“Public order is a pathetic metropolitan demand.” “Decadence is the discourse which justifies the clean[s]ing of the uncommon, marginal, etc.” “Everything can be sacrificed in the name of security.”
These sentences, defining various concepts as they apply to today’s İstanbul, are a few examples of the work being presented in SALT Beyoğlu’s new show, “Becoming İstanbul.”
On the third floor of this unconventional exhibition, viewers are invited to sit in front of large computer screens and navigate through a database of over 400 artistic works, videos, photographs, caricatures, news videos and architectural projects produced between 1999 and 2011. These works are categorized with tags selected from a list of 80 concepts, such as public order, decadence and security. In turn, the concepts have been defined on the basis of the works they describe. On the other side of the floor, visitors can walk among curtains on which the concepts and definitions are written.
In an interview with Today’s Zaman, the project’s leader, Meriç Öner, explained that the goal of “Becoming İstanbul” is to question customary representations of İstanbul -- from the East and the West, and from İstanbulites and outsiders -- by viewing all available material in one single platform. “There are various adjectives and labels that have been attributed to this city for centuries; and there is also a city that we live in today with its daily life, its population of 13 million, its more than 5,000 square kilometers, its hardships, and its potential, related to its ongoing process of transition and transformation,” she says, noting that the concepts chosen to describe or discuss the city may be similar to many other metropolises, such as New York, London or Dubai, but the contexts in which they are used vary. “For instance, when we look at the projects which have been seemingly open to involvement over the last 10 to 15 years in İstanbul, we say that ‘involvement is a method of manipulation.’ Of course, this definition may change in time according to developments in the city,” she adds.
The more one wanders around through these concepts, the more clear their connections become. “When you come to a concept in the database, you see the definition and also all the media tagged with that specific concept. When you come to one of these entries, you see the other concepts that it is tagged with. What you have in the end is not a new discourse, but an experience. While criticizing previous discourses regarding the city, we did not want to present a new one, but to let the visitors have their own experience of the city through this up-to-date archive,” she explains. There is a long list of contributors to the database from various fields, and not only professional media, but also amateurs are featured in it. It will also be open to new contributors until the end of the current show. “Anyone who has relevant material can bring it here and put it into our collection boxes, and we will consider including it in the database next year,” Öner says, adding that some parts of the database can be accessed through the Internet and that more will be available in 2012.
A network analysis video by Burak Arıkan, deciphering the relationships between these concepts through the tagged media, also accompanies the curtains. “We see the upper-structure of these concepts and the media. For instance, the concepts of ‘consumption’ and ‘contradiction’ are never tagged for the same piece of media. ‘Consumption’ and ‘hub’ share a thin link, while ‘consumption’ and ‘restructuring’ share a larger connection. Starting from 1999, we see how the system has evolved each year through additions, and finally, when we come to 2011, the filtering starts, so that the relationships among the concepts can be observed. At the very end of the video, we see that the most interconnected concepts are ‘catastrophe’ and ‘governance’,” Öner says.
In the process of building the database, the team behind the show met with many people with expertise on various aspects of İstanbul. Supplementary events held alongside the show, titled “90,” attempt to bring these people to SALT to give 90 talks, performances and presentations by the end of the year, answering various questions, such as “Is it possible to generate electricity through the currents of the Bosporus?”, “What inspires design in İstanbul?” and “What role does chaos play in the city’s public/private spaces? What should we not do?” Anyone who has questions about the city is welcome to write them in the box located in the art center’s forum area.
A series of workshops titled “The Making of Beyoğlu,” designed in collaboration with Rotterdam-based Bureau Venhuizen, aims at delving into projects currently being organized in İstanbul, such as the extensive plans for the district of Beyoğlu announced by the municipality at the beginning of 2011 and the moving of the roads around Taksim Square underground. The workshops are open to everyone and will be held in both Turkish and English depending on the dates.
“Becoming Istanbul” was conceptualized by Pelin Derviş, Uğur Tanyeli and Bülent Tanju in 2007, and an earlier version of the exhibition was previously showcased in Frankfurt, Berlin and Bahrain. The exhibition is accompanied by a book of the same name in Turkish, English and German together with two other books, “Mapping İstanbul” and “Tracing İstanbul,” both in English and Turkish. For more information, visit www.saltonline.org and www.database.becomingistanbul.org.