From the master to the apprentice Quilting
I approached him enthusiastically. He got offended; however, he tried not to make it obvious. ‘Daughter, you do not stand on the counter with your shoes on.’ I felt ashamed. This time, I properly got down, next to him. There were yellow walls, and fuchsia and pistachio green quilts were hung on the walls. The store is 70 years old, and he has been a local for the last 50 years. He has been called ‘Tophaneli Beşir Abi’ since he was 11. He is a board member of İstanbul Yorgancılar Odası, (Istanbul Quilters Association) at the same time. His quilts are made-to-order. A clipping caught my eye, and later I learnt that Beşir Abi has been quilting for the Queen and Arab sheikhs, shipping his quilts internationally. Beşir Abi Lately, Beşir Abi makes his own tea. ‘There used to be a coffeehouse we would usually go to, but after Galataport was opened, modern cafés came forward. The artisans had to flee. I have never set foot in one of those modern cafés. The next thing I knew, I was making my own tea.’ says Beşir Abi talking about the transformation he went through. What are the essentials of a quilt? What matters to you the most? What are your essentials? Let me ask you. ‘A happy and healthy life’, isn’t it? Quilts lie behind that. They are your power banks that determine how your day goes. You spend 1/3 of your day under the quilt which makes it even more precious than clothes. Thus, our craft is vital. Quilts that are not hand-sewn are synthetic and unhealthy. They all contain cancerogenes. People are not able to see what they purchase, which is a huge drawback. If we talk about quilts, we should talk about those made out of pure wool and carefully stitched instead of those which come out of mass production. Colourful duvets How do you see the future of quilting? We inherited this craft from our masters. We would like to pass it on to the next generations, but we cannot find anyone to do so. I have a son; however, he was not interested in learning the craft of quilting while growing up. Though, it is not a craft that has to be handed down from the older to the younger. In fact, quilting has been a part of our lives for about 7-8 centuries. During the Ottoman period, they used to quilt kaftans (robes) to keep themselves warm. Nowadays, this tradition seems to be forgotten. In fact, this craft should be taught in art schools. In our country, young people have a hard time finding a job after they graduate from university. Unfortunately, we cannot provide them with a reliable future. Actually, everybody should have expertise in their job, starting from childhood, just the way it is in Europe. Artisanry is not looked down on, it is highly valued. Contrary to Turkey, children can receive education according to the field they are talented in. This is a huge difference. We lack guidance. I learnt the craft by zonking out in the corners of the counter. I believe this is how you learn it, experiencing it in its place. Back in the day, when our mothers would trust the masters with us, they had the ‘all yours’ kind of mentality. Nowadays, there is nobody left with this perspective. Maybe that's why quilting is faced with the threat of coming to an end. Speaking the truth with Beşir Abi was hard on me, but I felt at ease and filled with hope. I said goodbye to Beşir Abi. I’m sure I’ll be back and drink his tea again.
Ustadan çırağa: Yorgancılık
Beşir Abi tezgâha oturmuş, elinde bordo parça, üzerinde asetat kağıdına benzeyen bir kağıt iğnelemiş, uzaktan çok net anlaşılmayan ama yaklaşınca kurşun kalemle çizildiğini anladığım ince desenlerle karşılıyor beni. Heyecanla yanına gidiyorum. Kırılıyor, sesi bozuluyor ama çaktırmamaya çalışıyor. “Kızım tezgâha ayakkabıyla çıkılmaz ki ama” diyor. Utanıyorum. Bu sefer uygun bir şekilde yanına çömeliyorum. Beşir Abi Sarı duvarlar, duvarlara asılmış fuşya, fıstık yeşili yorganlar. Dükkân 70 yıllık, kendisi de 50 yıldır buralı. 11 yaşından beri de Tophaneli Beşir Abi. İstanbul Yorgancılar Odası yönetim kurulu üyesi aynı zamanda. Sipariş üzerine çalışıyor. Gözüme bir kupür çarpıyor ve öğreniyorum ki İngiliz kraliçesi başta olmak üzere, Arap şeyhlerine ve ağırlıklı olarak yurtdışına yorgan yapıyormuş. Çayını kendi yapıyor artık Beşir Abi. “Kahveci vardı eskiden oraya giderdik ama Galataport açılınca burayı da yeni nesil kafeler aldı. Esnaf kaçmak zorunda kaldı. Yeni yerlerden bir kere bile çay içmişliğim yok. Ben de baktım gidecek yer kalmadı kendi kendime yetmeye başladım.” diye anlatıyor yaşadığı değişimi. Bir yorganın “olmazsa olmazları” nedir? Hayatında ne önemli senin için? Olmazsa olmazın nedir? Ben sana sorayım. “Sağlıklı ve mutlu bir yaşam” değil mi? Bunun temelinde de yorgan var. Enerjini topladığın, gününün gidişatını belirleyen yer. Günün üçte birini yorgan altında geçiriyosun, giydiğin kıyafetten daha