Evrim Altuğ

An Elixir for Hangovers from Istanbul – 2019

Exhausted following a local election, the transportation of the airport and the onset of spring, Studio-X, accompanied by a poet and a visual artist, has made Istanbul a place open to discovery once more. Literary and plastic ‘phenomena’ collected from eight neighbourhoods of this ancient city, which is permanently high, expect their curious viewers until 8 May, like a 24-hour-open tripe-shop-elixir.

We are at Studio-X, in Kabataş, one of the ancient neighbourhoods of Istanbul, a city of two sides, like a bread cut half through the middle, so precious that it cannot be shared at ballot boxes. This place is opposite the strip that includes the ‘Seagull’ project and the Galataport project, which have caused controversy with their construction –and demolition.

This institution, with support from the Columbia University School of Architecture in New York, USA, and under the leadership of the Planning and Preservation unit of this school, carries out interesting and critical projects that brings the related discipline into other, ‘active’ subject matter.

In fact, this place is a construction site, too. Yet it adds lucid new worlds to brains through patience and curiosity, and scientific scepticism. With its library and conference and presentation spaces, Studio-X is a place that creates an alternative campus atmosphere for an alternative world, thus not a rentier, but the construction site of the future. It silently expects its customers that inhabit this earth, at the days and hours it is open, and its neighbours from Istanbul that come from the seven seas. I would egg you on to go and nick the wonderful books they have, alas, there is security.

To give it a Turkish twist, ‘Atölye İks’ now presents, until 9 May, to its viewers and participants a project titled ‘We Are Bad Enough To Deserve Each Other’, an exhibition that keeps giving more the more you dig at it, which once again focuses on Istanbul, Turkey’s inexhaustible source of interest and polemics, and most recently for its local elections and its airport moving to its new site.

This exhibition tries to coordinate its abundance in quantity with the grace and depth of its quality: In the precise middle of its corridors, an ambitious, frightening yet candid black hole featuring the bill of indictment of the Gezi case has been opened. Looking back, this exhibition shares the investigative spirit of the ‘Mom I’m Going Out To Pour Some Concrete’, held under the same roof, and created by beloved Antonio Cosentino and Extrastruggle. Going around that exhibition, after all, you also discovered further surprises in the event’s publication. As you recall, that 2015-catalogue, enriched by Ali Gün Yıldırım’s poems and Nâzım Dikbaş’s questions, presented us with a discovery of the invisible (or forcibly concealed at all costs) and organic memory of the Gezi resistance-movement and Istanbul.

And so, in this new exhibition, there are phenomena formed by Erdener, who emphasizes that he prefers to leave behind the pseudonym Extrastruggle, and poet Cihat Duman, during their trip across Istanbul. The phrase ‘phenomena’ used here belongs entirely to the duo.

At this point, it may be appropriate to lend an ear to Erdener to understand why he has distanced himself with this pseudonym that has become synonymous with him, with the statement he documents on the back cover of the relevant publication, in order to properly establish (contemporary) art historical line of progress.

“I have been involved in art since 1997, using the moniker “Extrastruggle”. I was 27 then. I had wanted to create a Lou Salomé who would enthral me, tear me away from the outside world, and whip me every time I took my seat at my desk. And I did: Extrastruggle was a female Frankenstein. I had fallen in love with the methods this sadist woman applied to make me work. I had turned black and blue all over, taken over by an intellectual passion. Let’s say I had wanted the lines on my face to deepen not randomly, but by involvement in such an affair. Yet the passion of the whip and the love affair faded over the years. Besides, the word struggle contains high promises, and this now bothers me. However, there are still many short-cuts we have set up, devised with great labour. Who could know the pleasure of fearlessly wandering their side-streets?”

