A collaborative project by
Katleen Vermeir & Ronny Heiremans

Date: Tue, 19 Jun 2007 10:22:02 GMT
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A.I.R extension #00/interview with Marko Stamenkovic

How would you comment on a possible thesis that this year’s Istanbul Biennial has been set up in order to intervene into the current political reality of the state of Turkey and its recent elections, while focusing on the defense of secular and republican heritage and its values, embodied by the main venues of the exhibition?

Katleen Vermeir & Ronny Heiremans: “Our 4-month residency in Istanbul at Platform Garanti in 2006 was a very inspiring experience. We felt completely overwhelmed by the city. Istanbul is a place where different worlds meet. Global divisions seem to be rubbing shoulders here. The city deals with a yearly migration of 400.000 immigrants, mainly from inland Turkey. There are the tensions between religious and secular fractions, illegal land use and privatizations, the division of people based on consumer identities and lifestyles etc… In a context like this it would be inept to set up a biennial without relating to it. This biennial directs a lot of attention for a short moment to this part of the world. So it’s a unique opportunity to bring these topics into focus, the real–life situation being on the threshold of the exhibition venues. In that sense the biennial may have a political impact, as it chooses not to ignore this context. However we don’t think of the biennial as a concrete political project. It does not provide answers to all these problems, nor should it aim to do so.”

On paradoxes of interdependence.
Vermeir & Heiremans: “We can see that reception of the biennial has evolved. Politics have become more aware of the dynamics an international event such as the biennial generates. In some way you can see the biennial functioning as a facade to present Turkey from its most modern and open side. And this is not only a strategy implemented by Turkey’s secular parties. Also the populist Muslim party AKP has communicated its progressiveness through contemporary art on several occasions. One of the most memorable occasions was when Prime Minister Erdogan himself officially opened Istanbul Modern, which Istanbul boasts as its version of Tate Modern, - but with a better view -, in the run towards European negotiations.
Maybe art has retained some of its subversive potential, the biennial context in which it is presented apparently has not. In varying degrees it inscribes itself in city marketing strategies and in that sense it has a neo-liberal profile. It is ultimately defined by economic realities and is ‘till this day more or less dependant on nation based (private and public) financial resources. But paradoxically we don’t think all of this prevents it from being critical.”

The AKM – burn it or not?
Vermeir & Heiremans: “This biennial aims to relate to the economical and political dynamics of Istanbul and contemporary society in general. In that sense especially IMC (Istanbul textile traders market) and AKM (the Ataturk Cultural Center) provide legitimate contexts as major venues for the Biennial.
The Ataturk Kultur Mercesi is an intensely debated case. The question is if it should come down or not. The building is located on Taksim Square, the most valuable piece of land in Istanbul, and a symbolical battlefield for different socio-political spheres in contemporary Turkey. As an outsider it is easy to name only two, secular and religious fractions. Continuously these different views on how society should be organized try to manifest their symbolic presence on the square. There’s the ever-recurring desire to build a mosque on Taksim, counterbalancing the urge to construct a new cultural centre. But we should not forget the influence of what we might name ‘global capital’. International hotels and their congress centers have invaded most of the square, reducing the ideological dispute to its economic body double. At this moment AKM does not seem to fit any ideology anymore, although it is clearly part of the Kemalist heritage. Even a lot of secularists find the social modernist, rather authoritarian appearance of the building hard to reconcile with the contemporary longing for more openness and democratization. It reminds them of the oppression of a top to bottom modernization, which was Ataturk’s way of guiding his country into the 20th century. And it reminds Islamists of the religious discrimination they still have to endure today. So AKM’s existence is threatened from many sides. At the same time the land on which it stands, is economically too valuable to just take down AKM in order to open up Taksim Square and install a great view towards the Bosphorus. So whatever direction this debate will take, it is destined to bring into the open some of the hidden agenda’s. That’s why for us defining AKM as one of the main venues of this biennial was a very significant gesture.”

