The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.
Picking my way along the shores of the Bosphorus from the Galata Bridge to Istanbul Modern after a traditional balik ekmek/fish sandwich it seemed for a little while that the entire city was an installation. Broken glass, scaffolding, temporary shelters, writing on the walls, dead end streets, mysterious shops, look at enough art for long enough and you can learn to see the world as hypothetical, provisional, there in order to make you think, to focus an issue and reformulate a position. Yet it eventually generally becomes clear where the art is by the presence of well-dressed people.
It turned out to be a colour that I took away from Tuzlusu. It is a particular pink that appears on the Biennale poster/map in a shape painted by theosophist Annie Besant from her vocabulary of Thought Forms of 1901. The form is like a star or a flower, a circle with a radiating fringe of petals or beams. You might think that such a form has a verbal explanation and so it does ‘Radiating Affection’. What the colour means is less clear.
There was a level in Tuzlusu in which the pink was connected to political events specifically the Armenian genocide that took place in 1915. There was the pink colour or something very near to it in Aslı Çavuşoğlu’s work Red/Red a row of framed recycled pieces of paper and old handmade notebooks held open on bookstands which had drawings in them in red ink made from cochineal beetles who live on the Ararat Plain, the border between Turkey and Armenia. The colour is called Armenian Red.
Not the form but the colour appeared again in the shadowy, sketchy work of Bracha L. Ettinger whose 75 notebooks and midnight paintings made in the dark over several years had some likeness to the loose combinations of shapes and words in the notebooks of Orhan Pamuk. Her works are a representation of thought with all its comings and goings, splitting, pausing, regrouping, gathering and ordering.
Pamuk’s own Museum of Innocence, is a three storey building dedicated to displays of the ephemeral objects and mementoes described in his eponymous novel such as butterfly brooches, cigarette butts, matchboxes, perfume bottles, marbles, coins, lighters, glasses of antacid, photographs, menus, crockery and postcards. Each display, sometimes reminiscent of a Joseph Cornell artwork though much less discriminating, recalls a moment in time and place. On the top floor of the Museum were two Arshile Gorky drawings Act of Creations from 1949 and Vale of the Armenian from 1944. And the quite charming guard came and stood next to them while I looked at them as if I might, like a crazy iconoclastic Australian, break the glass.
At SALT Beyoğlu in the exhibition How did we get here Aslı Çavuşoğlu had a work called ‘191/205’ that was a turntable with a record playing a song on it. The song, created with the Turkish MC Fuat, used 191 of the 205 words banned on TV and radio broadcasts in Turkey in January 1985 by the General Directorate of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) on the grounds that “they did not comply with the general structure and operation of the Turkish language and that they were beneath the level of standard Turkish.” The banned words included “memory, remember, recollection, experimental, motion, revolution, nature, dream, theory, possibility, history, freedom, example, conversation, whole, life”.
At the top of the SALT Beyoğlu building was a roof garden and on the floor just below that a vast and amazing bookshop/library asserting the immense power of writing, of books, of ideas, of language. And the presence of Europe and other places as represented by their writers – postcolonial ones as well as the old staples. On the wall were written the words of Mallarmé: “Tout, au monde, existe pour aboutir à un livre”.
In the library I overheard two students laughing and asked them if they could repeat the words they were quoting to me. They said “Those who were dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” from Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols. “And he is a dancer and I am a musician”, the tall one said.
Another work that echoed the Tuzlusu pink was by Theaster Gates. It was located on the ground floor and upstairs in an empty shop. This work was called Three or Four Shades of Blues.
Gates is an artist engaged with making art projects that try to effect social change by retrieving and repurposing buildings and artefacts. In Chicago in the Dorchester Projects his Rebuild Foundation renovated two houses on Dorchester Avenue, one called the Archive House which holds 14,000 architecture books from a closed bookshop and one called the Listening House which holds 8,000 vinyl records.
In 2013 Gates purchased the Stony Island Savings Bank restored old buildings now known as the Stony Island Arts Bank. It contains the book collection of John H. Johnson, founder of Ebony and Jet magazines; the record collection of Frankie Knuckles, the godfather of house music; and slides from the University of Chicago’s and Art Institute of Chicago’s collections.
The ground floor of the shop in Istanbul was set up like a potter’s studio where at times Gates was there making imitations of a genuine Iznik bowl from the local Museum. The Iznik bowl was on display alongside his raw clay forms. And a record player.
Up the precarious stairs was a room with a screen and some chairs. A video showed a series of slides of ceramics from all over the world, some of which were miscoloured with that recurring pink, as well as a video of a recording session at Atlantic Studios. It was a Turkish man Ahmet Ertegun who started Atlantic Records with Herb and Mariam Abramson in 1947. This work entranced me, the slides taking me back to sitting in the dark in old lecture theatres, to illustrations of vases in books and to the mutable chemical characteristics of analogue photography, and the video slid me into the making of music and the relationships between the people making it. With projections and videos let’s face it either you duck out straight away or tune in to some level of trance that takes you inside your body, your memory and your mind.
After recalling these experiences back in Adelaide I went out in the early evening for a walk across the park where, in the summer heat, great shards of marsupial-coloured bark had fallen off the big blue gums and lay all over the ground where nine magpies stood facing into the wind. Then I saw the Tuzlusu pink on the chests and wings of a flock of galahs making their characteristic tzut tzut sound.
TO BE CONTINUED