kıymetli yorgan. Bu yüzden çok önemli bizim işçiliğimiz. Elle dikilmeyen yorganlar sentetik ve sağlıksız. Hepsi kanserojen madde içeriyor. İnsanlar ne aldığını göremiyor, bu büyük eksiklik. Yorgan diyorsak makinelerden çıkmış seri üretim değil, saf yün kullanılan, özenle dikilen ürünlerden söz etmeliyiz. Yorgancılığın geleceğini nasıl görüyorsun? Meslek ustalardan bize geldi. Biz de bizden sonrakilere geçsin istiyoruz ama aktaracak kimseyi bulamıyoruz. Bir tane oğlum var ama öğrenmek istemedi. Gerçi babadan oğula geçen ya da geçmesi gereken bir meslek de değil. Aslına bakarsan yorgancılık hayatımızda yaklaşık 7-8 asırdır var. Osmanlı’da kaftanlara yorganlama yaparlardı sıcak tutsun diye. Şimdilerde bu kültür unutulmuş gibi. Hâlbuki bu meslek bilhassa sanat okullarında okutulmalı. Rengârenk yorganlar Ülkemizde gençler üniversiteden mezun olunca iş imkânı bulamıyor. Ne yazık ki onlara sağlam bir gelecek sunamıyoruz. Aslında her çocuk küçüklüğünden itibaren bir meslek kolunda uzmanlaşmalı, Avrupa’daki gibi. Zanaatkârlık yurtdışında buradaki gibi görülmüyor, daha kıymetle yaklaşılıyor. Türkiye’nin aksine orada çocuklar hangi alanda yetenekliyse o bölüm üzerine eğitim alabiliyor. Bu çok büyük bir fark. Bizde yönlendirme eksik. Ben tezgâh köşelerinde yatarak öğrendim bu mesleği, böyle de öğrenilir zaten, yerinde ve yaşayarak. Benim zamanımda annelerimiz bizi ustalara emanet ederken “eti senin kemiği benim” felsefesiyle yaklaşırlardı, şimdi bu bakışaçısında kimse yok, belki de bu yüzden gün geçtikçe zanaatkârlık yok olma tehlikesiyle karşı karşıya kalıyor. Ayakkabılarım elimde tezgâhtan iniyorum. Gerçekleri konuşmanın ağır huzuruyla Beşir Abi’yle vedalaşıyorum. Tekrar geleceğime, çayını içeceğime eminim.
Last Tuesday, we met with Nora (Byrne) at Nadas; her residency, and the place where she produces. We were surrounded by plants and the fresh atmosphere that they create. You're in luck if you want to discover Istanbul from an artist's point of view who examines the city, space, and what it is made of. We are all about the crux of the matter. ID Your nickname: No-no In Istanbul, I have recently visited: The balcony at Nadas Istanbul Recently, I have explored: The Atıksız Yaşam Pazarı in Feneryolu I live in: A nest, with my crow friends and my pigeon adversaries (In my heart,) I feel like I am from: The dirt underneath a hemlock tree I’m regular at: Roots Cafe & Botanik SHOOT THE BREEZE You were born in the United States, then moved to Doha, and since 2017 you have been living in Istanbul. As an artist who aims to increase awareness of the public's relationship to urban ecologies and their evolution, how and why did end up here? I studied art history at university, curation in Doha, and came to Istanbul to start an artistic career. These two cities are the source of my aims in artmaking. Istanbul emerged as a place caught in the same inadequate and manipulative narratives of East and West I was currently reevaluating, with a similar facade but more soul. Murat Germen was the perfect advisor for someone fascinated by the intricacies of place and injustices of our systems of change, and my time at Sabancı University allowed me to explore artistic inquiry as a type of Urban Studies, with Istanbul as inexhaustible inspiration. Nora and her studio You are a graphic designer and resident artist at Nadas Istanbul. You’ve developed a paper recycling system that takes the paper waste generated each month and re-purposes it into sheets of handmade paper. According to your observation, is Istanbul a viable city? I don’t consider lifestyle changes a genuine solution to our environmental crisis. Istanbul’s structural mismanagement is actively destroying nearby ecologies and our lifestyles won’t affect untreated wastewater channeled into the Marmara. However, future sustainability will require significant lifestyle changes for many, and I see value in practicing these. So-called 'developed' nations developed in ways that deified profit and comfort in a violently extractive relationship with the earth (and other humans). In theory, 'developing' nations could have an advantage in redefining this relationship. One of our goals at Nadas is questioning how our daily lives fit into that relationship and building a community around these questions. In the US or Doha barriers to entry in opening a space like Nadas would make our work impossible, but in Istanbul we manage. Other organizations do, too, such as farm collectives, waste-free stores , or organic producer platforms that make small lifestyle changes easier. Are there any craft workshops in Yeldeğirmeni? What is the importance of their permanence in the hood and the city? I see many craftspeople in Yeldeğirmeni, from woodworking amcas to hip ceramicists. I suspect this diverse community of creatives has a part in why Yeldeğirmeni feels genuine even as it gentrifies. Though events like Open Studio Days or Festçik have helped me learn about other creatives in the neighbourhood, these events are rooted in the 'A' kind of art. I really admire Bilal and Lydia for their project Crafted in Istanbul , a beautifully designed directory of craftspeople in the hood and throughout the city.
