Truth is a dream my lord / This dream is what he only values in life my lord /
It is strange but good will is what is needed for a dream my lord
Let me start with a self-situating introduction before sharing my ideas on the concept of “knowledge”. The initial characteristic of my living experience so far is that it has been shaped by the city Istanbul, among millions of citizens, fascinated and captivated by it and by the immense length of time devised to reflecting upon it and working with it. I believe that the people are being shaped by the places they inhabit, by a certain city, village or town they live in; the ideas, words, acts, feelings are shaped through the experience within the layers of the place and its memory and with the place’s contemporary presence.
My first meeting with the city and the first initial reflections upon the notion of the city came through wandering walks I had in the period in which I was studying sociology at the university, walks that were meant to be open to all the possibilities and not planned for pursing something particular following the daily routine of the urban flux, concentrating mostly on the places of transitions, waiting points and on spots where you can temporarily retreat from the flux and through a panoramic view witness the ways in which the daily life structures itself. Le Corbusier once said that Istanbul is one of the cities that is based upon “Pack-Donkey’s Way” instead of “Man’s Way” which he relates Man’s Way with straight line and right angle, while seeing the Pack-Donkey’s Way as a primitive structure with curves and unorganized development. Still in Istanbul it is hard to find sharp edges and also finalizations and ends; consequently the city flows and flows with the wanderer, with the citizen. The Pack-Donkey’s Way gives one the chance to observe and experience the city in another way.
Going parallel with my experiences in the city with photography and sociology, the collaboration and formation of the artist collective Oda Projesi1, which I have been a member of, formed in 2000 in a flat 45m2 in Istanbul.
In relation to my practice in the artistic field, I don’t define myself as a “knowledge producer” but much more as a facilitator of emerging spaces where a sense of ambiguity arises that allows one to re-look the already given, specified usages of space, language and knowledge. To be defined or considered as an “intellectual” sounds to me as a basic, yet another illustration and reproduction of existing hierarchies within the society. This label may in fact cause obstacles in maintaining the touch with and fusing into the everyday life and get stuck with the traps and closures of a purely rhetorical position. This labelling also reinforces the defence of a certain clique whose members only understands each other and shares the same language yet fail to communicate with the other segments of social life.
The public space that I operate in, as a Oda Projesi member and someone who photographs the city, is strongly tied to the aura of “Istanbul”. It is hard to talk about the homogeneity of the citizens and map out the exact functioning rules or laws of life in Istanbul, so one can say that the possibilities of “structures of survival” are visible which leads us to see various ways of living in the city, side by side and in relation with each other, where every “knowledge” about personal identity, gender roles, national identity, citizenship… is practiced in the everyday life and has always the potentiality to become something else never finished, never completed, never satisfied with itself; you observe these occurences, through the slogans inscribed on public advertisements, at the corners of the shops where the architectural structure may be manipulated according to a certain practical need; on the top of the hills of the city which separate official authorities, in a competing fashion, erect overnight posts with disproportionally big Turkish flags; in the busiest squares squads of police patrol in alarm for a possible pirate demonstration; or one morning you can find out that your street’s name has been changed by a couple of enthusiastic businessman plotting about gentrification projects; or you can read about a recently opened public beach situated in a high-class neighbourhood and unexpectedly mingling the uppest segments of the social hierarchy with the lowest and causing a lot of uproar in the mainstream media and the different usages of the words such as “community” and “citizens” appear in the media; or in a historical area where in one day you witness that it has been prohibited to peddlers; or on the news one can see a debate about the proposal of the municipality for placing a giant “welcoming” public sculpture on an island facing the opening of the Bosporus…The city that builds itself up with rumours and stories and trying to keep some chosen traces from the past to make the history for the future and for the present politics.
How do I position myself on the cultural, social, and political realm? And I ask this question more in wider sense; how does an artist or an art critic or even a “producer” place her or himself within the texture of such a city? I think I occupy an in-between position where I have the tools for engaging with different levels, positions, disciplines, roles; I don’t yet have a “definite position” that allows me to have a distance from all, and to come up with gestures of suggestions to create temporary meeting points of being, thinking and dreaming together.
