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Artist run spaces and collective in Istanbul

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Artist run spaces and collective in Istanbul
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  ARTPAPERS.ORG 21 INSIDEFRONTCOVER :vitrine of the interdisciplinary artist-run project space PIST, 2006 (courtesy of PIST, Istanbul) / OPPOSITE , TOPTOBOTTOM :viewof the exhibition M.Ikonomopoulou, B.Karaduman, L.Rascic at Altı Aylık, February 28—March 19, 2006 (courtesy of the artists and Altı Aylık, Istanbul); ctrl-alt-del ,sound-art project featured in the Positionings section ofthe 9th International Istanbul Biennial, September 2005 (courtesy of the artists and NOMAD, Istanbul) While artist-run spaces and artists’collectiveshave long made significant contributions to artcenters such as Berlin,London,or New York,artist-run culture has recently raised its head inIstanbul where emergent artist-run spaces arefostering a surprisingly wide range of art,cul-tural,and civic practices.While some infra-structure for contemporary art has beendeveloping here in the last decade,basic fund-ing and facilities are still lacking.Nevertheless,the confluence of newly minted trans-local net-works,the effects of international art events,and the resurgence of collaborative art prac-tices worldwide is leading Istanbul artists todevelop new collaborative practices or establishnon-institutional,independent spaces in differ-ent parts of the city.How will such spaces and practices beshaped in the future? Three factors must beconsidered:the glamour newly bestowed uponself-initiated artistic projects in the age of glob-alism;Turkey’s bid to become a member of theEuropean Union (EU);and the related rapid andlarge-scale transformation of Istanbul.Self-initiated art practices,institutionalism,andurbanism thus form the three facets of thequestion.As private museums and galleries ledafull-fledged incursion into the public sphere,which opened ituptoprivatization,youngartists and curators feltthe urgent need todevelop self-initiated,collaborative practicessuch as publications,exhibition and projectspaces,and to contribute to international,trans-local networks.This led to the realizationthat space for exhibitions or collaborative proj-ects was either lacking,ideologically fraught orotherwise rundown.Artists then mobilizedalternatives to pursue their practices.Theprevalent lack of institutional or governmentalresources inflected their practice,yielding low-budget projects.Another historical factor must also be seri-ously considered.The legacy of Turkey’s 1980smilitary regime lives on in the state’s institu-tions,policies,procedures,and in its bureau-crats who remain both nationalistic andconservative.Unwilling to cooperate or engagewith the state in any way,artists and curatorshesitate to request funding for their projects.Most get financial support for their independ-ent spaces or projects from private sources.Turkey’s current membership negotiationswith the European Union mean that Turkishinstitutions can now apply to the EuropeanCultural Foundation for funding of collabora-tive international projects.In Turkey,however,it is often believed that internationally fundedprojects yield multicultural exoticism whilethey conform to socio-cultural populism andthat,ultimately,they are instruments of cul-tural normalization whose sole purpose is toshape contemporary art policies.Spaces of resistance against privatization,statism,andcultural conservatism,artist-run spaces seek tousher in critical,independent practices.With solittle support,and the shrinking of the publicsphere broughtaboutby gentrification,thebranding of the city of Istanbul as a culturalcapital,and EU negotiations,it has becomeincreasinglydifficultto maintain this inde-pendence while reaching a broader audience.In an effort to develop locally impactful strate-gies,Istanbul’s contemporary art collectivesand artist-run spaces recently began to sharetheir experiences,to discuss their problems,and to plan for the future.Around the world,artist-run spaces and col-lectives have so far been discussed predomi-nantly as experiments in institutional change,and as structures of resistance to prevailingeconomical and political conditions.Focusingon Do-It-Yourself practices and Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone ,curator HouHanru has discussed alternative art spaces bypointing out that “resistance needs new formsof actions and organizations and art events,which means more initiations or collectivesthat are consisting of artists and also othercultural producers,researchers within a trans-disciplinary,trans-cultural way.” 1 Several artist-run spaces and collectives from Asia and othercountries were invited to contribute to the2002 Gwangju Biennale,which sought to cre-ate new networks of relations between artist-run spaces while recognizing their particularrolein the urban cultural landscape:“…theseorganizations are extremelydiverse,respond-ing to the specific cultural,economic and polit-ical conditions of their own localities andidentifying the very need to be different.” 