After Alexandria, the Flood - Interview with Naz Cuguoğlu

on Thursday, 31 March 2016. Posted in March, ---2016---

by Anna Zizlsperger

As part of a year-long series of exhibitions by emerging artists and curators, PROTO5533 is hosting the exhibition 'After Alexandria, the Flood' from 2-23 April 2016. I talked to the show's curator Naz Cuguoğlu about her passion for books, the future of libraries and the dangers of the increasing information monopoly of the internet.

After Alexandria, the Flood at Proto5533

You were chosen by Mari Spirito as one of the curators of the project Proto5533, can you tell us a bit about this project?

5533 is a non-profit art space run by artists Nancy Atakan and Volkan Aslan, who like to work collaboratively and assign different directors defining the programme of the space each year. When Mari became the director of 5533 for 2015/2016, she decided to take this collaboration one step further and invited young and emerging curators from Istanbul with different backgrounds such as writers, gallery and museum professionals and independent curators. She asked each of us to propose and organise an exhibition. Most of the curators chose mainly artists from Turkey. During the process we were all given feedback on our proposals from prominent mentor curators such as Çelenk Bafra, Anne Ellegood, Övül Durmusoğlu, Anthony Huberman, November Paynter, François Quintin, and Yasmil Raymond.

Can you tell us about your experience with Spirito’s project? How is it different from previous exhibitions you worked on?

The main goal of the project is to provide emerging artists and curators with a space to gain experience with exhibition-making. Its key approach is ‘learning by doing’, which I find very important because an exhibition never looks the same in real life as on a piece of paper. On top, we have the advantage to work together closely with Mari and the aforementioned mentor curators, getting their feedback on our proposals and thus benefitting from their experience. This gives us the opportunity to look at our approaches to exhibition-making from different perspectives; we have space to develop our curatorial skills. Mari has been organising meetings with us and invited different art professionals and artists to join, so this process created a feeling of community between us.
As a young and emerging curator from Istanbul, I truly believe in the power of collaborative projects. I always say “if we are going to succeed, we will together and if we fail, again together”. I believe that this is the only way to progress and develop. This is one of the reasons why Mine Kaplangı and I initiated the project ‘Creative Çukurcuma’ - to create a platform to bring people together, talk and create. This platform, especially the members of our reading group, were very much involved with the developing process of my show. Our conversations just kept on inspiring me. We exchanged many emails, critical input, thoughts, reading suggestions, etc. In a way, we all created and curated this show together.

Could you elaborate on the meaning of the title of your exhibition ‘After Alexandria, the Flood’ and tell us how you came up with it?

The title of the show stems from a quote of Louis XV, King of France “After me, the Flood.” For me, this statement has a two-sided meaning: ‘After my reign, the nation will be in chaos and destruction’ and ‘After me, let the flood come, it can come, and it makes no difference to me.’ In the same way, I believe that the title of this exhibition refers to the information chaos, which we are facing nowadays. The Library of Alexandria - one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world - was built with the goal to hold one copy of each book on earth. Today, we have a similar approach building up digital libraries, we are facing the information flood and chaos after the Library of Alexandria was completely destroyed by fire. In this context I am asking myself and the viewer: How are we dealing with this situation? Do we even care or are we like Louis XV, will that make no difference to us?

Your exhibition references ‘The Library Of Babel’, a short story by Luis Borges. Could you tell us how this story inspired you to curate this show?

Next to my curatorial and art writing practice, I am personally very passionate about literature. I used to write short stories and attended the CeRRCa writing residence in Barcelona last spring. There, I mostly read magical-realists such as Borges and Cortazar. My residency was not long after the Gezi Park protests so my mind was still preoccupied and I was asking myself: What is real, what is not? How do we find our reality in this information chaos? When I read Borges’s ‘Library of Babel’, I was intrigued! His ‘library-universe’ with all the possible books that could ever be written, and the librarians wandering around this library looking for a meaning in all of this chaos - without success - were just fascinating for me. As Borges states, even if we have all the knowledge in the world, there is the truth, the lies, the truth about the lies and vice versa. The entirety of all knowledge cannot only contain meaningful and true information, there has to be some misleading content as well. Infinity creates confusion.

How does this relate to our contemporary culture and the new digital age?

