Archive for January, 2012
THIS ATRIUM BELONGS IN A SCI-FI DYSTOPIA.
If you ask me, Istanbul is inherently cinematic. I just left Switzerland which you could say is inherently picturesque — with its mountains, its lakes and its pristine architecture, it would make a good location for several of my cinematic fantasies. But could you do a dystopian epic with a nicely understated sci-fi twist? I think not. I regularly dream movies up in my head, like the other day when I decided to cut through this han to get to Karaköy Lokantasi, and for about two-three minutes I completely forgot my ravenous appetite. Read More…
FORMER FASHION DESIGNER & NEW ARTISTIC VOICE EMEL KURHAN.
Long before I had a chance to sit down and chat with the former fashion designer turned artist, I certainly noticed her stand-out presence. It’s not just for the obvious reasons, her cool clothes and her looks, but for her personal style—her manners and her ready laughter, her whimsy. Emel Kurhan always seemed to me like someone who knows how to make life enjoyable through the gift of an active imagination.
Making life better through creativity is a theme this site is devoted to exploring, and one of the things that’s refreshing is that Emel takes her work — but not herself — seriously. Which is really important, as well as healthy, when your work comes from such a personal place.
MY PERSONAL FAVORITE FROM EMEL’S PREVIOUS EXHIBITION TRAVELING WITHOUT MOVING.
Her previous exhibition, Traveling Without Moving used mixed media such as neon, embroidery and Emel’s intrinsic sense of whimsy, to explore the fantastic places she can visit simply by closing her eyes.
Emel has spent a lifetime using a fantastic imagination to transport herself to wondrous places, and a conversation with her does what you’d hope. It inspires you.
UNLIKE EMEL, HER SIDEKICK TAKES HERSELF VERY SERIOUSLY.
Your latest work is entitled Tales of a Fairy. Is this a continuation of your theme from the previous exhibition?
EK: No. This exhibition will again be mixed media, but it takes childhood photos of my mother and mixes them with embroidery and objects to restore her identity.
What do you mean?
EK: My mother’s older sister died when my mother was very young. My mother’s name was Peri—meaning Fairy. Her sister’s name was Mürüvvet. After Mürüvvet. died my mother was given her name .
What were your parents like?
EK: They were very different but shared a loneliness that brought them close. My mother came from quite a humble background, but was very striking, with blond hair and green eyes and far east Asian features. My father came from an aristocratic Egyptian background, he was very isolated by his family. Together they were crazy fun.
So they were happy together?
EK: Very. My father was a diplomat and my mother was an Egyptologist. Life was always one big party. They loved to travel, nothing child-friendly and never the same place twice. My mother used to come pick me up in at school in Paris with these bright African print dresses and amazing hats.
Then when my father died, life suddenly changed. I was 11 my mother and I returned to Ankara, which was cold and dark. My imagination freed me. I composed a fantasy newspaper journal about terrible bourgeois people I encountered being carted away by the police. Everything [in Ankara] was about networking and social-climbing … everything smelled of charcoal.
Do you ever think of writing about your family? Sounds like a great love story.
EK: Maybe. I have so much to say. First I want to do an illustrated children’s style book for adults. My chihuahua will be one of the lead characters. I still love Tintin and shows about crocodiles. I have so much to say Id on’t know where to start.
Do you still work in fashion?
EK: No. I was in business with my sister and working in fashion for about 10 years. It was the worst breakup of my life. I don’t want to worry about what sells or whether people will like things any more.
There are moments when I am not confident, where i’m afraid, but the moment I stop worrying about these things they seem to work out … it doesn’t have to make sense. Do it.
All the ideas I never shared only led to frustration, nothing else. If people don’t like it, it’s not my problem.
TALES OF A FAIRY WILL BE EXHIBITED FROM MARCH 1-31, 2012
AT GALERIE NIVET-CARZON IN PARIS, FRANCE.
SUPPOSE THIS IS A DOOR TO ANOTHER WORLD … WOULD YOU STEP THROUGH?
Ever have that feeling that a passage to another world hovers just beneath your nose? Ever wonder if the image in the mirror might be the larger you, and that you might be nothing more than a thin reflection of limited dimension?
In this city there are endless windows, ajar doors, stairways and passages that prompt my curiosity. Sometimes it seems that they might lead to some alternate reality, a world curled up inside our own. As early as childhood, stories like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles had a ring to them that drew in my young mind. There’s something about the notion of portals to other worlds that intrigues me, be they a wardrobe or a painting hung on wall.
A GOLDEN CITY? MAYBE … BUT THE ROAD BETWEEN HERE AND THERE IS OBSCURED.
