutions are amazingly restrained, disengaged and ineffective. We have been on the other hand a "Yes" institution. So, we basically invited the artist-run space, Sparwasser from Berlin and SMART Project Space from Amsterdam to take over Platform. There is also a learning curve here in the sense that Sparwasser provided multiple models and informatory circuits for artist initiatives for Istanbul, and SMART was similar to us with a different agenda and had a strong presence in new media. We were also at the time observing carefully institutions like the Rooseum in Malmo, BAK in Utrecht and Munich Kunstverein. Our size is small enough to claim that rather than running the institution, we have been curating it.

(d) How does really work and which are the most successful events?

I am in large part very pleased with our legacy. At the same time we shift gears, reinvent the institution, add and subtract as we go along. Nothing should stay the same but you must not sway. A case in point is the "Open Library" that is a transformation of the exhibition space into a library with a precise design and program. The archive and the library had been two of our strongest assets but we had not been able to share them only with professionals before.

(e) In 1992 and then in 2005 you curated two edition of the main art event in your city, the Istanbul Biennial, and in September 2007 the 10th Edition (curated by Hou Hanru) is opening. The last edition you worked on was selected as one of the best exhibition ever occurred. You insisted in blurring the show inside the city, selecting specific sites with historical characteristics in order to present the Biennial as a tool for the public and for the urban contest to be engaged with this event.
Are there any Biennial effects on the city? I mean, could you list any consequences of this big machine, which brings “la crème de la crème” inside this “megalopolis, [which is] an exception”[vk.katalog text]?

Granted that the critical praise about the 2005 Biennial has made it historical, but it is too soon to put all this in perspective. We took all measures possible not to allow the event of the exhibition to be appropriated by city marketing. All aspects of the exhibition was out to frustrate this desire. I would start with the inevitability that Istanbul's historical trajectory calls for a kind of globalization. but this does not have to be the way it is charted out now, and this is what the Biennial articulated in hindsight, to hint at the possibility that another world is still and always possible.

(f) Dealing with the reception of contemporary art and culture at large, which is the role of the magazines and newspaper in Turkey and in Istanbul in particular? Are there any magazines involved in the Documenta 12 magazine project?


D12 magazines are Siyahi, Birikim, and Art-Ist. Of these Art-Ist is the one that deals with contemporary art and although it has a narrow reader base, it has been the most significant magazine of the last decade. The magazines and newspapers are in general not places where I follow things here. Turkey is particularly week in art journalism. They mostly write on what they know, on things already-confirmed somewhere else.


(g) You are in charge of the first Turkish Pavilion at the Biennial, where we will see works by Huseyin Bahri Alptekin. As far as I know, his research investigates in photos and video the relationships between political events and private everyday life, local conflict and the “invisible under-belly of globalization”... Could you tell me more in details about the artist and the Pavilion inside the show?

Huseyin will make an articulation of specific single-cell spaces that create their own unique mental setting with short "movies" inside of each. He calls these the "incidents" that are made from the nonessential moments of life. They are made from thousands of photographs some are in fact not even taken with the "eye." It has a lot to do with the artist's peripatetic lifestyle and ”escape” from home to find other local contexts . He has a deeply empathic assignation to the invisible under-belly of globalization, the cosmos of authorless, displaced presences.


(h) One of the pages I like most of Orhan Pamuk’ s Istanbul: Memories and the City is the chapter number 7 on Melling landscape of the Bosforo. He wrote, (I’m translating from Italian so please apologize me): “ he offers … a sense of reality, .. […] It seems that Melling landscapes have no center. Maybe this is the second reason (after the attention to the details) why I feel so close to his Istanbul. […] What makes Melling interesting is his skill to link this ingenuity, which seems to come out from the best Islamic miniatures and from Istanbul golden age innocence, to the architectonic, topographic and everyday details, mixer that no one other Orient painter has never been able to realized.“ It gives to me the idea of a city that keep together a sense of reality (conflict, everyday life and so on) and remote as well. How do you think contemporary art practices and sensibilities could avoid present the cultural and social struggles of your country as a scenario but represent them as images that produce reality ?


I should say that even if there has been quite a bit of work that narrativizes and rehashes and effectively illustrates the conflict, there is much more to it. The ripeness of the crisis in the social every single day is so prevalent that most artists have a hard time even in imagining transformative projects. The situation has become much more diversified lately.