Neslişah Kaya- Zoks
We walk on the cobblestone pavements that we have walked so many times before with the eagerness of finding a familiar face. We come to Balat, the place where we never get tired of sitting on the pavement and watching the neighbourhood from among the colourful apartment buildings. We meet Neslişah (Kaya). We come to Zoks Studio to get covered in mud, to talk about the sound of the neighbourhood, and to see Istanbul through the eyes of a painter and ceramics expert. In front of us, mud, scraper, and work that has not yet decided whether it should be a vase or a glass, in our hands, warm coffees in cups hand-made by Neslişah. Come sit with us, we're starting. ID My nickname: Çimenkuşu-Meadowbird I recently discovered this ceramic artist: Şirin Ceramics I am a regular at: Vanilla Balat Those who don't live in Istanbul wouldn't know: The traffic I live in: Balat In my heart, I am from: Ayvalık SHOOT THE BREEZE You live in the same place you create. What effect does this dynamic, Balat and Istanbul have on your production? Balat is a very diverse neighbourhood and this is of course reflected in my production. Since I produce industrial works in addition to my artistic works, a colour or a texture that I encounter on the streets, which I never get bored by, shapes my works, sometimes it can even turn into patterns on the products. The process can sometimes get even deeper when I hop on the ferry and cross to the Anatolian side, or when I take the metro bus to change neighbourhoods. Istanbul is a city that nourishes people in general, and the culture of each neighbourhood tells us something based on our perspective. Because we are in a constant marathon, we have to struggle. If we have to produce and make a living simultaneously, if we are artists or craftspeople, we need to recognise the finest details wherever we look. I was always sure that one day I would live in Balat. Even after settling here in 2018, we have visibly developed and we are still growing every day. Of course, there are disadvantages to this. As good and nourishing as it is to share the same environment with people from different cultures and live all together, it is also a situation that we are not used to and can sometimes lead to chaos. For me, what makes Balat Balat is its artists, workshops, and the transformation of the neighbourhood into a destination for the arts. Zoks Studio Have you produced collective works with different craftspeople and artists before? Do you benefit from each other in this structure? I make architectural panels, decorative works, and wall paintings. I can experience every aspect of the pleasure of producing together thanks to this structure of multiplicity. Not everyone can see the same detail. Producing together ensures that the end product is holistically strong and complete. None of us are perfect and we never will be, but at the end of the day, sharing adds layers to that which is produced. I usually prefer to produce alone. I shared my first exhibition experience with my teacher Kenan Özgür, who had a great influence on me before university, it was very special. Afterward, I took part in many group exhibitions. In the coming days, we are planning to open an exhibition as the ceramicists of the neighbourhood. I hope we will meet again in the neighbourhood on this occasion. How is the transformation of the neighbourhood reflected in their works? What do you think awaits Balat in this sense? This popularisation was a bit unsettling for me at first, I was never concerned about making money while producing, I find myself under terrible stress of fulfilling orders from time to time, and I increase my production speed in order to keep up. The consciousness of consuming fast was tiring me, I felt that it was jeopardising the sustainability of my process, so I stopped myself. Each piece that emerges is a simple expression of how we see the world, and how we want to see it, and it is unique, so it must be produced with patience. Most of my visitors are foreign tourists. In fact, we all know that 'making and producing art in Turkey' is definitely very difficult. I face this, again and again, every day with people's reactions to me. It can sometimes feel guilty to put a price on the work we do, sometimes it is even hard to get past it. Of course, it is a good thing that the art/work we do is increasing. There is no end to this, just like there is no end to learning. As we grow, we share more, and we enrich ourselves by feeding each other.
