|Independent Art Spaces in Dialogue|
Every Artist an Organized Artist*
Deniz Erbaş, Istanbul 2009
The concepts most frequently utilized to describe the projects, spaces and production platforms formed over the last couple of years in Istanbul largely by the initiative of artists and curators are “initiative”, “organization” and “independent”. Ever expanding their field and their effectiveness, these formations are better understood as functional reflexes emerging from existing micro and macro conditions rather than as manifestations of a popular movement.
Once a Third World country, now among the developing states and a candidate
for European Union for more than 40 years, Turkey, aside from its specific
conditions, exhibits many characteristics of the peripheral geography
it forms a part of. Primary among these characteristics comes the framework
defined by Frederic Jameson as “national allegories”. In Jameson’s words:
“the story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of
the embattled situation of the
First we should start off with the observation that the opportunities presented to the artists by the general institutions, people and exhibitions that make up the activity in the art scene are inadequate in fulfilling the production and presentation needs of contemporary art. For one thing, they can’t get far from being mere institutional frameworks that do not allow much room for artists to move in comfortably, with their “untouchable” walls, secured entrances requiring invitations, contextual sensibilities and drive for consistency in terms of institutional identity. Ultimately, this framework frames art in a space which can be termed as “art specific” rather than allowing it to exist in public space. The increase in the number of initiatives, independent spaces and artist groups stems from this sense of being framed and locked.
While the spaces of art remain inadequate to open up a public space for art, the existence of art in public space by itself has always been very problematic and limited since the very beginning. Within a deep-rooted and persistent structure that regards art in public space merely as monuments/sculptures and that does not know any way of using the public space panorama other than filling it up with gigantic advertisements and billboards, car parks, fake flowers that frame café-bar-restaurant tables, peddler stalls, gigantic flags, posters and cloth banners, the visibility of art in public space has been limited to special occasions and periodical applications. In this regard, the visibility of art in public space is not small; it is almost non-existent. This being the case, the audience reached by art cannot exceed a limited group of people who are the natural frequenters of the special art spaces discussed above.
The nonexistence of public spaces that would facilitate the unmediated encounter of art and audience could only be overcome by the initiative of artists and curators, since it was no use waiting for private initiative to open up space for art with such concerns. Pist, located right at the periphery of Istanbul’s art center, Pangaltı, in a predominantly residential area; 5333, transforming the shop number 5533 of the IMC, a lively community of traders and artisans numbering about 20000, into an archive, library and exhibition space; and Hafriyat Karaköy, opening shop at the middle of a neighborhood housing spare part, decoration and repair traders/artisans and brothels are all expanding the boundaries set by the special art spaces located downtown and opening up space for art in the public space by their sheer existence. Aside from these, Apartment Project located at Tünel district provides spatial infrastructure for artist projects while BAS located at the Şişhane district infiltrates public space through printed materials by focusing primarily on artist books.
The initiatives behind the spaces discussed above were all artist groups of different intensities in the beginning: Hafriyat is an artist group which has been organizing their own exhibitions since 1996; the artists and curators making up 5533 were working closely way before they opened up their space; the initiator of the Apartment Project, Selda Asal has realized numerous collective projects that include various artists like 2+1.
Another development that stems from the physical nonexistence of art
in public space is the formation of practices developed to exist in
public cultural space. A set of oppressions, controls and discriminatory
mechanisms that rule the public plane of the city dictates the rules
for both societal life and individual existence. The oppressive structure
that encircles culture and society makes no exceptions for art. This
is the exact opposite of the environment of freedom necessary for artistic
production. To a large extent due to this lack of freedom, the artists
become political through questioning the mechanisms that generate societal
encirclement and oppression as well as their various manifestations,
hence drilling holes into the prevailing intellectual climate of the
In addition to these action/exhibitions, there are also alternative channels affecting the agenda of the public space: January 19 Collective publishes images in newspapers and magazines; atılkunst e-mails weekly stickers in response to the current agenda; Istanbul’s map of neo-liberal re-distribution, “IstanbulMap” prepared by Barcelona based artist Anna Sala in 2007 as a result of a 3 months long collective work bringing together architects, urban planners, sociologists and artist initiatives from Istanbul and published and freely distributed in 15000 copies, continues to be a reference for all urban transformation studies.
The common point of these exhibitions, events and organizations is that they cooperate with social groups and organizations operating actively on the subjects that they handle, thus drawing these groups and organizations into the field of art. As a result of this interaction, they not only get acquainted with social organization models but they also develop interdisciplinary practices: collaborations with organizations like Amargi, Filmmor, Lambda Istanbul, Sulukule Platform, İmece, Toplumun Şehircilik Hareketi (Society’s Urban Planning Movement) are examples of this situation.
The main characteristics of these initiatives/organizations is that the artists come together through shared sensibilities regarding issues that define the social and political agenda of Turkey as well as its public space, widening their field of influence and resistance through interacting with people and organizations from other disciplines; hence developing organizations and events that focus on the impact of action rather than on immanent and aesthetic concerns. Hence begins the unmediated relation of art with social reality and the process of extending the field and right of art to have a say on the public and political realities and micro and macro problems. It can be claimed that the infrastructure provided by the experience of “working and producing together and using common mind” for the last 10 years in artist organizations provided the basis for the development of artist initiatives and spaces, exhibitions and actions discussed above.
The artists are coming together and forming initiatives at an increasing rate in order to be nourished by each other’s production processes or by knowledge and instruments of different disciplines; to open up original spaces in the art scene by uniting their forces and without leaning on the institutions of the established order; to share their helplessness in the face of societal pressures; to use common mind and to fulfill similar other needs.
The next step in the field of art should be bringing into the agenda through macro-organizations the vocational rights of the artists and art professionals and the independent and free development of art. The existing professional organizations are inadequate in defining and giving voice to the needs of the art scene and their activities in this regard amount to almost nothing. Right at this point, it can be helpful to listen to Burak Delier and Kamil Şenol’s call entitled “An Organizational Text” published in their blog called “What should be done”: “We are not just concerned with freeing “art” but with emancipation in general. Art will have a meaning only if it can contribute to the project of emancipation. The relative emancipation in art has no meaning and significance whatsoever if it does not correspond to an emancipation in the world at large.”***
Deniz Erbaş, Istanbul 2009
* “Manifesto issued by the Syndicate of Technical Workers, Painters,
and Sculptors, Mexico City 1922”, “Theories of Modern Art”,
University of California Press, USA, 1984, s.461-462