The Tower of Babel is an etiological myth in the Old Testament, meant to explain the origin of different languages. According to the story, a united humanity speaking a single language agreed to build a tower to reach the skies. God confounded their language so they could no longer understand each other and succeed in this. Borges’s ‘Library of Babel’ can be compared to the internet and digital information containers with its infinity and dark architecture. We tend to think about the positive qualities of the internet but the question we need to ask ourselves is: How do we really navigate in this information chaos when we do not have a manual in hand, surrounded by all this meaningful and meaningless information?
When I read Alberto Manguel’s ‘The Library at Night’, I got excited about his ‘library’ reference. I can highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the relevance of libraries from different perspectives. It starts with the Library of Alexandria, continues with Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and moves all the way to the establishment of the Google Print Initiative and Amazon’s launch of the Kindle. This book, illustrating the fast moving history of the progress of libraries and books, made me think about the fact that humanity has always been thinking about going beyond the limits when it comes to collecting, organising and preserving knowledge. The internet is another new way to achieve this aim as it can be seen as our single common language, that we communicate through today. So let’s hope that some kind of power does not confound this singular language again so that we can no longer understand each other. We need to question the increased level of power mechanisms over the internet.

Meriç Algün Ringborg, A World of Blind Chance, 2014
Meriç Algün Ringborg, A World of Blind Chance, 2014, video, 32’27’’

Can you tell us about the works in your exhibition at 5533 and how they relate to your curatorial concept?

‘The Borges Library and Study for Borges Library’ by Jorge Mendez Blake consists of a mural with rectangles resembling spines of books and mirror modules positioned on the floor. Alluding to Borges’s infinite library, the mirrors also invite the audience to participate using their own reflection while questioning its possibilities as the architectural structure, knowledge container and public space.
Meriç Algün Ringborg’s video titled ‘A World of Blind Chance’, is a play where the script is composed by found sentences from the Oxford English Dictionary. Each act shows an actor, rehearsing a monologue on Borgesian topics. His movements are directed by the author’s voice, questioning the control mechanisms and hierarchies of knowledge.
‘Tweetrary of Babel’, an interactive work by Eşref Yıldırım, questions the difficulty in trusting the accuracy of data and the ownership of information control by inviting the audience to contribute to a Twitter feed with autocomplete feature. The work can be seen as a manifestation of infinite information flow, a library full of meaningful and meaningless statements by un-known sources.

Jorge Mendez Blake, The Borges Library and Study for Borges Library, 2010
Jorge Mendez Blake, The Borges Library and Study for Borges Library, 2010, wood, mirror and paint on wall, 2010

Can you tell us why you included the Recai Mehmed Efendi Library as a venue for your exhibition and how the works you placed there fit in this context?

It was all by chance and a magical moment! One day, we just decided to walk around 5533 and got lost on the way, finding ourselves in front of Recai Mehmed Efendi Library, which is located in a building almost 250-years old and largely unknown to the public. I fell in love with the place. It is a small, Borgesian stone building, with small windows, letting in only very little light, which makes it even more mysterious. I felt as if I am in one of the hexagons of the Library of Babel. I spent a long time there reading. I was also surprised to see how much it was frequented and just wanted to share my magical experience.
Sultan Burcu Demir’s work ‘Index’ and Ekin Bernay’s performance create an interesting dialogue with the library space. Demir’s ‘Index’ installation consists of paper-cut globes, creating ‘text-forms’ that present content, which is physically impossible to read. She creates a visual library in reference to Borges’s ‘library-universe’ while also questioning the hierarchical presentation of libraries and the current boundaries of accessibility of information. Referencing the librarians of the ‘Library of Babel’, wandering around and looking for an answer in the infinite library, Bernay’s performance titled ‘You who read me are you sure of understanding my language?’ invites the audience on a journey, taking different routes through library books. The performance meditates on the possibility of interpreting stories using human inventions like language in a world where information is under control and writing exists for its own sake.

Sultan Burcu Demir, Index, 2016
Sultan Burcu Demir, Index, 2016, mixed media

You decided to make 5533’s library part of your exhibition, can you tell us a bit about it and about the venue itself?