Bilal Yılmaz & Lydia Chatziiakovou
Last Wednesday we met Bilal and Lydia at Ali Paşa Han, one of the places that they revel in visiting most in Istanbul. We talked about crafts in Istanbul and their impact on the city. We recommend you sit in a cozy place where you can focus easily because what you are about the read is the kind that should be paid attention to. ID We have visited 'this neighborhood' to meet 'this artisan' in Istanbul recently: Recently we visited Eminönü - Büyük Yeni Han to meet Thomas Usta, maybe the best engraver in the city, who recently collaborated with an international artist for the creation of her artwork in the context of the Creative Craft Collaboration - Residency Programme, that we are curating. We have explored 'this artisan' recently: We mapped several craftsmen in Prizren/Kosovo. We live in: Istanbul and Thessaloniki. (In our hearts,) we feel like we are from: The Balkans. Our favourite hangout: Hans of Istanbul. SHOOT THE BREEZE You have created a digital craft map of Istanbul called 'Crafted in Istanbul', in order to ensure the integration of crafts into the existing design system by documenting them and making them visible. Why did you choose craftsmanship as a field of research? When and how did you realize that the continuity of craft in Turkey was in danger? While studying in New York, I (Bilal) started experimenting with materials and handcraft techniques to create the forms and narratives in my mind. While I was doing an MA in Product Design in Istanbul, I started discovering local crafts and making experimental creative productions with traditional craft studios, which led me to initiate the collective action research project Crafted in Istanbul. My initial purpose of integrating crafts into the design system evolved into using mapping as a tool to activate reflection on crafts’ potential as a medium for contemporary creative productions. In 2020, Lydia got involved (from Greece), bringing her expertise to socially engaged art practices. Together, we started developing the Creative-Craft Platform, a transnational platform to establish creative networks and communities around crafts, revealing and activating their potential as an alternative, sustainable, local, and socially-aware production form, especially for creative ideas. Lydia & Bilal What are the characteristics of the soul of Istanbul’s crafts and how does this contribute to your overall approach and research? Crafts in Turkey are slowly being pushed to the margins, without social recognition or state support. Still, they remain an important part of the local economy. Alongside producing traditional objects, craftsmen represent the skilled working class of Industry 3.0. They either work in or with the industry, which makes their production extremely varied and innovative. This is why Istanbul attracts Westerners eager to discover techniques and materials and in the process, they often discover Bilal, who has become a sort of ambassador for the city’s crafts. Additionally, Istanbul’s craftsmen are fascinating storytellers, sources of experiential knowledge on issues related to the city and its social and financial transformations. Many would say that crafts are 'outdated'. How does your project respond to this generalised perception of crafts? Creative interventions are crucial to transform crafts into a contemporary field. Crafts can be a versatile medium that can lead to social, cultural, and environmental sustainability. Their borders are flexible enough to include fine and applied art, function and non-function, labour and leisure, analog and digital, and past and future. This eclectic quality is what makes crafts not only an absolutely contemporary field but also an excellent methodology for artistic research, critical thinking, and conceptualisation. What are the main elements of the Creative-Craft Platform? Is the map available to everyone? Can anyone contribute to the platform? Creative-Craft Platform is based on a 3-step strategy: mapping, connecting, and reactivating. CCP introduces tools to create a collective dynamic archive of craft through participatory action research; provide a platform for creatives to reflect and act on the potential of crafts; brings together creative cumulative actions as a basis for institutions to build craft policies, and document the transformation of crafts’ know-how in the contemporary context. The first CCP element to be launched soon is Craft Net, a digital app open to creatives to conduct mapping research and realise their creative productions with crafts.
