Metaphorical Space
text by Pınar Öğrenci and Minou Norouzi

MARSistanbul hosts the exhibition Metaphorical Space, May 10-June 3, 2018, organized by Pınar Öğrenci and Minou Norouzi with works by Ala Alhassoun, Keywan Karimi, Louis Henderson, Sibel Horada, Metehan Özcan, Neriman Polat, Özge Topçu, Pınar Öğrenci, and Selini Halvadaki.

Space can be a conjunctive to think about politics – it can feed various spatial images into diverse political sensibilities. And metaphor deploys a creative image capacity by stripping the images from their original meaning to narrate in a different way. A good reason to think about politics through space is the impositions of systems of domination on spatial and temporal structures and the ‘appearance’ of space as a tool of control. According to Hannah Arendt, we create a political field in addition to a field of action and articulation through political action. Arendt calls this area “field of appearance.” The field of appearance is always a field of potentials; just as in revolutions, potential can suddenly emerge or it can slowly develop over time, as in the effort to change a law or a policy. The city is a symbolic way of establishing time and space structures, place hierarchies, and forms of domination that are institutionalized and legitimized through the very structures and hierarchies.*

The exhibition Metaphorical Space examines the relationship of social movements with space, authority, and memory. Similar to carnivals, collective movements take place when people from different ages, ethnic groups or classes take over the city for a short time. The city’s squares appear to turn into a theater scene. What differentiates uprisings from carnivals, however, is that in uprisings, those in power, authorities and civilians confront each other; infringement of rights and spatial threats develop in parallel to each other. The power of politics traces its own cultural and political language on architecture and the city, while civilians continue to defend symbolic spaces that are held in esteem in the collective memory, and which are part of what Arendt calls “field of appearance.” The city is now a stage for rematch. The reference point for the exhibition is Louis Henderson’s “Day Before the Fires” (2012) video, inspired by the 1952 Cairo Fire, also known as the Black Saturday. The fire was the result of protests in Cairo that started off as an anti-colonial movement, causing a lot of damage, including the burning of the opera house, night clubs, shops and many other buildings that were deemed to be the symbols of the colonial and the West. Following the fire and the protests, the military reign and Nasr era began. Many historians have compared the Arab Spring in Tahrir Square to the Cairo Fire. Metaphorical Space takes as a beginning point the urban space that has been the stage for cyclical social movements similar to that of Cairo as an action of “remembering”— since forgetting is the ‘illness’ of the twentieth century. Metaphorical Space explores spatial stories from cities such as Athens, Cairo, Aleppo, Tehran, Izmir, all of which have been the stage for many oppositional movements spanning from the post WWI era – an era of nation and modern society building – to the present day. The exhibition opens a door to thinking about “metaphoric” meanings of space as an alternative to established ways of thinking about urban and architectural productions of form within the frameworks of war, revolution, colonialism, military regime and rebellion movements.

Sibel Horada focuses on the idea of personal and collective histories in her works, questioning the strange and coincidental interweavings of the memory of the disappearing. For Horada, memory is not only about holding onto what is lost, but also about contemporaneously and consistently reproducing it while physically transforming it into something else. Horada’s “Fire Diaries” (2012-4) shed light on a disregarded culture and a forgotten urban memory after the war. The artist burns her series of works on the Izmir Fire (1922), attempting to give birth to the traces of collective memory concealed in the ashes.

In order to question the credibility of the tools of modernism, Özge Topçu works with the construction of family, the individual, nation and the architectural through shifting the contexts, extensions, and spaces of these tools. Included in the exhibition is an artist’s book (2018), in which she questions the relationship between propaganda and early Republican era works of modern architecture in Ankara.

In Özge Topçu’s another work ‘Nature Morte’, we see the attempt to analyse modernist visual representations using examples of iconic architectural buildings. In the installation key examples of modernist architecture, such as “Azeri Restaurant” (in Baku), TV Tower (by Oscar Niemeyer), Buzludzha Communist Party Building (in Bulgaria) loose their own specific idealist statements and contexts and are presented as ancient archeological found objects.