In the last 100 or so years, the possibility of multiple realities existing in parallel or perhaps overlapping with our own have begun to be posited and considered by those most abstract of scientific thinkers, physicists. Quantum theory and Superstring theory seem to insist on the likelihood that there is far more to this universe than we can perceive, let alone understand. In fact, Superstring theory insists on at least 11 dimensions, and suggests that we exist not in a universe but a multiverse. But all we have are mathematical formulae to prove these notions. It’s not science. For the moment it’s only philosophy.
A MAP IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE. WHO WILL TRANSLATE?
So where do we go? Human perception is limited to the senses. Those five collaborators, tricksters, lead us just close enough to hear but not see the gate clang shut to another world. We always seem to be close to uncovering the fabric of the universe, only to be told that yet another, deeper reality exists. And these realities, if they exist, are so subtle as to be imperceptible.
THE GATES ARE CLOSED. AND OUR LIMITED SENSES DON’T HOLD THE KEY. WHERE NEXT?
Perhaps the way is barred because we’re not ready. Perhaps we are too infatuated with our senses, their constant need for stimulation to allow ourselves to go where we could and should. The first of the seven principles in Hermetic philosophy is that everything is consciousness, and that material reality is a byproduct of a consciousness, not the other way around.
If that is so—and I’ll concede that’s no small if—then perhaps it’s not surprising we can’t yet reason our way to the truth of our universe. So what if we opened up a little more space for our imagination? Would this result in wasteful wishful thinking? Delusion?
ARE WE LOOKING THROUGH TO NOTHING MORE THAN A PLEASANT ILLUSION?
Not necessarily. Isn’t it “reasonable” that we should use our imaginations more? The strength of our great minds is their ability to imagine not just observe. We are not simply recording devices. We are interpreting devices. We have the capacity to reason. We also have the capacity to feel. Using one without the other, we might amputate ourselves from a new dimension of understanding.
Let’s use all our faculties, imagination and reason, to voyage to a place where we could experience a new reality. But even then it still won’t be simple, because we’ll need one more thing to step through … the courage to proceed.
What do you think?
IMAGINATION CAN HELP US NAVIGATE THROUGH SPACE AND TIME.
COURAGE WILL BE NEEDED TO TRAVEL THERE.
DERELICT BUILDINGS ABOUND.
I’d been meaning to do a proper walk around Balat for a while, but it wasn’t until I recently visited Sema Topaloglu‘s Cibali Studio along the Golden Horn, that I remembered just how fascinating this neighborhood in the Fatih municipality of Istanbul is
There’s a different atmosphere in this part of the city. The air in the narrow streets is redolent with coal smoke and memories of better times. It’s in a somewhat dilapidated state, but more importantly, like someone recently said, it has a certain “mystic” quality to it.
This area has particular significance for the Sephardic Jewish community. After the Sephardim in medieval Spain were forced into exile and worse by the Edict of Alhambra, many relocated here at the invitation of Sultan Bayazid II who—unlike the villainous duo and friends of the Inquisition, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain—appreciated the great cultural and intellectual contribution that could be made by such a community.
It’s a sad sign of the times that today there are far fewer Sephardim than there used to be, and a reminder that the multicultural glory days, and especially the protection of non-Islamic culture, belong to Turkey’s past.
LIGHT & SHADOW JAGS THROUGH BALAT’S STREETS.
There’s an understandable watchfulness, perhaps even suspicion, by many of the residents towards outsiders. Perhaps they are wondering what’s going to happen next in this neighborhood. There are the architecture students with their sketchpads and gear. There are the faithful visiting mosque, church, and synagogue, perhaps looking for a miracle.
And then there are the young … irrepressible and alive.
TOUR GUIDES? PICKPOCKETS? DEPENDS ON HOW YOU ANSWER THEM.
Up above the old Greek school, Megali Sholi (Big School), which dominates Balat’s heights, I was quickly confronted by an all too helpful group of boys. Some wanted to be my tour guide. Some wanted me to take their pictures. Some wanted to drop snowballs on my head. All wanted money and to show me around. When I told them I had no money, one started to try and work his hand into my jacket pocket.
To be honest, I was more amused than offended. Caught, the young offender simply shrugged, amicable, as if to say, “Well, I had to try.”
SPORT IN THE SCANT SNOW.
Despite the fact that it’s far from being a thriving, prosperous part of the city, Balat isn’t depressing either. There are surprising flashes of color, like the truck full of oranges so bright it seemed like a blast of juice in my eye. And then there’s the way the sun’s warm golden beams slant long and low through the curving, narrow streets.
