Crystal City

The architectural research workshop, MARS, will be hosting the exhibition “The Crystal City” from September 18th to November 18th. Inspired by Italo Calvino’s book ‘Invisible Cities’, the event brings together artists who, in the Italian novelist’s footsteps, attempt to explore the hidden reasons behind people’s dwelling in cities. To him, cities were spaces for exchange, not only for trade, but also for swapping memories, desires and words. While relating to architecture and hence to the city by means of images, the artists in this exhibition bring up themes such as memory, desire, signs and exchange. Consept and organized  by Pınar Öğrenci, the show includes works by Şahinaz Emine Akalın, Luk Berghe, Uli Fischer, Claudia von Funcke, Behrouz Heschmat, Evrim Kavcar, Helene Kazan, Pınar Öğrenci, Mustafa Pancar, Erich Pick and Kemal Seyhan.

Calvino names his narrative as crystal labyrinth’; a richly cut crystal is the symbol of a shattered entity with its triangular facets, and all our city-related experiences reflect upon these facets. These experiences are much stronger at a level of thoughts and images than they are material.  Claudia von Funcke, in her work named ‘disorientations’ consisting of used mirror pieces found on the streets of Istanbul, refers to city’s fragmented structure. At the same time, shattered pieces of mirrors suspended in the air make a reference to city’s fragile and uncontrolled structure that faces an earthquake threat.

Cities are made up of memory and history rather than concrete, stone and bricks. In opposition to a functionalism viewing everything as an object of design from chairs to building, and ultimately to the city as such, Aldo Rossi, also influenced by Calvino, claims in The Architecture of the City that there is a reciprocal relationship between the city and architecture: while architecture deals with the building of cities, the city as bearer of collective memory is the source of architecture. Kemal Seyhan in his workuntitled utilise plastic mallets, which are used in industry or architecture to absorb lurch and vibration, as his medium. The plastic mallets that come side to side on top of each other resemble a fault line. However the plastic medium that Seyhan uses is not fragile and hard but flexible in the case of which the contrast between the medium and the form is ironical.

The complexity of the city eludes the grasp of any reading from the viewpoint of modern planning reduced to mere land-use, statistics and graphics. Trying to come to terms with the idea of deterritorialized utopia while yearning for urban humanism, Calvino embarked on an imaginary journey beyond space and time, defying present day modern cities. As mechanical reproduction shifted the relationship between the masses and art, and thereby the very nature of art, architecture had its share by becoming an object. Today, colossal shopping centers and megaprojects in the city center describe the object of urban desire. As Susan Sontag notes, whereas, in the past, the discontent with reality was expressed by utopias as an aspiration for another world, in modern society we have witnessed another expression of the same discontent in the form of an imperious desire to violently and tediously reproduce this world and assimilate its components. On similar grounds, Walter Benjamin associates modern architecture, not with paintings inviting the gaze of the spectator, but with movies that shock and distract their audience, and claims that mass movements, including war, adapt to this mechanical hardware. In this respect, architecture cannot be excluded from war insofar as it exploits mass media in the form of photography, film and advertising, and well equips itself with mechanical contrivances: rebuilt war zones in fact become markets for multinational corporations of construction, very much like huge shopping centers harboring a kind of violence. Being the ideological means it is, architecture under capitalist conditions is as such incapable of nurturing revolutionary engagement and social transformation.

At this point, the artists that create works dealing with urban desire and exchange define city’s new objects of desire through shopping malls. In passages section of his utopia series, which is about historical heritage of modern architecture, Luk Berghe interprets passages in 19th century Europe. Passages are the first ever shopping malls, which emerged at the end of 19th century as a result of textiles trade and increasing consumption of luxurious goods and were formed by the glass roofed galleries that connected streets to each other in order to encourage more number of people to consume. Thus passages hosted the formation of a new consumption and entertainment culture within the cities.

Pınar Öğrenci, in her video named ‘new buildings being demolished’ she discusses the construction of IKEA building in Hamburg’s Altona district. Shopping malls that have been pushed out of the cities, increasingly from the 1950s, are again heading towards city centers like the passages of 19th century. Each sides of a partition for a construction site bearing ‘Fuck Gentrification’ on it are like two different stages: while on one side of the partition gigantic construction machines work nosily, citizens pass by on the other side of partition in their daily routines and try to capture a moment through the window which is placed on the partition. It feels that the Altona community, majority of which consists of immigrants, is in oblivion about their living space being constricted.

The invention of escalators is an important dynamic on the increasing number of shopping malls.  Escalators are placed in the middle of shopping malls to provide both horizontal and vertical circulation while they allow us the opportunity to observe wide spaces that conjure the feeling of being in a circus within an array of bright light and colour. In ‘falling stairs’, C. von Funke draws attention to this by vertically displaying a horizontal frame of a stair.