I have always been impressed by 5533’s library. When I decided to make an exhibition about libraries, I went for a little research trip to 5533’s library and found myself spending hours there. I like how it is not organized in any kind of hierarchy so you can just write your own art history out of all these documents. Most of the books in the library focus on the Istanbul art scene, it also contains artist books and memos from 5533’s history. I think that 5533 is a very important art space for Istanbul with its location within İMÇ, which used to be a very popular mall in the 1960’s. I believe this place bears important and interesting memories, which everyone should know about. The transformation of this place shows the dramatic change of Istanbul’s city structure and the effect of gentrification. How could it become outdated so quickly? 5533 is part of this story somehow, when you look into its library, you learn more about these changes.

What are your thoughts on the current role of libraries in today’s digital world, is it shifting and if so how?

I find this question very important as it was my second step for research. As a book addict who is in love with the smell and texture of the physical books, I personally find it very hard to imagine that books and libraries would become irrelevant today or will be in the future. But of course they are changing like everything else. Most of the international libraries are trying really hard to catch up and adapt with the new age of technology and many of them succeed to do so. Of course in Turkey, we are facing an even bigger challenge with incidents where big libraries even threw away their books! This just reminds me of the book ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury, describing a fictional future American society where books are outlawed and ‘firemen’ burn any found books. Maybe we should consider memorising our books before it is too late! I believe that books will always keep threatening the ones in power. They will never loose their relevance, be it digital or non-digital.

One of the central topics of your exhibition seems to be the question around the control of information in the age of the omnipresence of the internet in our lifes through social media. How does the exhibition address this question, does it offer a solution?

One of the key works in the show addressing this issue is Eşref Yıldırım’s ‘Tweetrary of Babel.’ The work aims at making the audience experience this feeling at first hand. They get the chance to contribute to the information flow of twitter with both meaningful and meaningless tweets. And when they plan to post a tweet, they face the surprise that they cannot just write whatever they want, even their tweets are under control by some kind of power mechanism. However, none of the works in the exhibition tries to come up with a solution, we are more interested in creating an awareness and opening a platform for discussion than finding answers.
With this exhibition, I am asking this question to you and everyone who visits. We also published a catalogue, edited by Gökcan Demirkazık, with texts by Sine Ergün, Mine Kaplangı, Serhat Cacekli, Simge Burhanoğlu and Lesli Jebahar sharing further thoughts addressing this dilemma. Please come to our talk on April 16th at 5533 and let’s have a conversation. Maybe we can find an answer if we think all together!

Naz Cuguoğlu lives and works in Istanbul. She received her BA at Koç University’s Psychology department and MA at Social Psychology department focusing on cultural studies. She writes art critics and conducts interviews for various magazines including Artful Living, Trendsetter and Istanbul Art News. Cuguoğlu is the co-founder of Creative Çukurcuma, co-curator of Identity Lab Project in collaboration with Verkstad Konsthall and works at Galeri Zilberman.

There was a world, once, you punk - Interview with Point Project

on Saturday, 19 November 2016. Posted in ---2016--- , November

by Anna Zizlsperger

Istanbul based gallery Blok Art Space is hosting the exhibition 'There was a world, once, you punk' from 18 November 2016 - 6 January 2017. I talked to the show's curators Anna-Lena Werner, Anneli Botz and Lars Bjerre, who form the Berlin-based curatorial collective Point Project about poetic art, the relation between human, nature and technology and why it is important to make an exhibition in Istanbul at the moment.

There was a world once, you punk

Can you tell us a bit about your curatorial collective Point Project?

PP: Anneli and Anna-Lena are art historians, Lars is an artist. We all share interests in both aesthetic and socio-political themes; especially when these meet common ground. The three of us like to work with poetic forms of art that require a spatial, sometimes immersive experience. Our last project took place in an old GDR building in Berlin, which used to be a former Czech cultural centre that houses a beautiful, wooden cinema. Six international artists reflected on the creation of illusionary spaces within the somewhat sterile communist architecture, paying reference to immersive and conceptual approaches.

How did you come up with the title ‘There was a world, once, you punk’?

PP: Lars branded our working title as 'NO GREEN.' We discussed how the deficiency of all botany in urban surroundings affects global cities, turning them slowly into cityscapes that we previously mainly knew through watching dystopic movies, such as ‘Soylent Green.’ The movie describes a world in which there is no more nature. Instead nature has become a myth, a legend to the young. In the movie’s world, when people reach a certain age, they go to a place to die. It’s a plain room, turned into a cinema that shows images of nature and animals – a last view on the beauty of our planet. That’s why we turned this particular quote from the movie into our exhibition title. It resembles a futuristic fear we all have in regards to what is happening to our planet.