In the introduction of the book Towards a Philosophy of Photography, Vilem Flusser says: “This book attempts to strengthen this suspicion and, in order to maintain its hypothetical quality, avoids quotations from earlier works on similar themes. For the same reason there is no bibliography. However there is a short glossary of the terms employed and implied in the course of the discussion; these definitions are not intended to have general validity but are offered as working hypotheses for those who wish to follow up the concepts arising from the thoughts and analyses presented here.”
After following some of the presentations in the frame of Concerning Knowledge Production series I thought, rather than quoting artists, thinkers, philosophers one can appropriate their arguments and sentences without naming the origin. The reader of this text might recognize their voices but won’t be exactly able to specify them as a proper quotation. There will be no reference list at the end and the body of the text will function as a space for the narration where the authors will talk to each other. A possible temporary space of knowledge, perhaps… The reason of this long explanation is that from most of the speakers I could not get what “they”, themselves were thinking or experiencing, but rather what the other, the very respected intellectual elite has thought of ( As … says, as….says ). The ideas proposed in some of these presentations then turned into reproducing the knowledge that is already produced and experienced. This also causes the hierarchy of knowledge production to repeat itself and stay on the basis of vertical hierarchy rather then a horizontal one.
Without talking about the context where the knowledge arises from and ignoring the experience at the source and looking at the final result, or choosing to look at something conceived as a result is what I find problematic and dangerous especially when considered the power relations that go with it. Then the knowledge becomes static, formulates itself as a representation and shies away from the possible changes we come across in the daily life. So, what happens to minor experience?
Who will then create the ideas concerning knowledge?
The production and the formulation of knowledge of this kind has appeared in different readings on Oda Projesi work. For example art critic Claire Bishop in the introduction of her interview with Oda Projesi, that was published in Untitled magazine (Spring 2005), uses the following categorical definitions to present the project;
• “Falling somewhere between art therapy, relational aesthetics and social work, Oda Projesi’s practice is hard to pin down, and even more so now they have begun to show on the European gallery circuit (Tensta Konsthall this year, and the Munich Kunstverein and Venice Biennale in 2003).”
• “These young women are a smart and theory-savvy trio who speak assertively about their work. However, the type of projects that they organize are not always easy for subsequent viewers to understand. How legible are their community-based relational projects for people who didn’t participate in them? Do we have to take on trust the artists’claims to be forging a good relations with their neighbours? And do good relations automatically equal good art?”
Also Bishop writes in her text “The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents” published in Artforum (Feb 2006, Vol.44) about “catalogue of projects” in which Oda Projesi is put in one of the proposed categories and has been defined as “Oda Projesi’s work exists on the level of art education and community events, we can see them as dynamic members of the community bringing art to a wider audience.” “Even when transposed to Sweden, Germany and the other countries where Oda Projesi have been exhibited, there is little to distinguish their projects from other socially engaged practices that revolve around the predictable formulas of workshops, discussions, meals, film screenings and walks.”
Where is Oda Projesi based in? What might situate the acts of Oda Projesi? What is the relation of the project with Istanbul? What does the project understand from “community” and what does the author expect from the word “community”? It appears like none of these were taken into consideration, and there is no mentioning about the dynamics of Istanbul or the very recent history of Turkey or the local art dynamics or even about the social relations specific to the society and communities in concern. Instead the author has decided to use a set of terminologies that is deduced from the “knowledge of art production” designed for the extra-contextual and accordingly Euro-centric art system to understand the “type” of work, following the already-set guidelines Bishop continues her text with comparisons she set up among artists that hardly share any common ground on the bases of experience and concludes it with an accusation she poses for some artists of acting Grace like character of the Lars von Trier movie Dogville. Fullstop. What I find problematic here is the unreflective usage of terms as “social work”, “community based relational projects” which have no direct translation in Turkish language since the social experience in Turkey (and many geographies) cannot be explicated through a terminology based on a formation within a welfare-state. If there is no conception of “social work” in Turkish context and language and no experience such as neither in the art world nor elsewhere, how can then Oda Projesi be taken as the artistic counterpart for it? Without knowing or taking in consideration the context that the project is based on how can one create a new terminology to understand what is going on in there?
