BY Jonathan P. Watts in Reviews | 17 FEB 15
Featured in
Issue 169

The Moving Museum

Șișhane Otopark, Istanbul, Turkey

BY Jonathan P. Watts in Reviews | 17 FEB 15

‘The Moving Museum Istanbul’, 2014, exhibition view

Contemporary art is often what occupies spaces after commerce has departed, or is yet to arrive. The Moving Museum’s Istanbul exhibition found temporary residence in Şişhane Otopark, a soon-to-open underground multi-storey carpark. Its street-level carapace, Şişhane Otopark, incorporates ‘sunset decks’ facing east across the Bosporous and an outdoor ‘theatric room’. The park’s still-incomplete mezzanine level served as The Moving Museum’s headquarters: a cold, dusty concrete chamber, retail space in potentia. Transitional spaces of arrival and departure are the preferred setting of this nomadic non-profit organization; their first exhibition was staged in an unopened mall in Dubai in early 2013 and a second occupied a vacant office block on the Strand in central London later that year.

Over three months, 35 international and 11 local artists carried out residencies in the historically cosmopolitan city of Istanbul, researching, engaging with the public through talks and workshops and, finally, producing new work to be displayed across the 7,500 m² space. The ambitiousness of the The Moving Museum’s programme is staggering. The artist roster reads as a who’s who of internationally mobile bright young things, largely associated with Post-internet art. (Nine featured in Karen Archey and Robin Peckham’s canonizing 2014 survey, ‘Art Post-internet’, at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, Beijing, including Harm van den Dorpel, Daniel Keller, Tobias Madison, Emanuel Rossetti and Hito Steyerl.)

Besides three works on the mezzanine, two of which, public facing, explicitly addressed aspects of Istanbul’s ecology and political history – Iz Öztat’s ongoing research project on water privatization (Sculpture for Rainwater Harvest, 2014) and Aslı Çavuşoğlu’s monument to the first Turkish woman executed by capital punishment (Woman with a Hat, 2014), the majority of artworks were parked across two floors in bays and stud wall booths constructed around extant floor markings and architecture.

Rather than adopt an overbearing curatorial principle, The Moving Museum decided to regard each artist’s work as an individual presentation and highlight points of heterogeneity and contradiction between them. What unites the works is their production in conversation with the city of Istanbul: some, of course, were more conversant than others. London-based artist Hannah Perry’s diaristic multi-screen video installation, One Park Memory, One Park Imagination (2014), sprawling between two floors on a ramp, exemplified a general tendency of the art on show to foreground subjective experience – of being in and out of place, local and global (‘glocal’), and a nebulous sense of otherness. Haig Aivazian, a Lebanese artist, writer and curator, draws on his Arabic identity to reveal history’s blindspots. Prior to visiting Istanbul, Aivazian’s research led him to the post-Ottoman-era oud player Udi Hrant Kenkulian (1901–78). Once in Istanbul, he collaborated with a local musicologist and craftsman to produce Hastayım Yaşıyorum (I am sick, but I am alive) (2014), an elegant, closed canoe-like form constructed from traditional oud materials – mahogany and tulipwood – which was elevated between two simple wooden stools like an enlarged, sculptural resonator.

Haig Aivazian, Hastayım Yaşıyorum (I am sick, but I am alive), 2014, mahogany and tulipwood, 206 × 37 × 100 cm

At times, the preponderance of Post-internet work meant the explanatory wall texts read like an exercise in finding different ways to say ‘actualizing the virtual’ and ‘global networks’. In Ben Schumacher’s mixed media installation, Picture of Intimacy Cable (2014), sinuous lengths of cable (originally intended to be from discontinued Black Sea telegraph wires) spanned piled islands of grain and furniture – a proxy for the communication networks that, for over a century, have collapsed space and granted intimacy across distances.

Yet, as Jeremy Bailey’s project The You Museum (2014) makes clear, today this intimacy is more likely than ever to be compromised, shared with third parties. In the guise of a trade booth, the installation promoted The You Museum, a service that occupies web advertising space with personalized art exhibitions. The service begins following an initial visit to and only ceases if all cookies and data are wiped from your browser. Many of Bailey’s promotional images were shot in Gezi Park – a symbol of democracy following the demonstrations that took place there in 2013 and last year, when protests against the park’s planned redevelopment as a mall progressed into widespread agitation against media censorship, the limitation of the right to public assembly and the authoritarianism and suspected corruption of the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. During the protests, both YouTube and Twitter were temporarily suspended. In light of such demonstrations of social media’s power, Zach Blas’s post-utopian declaration of withdrawal from ‘the internet regime’ in Contra-Internet: User’s Agreement (2014) seems a distinctly privileged concern.

At Şişhane Otopark, the appearance of the network as a theme signifies a questionable self-reflexivity: if the global network is what has replaced local context then it’s an apt curatorial subject for an organization defined by its nomadic structure. However you say it, the actualization of the virtual in the gallery cannot but underline the specificity of the place in which it sits. Among other things, it is a reminder of the privilege of mobility.

Jonathan P. Watts is a contemporary art critic based in Norwich, UK.