A while ago a friend asked me to write a short piece on the art scene in Istanbul. A task that has been done a lot in the past years; commenting on a growing art market in Turkey and its positive and negative side effects – as well as the isolated importance of the Istanbul scene for Turkey and the Middle East.
Because those writers before me analyzed many aspects quite well, I decided to show a different aspect of the city, I cherish so much. On the first weekend in May 2013, a group of artists held an art bazar in Arkoda (a bar in on the Asian side of Istanbul). By its marketing strategies you would think as an art bazar some art would be on sale but you would have been disappointed. A similar event happened a few months earlier: Istanbul’s first Art Barter (15.01.2013) at 5533 gallery, where artists offered pieces in exchange for translations or other non-financial goods. The art bazar was however different: Artists were organized in small groups, wearing costumes and singing jingles while selling game coupons, bacteria in petri dishes or cigarettes in self-made package. It was the result of a nearly two month discussion, which I was lucky to be a part of. Everything started in the aftermath and the lingering enthusiasm of the barter. A group of seven artists under the directive of Yasemin Nur (Atil Kunst) and Güclü Özkedin (Ha Za Vu Zu), decided to stage a similar event with a more performative approach. After the first meeting, the main ideas were brought together:
1. No art was for sale.
2. Groups of artists would work together at each stall.
3. Presentation and Layout of the stall should reflect the “product”.
4. Each “product” would be advertised by a song, which would be made up in a group session.
5. There should be an alternative ways to purchase the products*.
Over the following few weeks, the number of participants grew up to 40 people and the meetings lasted longer and got more intense. In groups of up to 6, people worked on their concepts and presented them one by one, receiving feedback and gathering new ideas. It was a few very creative weeks and the start of new bonds. Some topics the artist groups were working on were migration, sexuality, porn and even “world domination”**.
Their focus was mainly set on the costumes and alternative ways of presenting. Living in Turkey, the idea of a bazar is quite determined. It consists of tables with the goods on top and a person advertising the goods. This can be in an open-air or closed area like Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazar), but in the end the system remains the same – a very conventional and mostly chaotic presentation. The artists worked on alternatives, mostly stalls were mobile and tried to compliment their “product”. The rehearsed jingles were mostly word plays misleading the visitor in their intentions.
The great achievement of the project was that it brought together a variety of people and subjects: photographers, sculptors, painters, art students and artists with a more conceptual approach. The weekly meetings themselves were the essence of the bazar and raised collective questions that merged with those unique stalls.
This art bazar project was therefore a good example: It created a platform for the exchange of ideas and brought together like-minded people. It did not get the attention that it deserved, but it can still be considered a success. Istanbul’s art scene itself is considerably small for a city with 15 mio. inhabitants. It is less vibrant than Berlin, but an interesting place filled with creative people that the art world yet has to discover.
*This concept was abandoned after the realization that money was in its idea already an abstract concept of payment due to its value in human time.
** The microorganisms grew on world maps, which got quickly covered and left no open space untouched.
written by Patrick C. Haas
M.A. of art history, lives and works in Cologne and Bonn