Last Wednesday, we met with Omar (Berakdar) at arthereistanbul , which he founded. We talked about the platform, one of the venues of the 17th Istanbul Biennial, his relationship with the neighbourhood, the importance of the biennial, and art. It was a completely different experience to look at Yeldeğirmeni through the eyes of Omar, who came to Istanbul from Syria and created an open production space for artists and art lovers. If you are ready, we will start our conversation to learn the story of arthereistanbul with cats on our laps, pieces of art in front of our eyes, and the sound of the neighbourhood in our ears. SHOOT THE BREEZE What is the relationship between arthereistanbul and Yeldeğirmeni? Now, we are a part of the neighbourhood. We do lots of collaborations with the locals. Yeldeğirmeni is a really close and sincere district. When I need to handle other stuff outside of the hood I can easily ask anyone to take care of the place. Over time we became a part of the family, and this means so much to me. Omar at arthereistanbul Photo: Deniz Sabuncu What is the relationship between art and Yeldeğirmeni? Yeldeğirmeni is a very rooted and nostalgic place. About 10-15 years ago, the municipality started a project related to murals. It attracted a lot of attention from the environment. You can easily find lots of tours located here about murals. At the same time, there are many historical buildings around. Again, this place was protected by the decision of the municipality. That means; you will see that many of the buildings around here can stay the same for many years. People are aware of this as much as possible, and they try to buy houses from here and renovate them in exactly the same way, and they have to do it this way by law. Thanks to the locals and the people who visit, Yeldeğirmeni will be one of those who succeed in preserving its texture in the future. arthereistanbul is one of the participants in the 17th Istanbul Biennial. For you, what is the impact of the biennial and this collaboration? We had many collaborations with IKSV before. Even though we took part in the previous biennial, this one is slightly different than the others because this time arthereistanbul is one of the venues. This is so significant as the recognition of the role of the artist who presents Turkey. We have a library that tells all the stories about the war and how the war affected people. In relation to this, we started collecting books translated into Turkish and Arabic and international books to spread this awareness to people as much as possible. Knowledge is very important for people who want to learn what's going on around the world. It was very rare to find a Syrian writer to write in Turkish and now with the help of our library and space, you can easily find sources. We hope it will grow and continue after the biennial. We wanted this place to become an open space where anybody who wants to learn can come, sit, and learn. This area has always been reserved for spending time together and producing. Duly noted: We are collaborating with the British Council which involves 3 countries; the UK, Turkey, and Jordan. All of us were selected to host 2 displaced artists and present them in our spaces. The residency will start soon.
Last Tuesday, we met Bengü (Gün) in Beşiktaş, one of her favourite places in Istanbul. We talked about the neighbourhood, being an Istanbulite and art spaces. We searched for an answer to the question "How can people who live here nourish themselves?" Are you curious about what we found? Then, come close and take a seat. Let us get you a Turkish coffee so we can start our conversation. ID Your nickname: Coruja - my nick name from back when I played capoeira. Last exhibition I visited in Istanbul: Salt Beyoğlu, The 90s Onstage , an exhibition that sheds light on the place of performance art in Turkey's past. Last artist I discovered in Istanbul: Adelita Husni-Bey in the Also your wound, Rosa exhibition curated by Pelin Uran. The place in Istanbul where you can get your fill of art without going to a museum or gallery: Urban in Beyoğlu, best place to meet friends from the art world. Non-Istanbulites wouldn't know: How endless a city can be. I live in: Beşiktaş, still my favourite. In my heart, I feel like I am from: Brazil. SHOOT THE BREEZE You were born in Mersin, you came to Istanbul for university. You lived in Dubai for a while and then you came back to Istanbul, and you're still here. How did Istanbul's place in your heart change over the years? What are the factors that make this place 'home'? When I first arrived in Istanbul from Mersin, I was mesmerised by the city. The way the Bosphorus shaped the whole city, its never-ending energy, and its size, which was difficult to grasp at first, felt very good to me. I guess the city was not so crowded at that time, or I didn't realise it when I was a student. Of course, living on the campus of Boğaziçi University was very lucky, we were in the most beautiful corner of the most beautiful city in the world. As a result of work and the general rush of life, the relationship with the city changes. It is both my home, where I feel very comfortable, and an area of constant struggle. Nevertheless, Istanbul has not lost anything from its beauty for me. With a ferry journey, I can recapture the feeling I experienced on my first day here. There is still so much to discover. Bengü is in her neighbourhood, Beşiktaş You are the co-founder of Mixer, a gallery that creates a space for young artists to introduce and express themselves. At the same time, you have experience in managing a 'guest house' that provides artists with the opportunity to create. What does the presence of these institutions in Istanbul, which have different dynamics but serve the same purpose, add to the city? What is the