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TANDEM: Exploring Istanbul’s art scene

Last week Gonzo (circus) was the guest of Grizine magazine in Istanbul as part of TANDEM EU-Turkey, a cultural exchange program. Besides working on our joint project on Technophobia (if you are afraid of using new technologies in more bold and critical ways and not only consuming it, stay tuned), we met artists, cultural entrepreneurs, journalists, urban planners, game designers, musicians and locals.

The first day we explored Kadiköy district with our partners of Grizine. This district is full of coffeeshops, bookstores, bars, music venues, etcetera. But while the mainstream press in Belgium and The Netherlands nowadays hardly reports on the protests in Turkey, here you can still feel the tension in the country. The protests are definitely not over. Last Sunday morning there was a huge, peaceful demonstration of Alevi’s in the main roads and square of Kadiköy against the increasing discrimination of the second largest religious group in Turkish society by the government.

Amber Festival
Amber Festival

On the second day we discussed future plans with Tandem-partners Grizine and xm:lab at the harbour, visited Salt art platform, met a Dutch journalist located in Istanbul, and finally visiting a series of lectures at Amber Festival 2013 about ‘foolishness, politics and technology’, including one by Belgian researcher Peter Verstraete who linked the iconic historical figure of the jester to the spin doctor of the Turkish prime minister. There were also talks and presentation of new games by students from different countries at community centre/Design Atelier Kadiköy TAK taking place.

And we don’t wanna make you guys in north-western Europe jealous, but we enjoyed a splendid Indian Summer all week.  So, the third day we took a well deserved break and enjoyed a beautiful day at the island Büyükada.


Depo Istanbul
Depo Istanbul

On Wednesday the Tandem Team (Grizine, xm:lab and Gonzo (circus)) met for discussing our joint Technomania-project (more information will follow soon), after which we visited DEPO, an exhibition space run by Anadolu Kultur, one of the sponsors of the Tandem Project. Depo is currently hosting two exhibitions: one on the recent history in which governments apologize for past crimes against humanities, and one on a familiar conflict zone: Cyprus and its border zone. Depo, artist space Mixer, the well equipped independent, critical radio station – across the courtyard from Depo were we got a small tour – and many other upcoming galleries are located in this very conservative area of Istanbul. The increasing and very recent gentrification of this neighbourhood even lead to violent clashes between locals and ‘newcomers’.

At night we met with other TANDEM-participants for a rakıdinner in the already gentrified Karaköy neighbourhood near the sea front (hipsters: check. fancy burger bar: check. revamped warehouses: check). The next morning was again dedicated to our work on the Technomania-project, while in the afternoon we took another daily doses of art (art-addict? move to Istanbul and you will never get bored) at the Istanbul Modern Museum, the Print Biennale and a small exhibition as part of the Amber Festival. Thursday night ended at the unofficially called ‘Alex’ Bar’ with some serious homemade cocktails.


Artwalk Istanbul
Artwalk Istanbul

While the Istanbul Biennale – taking place last October and criticised by officials, art critics and Gezi-protesters – seemed nearly invisible in the international press, the Istanbul Contemporary Art Fair presented a sharp  overview of political and activist art from all over the world and a nice selection of contemporary audiovisual art from Turkey. A pity the fair was tucked away in the basement of the new uninspiring Istanbul congress centre in a posh neighbourhood, as such not at all contributing to the public debate. Luckily, a gallery in Istanbul opened up its venue for the duration of the fair to a young art collective that presented it’s delightful group exhibition ‘Mom, I’m A Barbarian’ in which they discussed the policy of many governments these days to dismiss, ban or prosecute everything and everyone for being ‘a barbarian’ or ‘being different’ as is the original meaning of the word. Our discussion with this very dedicated group of very young artists – the protests around Gezi and in other parts of the country might have drained away, but it is still very lively in the hearts and minds of artists and young people one meets) took place as part of Artwalk Istanbul, an initiative by our partner Grizine in which Grizine-editors take you on a nearly private tour showing you emerging artists, galleries, artists spaces and studios in different parts of the city. At the end of the day a group of former theatre students told their stories about living and working (making ends meet) in Istanbul anno 2013.

On our last day we returned to Kadiköy and Moda, two districts on the Asian side of Istanbul where at the beginning of the week we started our exploration of the city at TAK, a community centre. TAK asks local people to engage in the design of their neighbourhood. Again the area was filled with protesters. This time Erdogan’s latest, again religiously inspired plan to make it impossible to rent houses to men and women that are unmarried, was being criticised. Wandering the streets of Kadiköy and Moda you feel the ongoing struggle between old and new, between conservative and modern, between daily life and dreams, and – despite Turkey and the EU resuming talks this week – between East and West.

Thanks to Saliha Yavuz and Papatya Tirasin of Grizine and Mert Akbal of xm:lab. Thanks to all the people who were so kind to invite us and to present their work. “Technomania: Opening Up Technologies” is financially supported and mentored by Anadolu Kultur (Istanbul), MitOst e.V. (Berlin), European Cultural Foundation (Amsterdam) and Mercator Stiftung (Essen).

A review of the arts events we visited in Istanbul will be published later on this website.

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