Serkan Taycan, Shell Series, 2010-2012
Serkan Taycan, Shell Series, 2010-2012, Archival pigment print on aluminium

One of the themes of your exhibition is the political symbolism of nature. Could you elaborate on this theme and explain which artists in the exhibition address this topic in their works and how?

PP: Nature is directly connected to freedom. As humans we should be entitled to the access of nature within our close surroundings. Nature is life, it is communication in terms of a gathering point, it is a prime form of aesthetics. The repression of nature is also an elimination of freedom and democracy. We think that a good relation with nature requires us, as humans, to accept that we cannot control everything despite the industrial thinking our modern world is driven by. Serkan Taycan’s photographs of new urban settlements in the outskirts of Istanbul show exactly how nature is often being subordinated to the power of man. In Lars' painting this relation between human and nature is more symbolical, shown along dozens of watering pots locked to a structure so that nobody steals them. And in Dunja Herzog’s installation we are confronted with a new territory, a new natural habitat, claimed by seaweed sheets attached to the window. Florian Meisenberg’s work on the other hand focuses on artificial intelligence and how it is hardly in any emotional connection to our natural origin. AI - an innumerable amount of digital intelligence, detached from individual feelings.

Is there a specific work in the exhibition which gave you the initial idea for the exhibition or triggered your curatorial process?

PP: One of the first artists we picked for this show was Markus Hoffmann. His work focuses strongly on how nuclear power manifests itself in what he calls ‘containments’ – mushrooms or coconuts, for example, that are contaminated because they were or are still exposed to nuclear radiation. They are symbols of this radical change in nature, that we are currently witnessing. His combination of socio-political themes and an immersive and simultaneously minimalist aesthetic is coherent with the overall philosophy of our concept.

What do you feel people can get out of your exhibition? Is there a message you would like to convey to the visitors?

PP: We would hope that visitors reconsider the relation they have with nature, and therefore also reconsider the relation they have with each other – being a part of nature. It’s about becoming aware of the natural heritage. While Lydia Ourahmane’s and Markus Hoffmann's works discuss the extraction of resources, such as oil and uranium, Andreas Greiner’s work focuses on animal rights in terms of how unequally we treat other lifeforms to ours, even if it is only a fly. Every work has its own story to tell, but they all observe the changes that are happening. In uttering their opinion we want to point that we all have a right to advocate the preservation of our own planet and how important it is to stay in constant discourse.

Markus Hoffmann, Bikini Atoll Containment, 2016
Left: Dunja Herzog, Shoji (Living Space), 2014/2016
Right: Markus Hoffmann, Bikini Atoll Containment, 2016, Coconuts from the Marshall Islands, lead plate, salt water, glass cube

Do you feel it is important to organise an international exhibition in Istanbul at the moment?

PP: Yes, it seems like exactly the right time to do this. We find artistic reflection on current social issues and moods more sensitive, and certainly less propagandistic than many other sources available to the public. Sometimes images are stronger than words. Istanbul has been a thriving creative center in the past years and this is what we hope to support.

Anna-Lena Werner, Anneli Botz, Lars Bjerre
From left to right: Anna-Lena Werner, Anneli Botz, Lars Bjerre.

POINT PROJECT is a Berlin-based curatorial collective, joining poetic strategies, immersive aesthetics, and conceptual ideas to reflect on social and aesthetic issues through art and debate. The collective is initiated and run by Anna-Lena Werner, Anneli Botz, and Lars Bjerre.

Artists from Turkey at Transmediale Festival Berlin

on Tuesday, 14 July 2015. Posted in February, ---2016---

by Tuce Erel

Berlin’s transmediale festival is hosting its 29th edition from 3rd February through 7th February, 2016. We talked to the artistic director of the festival, Kristoffer Gansing, about this year’s transmediale titled 'conversationpiece' and it’s four-layered theme: 'Anxious to Act, Anxious to Make, Anxious to Share, and Anxious to Secure'.