impact of the city on these institutions? I have always nourished myself through such institutions. Although each institution you mentioned is quite different, they have a common goal; to create space for artistic creation and for the creation to meet audiences. In a multi-layered city like Istanbul, such initiatives carry special importance. It is not a one-sided relationship. The existence of these institutions cannot be considered separately from the audience living here. Institutions that nourish the audience, arouse curiosity and create a space for questioning and discussion, also strengthen and nourish the life here. As a person who has been involved in the arts for years, how do you intellectually nourish yourself in Istanbul apart from visiting exhibitions and museums? We are lucky that there is a very vibrant art scene in Istanbul, and this period now is even more active with the biennial. I participate in talks and events as much as I can. I especially enjoy spending time in Salt Galata's library. The best thing that nourishes me in Istanbul traffic these days is breaks with audiobooks. Do you find anything missing from the art scene in Istanbul, a place/platform that you think should exist in the city? If so, why do you think we need such a space? I think most cultural institutions are still very closed off, and they target similar audiences. We need more spaces that bring people together for participatory works, that are more inclusive and inviting. This was also the reason why ICOM changed the definition of museums recently. We all need to figure out how to really realize the following statement in this new definition: “Open to the public, accessible and inclusive, museums foster diversity and sustainability.”
The 17th Istanbul Biennial Curatorial Team
Last Tuesday, we met the team at Zeytinburnu Medicinal Plants Garden, one of the biennial venues. We talked about the biennial and its focal points, Istanbul, the inspiration they took from here, and its reflections. We listened to how the biennial, which is spread over different neighbourhoods of Istanbul, develops new methods to create its own language, to create new connections, to think and produce, and how to incorporate existing methods. Afterward, we went to Barın Han, another biennial venue. We visited the exhibition together, took photographs, learned a lot, and had some fun. We left some questions unanswered with the intention of continuing one day when we meet at an exhibition that is yet unknown to us. Now, we are looking for other ways of seeing and understanding in Zeytinburnu, Balat, Çemberlitaş, Tophane, Pera, Sıraselviler, Yeldeğirmeni, and Hasanpaşa. Here's to many more biennials. ID My name is: Amar Kanwar I am from: India Recently, I have attended: Ishara Art Foundation, Dubai, and NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, UAE (2020) My name is: David Teh I am from: Australia Recently, I have attended: The CIRCUIT Artist Cinema Commissions, Aotearoa, New Zealand (2020) My name is : Ute Meta Bauer I am from: Germany Recently, I have attended: Trinh T. Minh-ha. Films. (2020/2021) SHOOT THE BREEZE We are keen on asking about the spirit of Istanbul to people who are involved in the art scene. What's the magic of this city? Can any biennial represent a whole city of Istanbul’s size, complexity, and layered history? Istanbul's dense historical layers are a treasure trove that includes the classical, the medieval, the modern, and the contemporary. It is our intention for the various neighbourhoods to be recognized as both hosts and participants in this edition. You began imagining the biennial before the pandemic, and finally, it's tangible. How did the physical distance affect your creative process? There were many constraints, and naturally, the physical separation was a big one. The three of us have not been in the same place during the preparations. But all of us were in every conversation, making every decision together and although it was exhausting, it was also very rewarding. We regularly met digitally and the biennial team in Istanbul introduced us to great connections there. The pandemic also encouraged us to invest in sustainable processes rather than seeing the production of an exhibition as the main outcome. Amar, David and Ute at Barın Han 17th Istanbul Biennial is focusing on 'compost'. More precisely “Can everything be a compost material?” would be the main question. According to this, if we imagine Istanbul as a huge orchard, what do you think are the main components in the formation of this compost? Compost is a resource that can create itself by a mix of ingredients at its own pace depending on various conditions, and then distributed and used elsewhere with unpredictable outcomes. Two years ago, we invited individuals and groups to develop their ongoing work for the biennial. So we can say that the biennial projects are each the fruit of long-term research and collaboration generated by its process rather than a focus on production. Preparations have taken longer than usual due to the great uncertainty caused by the global pandemic and the one-year postponement. In that sense, this biennial deliberately began way before its official opening date, and we hope that some projects will continue long after. From your interview with Bige, we understand that the 17th Istanbul Biennial's main goal is to create lasting discussions over time and to let time and discussion shape the content. So how the structure between art, artist, crafts, and the public will be formed, and what will it focus on? How will the liaison be built? Reaching out to new audiences and establishing new connections with the city are the two goals of this biennial. We especially selected the venues based on their distinctive histories and personalities, as well as their locations