Returning to the exhibition, this book/catalogue, produced at the same high standards and approach to documentation as three years ago, features the important project presentation text of the duo which does not require the addition of a single word. So, come, and let us read that as well:

“We are here to talk face to face with this city, it is impossible, after all, to talk behind its back. We did not take photographs, since we knew that perception brings the ‘moment’ in its wake, and memory brings the ‘image’. We opt for the image. We pour our grief out to each other, silently, in melancholy, mumbling. We talk about its beauty, and we gift a sorrowful smile to its history. Chasms between people, the city and art are spanned with fleeting bridges we have built. It rains on us, on our hair, and our shoulders; and our silhouettes are reflected on pavements. We swiftly pass through doors, and at a different speed, we fail to pass through other doors. From rooftops, the sun smiles at us in dribs and drabs. We first gather evidence, and then tamper with that same evidence. When letters fall short, we use lines, when lines prove inadequate, we use the body. It is impossible to talk behind this city’s back, and here we talk about it with its citizens, in the city. Across the walls, on writing paper, on the creamy side of that dessert that is a bit like rice pudding, and across other surfaces. We speak under our breath, so your speaking under your breath is not left echoless.”

And here is another self-description of the exhibition ‘We Are Bad Enough To Deserve Each Other’: “Eight short texts in eight different literary styles by Cihat Duman and eight different spatializations by Memed Erdener for eight different neighbourhoods of Istanbul.”

Visiting this exhibition particularly during these days when streets are being cleaned from itinerant ideological discotheques feels like meeting, after a great night of entertainment, your head buzzing, at an old and renowned tripe shop and trying to understand what’s going on.

Every single work at the exhibition is as sincere, precious, precious, precious as a piece of bread, a spoon of vinegar, a little garlic, a generous pinch of thyme and salt. Duman’s words mix, at precisely the right flavour with the images Erdener braises in the city. This exhibition, with its almost rehabilitating handcraft and wordsmithery, provides a tempered elixir to those hung over from Istanbul, following the ‘Istanbul discovery tour’, sincere in its child-like temperament, taken by the Cosentino – Extramücadele duo four years ago.

You know the saying, you be the cauldron, I’ll be the ladle, the Istanbul soup served at this exhibition tastes so good that you can’t bring yourself to finish it. There is also a guest artist at the exhibition, or rather ‘a new friend we met along the way’. So let us kindly request that you pay special attention to the interpretation Turgut Çırpanlı offers for the eight neighbourhoods using the Istanbulkart.

And the exhibition at Studio-X does not only include the joint-works, or ‘adjacent’ works of the Erdener-Duman duo, with titles such as ‘Letter’, ‘Article’, ‘Fairy-Tale’, ‘Play’, ‘News Report’ and ‘Biography’. Erdener’s text-images which, this time, respectfully prioritize the modern, Duman’s installation which, inspired by the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, transforms Studio-X into a public space, Duman’s bitterly critical ‘fake news’ video that airs the dirty laundry of the institution of art criticism and semiology and his ‘Crime and Punishment’ installation which sends a dark salute to Gezi are works at the exhibition that compete for the top among the exhibition’s ‘issues’ to grasp. Erdener, too, in this exhibition where he shares his own visual and thematic polyphony with Istanbul, on the one hand, embroiders on paper the theme of ‘rind [the mature, enlightened individual] and Allah’ for these eight neighbourhoods, while on the other hand he carries out diverse graphic translations for the concept of the ‘national’ via these eight neighbourhoods.

Via physical and simple (essential) limitations, Erdener and Duman’s exhibition publicly and transparently stands the test of plastic and conceptual communication and boundless empathy in style and quality. They respond, to the issue of the ‘interdisciplinary approach’, a matter of frequent complaint in the art world of Turkey, with practical proposals and experiences, and as sincerely as two children who have taken to the streets.

As for those who may ask, ‘fine, alright, you’ve been around it, but what is there at the end of Istanbul?’ this would probably be my answer: At this sceptic, fertile, undoubtedly sobering and sincere exhibition, which brings the image to the text and transforms it, in my opinion, it is Can Yücel and Ece Ayhan who seem to wander most. They are accompanied by, with the freest of associations, Cihat Burak and Mengü Ertel, and many other wordsmiths and masters of the brush. The rest, with the personal memories and impressions of every viewer, fill the space to the brim...