2 Several Turkish artist-run spaces and collec-tives aim to develop different practices and col-laborations with urban,institutional,andsocio-cultural impact.Owned by artist SeldaAsal since 1999,Apartman Projesi 3 was the firstartist-run space in Istanbul to supportyoungartists and curators.This street-level twenty-four-square-meter space hosts exhibitions,projects and workshops.With its three largewindows,the space aims to communicate withthe neighborhood’s habitants.ApartmanProjesi is often criticized for contributing toTünel–Galata’s recent gentrification,whichtookfirm hold of the neighborhood in 2005,as TEXT / PELIN TAN SELF-INITIATED COLLECTIVITY:  ARTIST-RUN SPACES + ARTISTS’ COLLECTIVES IN ISTANBUL  aresult of marketing efforts that were targetedat Istanbul’s inner-city.Apartman Projesi is notthe sole culprit.As this formerly rundownneighborhood has been subjected to a decadeof gentrification,artists who had studios orspaces in Tünel–Galata have been criticized forbringing attention to the district and,as such,facilitating its incorporation into the culturalcapital.In this,Istanbul is no different fromNew York or Berlin.Founded in 1997 by Özge Açıkkol,Seçil Yersel,Güne¸sSava¸s,the artists’collective Oda Projesihas been working with its Galata districtneighbors—many of whom moved to Istanbulfrom various parts of Anatolia in the late1980s. 4 Oda Projesi is a mediator.The collectivecreates situations where encounters can takeplace,where relations can develop between theneighborhood’s inhabitants and the collective’sother guests—artists,groups,and professionalsfrom different backgrounds.Oda Projesi’s plat-form is everyday life experiences.It respondedto Galata’s reconfiguration by working onprojects that endeavored to increase publicawareness and foster local critique of the gent-rification that is reshaping Istanbul’s center.Oda Projesi also established a locally broadcastnomad radio project,which brings togetherneighbors,artists,and social scientists.Theproject opened upan alternative space wherepeoplewhoshare the same urban environmentcan discuss their different urban practices.Italso sought to develop local critics and spreadpublic awareness of Istanbul’s new urbanre-development initiatives,whose ultimateaims are the imposition of a state- and EU-sanctioned security policy and the reproductionof an artificial culture of urban consumption.Other collectives have adopted a more tradi-tional institutional structure from the start.Such is the case with Galata Perform,a videoand performance collective run by Deniz Aygünand several other artists.Established to fosterinternational relations and local exchange,Galata Perform’s well-established,long-termprogram welcomes international artists andincludes several performance and art events.PIST,an interdisciplinary project space runby artists Didem Özbek,Osman Bozkurt andcurator/critic Fatos Üstek,chose to move toanother area of the city,deliberately abandon-ing what has become Istanbul’s main art cen-ter. 5 They aim to run their space as anexhibition,production,and meeting place.Theyare also developing publication projects.Between October 2006 and January 2007,PISTwill host the e-Flux Video Rental project cre-ated by Anton Vidokle and Julieta Aranda—afree,public video rental store. 6 Working at theintersection of its local and international net-works to seek out,develop,and present variousprojects in a neighborhood that(for now,atleast) safeguards art from its commercializa-tion,PIST will continue to collaborate withother projects in Istanbul and around the world.Run by artist Banu Cenneto¤lu,BAS collectsand produces artists’books and printed matter. 7 While BAS’growing international artists' bookscollection allows it to increase awareness of this art form and act as a resource for localartists,the center’s aim is to generate a newplatform for Turkish artists to explore printedmatter as an alternative space.BAS’first project  Bent  ,a collaboration with Philippine Hoegen,will see the production of a series of artists’books from Turkey.Aswith Oda Projesi,the artists’collective AltıAylık suddenly lost its space. 