Sophie Hoyle, Membranes, 2015, Photo: Rebecca Lennon
Sophie Hoyle, Membranes, 2015 at transmediale Berlin 2016, Photo: Rebecca Lennon

During his time as the artistic director of transmediale since 2012, Gansing has reshaped the festival not only in content but also by replacing the ‘transmediale awards’ with an artist residency programme to create an organic relationship with artists during the development of the festival. His curatorial approach aims to change the renowned festival’s position from one of the best for new media art of the year (in German ‘Leistungsschau’) towards a media festival, which creates a space of discussion for artists, academics, and students. Transmediale provides a networking platform for people from the field with its popularity increasing more and more in the last couple of years. “What is the role of meetings after ‘the networking’ of everything?” Gansing states and further mentions: “We even try to question our own role and not to repeat ourselves every year.”

The title 'conversationpiece' references a genre of group portraits common in the 17th and 18th centuries showing bourgeois families at tea parties and gallery viewings engaged in conversations. Very much in contrast to this restricted and hierarchically organised view on ‘conversations’, this year’s Transmediale aims to point at the inherently fragmented nature of conversations, trying to trigger a dialogue between its participants and ‘democratising’ the conversation process so to speak. Artists, academics and art lovers are welcomed to contribute to and participate in a conversation within the aforementioned four-layered theme. According to Gansing, this year’s theme has been a key concern of transmediale since its inception. Questions and debates related to media activism are brought together under the title of ‘Anxious to Act’. The theme 'Anxious to Make' questions DIY culture, while questions on different organisation of resources and digital economies will be discussed in 'Anxious to Share'. The 'Anxious to Secure' section will deal with the topic of surveillance. The Berlin based new media festival aims to connect the problems of post-digital culture with anxiety. "Transmediale is always good at portraying the ambiguity of technological development and its relation to society and art. Art is important to point out contradictions that are obvious, it helps to open up and point out these problems" says Gansing.

According to Gansing transmediale/conversationpiece will not end after the five-day long festival. They plan to publish documentation of the discussions and articles about the sessions, together with video or audio recordings. Gansing hopes that this year’s discussions will also be a transition point for the 30th anniversary of transmediale, hinting at next year’s celebration. He also mentions that in 2017 there are plans for an exhibition portraying the success of the last 30 years of the festival. The team is currently working on a referencing system that will connect the artworks in the next edition with the festival’s past.

There seems to be a curatorial shift towards sensorial experiences in the field of new media art. In this context Gansing mentions that transmediale/conversationpiece does not only refer to the process of talking. In fact other sensory dimensions are part of the programme, like sound related performances, mixed events, film screenings with discussions and temporary installations also known as ‘hybrid’ events. Burak Arıkan, an artist based in Istanbul and New York, will run a two-day long ‘Graph Commons’ workshop, focusing on the design and understanding of complex networks through mapping and visual analysis. The workshop will ask how to map complex networks and how to read them with methods such as graph analysis. The workshop will also include practice-based work such as sketching diagrammes and drawing graphs. Another artist, Alona Rodeh, based in Tel Aviv and Berlin, addresses the history of sirens and how these sirens are used in popular culture like hip-hop music. The artist’s performance titled ‘Fear of Silence, or A Brief History of the Air-Raid Siren’, together with her workshops in the programme is pointing at new ways of sensorial curating at the transmediale festival. Gansing highlights another event, which is part of the programme – ‘panic room’. Panic room, taking place every day from 2-6 pm, consists of open discussions with participants and an audience facilitated by two moderators. This year’s transmediale hosts four artists from Turkey: Burak Arıkan, Serhat Köksal, Özge Çelikaslan and Alper Şen (bak.ma).

Burak Arıkan will conduct his 2-day long 'Graph Commons' workshop on 3rd and 4th February from 11 am to 2 pm. Arıkan will have a talk on 4th February together with Jussi Parikka at 4.30 pm titled ‘The Map is the Territory’. Multimedia artist Serhat Köksal, aka 2/5BZ, will present his performance ‘Seeing Power – What About That?’ on 6th February at 8 pm. Özge Çelikaslan and Alper Şen who are video artists and the founders of bak.ma, will be participants at a Panic Room session on 5th February titled ‘Post-Digital Anxiety’ together with Bani Brusadin, David Garcia, Brian Holmes, Eric Kluitenberg, Elizabeth Losh, Pit Schultz, and Nishant Shah. The initiators of bak.ma will also talk at ‘Five Years After’, a hybrid event on 6th of February at 12 pm.

All transmediale events will be hosted at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW). Further details of the programme are available on the transmediale website.

Click here for images

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