in various neighbourhoods. Even for Istanbulites, these settings will have something new or unique to offer. Where can art find an audience? Where can it reach people who aren't typically exposed to it? Where can ideas and experiences be shared and discussed? These were our key considerations while shaping the biennial. This biennial focuses on the connection between international artists and local artisans such as bibliophiles. What is the relationship between art and daily life within the scope of the biennial? The long-term practices of artists, writers, and other creative practitioners are certainly at the center of this biennial. And viewers will be able to encounter these practices anytime, anywhere. Because we’re interested in the sorts of conversation that might happen in coffee shops or bookstores, in a school, a hospital, or a hammam; on the phone, or on a podcast. After years of isolation, everyone is eager to spend time together, to think, talk, read, watch and listen in public. And the biennial will be the perfect platform to host this engagement. What is the aim of this cultural, dystopian bridge? How does the 17th Istanbul Biennial aim to alter the cultural life of Istanbul? We wish to leave Istanbul abuzz with conversations! We hope Istanbulites will come and ask questions and question the answers at the biennial. We also hope that this edition will encourage further experimentation, including with the format of international art events.
Last Wednesday, we met Nergis at Manifaturacılar Bazaar, one of her favorite places to visit in Istanbul, we laughed and talked about this place. We entered The Ayın Biri Church and drank boza at Vefa Bozacısı. We left ourselves to the excitement of "art month" and wandered around together. We tried to see art through the eyes of an art historian with a PhD. You are wondering what we discovered, don't you? ID Your nickname: Other than the many nicknames my partner calls me, I don't have one. I have attended “this” exhibit in Istanbul recently: I saw Özgür Demirci's Anthology of Promises at Pilot Galeri. Something I discovered recently: The book Women Can't Paint by Helen Gorrill at Hayalperest Publishing in Istanbul. I am a regular at: Görgülü Bakery in my neighborhood, Hera in Kadıköy, Hatice Anne Ev Yemekleri in Kuzguncuk, and on the European side, Fıccın, Fasuli, Ara Kafe and Pera Museum's cafe are the places I visit a lot. Non-Istanbulites wouldn't know: That one day, all of a sudden, your eyes may fall on something that has been there for thousands of years as you are passing by on your walking path, and just like that, you are amazed by its splendor. I live in: Erenköy for the last 5 years. I don't think I would ever give up on the Anatolian side. In my heart, I feel like I am from: Istanbul in the winter, Adabükü in the summer. SHOOT THE BREEZE You were born in the city of Sumqayit in Azerbaijan, you lived there until the age of 6, then moved to Istanbul and spent a semester in Milan during university. These three different cities are the components of your identity. What is the role of Istanbul in all of it? My first plane ride was to Istanbul. It's where I learned to read and write, where I made friends, where I fell in love, and where I think of it as home. Maybe because my own personal story starts with migration, because I am an "outsider" myself, I can look at migration, differences, and the new inhabitants of the city from a calmer space. I think from a very young age, Istanbul has given me the ability to make things that were unfamiliar or foreign to me my own. Nergis and the Istanbul view Apart from visiting exhibitions and museums in Istanbul, how do you nurture yourself? How do you learn? I love to watch plays, operas, ballets, and movies in places that aren't part of shopping malls. This year, I visited the historical peninsula every week with Prof. Dr. Zeynep Kuban, from whom I took the ITU Istanbul Archaeology course, who knows Istanbul inside out. Sometimes we went in search of a column, sometimes a palace, sometimes a church. Istanbul gives us the right to be tourists in our own city no matter how long we lived there. I also love to look at old magazines in Atatürk Library, see the trees, work as cats wander in the magnificent building of ITU Taşkışla, MSGSU's library overlooking the sea, and spend time at SALT Galata, which makes me feel more integrated into the world. What do you think is the impact of biennials on cities? What about the impact of the Istanbul Biennial on the city we live in? An important function of biennials is to include the cultural art audience, whose relationship with contemporary art is more distant. I was at the end of high school when I visited the 2009 Istanbul Biennial, What Keeps Mankind Alive? I was very impressed by the biennial, especially Canan's video Ibretnüma. I started to love and be curious about contemporary art and to study art history after What Keeps Mankind Alive? The theme of the 17th Istanbul Biennial this year is "compost". Unlike other years, this year's Biennial prioritizes scattering rather than gathering, maturing in one's own shell. Where do you think the power of separation rather than unification lies in a multicultural structure like Istanbul? The upcoming Istanbul Biennial asks more questions than it answers them, and that is important to me. I am excited about such a biennial in a city where the issues of origin are redefined every day from every angle. Throughout its history, Istanbul has been a city that draws its strength from its diversity, a city that sacrifices a piece of its own soul every time it tries to expel these differences. But no matter what, it continues to say "you can have my body, but never my soul!" This biennial promises to focus more on the soul of Istanbul, and I am looking forward to it.