Shopping malls are heterotopias – a definition by Michel Foucault– where individuals are kept under control by the help of concealed mechanisms such as barcodes, security cams and electronic tags. In heterotopias individual’s movements are predefined by virtue of designed space, light and inducements and thus making her/him forget the notion of time. M. Foucault searches for the mechanisms of ‘punishment’ and ‘discipline’ that lie behind visible functions of prisons, barracks, nurseries, and shopping malls all of which he describes as heterotopias and then points out the role of architecture in the organization of public spaces. Erich Pick in his ‘Cadres Foucaultiens’ interferes with M. Foucault’s “Of Other Spaces” text and destroys and at the same time demonstrates it. By way of hollowing out the text he makes room for subsidiary meanings and allows regenerative reading.

Unlike Calvino’ journeys into the unknown, today any tourist feels obliged to know where she is going and especially how secure her destinations are. The sense of ambiguity and the spirit of adventure are bygone. Some works in this exhibition reach into the “heated” geographies usually not recommended to tourists, and emphasize the sense of homelessness resulting from violence or assault, venturing to gaze at the exchanges between memory and desire under the shadow of war.

Architectural space is not only physical but also psychological and imaginative. The position of space in imagery for the artist will be related to her personal memory. Cities generate memories. Individual’s personal identity develops by virtue of her adaptability to society and location and by becoming familiar with her environment and, feeling of security. What would the memories of a Middle Eastern that had to fled her city because of war mean to other people who are accustomed to seeing images of war? Following a war, circumstances of familiar surroundings are lost together with the social ties. H.Kazan and her family had to fled their home inBeirut when she was nine years old. In her work, which is a stop-motion video produced from a picture taken from her home’s kitchen, the shadows combing through daylight and interior are in fact a relationship that she has created between inner space and outer world. Despite this relationship is interfered because of the war; it has survived in artist’s imagery. Yet the spaces take place in our remembrance not only by memories but also light, shadow, colour, sound or smell.

Iranian origin B.Heschmat had to leave his native land because of political reasons. Heschmat uses the metaphor of a ‘nest’ in his work called ‘tree within a tree house’. As Michelet has stated that the outer form of a nest is imposed by its interior and it is nothing but the bird’s anatomical form that causes the interior of a nest to be circular. The nest is the bird itself, its form, its direct effort, and the suffering but anything. Heschmat builds his homes on a tree, closer to sky rather than on soil and utilises the childhood image of a safe home, the very simple shelter, the image of a ‘hut’ by way of which he actually searches for his initial home.

Today the threshold architecture must overstep is ‘war’. Soldiers in Iraqupload their videos on YouTube and Wikileaks. Journalists are no longer the first comers on the site of an incident. In our time, after modernism, at the breakdown of the inside and the outside, of the private and public, photos of a raid reach the Internet or TV screens, and find their way practically into our living rooms only to buzz through our numb sense organs. The spectator is as ephemeral as urban space. Evrim Kavcar uses Internet images that are probably taken by a soldier or a reporter for her work ‘your house is my house’ that deals with home invasions in Iraq. The expression ‘your house is my house’ imply a meaning of visits and visitors and is being twisted by US soldiers. Quiet as of its privacy and therefore comforting with a feeling of security, the house has lost its safety and it has no more of privacy.

Emine Sahinaz Akalin depicts a spectrum between reality and vision in her drawings. The lines point to roads, places and objects, without mapping real spaces or things. Formations without reference to reality, but with the character of spatial structures and perspective take the viewer to an imaginary journey outside the domain of time and space as does Calvino:

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” Italo Calvino “Invisible Cities”

In this painting by Mustafa Pancar, which the artist ironically calls as ‘a real virtual city’, the structures that seem to be erected as permanent settlements within a contemporary context and it emphasizes an unsteadiness contained within the perfectly cubic modern buildings by virtue of the distortions in its perspective. The real image of these collages that employ an expansionist and invader drawing attitude, which is ready to transform into structures over paper’s surface is based upon ‘entwining’. A similarity between a spider’s weaving its web and formation of a city’s buildings is intended.  This setup, which is intentionally thought to exclude human beings, creates connections between city structures and the instinct that runs this very system. Lightness of collage medium that is used in the form of colorful stripes instead of lines has become a very effective material to unfold this ambivalence.

These artists zero in on architecture and the city. What brings them together is the idea that the major emerges out of the minor. For, as Gaston Bachelard observes, the minor opens us a world despite and through its narrow gates. One meager detail may well point to a new world bearing the characteristics of magnitude. The miniature is one of the shelters of the majority.Uli Fischer, in his work ‘narcissuses’, tells us that all he sees is narcissuses when he looks at the city. The artist is focused on the soil rather than the upward developing structure of cities. Narcissuses standing in the middle of darkness next to a motorway become visible by the headlights of cars passing by and then again plunged into darkness.

The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.’

The “Crystal City” is intended as a first in a series of exhibitions of architectural research open to other artists in the future. The exhibition can be seen every day, except Sunday and Monday, between 11am and 6pm at Bostanbaşı Caddesi,10, in Galatasaray, Taksim, İstanbul.