Perşembe, Haziran 13, 2013

The Failure of a project, Gezi Park and more

The Failure of a project, Gezi Park and More
What may just lie at the root of the recalcitrance of the PM Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (JDP) is that they tried and failed to materialize a significant visual & architectural expression of their own during their uncontested rule of over a decade. Erdoğan utilized all the potent tools of the state to social engineer a worthy “authentic,”self-acclaimed conservative cultural milieu. The government reshuffled the universities, the education system, and the theaters; introduced partial-policy institutions like “Yunus Emre”; routed public money in the interest of its constituencies at state and city levels; launched ideas such as “conservative art & culture” from close cultural representatives; and announced an arts council directly connected to the PM’s office. None of JDP’s efforts have yielded any other results than gaudy marble palaces such as the dreadful conversion of the Sütlüce slaughterhouse to a cultural center, the Miniaturk architectural theme park and the Panorama 1453 (conquest) museum. The pressure to make a historical mark has been building on Erdoğan as he will have to step down at the end of the current term.
JDP’s hardheaded construction frenzy is paired with insolent profit maximization and nepotistic real-estate interests. While this coupling has worked in a remarkably harmonious way in general terms for major construction projects, it totally imploded in Taksim two weeks ago. The all too obvious bottled-up conflict between the modernist impulse of historicization of power on one side and neoliberal contemporaneity on the other exploded in the open. JDP’s frantic attempt to make a mark on the square with its symbolic architecture of power was met with epic resistance.


Gezi park may mean different things to different people but it also means the same thing for everyone: a nice patch of orphan green overlooking the square. Taksim Square is abutted by early modern town planning solutions and one landmark work of architecture, the Atatürk Cultural Center. The square is a 20th century project, and hence a project of the different phases of the Republic. One could even say that it was a stage for the new citizen public of the nation that replaced the 19the cosmopolitan subject of the trade city  that had banished.  All the photographs of it from the late 1930s onwards are witnesses to a history building of a new subject that had no visual form before, in Bourdieu terms, it became a representation of a represented society.  The square is a terminus for the mid to late 19th century city of Grande Rue de Pera (İstiklal Caddesi) where JDP’s absence is not unambiguous, and in fact historically frowned upon along with all forms of undesired difference.


The park and the center were historical public projects, manifesting the ideologies of the modernism of their respective times. The “Artillery Barracks” proposal is a more complicated story. The primary mission of the new Taksim plan is to destroy the vestiges of a time (the 1940s park) and replace it with a particular architecture that was there 80 years ago. The artillery building was built in the late 18th Century, played a role in Young Turk revolution. Demilitarized later it would be used for public and private functions, and razed down in bits and pieces in late 1930s on. The building was a manifestation of the modernizing Ottoman Rule, a phantasmagoric representation of the late empire desperately seeking a representation for itself. It looked at itself through the fractured bricolage of a phantasy of how a European traveller would anticipate the Empire’s perfect representation. This is where it becomes interesting. Erdogan seems stuck between the 16th Century Ottoman classicism that can be neither replicated nor revisited and the late 18th Century self-orientalizing Ottoman architecture. In other words, he has placed all his bets between a stately architecture that was never meant to be a spectacle and a later one that displays the clumsy integration of the capital city in a world that it could not avoid. It could be said that this oscillation reflects JDP's early and late power, between its humble and communitarian origins and its spectacular opulence at the present. If the proposed mosque on the Çamlıca hill would be a Sinan forgery commission the artillery barracks would be a Krikor Balyan forgery commission. As pitiful as it may be, this distrust in architecture is also a critical point here.
It is not a hidden fact that the PM Erdoğan has an inimitable disdain for cultural production that he has come to believe is elitist, exclusionist and/or western. He approaches it with the idolect and the fury of a young disadvantaged male from the suburbs. He is angry at the cultural base of the secularist early republic; he is angry at the left leaning 60s & 70s generations; and he is angry at the nonpartial cultural practitioners of the post-dictatorship years. Erdogan is distraught because he has not been able to invent  a cultural offering. The question is if JDP understands that culture is not an efficient and quantifiable form of production, it is not like making bread, it just happens as it has been happening every single day in the Gezi Park in the last three weeks.  It is authentic and unannounced. It produces a surplus from a gap one did not know the existence of before.


It is not a conundrum. Ten years and almost no interesting architecture, visual art and/or other forms of instituted culture. Ten years, plaigirizing from the past but not producing an archive of the present.  

Here is another approach to the question. I wrote that the “artillery” reconstruction is not a building but a facade which cloaks a “multi-purpose / private-public operation that arrives with a ”city museum,” shops and restaurants. It may not be a mall but the idea is to produce an enclosed, smooth space secured by the habitual mall apparatus. The artillery building does several things at once. The square becomes inviting to the new Muslim moneyed community to revel in a forgery of a late Ottoman building and engage with a history that doubles as experience economy; it apportions the public and enforces a social & economic class asymmetry; and it precludes the possibility of mass demonstrations by impeding access to the square from Cumhuriyet avenue. Someone can elucidate better this click and rift between the historicization of power and neoliberal contemporaneity in rich Muslim autocracies or Muslim governments with autocratic inclinations. JDP’s “artillery” fails where Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art succeeds because JDP is encumbered by a 700 year long, wildly divergent Ottoman past that it cannot lock a purchase on, and just cannot provide beyond neoliberal managerialism. However, the utilization of an ideological managerial approach to the field of culture failed to the point that it managed to antagonize even the sophisticated Muslim thinkers and writers to force themselves into reticence. What may have been a ground-breaking time of agonistic cultural surge of polarities has remained as molecular experiences to this day, and JDP’s intransigence runs the risk (re)segmenting a new public that had matured to exist together.