Istanbul’s current art scene enjoys analysing urban transformation trends. Since Turkey’s $400 billion urban transformation project began on October 5 with the demolition of 3,900 buildings at 75 locations in 35 cities using explosives and bulldozers, the word “transformation” has become a valuable concept for artists in Istanbul’s contemporary art scene. Many art projects address this urban transformation, but among them only a select few are incisive.
Işıl Eğrikavuk’s performance art project, which took place at Salt Beyoğlu on September 29, is an important critique of urban transformation. In her performance entitled “Change Will Be Terrific!” Eğrikavuk staged an “absurd theatre-play” with unique characters of her own creation.
The story unfolds in an imaginary setting. Eğrikavuk’s performance focuses on three fictional characters: one is Amira Hussein, an Egyptian writer. Next comes Yasser Dellal, a restaurant owner in Istanbul’s Bebek district and a translator of Hussein’s works. The third guest is an architect named Pars Pınarcıklıoğlu who proposes the 3P Project to transform Taksim Square.
The characters participate in a mock talk show hosted by Sevim Gözay, a well-known Turkish TV presenter, who currently has a program titled “Artist” on one of the TV channels in Turkey, Skyturk.
The work uses the language of popular media to operate like a real media spectacle, contemplating the ways in which the popular media filter current events for the public. Simultaneously, the performance concentrates on the process of urban change in the city and the cultural politics associated with this change, using the iconic Istanbul locale of Taksim Square as a metaphor.
The character Amira Hussein, a famous Egyptian writer, is the author of a love story set in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. “I included Tahrir Square in order to compare it with Taksim Square,” said Eğrikavuk. During the performance, Eğrikavuk’s character Hussein says, “In my novel Tahrir is a character, which changes all the time. One day it is full of pain, the next it is full of festivity.”
By including Tahrir Square in Amira Hussein’s book, Eğrikavuk also highlights the current events taking place there in real life. Her emphasis on worldwide current events and the importance of the global agenda, such as the Arab Spring, are the result of Eğrikavuk’s “journalistic” career, in which she is also an editor at an English newspaper. “Since the performance project is an absurd theatre-play, I am trying to focus on the problems that are currently on the agenda both of the world and of Turkey; rather than attempting to reproduce the events as they occurred, I turn them into absurd stories in order to reveal the reality in them.”
The second guest of the mock talk show is Yasser Dellal, Hussein’s translator. “I currently own a Middle Eastern restaurant in Bebek,” he says during the talk show, adding that he is from Syria. When the host asks about the happenings in Syria, he refuses to give details and says this is a painful topic to talk about.
The climax point of the performance comes with the appearance of the third and final guest of the show: Pars Pınarcıklıoğlu, the last and the most important of Eğrikavuk‘s characters. He is the character who introduces the most absurd topic in the show. Pınarcıklıoğlu announces that he has a great plan, the 3P Project, which consists of bringing Greece’s Parthenon, Syria’s Palmyra and Egypt’s pyramids to Istanbul’s Taksim Square.
Eğrikavuk says she aims to underline the fine line between fiction and reality in this show. That’s why she ends the show with the famous real-life rap artist, Fuat, performing a song about Taksim. Fuat’s song describes the problems of Taksim and its tranformation and how Istanbul has turned into a paradise for Arab tourists.
Eğrikavuk wants to ask: “What will happen to Taksim?” This references the Taksim Renewal Project developed by Turkey’s ruling Ak Parti (AKP). According to the party’s website, the transformation of Istanbul’s Taksim Square into a pedestrian-only zone will begin with the construction of a tunnel connecting Cumhuriyet and Tarlabaşı avenues. The project is being criticized by architects, urbanists, and activists on grounds that it will block easy pedestrian access to the square once finished.
There will be five tunnels, one for each approach to Taksim, apart from İstiklal Street. For more than 100 meters in every direction sidewalks will be transformed into service roads.
Eğrikavuk says, “There are lots of proposed projects currently affecting Taksim, such as closing it to vehicular traffic and so on. And each of them is very absurd. It might be fair to say my performance seems normal when compared to real-life projects.”
Construction work to prepare for the project’s implementation started yesterday. For Taksim Square, the absurd is starting to become reality.
The text was edited with the help of Laïla Von Alvensleben and Angela Häkkilä.