What kind of position does the art critic assumes for herself here? What about her/his own situatedness? What is the difference between art critic and art historian in their role? There is a need to develop new ways of looking to the experience and creating new ways to trans-value the already existing knowledge produced before and challenge the inherited categories and limitations. If not, then we see the danger of knowledge how strong and powerful it can be in the system and survive as long as there is someone using it and others appreciating.
Reconsidering the previous practices of Oda Projesi we can follow Simon Sheikh’s ideas about constructing possible spaces for thinking (instead of knowledge production), to which I would also add constructing “possible spaces for dreaming”.
1. The physical space of Oda Projesi can be a starting point for reflecting upon possible spaces for thinking. The place that inhabited the project for 5 years and had shaped the idea or other spaces was in the historic neighbourhood Galata in the very heart of Istanbul which is close to where cultural and entertainment life is concentrated. The classic architectural texture of the 19th century to be found in the neighbourhood relates to its cosmopolitan character and the presence of the non-Muslim communities of the Ottoman Empire which is lost along the political changes of the 20th century. Later, the neighbourhood has been receiving inner migration since the late 60’s from east parts of Turkey, mostly from the rural areas. The apartment flat that the project evolved in was encircled with large families that are either relatives with each other, or originate from the same village or town, men work in temporary jobs and women stay at home to take care of the kids and the households. In the quarter, a small courtyard exists in the middle of the houses that face each other, the project space was also facing this meeting spot. Özge Açıkkol was the first to open the privacy of the apartment to public, with her project “About a Useless Space.” 2 She emptied out the middle room and turned it into an “exhibition space” leaving it empty, open to intervention. Oda Projesi as a space opened on January 22nd, 2000, soon after Özge’s project, the apartment flat became a gathering place not only for fellow artists, architects, sociologists, musicians, but also, even especially for, the neighbours. This 45 square-meters of rented space in Galata had changing functions, the project and the contributing people searched constantly for new possibilities, it remained as a non-profit initiative with nearly zero budget, up until 2005, when Oda Projesi was evicted from the apartment due to the change of the property owner in line with the process of gentrification gradually penetrating the neighborhood. Oda Projesi as a physical space had to close on March 16th, 2005. But the group still continues to work in the form annexes to non-physical spaces as radio space or other media as newspaper, postcard, poster and so on…
2. Constructing a place, that bears its knowledge with it, as a space:
The term gecekondu which translates from Turkish as “to land by night”, refers to a sort of housing structure built by lower income groups as a solution to poor dwelling conditions of the newcomers to the big cities. There are terms in other languages for similar occurances in the urban setting such as ‘bidonville’ in French, ‘slum’, ‘shanty’ or ‘squatter’s house’ or ‘squatter town’ in English. This type of housing has a considerably low and spontaneous building technology. On the social level, gecekondu is directly linked with poverty, criminality, unemployment and everything that threatens cities, their integrity, health and aesthetics. One of the projects of Oda Projesi done in 2003 was about to work together with a group of experienced gecekondu builders and construct one outside one of the venues of the exhibition. When we had in mind to construct a gecekondu, we thought to ask the worker we met, what kind he would like to make and why. So Mustafa Tetik decided that he wants to built the gecekondu that he had constructed in 1985 when he first came to Istanbul with his family and he said that he would like to do it with his fellow friends.