COLOR HITS YOU SUDDEN AS A TRUCK FULL OF ORANGES.
TWO STUDENTS INSISTING THAT THEIR PICTURE BE TAKEN.
But most of all there’s a distinct sense of play. On this particular day there were children making makeshift sleds from scraps of wood to enjoy the thrill of their icy streets. Or older students demanding that they be models.
AN OLD SAILOR. HE’S KNOWN MANY PORTS, BUT ONLY THIS ONE WILL SUFFICE.
Just as I my fingers were starting to go numb from cold, I saw this distinguished looking character watching. He was very still. Though his hat was pulled low over his forehead I could see his eyes glinting, and tell I was being observed. A former sailor, he’d traveled the world, especially South America. He’d even lived in Brazil for a while, but he told me that the country was ‘Fakir’ (poor/run down). I think he said it with no sense of irony, and wasn’t necessarily referring to material wealth.
My Turkish isn’t good enough to discern everyone’s nuances. As far as he was concerned, though, there’s no port of call but Istanbul.
NOT SURE WHAT THIS DOG IS GUARDING, BUT THERE’S DEFINITELY SOMETHING.
He might well be right. There’s a lot of work to be done in this neighborhood, and it’s fallen into a deep state of disrepair. Still, something resonates underneath the surface. Something is waiting. Perhaps it’s the strong sense of promise.
I know I’ll be back.
BALAT, LIKE THIS CART, WAITS.
THE ELIXIR OF LIFE GRANTS IMMORTALITY TO ANYONE WHO DRINKS IT.
The ultimate quest or Opus Magnum of the alchemist is the Lapis Philosophorum, more commonly known as the Philosopher’s Stone. With it she could transmute base metals into noble gold and even more importantly, mortality into immortality. Its recipe is the greatest secret of the Royal Art. Far more often than not, however, its pursuit shortened, rather than lengthened, the seeker’s life.
In fact, poisonings, explosions and other misadventures were commonplace. But as long as man and woman have lived—and more importantly—died, the potential gains outweighed the dangers of failure. As far back as Gilgamesh we have accounts of people seeking to unlimit their existence. Frankly, who wouldn’t care for a taste of unlimited youth?
THE CHEMICAL WEDDING OF PHILOSOPHICAL SULFUR & MERCURY.
Two notable figures—or legends, if you prefer—reputed to have achieved the Opus Magnum were Nicolas Flamel (September 28, 1330-1418) and later, the Compte de St. Germain (1712 to ?) an extremely shadowy man, who may be a composite of many agents or a singular man of great note, depending on whom you believe. It is interesting that the most famous of seducers, Giacomo Casanova, wrote an account of him, which sums him up as something of a charlatan, but one for whom he nevertheless possessed no small degree of awe. Some claim that he still walks the earth today. Read More…
TRESPASSING IN AN OVERLOOKED PLACE.
Beside my house there’s a vast wooded lot which both fascinates and haunts me. It has a voice. Looking outside our side windows, I see tall, ivy entwined trees and long weeds obscuring a darkening western sky. This overgrown, unkempt expanse feels both beautiful and malevolent. One of the pines—old, gnarled and unforgiving as Chronos himself—looms over the gully separating our balcony, and regularly dumps branches without warning or even a whisper of wind. He’s like a neighbor who never smiles or meets your eye but wears a constant sneer.
Three weeks after we’d moved into our apartment one of our cats answered the nocturnal calls of this strange wood. As soon as we took up residence, the cat itself started howling out in a new voice, as if answering some inaudible cry that stirred from without. Despite the baying of dogs, and the fact that he’d previously lived a spoon-fed Nisantasi existence, Jarvis couldn’t resist the pull of this place. We never saw him again.
It’s something unusual this unkempt grove. It’s prime real estate, owned but not developed. I’m told that once upon a time it was slated for a project, but then the deal and the permission fell through. Usually, high fences, CCTV cams, barbed or even razor-wire deter wanders from such places, but this one only has a hedge. On occasion I see the odd Romani in the wood, usually represented by no more than a knit cap poking above the tall grasses.
Yesterday afternoon, I answered the call, and disappeared into the wood.
OPEN OR CLOSED? WHAT DOES THIS BREAK IN THE GATE MEAN?
First, I walk up the road to gain entry. There’s a shambling stone fence, no more than a meter high, which is easy to hop, but atop it someone has stacked bunched branches as a deterrent. Nowhere does a sign say: NO TRESPASSING, or its Turkish equivalent, it’s more implied by the old stone and makeshift barriers.