8 It continues towork in temporary empty spaces and on thestreets.Altı Aylık was launched last February asaplatform for the mediation of contemporaryart,and for communication between artistsand a broader public interested in contempo-rary art.During its short-lived occupancy,AltıAylık hosted international and local projects.Just before vacating its space,the collectiveorganized a meeting to which all Istanbulartist-run spaces and collectives were invited.This gathering aimed to initiate a discussion of the sustainability of art initiatives and alterna-tive art spaces in the context of oppressive andsuffocating official politics.Several follow-upmeetings will be held in the next months in 22 ART PAPERS ABOVE , LEFTTORIGHT :informal meeting of artists at PIST, an interdisciplinary project space, 2006 (courtesy of PIST, Istanbul); Open Studio: Anabala & Mahmoud RefatPerformance ,2006,NOMAD at Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, Cairo, Egypt (courtesy of NOMAD, Istanbul)  collaboration with PIST to discuss the economicand political challenges faced by artist-runspaces.NOMAD was founded in 2002 as an inde-pendent group of designers,engineers,archi-tects,artists,curators,and writers. 9 It aims tosupport the production of digital art and exper-imentation with electronic and digital media.NOMAD works predominantly through collab-orations with art institutions and universities.Basak Senova,the project’s curator,insists thatthis structure also provides an alternative toinstitutionalism,the state,and privatization,and a model for survival through networking.NOMAD established strong connections withcollectives from Israel and Eastern Europe.Italso introduced several young Turkish digitaland sound artists.In addition,NOMAD pro-duces ctrl-alt-del ,a biennial independent digi-tal and sound art event that takes place invarious urban spaces. 10 Gentrification robbed Oda Projesi of itsspace.Altı Aylık was also made homeless lastmonth.Istanbul’s collectives face importantchallenges.How will they run sustainablespaces and projects? How will they find a wayto collaborate with local municipalities,theEuropean Cultural Foundation,or other foreignfunders while disenabling urban,institutionalor cultural normalization? How can independ-ent projects effectively operate within globalnetworks without contributing to event cul-ture? Since artist-run spaces create their ownflexible and independent positions,they couldexpand in several directions.They now need tomeasure sustainability against normalizationand institutionalization,without losing sight of the impact of their choices on art practices. ARTPAPERS.ORG 23 ABOVELEFTTORIGHT : Sustainability ofAlternative Art Spaces ,ameeting of artists, writers, and curators to discuss the sustainability of alternative art spaces and initiatives, May 4, 2006,6-8pm, at Altı Aylık’s former space (courtesy of Altı Aylık, Istanbul) / view of the facilities of the artists’ initiative BAS, 2006 (courtesy of BAS, Istanbul) NOTES1.Hou Hanru,“Initiatives,Alternatives:Notes in a Temporary and Raw State”in  How Latitudes Become Forms ,Minneapolis:Walker Art Center,36-39.Hou Hanru is also the curator of the upcoming IstanbulBiennial,which will be presented in 2007.2.Idem.3.http://www.kuzudesign.com/glassights,http://www.seldaasal.com/4.www.odaprojesi.com5.www.pist.org.tr,www.pist-org.blogspot.com6.EVR started as a free video rental store in a small storefront on the Lower East Side in New York in 2004.Since then ithas traveled to Frankfurt,Berlin,Amsterdam,Miami,Seoul,and many other locations.Selected in collaboration with a large group of international curators,EVR’s collection includes over 550art films and video works,and is available for home viewing free of charge.This inventory is constantlyexpanded to include new selections made by local curators invited jointly with hosting institutions.7.http://www.b-a-s.info/Page7.html8.AltıAylık is run by three young women—Sylvia Kouvalis,Kristina Kramer and Oyku Ozsoy.Significantly,most of Istanbul’s collectives are run by women.For more info:http://www.altiaylik.blogspot.com9.http://nomad-tv.net10.http://www.project-ctrl-alt-del.comSociologist/art historian Pelin Tan is a Researcher andPh.D Candidate at ITU—Institute of Social Sciences inIstanbul.She is also Editor of  muhtelif  ,a non-profitIstanbul-based contemporary art publication.
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