Last Thursday we met Bejan around her district, Gümüşsuyu. She is a poet who leaves marks on her readers’ minds with her every single word. And now she is waiting for us with her 12 poems at 17th Istanbul Biennial. ID A place I visited recently: Montenegro Something I discovered recently: The book of Istanbul Pervititch Maps ( İstanbul Pervititch Haritaları ) it is a wonderfully obsessive study that talks about Istanbul neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street! I live in: Gümüşsuyu In my heart, I feel like I am from: Anatolia, Mesopotamia SHOOT THE BREEZE The 17th Istanbul Biennial includes 12 of your poems as part of the "Poetry Channel" program. What does Istanbul mean to you as a poet? I have an intermittent/passionate relationship with Istanbul. I have tried many times to leave, to live in another city. London, New York, Athens, Crete, Florence, Aleppo before the war... I come back to Istanbul every time. There is a mysterious bond between us that I cannot and do not want to solve. I am not writing the poetry of Istanbul. Its effect on me has more to do with the historical, mystical depth, and openness I feel here than with the poetry I write. Istanbul has a depth that soothes my soul and I think I return here every time I succumb to this allure. Istanbul is also a city that feels very contradictory. On the one hand, I feel like a foreigner here. But I am also very much myself. Bejan posing around her district Photo: Deniz Sabuncu One of the focal points of this year's Biennial is the "process" in production and creation of a "compost" structure. How does poetry stand against other disciplines in the biennial and how does it integrate into this common space? The invitation made by Amar Kanwar, one of the curators of the Biennial, with the idea of "letting poets tell us about the issues of the times" was very important. The idea of giving poetry such a space in the most experimental field of contemporary art such as the Biennial offers an interesting experience in terms of the targeted interaction. Including words/poetry written in the language of this geography in the Biennial, space is not only a brave decision but also a reminder of what contemporary art actually is. We will all experience it and see how it goes. What I find important here is to be open to interaction and for the poet to stand on an idea that will make room for this interaction. Because when you see poetry in a completely abstract, glorified place, you destroy this opportunity for interaction. In other words, this invitation can be an opportunity for the poet who speaks the language of truth, but it can also be a trap for the poet who sees themselves on the level of God! Can you share with us the process of your poems in the Biennial? Saying yes to the Biennial's invitation both excited and worried me. I have never written any of my poems because someone asked me to, and I wasn't about to start being commissioned now. But there was a big space offered to all poets and the connotations of that space, and I have to admit that I learned a lot about myself and my view of poetry from this process and work. I must say that at the beginning I found it difficult to move forward. That's why I wrote a small poem of 3 lines that I wanted to present with a video. It's called 'forbidden language.' In the video, in a remote village, in the middle of the desolation, we gather with the little girls who live there and we try to create a timbre, an echo by hitting the rock on which we sit with a stone in our hands. I don't know yet how it will be presented at the biennial, but I think this short poem and video is my most meaningful contribution to the spirit of the biennial. The other eleven poems are dedicated to the issue of migration, femicides, and Osman Kavala, to my friend Bei Dao, the dissident poet of China, to my friend Deniz Bilgin, a fairy in eternity, whose painting 'madonna and child was in the exhibition of women painters at the Meşher. I even have a poem about Perseverance's journey on Mars!