Art / Architecture. Two names. Without a doubt, names make it possible for us to talk about the phenomena in the world. Phenomena can not exist within the field of possibility of language and thought, unless they’re represented by certain names and concepts. On the other hand, as the aforementioned concepts turn into categories with clear boundaries and turn into objects, they begin to gain a presence free of the plurality of the phenomena they represent and become independent indicators. In this respect, they can sometimes easily beinstrumentalised by the dominant power structure. Moreover, the represented phenomena is also subjected to the effects of the power structure that the representations themselves are a part of, and thus their field of existence changes. We could say that this is the case with the two fields that we call Art and Architecture.
It wouldn’t be wrong to point out that art for a long time –especially here– has been considered a field of production that belongs to a higher culture. The fact that the products of this field –which are considered somewhat insignificant by those who don’t see themselves among the higher culture, unless these products have missions or pragmatical purposes,– are called “works of art” is maybe both a sign and a trigger of this situation. In this era, a “work of art” makes the boundaries between itself and the world in which it exists clearer, therefore turning itself into an object; physically as well as culturally and mentally. The relationship between this object and space is founded on a kind of independent “container”; a Platonic understanding of space in which works of art are objects within this space. From the beginning a work of art is pictured with the assumption of such a relation to space; and space is imagined as a neutral background that doesn’t interfere with that object as much as possible, leaving it alone, letting it be. As a matter of fact, this situation is considered normal to such an extent that anything that doesn’t comply with this rule brings to mind the question “is the space getting ahead of the object?”. This question turns into a cliché as it’s repeated, and becomes one of the obstacles against rethinking the relationship between space and art work.
Considering the current situation, even calling art products just “works” instead of “works of art” seems to take the halo regarding the higher culture off the head of this field, even if a little. Art works of today are produced off a rich plurality that feeds on every kind of form, language and mental state. To blur the boundaries instead of making them sharper has become an attitude that’s emulated. Without a doubt, it’s not possible to consider this plurality completely positive. In this era of over production in which quantity as well as qualitative differentiation has increased, it becomes relatively hard to analyze, make sense of and relate to works, each of which has its own unique language. On the other hand, the field of art has become a market of merchandise in which speculative values are increasing consistently. Works are gaining recognition and even meaning according to their economical value in addition to –and maybe rather than– their artistic value. Still, this world of plurality has potential concerning rethinking the relationship between space and art product.
Presently it can be stated that the field of architecture shares in some ways a similar fate with the field of art. It’s obvious that the intense over-production in architecture as it does in art, is transforming our living spaces radically. Architecture has turned into a kind of business that produces real estate, directed mostly within the dynamics of consumer culture. It’s quite hard to stumble upon an example that possesses a statement, a sensibility, a deepened mentality, apart from the aim of profit. And once the rare examples that mind these qualities are superficially glorified, they may share the same fate with “bad” architecture, becoming just an image and losing their spatial values.
Space itself isn’t like Architecture. It resists turning into an image. The Arabic root of the Turkish word for Space (Mekân) is “kawn”, which means “to exist”. Space exists inside the state of man “being on earth”. It’s not an image, but an experience, a feeling that is hard to put into words… Each person exists within the same space with his own presence. He makes the space exist through that presence, experiences it, relates to it. Settles down on it, becomes a part, makes it a part of himself. When space is pictured this way, maybe its at the point closest to Art. The point in which both finally emerge as an aesthetic creation of man, and gain a meaning in the world of each single person.
Well then, in what kind of a union can art and architecture, or rather “work” and “space” be imagined? How can they relate to one another? Instead of answering these questions, let’s talk about two recent distinct experiments.
AkbankSanat, The Contemporary Artists Exhibition
The first is the “exhibition design” of the Contemporary Artists Exhibition that is to be opened in the AkbankSanat building on Istiklal street, 22nd May, 2013. The selection is the result of a contest. There’s no common concept or theme. Works aren’t brought together in order to relate to one another. What they have in common is that they’ve been selected by a jury and that they’re synchronous. They comprise various media: videos, objects, graphics, photographs… What’s expected from the architect is a space in which these works will synchronously take place.
The designed space aims to create a new cosmos that creates a feeling of togetherness, while actually allowing each work to exist in its own singular world. As it attempts to do that, it behaves differently from a usual gallery space with white walls; which is speculated to be the most neutral and recessive form of space that shows the work “as it is”. Here the works are placed in a space that is eager to relate to them. This cosmic space is installed in the AkbankSanat building as an object that doesn’t belong there, that has its own inner space. The moment you walk in, the space changes its color. The dominant orthogonal structure of the outside world gives way to an oblique structure created by a space that sometimes comes toward you, sometimes withdraws, turns into a ramp or a shell, collapses, sometimes ascends, appears as though it can make a new move every moment. From the instant the space houses the works, it begins to relate to them through its own interpretation. The works place themselves according to their forms, subjects, themes; and they shape the space. The space widens with respect to the viewing distance required by each work. It shrinks with regard to their sizes. It takes form “according to” each single work. It becomes specific. It seems as if the space and the works combine. They become the parts of a unity. On the other hand, the space helps each work in creating their own world. Rather than being a neutral exhibition space hosting different works every time, it behaves like a home to the works it unites with – to such an extent that, some works which would be expected to be docile and keep within their own limits in a neutral space, don’t hesitate to spread to the space, stick to it, intertwine their own boundaries with that of the space.
The 1st Istanbul Design Biennial, Musibet Exhibition
“Musibet” (Evil) exhibition which is one of the two main exhibitions of the first Istanbul Design Biennial organized in 2012, is installed in the temporary exhibition space on the ground floor of Istanbul Modern. The exhibition hosts 31 works that are based on the situations that arise in the city as a result of the hasty transformation in and around Istanbul.
This is a “space” rather than an exhibition. A self-contained existence. The moment somebody steps in, it closes its majestic door with an abrupt noise and slowly pulls the visitor in, detaching him from the place he came from. Here exist two separate states, which compete with one another, even though they exist together. The first is a very long corridor, with an unknown ending. Narrow, cramped, suffocating and dark. From time to time ominous sounds emanate from the depths, making one uneasy. A feeling of dreary… As though the concept of evil (musibet) that gave name to the exhibition is concentrated here, as if it became a physical object. In each room along the corridor, works that make visible the various forms of evil can be seen. What the works have in common is that they’re all offering a perspective, rather than a solution. Therefore, the works don’t consist of architectural projects or designs. They look more like the forms of artistic representation.
Unlike the expectation, the passage-like rooms of this dark labyrinth or rather this “prison”, aren’t dark at all. Each room, when entered, starts to “speak”. What’s told in these rooms illuminate the uncanniness outside. To understand and to tell… Because one can relate insomuch as he understands. It’s only possible to share, think about, move, correct or knock down, just to the extent of what one can tell. Each work inside forms such a language. They tell, ask, point out, reveal, express an opinion and look from the opposite side. Maybe that’s why they don’t let you enter the room easily. They scuffle. It’s only possible to enter the room with the help of two or three moves, wriggling as if coming out of a hole. But once we enter, we’re in the field of language. We can rest here and listen to what it has to tell.
There’s one last secret to this space: it’s neither a prison, nor the talkers are prisoners. Each room, through the things it tells, opens its door to another place. But it’s not the door itself that is opened, it’s rather its presence. And it’s not in this space, but somewhere else in time… In the mind of the viewer. And separate doors for each viewer…