Concentrating together on the idea of gecekondu and seeing it as a key to think on the usages of spaces in Istanbul was our main concern. What happens if we look to the city through the windows of a gecekondu? Taking the established knowledge and stereotypes on gecekondu in consideration we set out to look at the ways in which to create different meanings to open up other possible socio-spatial models. Challenging the way gecekondu is being represented in the social visibility, we rather aimed seeing it as a possibility. The house was built in 2 days with no police disturbation, with a beautiful view of the Bosphorus, it was named after the builder as “Mustafa Tetik Model” and as each piece in the exhibition has a label, its label was placed near the house. (The opening ceremony of the exhibition was done near the gecekondu by the head of Istanbul Municipality.) One can go in the house, there was nothing to find inside, just two empty rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. In one of the rooms we placed a pile of newspapers which we named as Annex.
3. Using the medium of newspaper as to create a new space: annex.
Annex is the name of the series of newspapers Oda Projesi had been publishing for different occasions. The word “annex” as an idea first came up during the initial issue which was based on the urbanistic consequences of the big earthquake in 1999. After the disaster the government has given prefabricated houses to the families that had lost their houses. The prefabricated houses were built in the areas that remained outside the city centres, near to graveyards or in empty lots, in the first months these areas were looking like ghost cities with white houses, but after a while, when these crowded families were not instructed into new permanent residences and when they realized that they were would be living in these 55m2 container-like constructions for a longer time then they expected, they started to built annexes to the houses for different usages, each of them unique in material and style, sometimes more permanent then the house itself…
The first issue of Annex conceived all these occurrences as creative interventions readings in terms of “already built city”. The question used as the headline on the paper cover was “How unbuildable is your city?” The reader could also re-read clips taken from the local newspapers, like: “The constructions of the earthquake museums planned to commemorate the disasters of the Adapazarı Earthquake can never be completed. The museums and monuments were never opened because they were not constructed according to laws and regulations. According to the papers, the Earthquake Monument Comedy started when the ceiling of the “Earthquake Monument and Museum Complex” cracked and began to leak. The museum opened with a ceremony on the second anniversary of the November 12 earthquake by politicians was closed down when the leaking snow water started fill the building.”
The second issue of Annex was based on the phenomenon of gecekondu. The third set out to re-examine art spaces as annexes to the city. So with the occasion of each issue the term Annex had been re-thought and in each case people from various disciplines were invited to submit texts and conversations. Each time there was an effort to create new terminologies based on experience and on the going daily rhythm of the city. The Annexes aimed at functioning as an imitator of the city dynamics and trying to use the tools, strategies like in one issue you have the advertisement from a billboard in the city; We’ve opened up space for you!.
4. Book as a new space with a poli-narrative and poli-authorship: What if Oda Projesi decides on working with the medium of a book3 as a space. Like inviting people to your space, people that don’t know each other people from different social and linguistic backgrounds try to find a common ground to meet, what if with the collaboration of 154 people we are in the space of a book. Oda started with 8 questions all of which were first asked to the neighbours in Galata; questions concerning the daily life in the city, in the neighbourhood. When you receive the question you have to reply with an answer, ask a new question and introduce yourself shortly. Oda members decides on to whom these second questions will be addressed, that is what we did, to facilitate potential relations. So there came out an “apartment of relations” where people that don’t know each other establish a link with each other and create various narratives. As Derya Özkan in her review of the book wrote; “Narratives link to each other and together articulate a hypertext, a hyperspace. It is the practices of the narrators that form the book as space. As they write, they produce space. As you read, the image of the space takes form in your mind and you become part of the production. The narrators not only are different but also become different as they join the open-ended hyper-narrative. The unanswered questions lead the reader to the empty pages that invite her/him to join the production of the book space.”4
5. From place to space: This is a project where Oda Projesi adopted one architectural brief from a competition organized by a university, worked on it and rewrote it with the facts, acts, situations from the neighbourhood where the project space was based in. So mainly the language and the tendencies of the brief was adopted. The brief was itself in its language, approach and wishes, a synthesis of architectural knowledge and the daily practices in a neighbourhood. Then there was a call for the architects. Many invited architects did not want to take part in, found it contradictory to their discipline and their established way of producing knowledge. At the end 6 of them contributed to the project, the jury was comprised of the residents of the neighbourhood, and each of the competing parts came with drawings, models, 3D animations. Presentations, discussions and decision process was done in two days. At the end the competitor who came with a proposal in which he told as an architect he does not want to create a new model but thinks that the already existing neighbourhood is important to work on and to appreciate, won!
