Small is beautiful

Independent art venues in Istanbul

Mashallah News dedicates this week to independent art spaces in the region. Today, prior to our fundraising party on Friday 18 at Zico House in Beirut, Istanbul’s booming art scene is under the spotlight.

The word “independent” is a broad word. Being independent might first evoke the feeling of freedom, which artists need for creating their work. According to Theodor Adorno, freedom of art and artistic self-expression is the last potential holdout against authoritarian regimes. Indeed, it is impossible to restrict self-expression of the artistic mind. How can an artist reach an infinite “independence” in the art world, amidst art galleries, museums, art shows, curators and critics?

Independent art spaces are not affected by the ever-turning wheels of commerce, the whimsical needs of art collectors and curators. They are there just to provide the freedom that artists need. The tension between the art market and artistic freedom is present in Istanbul’s art scene. During the last decade many private galleries opened as well as spaces sponsored by banks or big trusts. But the number of independent venues is also growing in the central district of Beyoğlu and in other neighbourhoods where they play an active role in the community life.

Most of the independent and artist-run art spaces aim to be an experimental hub for ideas and new art disciplines. Those spaces create their own values in the art field in autonomy from any institution. Despite all the hassles, some art spaces in Istanbul manage to stay independent. Mashallah News will make you discover four of them.

KargART

KargART is one of the oldest independent art spaces of Istanbul, located in the Kadıköy district on the Anatolian side. The venue, has celebrated its 10th year anniversary since its opening. It is possible to see all kind of art disciplines in KargART, such as videos, dances, performances, media, paintings, ateliers and movies.

Despite its display of various art disciplines and its will of full independence, KargART faces some challenges mainly in terms of finances. “The venue allocates an exclusive budget for art events each year,” said Tayfun Polat from KargART. This is not an infinite budget. But, KargART looks forward and aims to organise many art events, no matter what. Most independent or small art spaces try to find support from different kinds of funds. The other venues like KargART which try to sustain themselves have a short life in the art scene.

Being well-known, on the other hand, is another issue for independent art spaces. The large galleries, which are supported by banks or companies, are popular because they have enough budgets to allocate for advertisement and communication. The small galleries or art spaces cannot afford those advertisements. “During the past few years, the contemporary art audiences, who got very tired of those turning commercial wheels, created a new tendency in the art scene and began to visit alternative art spaces,” said Polat.

Whatever it takes, after 10 years, KargART continues to support art and different art disciplines. Its audiences are university and art students, underground movie viewers and contemporary art followers.

Edisyon

The concept of Edisyon is revealing the “quality” of the independent art works exhibited. Edisyon is a small art shop. But it also serves as an art archive, library and exhibition space. The main aim of the venue is to stay independent with the model that they have created. The works in the shop are also for sale and the prices differ differ according to which edition the piece comes from. However, this is not commerce. This model, which is created by two partners, Çağlar Kanzık and Yetkin Başarır, is only made for providing the sustainability of the space.

The place creates editions of the art works. “Those artists, who created those art works are independent. We do not tell them what to create and how to create. We do not lead them in their creation process,” said Başarır. That’s why Edisyon manages to perfectly stay independent. The artists give their individual work to Edisyon, whenever they want.

“We do not want anything from the artist. The works at Edisyon do not have to belong to a popular artist. We do not care about the identity of the artists but the work that he or she wants to give to Edisyon,” said Başarır. Edisyon is not dealing with the preferences of curators; they do not choose the works. “The most important thing is to believe the work that those artists are doing,” he added.

Located in a small atelier at Çukurcuma (Beyoğlu), Edisyon is now one of the best alternative art spaces to see and discover new works of very young and sometimes unknown artists.

Sanatorium

Launched by a couple of emerging artists, Sanatorium is a well-known place to find independent art and artists. The founders define themselves as a group of artists, who attempt to do what they want in an art space. They try with Sanatorium to avoid any limited definition and insist that they are only an artist initiative. Thus, it is one of the places that succeeds to stay autonomous and original.

The venue, which can be found in a small street near Istiklal Avenue, feeds from different art practices and experiences. “The practices and experiences that artists deal with at Sanatorium require an independent process,” said Tunca Subaşı, one of the artists running the Sanatorium.

“This is the concept that helps Sanatorium to develop while staying independent,” he added. Even though there is no curator in Sanatorium, the artists are not against standard structures and curators. In Sanatorium the decision-making board is made of the artists. No one, apart from the artists, can interfere in the art works that are exhibited in the space.

Sanatorium funds itself. “We are not having more hard times than the other alternative art spaces,” said Subaşı. The place organises exhibitions and projects. It also hosts contemporary artists from all over the world.

At first, the place was just an art atelier and after all the different kinds of projects, it became something like an alternative art space. “A place like Sanatorium was a great need for us,” said Subaşı. Sanatorium might look like a random gallery, but, it is one of the most promising spaces for art initiatives in Istanbul.

PiST///

Created in 2006 by the artists Didem Ozbek and Osman Bozkurt, PiST/// is a well-established, independent and interdisciplinary art space. “PiST/// means dance floor, ring or runway for airplanes in Turkish,” claims their website. “PiST/// acts as a runway for art professionals to land in and take off from worldwide. Issues related to urban environments, everyday life and public space/private space conflicts are PiST///’s main interests.” Their independent status allows them to relay criticisms about tourism and art industries.

It is a non-profit initiative that is involved at both local and international levels. They host workshops, performances, exhibitions, conferences and screenings. Unlike many galleries located in the overcrowded Beyoglu district, PiST/// has a long and strong relationship with the residents of their middle-class neighbourhood (Pangaltı) full of small shops. The space itself is composed of a former hardware store, restaurant and grocery store. Some of the works displayed deal with the local history and daily life.

Their last project is a collective research in collaboration with Chinese and Scottish artists called: How to turn the World by Hand? via Beijing_Edinburgh_Istanbul*. This project takes place in all three cities throughout the year. PiST/// was also invited to London’s Tate Modern last year for “No Soul For Sale — A Festival of Independents” where they released a publication called POST exploring the opposition Independent VS. Dependent.

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