9/13/2007

one plus year ago on the way home

I am in the taxi from the airport heading home.

The driver takes me through the seaside highway so that I do not get to see the stacks of unfinished buildings, the shanties, the B-malls, the minibuses and the long expanse of grey. Advertisements printed in full colour on vinyl wave gently from light poles.

The taxi driver is proud.

The adverts rotate between an exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci drawings at one museum and "Venice - Istanbul" an expurgated exhibition plucked from the 2005 Venice Biennale at another. The banners for the Rembrandt drawings are down.
Welcome to the new Istanbul.
I have seen this show before, but not quite like this. It started with "Picasso in Istanbul." It does not matter that Picasso was never here and that there was nothing Istanbul about the Venice Biennale.
Something is obviously amiss here, and that's how we seem to like it,
four private museums go at it in full force.

Competition is good, brings the best quality through.
I see PR companies, advertisers, vinyl printers, and a whole industry grinning with 32 teeth.
I see them all sinking their teeth in culture and coming up with symbolic capital that can be exchanged with even more capital, in an ever-upward spiral of cultural liquidity.

I begin to understand that success can be predetermined.
I see the public-in-the-know in ecstasy, there; they have it at last, their world-class city with world-class art,
finally...
I hear their cheers;
I imagine their high fives.
I see the critics drooling on to their note pads and around the block queues.
I see the belated turn triumphant.

We had waited for so long for this.
I see them cheering at the newspapers articles in Europe taken to pen by journalists whom they have invited and given the royal treatment.
The whole city becomes one massive public relations ploy.
One mass-media institution.
But, that's not all of it. One upscale mall and residence unit goes up after another; six figure apartments do not even raise an eyebrow.
Gated communities from their pastoral settings are moving to their gated communities in zero-friction zones in the city.
Collectors are invited to Basel by an investment bank.
Turks? Collectors of contemporary art?
It seems like Dubaification of the city is at a roller coaster speed.
We are building and it is looking better and better as we are building so we are building more.
I occasionally hear the bad news, Frank Gehry may not be building one of his shells after all, but Zaha Hadid is still on the ball, and more are coming.

We have cultivated businessmen and patrons now.
They have seen it elsewhere and they need it here too.
They are not inferior, they are not bereft of anything, and they know how to follow an example that works.
Is it not with money after all?
How much?
How much for this show?
How much for the article in the travel section?
How much for your design? Is this not how things start after all?
Who is to refuse Istanbul? We can do the fixing later.

I thought Istanbul could be something you could not know of or need.
A city that would humble and humiliate you.
I am wrong. At least for now.
I would like to return to what I once despised.
I would like to return to the opiated hazy town on the Bosporus,
I would like to return to the call from the minarets that are not lacerated by the fireworks from the marriage of your next ordinary asshole.
I want to hear the dogs howling and not the gyrations of Turkish pop from summer clubs.
I would like to return to one moment in high school when I was in the boat crossing the Bosporus with my rich classmate.
I want to return to that moment when he turned to me and showed the European side bathed in light with advertisements, and looked with disdain to the Asian coast that was considerably darker at the time, and uttered "That's communism."
I would like to return there and throw him in the water, see which side he ends up at.

But, I am all event culture now,
I feel once again in the dead centre of a conquering empire.
I am selling and building.
I am entertaining the crème de la crème.
I brush soldiers shoulders with whomever I want.
I am looking good.

I cannot be bothered.