On edifice of values.
Vermeir & Heiremans: “As we said before, it is not for the biennial to propose solutions. In that respect we don’t know if the biennial wants to defend modernism or the AKM building as such. We think it is more about the re-use and the appropriation of modernist buildings and modernist ideas instead of defending a rather naive, linear concept of modernity. Connecting Optimism with Modernity as curator Hanru’s title for this biennial does, may seem a bit strange at first glance. But when you think of it, it makes a lot of sense to value daily practices that actually reinterpret and reconfigure top to bottom enforced ideologies.”

Your participation in the biennial reveals a strategy situated in-between the aforementioned local context, the global tensions related to it, as well as a more personal context of your own living and working conditions. How does such a strategy mobilize potentials for change while extending the appropriating methods in an open-ended scenario? What is the political framework of the A.I.R project?

Vermeir & Heiremans: “Short for artist-in-residence, A.I.R refers to the appropriation of empty industrial spaces by artists in the sixties in New York. The project, which we started in 2005, allows us to deconstruct our renovated postindustrial space as a system of representation. It’s kind of a case study of our private habitat that questions architecture as a significant ideological gesture.”

On Daily Life / Daily Practice.
Vermeir & Heiremans: “A domestic space is not really a neutral space, on the contrary. It confronts you with social scripts and private desires. It confronts media diffused images with your own projections. Publicity often describes the loft as a sanctuary, a way of life proposing an escape from the standard conventions of domestic living, and the neuroses of the bourgeois home. The openness and the supposed absence of domestic hierarchies in the loft promise an honest visibility and equality. But openness brings its own oppression. We set up A.I.R in an attempt to appropriate a particularly influential living and working paradigm, one that inscribes itself in what we refer to these days as urban gentrification processes. The project is a daily practice that takes away the intimacy generally associated with people’s homes and redefines the home as public space. We present this daily practice as mediated extensions of our habitat.”

On collective intelligence and the potential of discursivity.
Vermeir & Heiremans: “Working in Platform Garanti in Istanbul last year we came to realize that A.I.R was very suited as a platform upon we could engage in different forms of collaboration. First of all between ourselves – before we mainly worked individually –, but also with other artists, and with people outside the art practice. In that sense it is becoming a proper (artist-) in-residence project, one that ignores the physical aspect of sharing a particular environment, but that aims directly to the temporary participation in mutual experiences.”

On the multiplicity of appropriation models.
Vermeir & Heiremans: “A.I.R is an ongoing project, encompassing various collaborations in different formats. For the AKM building we choose to make a pavilion. The idea was to create a video installation in which we could project a two-channel video and at the same time allow visitors of our pavilion to observe the interior of AKM and the view on Taksim Square.
The AKM building was intended to convey the modernist, progressive ideology of the young Turkish republic. Its use of an open floor plan - just look at the enormous lobbies on both floors -, and the concept of transparency are obvious. The inside/outside view towards Taksim is unobstructed, whereas the outside/inside view seems to be veiled by an aluminum grid. We tried to re-formulate AKM’s visual ambiguities in our pavilion.
The projected images inside the pavilion investigate spatial perception through reflection, mirroring, transparency and movement. The video juxtaposes visuals of the Brussels loft space and imagery of the Florya Marine pavilion in Istanbul. This modernist summer residence, commissioned by Ataturk and built by the Turkish architect Seyfi Arkan in 1935, was a symbol of Turkey’s progressive modernity. We used the refurbishment of both edifices as a narrative that could link both spaces. It is as if they become mirroring clusters of meaning, embodied in architectural constructs. The hybrid space in the film is a mediated space consisting of many realities. It represents both places as showcases and devices to see the world. And in that sense the video footage re-defines the pavilion and the AKM building, both looking out on the daily hustle of Taksim.”

Marko Stamenkovic (1977) is a curator based in Belgrade and Amsterdam

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