6. Radio as a space!
The project has experienced radio activities in two different occasions. One in the small circuit of the neighbourhood for the duration of a full month operating as a pirate transmission and the second one in a local radio station which has a Istanbul-wide transmission, in the last 2 years. If I try to translate our experiences into tentative guidelines that is how they will sound like:
Pirate radio: Find a place to put an antenna in the middle of your broadcasting area. Get technical help from someone that has done pirate radio before. Find a small room, minimum 15m2, a table, a mixer, at least 3 chairs, a red light, egg boxes, 2 cd players, at least 2 headphones. Ensure the people around you that this gonna work. Imagine what kind of a radio station you want. Make the first rehearsal with yourself and slowly get the others in this nonphysical stage. Then discover the hidden treasure of the neighborhood, of the friends… Be careful with the broadcasting area, don’t expand too much. Put small flyers around about the sound.
Legal radio: Go to a local radio channel and make them believe that the program you will make a difference and that it will fill a gap in the current programme and facilitate some discussions and get some energy in. That it will be a radio within a radio. Start using the same studio like the others but then slowly open the door, let the sound come in…
For Oda Projesi radio is not a radio by itself -if you don’t: turn on the “dead air” of your surrounding / open a place for yourself and experience the “air”/ collect your memories through sound and voice /gossip, hearsay, cook together, listen to your own music, share your favourite sounds with others / let your friend make his/her own broadcasting / let the airwaves inhabit your own space / use the microphone freely / use the microphone as a listener / use the earphones as a speaker use your body as a transmitter / let yourself to be over-tech / make narrowcasting/ make noise / pause the broadcasting / watch the radio / sneak into the frequencies/ resound somebody else’s voice.
So all these acts of Oda Projesi can also be read as a production of knowledge on the daily bases and on the pedestrian level which is possible with the creation of new spaces for meeting, thinking and being able to be “face to face”. But this is not an idealization of a special type of knowledge, rather having a distance to all, in search of not creating or duplicating a categorized knowledge, rather being in search for possibilities.
Let me take you down, cause I’m going to
Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about
Strawberry fields forever
To end or to begin, I would like to gather some strategies in this commodifying times: like, creating ways and possibilities of invisibility; in the times of visibility where to be visible in terms of gender, class, minorities is getting more and more important, the stage they appear on allows them to have the “equal” presence but which turns out to be for the benefit of capitalist system, that demands everyday more and more to turn into a product and a source of consumption, so working on creating spaces more engaged with daily life sources and dissolving in them; like newspaper, radio, new spaces working with already existing spaces like schools, offices, shops… / thinking on the citizen as an author not a reader of the city; from the experience of Istanbul where the citizen is the organizer and planner and builder in the city/ to believe that more possibilities arise from the expanding system of exchange instead of change / to think of “to cause to happen” as a tactic / to work on temporary spaces rather then situating oneself in one place and becoming “like an institution” mentally and practically / to re-imagine the value of experience rather then putting more effort on the final product and to be open to experience in the sense that it leads to other ends rather then the estimated one / to think on “the act of persuading”; what makes people come together for a certain act, that they are persuaded / a temporary negotiation for something to happen can lead to permanent acts / to work in places that don’t offer guarantee, guarantee in terms of “art spaces”, “institutions”… / to think on the relation of guest and host while thinking on knowledge production also, as the vertical hierarchy built up through production and also even in places where these issues are discussed as the lecturer and audience / to rethink on the acts that one can do as a “gift”, so what to do with the gift? / to think that art can weaken the boundaries it creates around it and around the existing systems / not to be instrumentalized in the production of product or ideas and avoiding to be perceived as a label / to imagine the space.