Louis Henderson set out on January 25th in 2012 retracing the path of the Cairo Fire of 1952. A single long take of video, recorded from a moving vehicle, takes us through sections of contemporary Cairo on a bright, sunny day. We hear Henderson’s gently acquiescent voice reading from Mahmood Hussein’s 1977 book Class conflict in Egypt, 1945-1970. The people joining in the uprising, were “made up of the dispossessed masses, joined by groups of workers and members of the petty bourgeoisie”. Their target: the symbols of imperialism. Henderson’s “The Day Before the Fires” emanates a sense of calm whilst assuming the character of a threat. The threat resides in the knowledge of a ‘catastrophe’ that we know happened, but here it never arrives into view.

Pınar Öğrenci’s photograph “The Shadow of a Tree in Taksim Square” is an image from her video, “Collapsing New Buildings.” There are holes that people have drilled into the wood barricades that surround the construction of the tunnel in the Taksim square. Some of these passive viewers will claim agency to become active members of the Gezi Resistance that would begin in two months, taking over the square and Gezi Park to defend their urban rights, albeit temporarily. The shadow of the tree on the wood panel is a harbinger of the resistance that would begin soon.

Selini Halvadaki’s video “Off-History” explores an unfinished building located at the port of Piraeus. The ominous presence of this tall structure -abandoned during construction – sits with a sense of unease amongst the lively buildings of Piraeus. Searching for its history, the artist runs up against the “logic” of the archive. For the viewer, as for the artist, the building and its fragmented history appears only when the crutches of structure and logic are abandoned. Diverse voices suggest what the building’s state of incompletion represents for them: it is a tomorrow that did not happen; a symbol of failure; it is democracy mismanaged; it is both the forgetting and the remembering of Junta. In “Off-History”, fragmentation has its very own unique way of presenting itself as a form of narrative.

Neriman Polat traces social and spatial injustice, descending into the basement with her work “House Type” (2008). The artist compiles, and places next to each other, photographs of narrow windows from ‘lower class’ dwellings that look out to the world. These images are transformed into an uprising, a scream through the juxtaposition. The sidewalks that are raised with every administration change adding to the gentrification of the city, and decreasing the light for those who live on the lower floors. The basement windows appear to get smaller with each photograph in the installation, reminiscent of a setting sun, but only, it is the city that is ‘setting’. The sidewalks in Polat’s photographs are reminiscent of barricades, which are expressions of the class-based rage in worker’s movements.

Metehan Özcan’s photograph series “Observation” (2012) is about the killing of the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, which led to a unique example of self-organization when the urban space was claimed by the public. When Hrant Dink was killed in front of the Agos Newspaper building in Sisli in 2007 thousands of people met in front of the offices of the newspaper and walked to Taksim. At the anniversary of Hrant Dink’s death, people gathered in front of the building to commemorate him. Özcan’s photographs are placed in the windows of the building that MARSistanbul occupies, showing the reactions of people who watched the 5th anniversary of Dink’s death from their windows. These low-resolution photographs remind us of the blurry face of murder.

The uprisings that started the Arab Spring have led to millions of people being displaced in Syria, their cities devastated. Ala Alhassoun was confronted with war in Syria and escaped, moving from Cairo to Gaziantep and then to Hatay, finally settling in Istanbul in 2016. In his rapidly executed “Silence” (Sukut, 2018) series of ink drawings on paper, he reflects the freshness of the memory of war through the repetition of multiple images that are superimposed. In the drawings, objects, buildings and people become indistinguishable. In Alhassoun’s words, when there is nothing more to destroy, “silence” begins. In stark contrast to the destruction she witnessed and displacement she had to undergo, Alhassoun uses bright colors as a tactic to fight off his fear and the frustration that surrounds him.

Pınar Öğrenci and Minou Norouzi have drawn the conceptual framework for, and organized ‘Metaphorical Space’.

*Mustafa Dikeç’, ‘Siyaset Üzerine Düşünme Tarzı Olarak Mekan’, Cogito, 84, Autumn 2016, 45-68.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Keywan Karimi’s “Writing on the City” will be shown at SALT Beyoglu on May 12, 2018.

Özge Topçu’s artist book “Alteration Museum” will be shared with public as part of the program "Researchers at SALT" at SALT Galata on 24th May.

Exhibition can be seen at 13.00-18.00 on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays till 3th June.

MARSistanbul is an independent art initiative founded by artist Pınar Öğrenci since 2010 and is supported by SAHA as part of “Grant for the Sustainability of Independent Art Initiatives 2017–2018”.

Mecazi Mekan exhibition supported by Austria Culture Forum Istanbul, Arts Council England, Openvizor, Seven Cerceve, SALT, Depo and IKSV.

Translation: Merve Ünsal