Just before the road forks, there’s a broken gate through which you can slip. But to be honest the house beside, all smashed and abandoned gives me a serious case of the creeps. After peering at the entrance for a moment or two, firing off a few pictures, I decide to go back down the road and climb the wall within sight of my home to gain entry.
It’s much less forbidding place to enter here, and the proximity of my house and living, breathing residents is reassuring. Once over the wall and inside the perimeter of trees I realize it’s not such a forest at all, that the trees deceive you somewhat. There are many clearings, where Romani or someone other secretive people are cultivating some crop. And there are more stone walls, either old fences or overgrown foundations. Whatever, it’s clear that people once inhabited and still use this land. The smell of wood smoke filters through the trees. Someone is still here, somewhere.
The guilty feeling of trespassing never quite leaves me. But, camera in hand, I feel somewhat less criminal. If challenged, a simple shrug of the shoulders, a gesture with the Nikon, and pointing back home should be enough, right?
That’s what I continue to tell myself.
As I probe deeper I make newer discoveries. Well hidden from view in every direction are what looks like makeshift miniature gecekondu (shanties) concealed inside a stand of trees. Someone’s making honey. I’m not sure I’d want these golden honeycombs though, as the hives are constructed from old peeling painted wood scraps, brick and roofs made from corrugated asbestos sheets. Organic honey? Not quite.
MAKESHIFT ROMANI BEE SHANTIES.
As I crouch to inspect and snap the hives, there’s a rustle over my shoulder. Unlike the sacred bees who hum along, ignorant or unconcerned by my presence, I’ve drawn someone else’s attention. I jump up and twist around at the same time, not a graceful or intimidating gesture.
Or, so I think.
Scrawny, shivering and far more pitiful than scary, the dog cocks its head at me in wonder. What are you doing here? is not so much the challenge, but the question suggested by its gesture. A simple “hello” knocks the dog back two steps.
One of the reasons I find this place so intimidating is the baying of dogs after dark. And I’m a certified dog-lover. I’m not afraid of, and am, in fact, quite fond of the street dogs I encounter during my daily walks here in Istanbul. But the dogs that belong to this wood are menaces, and have been known to corner people in our parking lot. At sunset, the call to prayer sets them howling like the hounds of hell.
GUARDIAN OF THE FORBIDDEN WOOD… ? NOT QUITE.
But this is no satanic canine, merely some scruffy, underfed dog. The click of the shutter makes her retreat three more steps. After taking a few more dog portraits, I go on my way, slightly emboldened. Unconsciously my steps take me back towards the abandoned house. There’s an old well, dark with brackish water. Perhaps this place isn’t so scary, after all.
Definitely maybe. Despite being close to the perimeter of this strange plot, the abandoned house once again quickens my heart. This building feels wrong. I’m not being scientific, that’s for sure, but how something feels is just as important to me as how something reasons. There may be a perfectly logical explanation for its continued dereliction … but I’m not perfectly logical, am I?
Still, my curiosity gets the better of me. Somebody lived here once. Where did they go?
WILL SOME GRIZZLED FACE APPEAR AT THIS SHATTERED WINDOW? I F____ ING HOPE NOT.
I’m kind of wishing for my canine companion from a few moments ago, but she’s disappeared back into the weeds. Bitch. Maybe she knows something I don’t? Still there’s something impressive about this old building, its texture … it’s kind of like a nobleman in rags, dilapidated but once proud. It tugs at you.
I snap several pictures from a distance of about 10-15 meters. Then I suck in my breath. The casement and the way the light and shadow wash across it are too appealing not to capture.
Finally, I draw close enough to peer through another window, this one slitted by rusted bars. The feeling that some head, grizzled and toothless, will pop up and at me, to cackle or scream at me, never goes away. What is so compelling about this place?
OPTICAL DELUSION: THE HOUSE SEEMS BIGGER INSIDE THAN OUT … AM I MAD? PROBABLY.
A strange notion takes me as I continue to gaze inside the house. It seems, or rather feels bigger on the inside than on the out. Suddenly I’m remembering a book I put down and never picked up years ago — The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski — not because it was bad, but because I started having intense nightmares. Its documentary-reality feel was far more terrifying than any Blair Witch Project.
I shake my head and move away from the windows. Get a grip, buddy. It’s time to take a last few shots of the broken gate from the other side. But a feeling that something is watching from over my shoulder persists, and after a few more hurried shots, probably not worth presenting, I slip out through the broken slats in the gate.
Once firmly footed on the solid asphalt I feel intense wave of relief. The sun is suddenly warm, and I’m relieved I passed the courage test. Well, sort of …
Anyway, don’t forget to take your imagination on a stroll this weekend.
THE SIGNATURE MOTIF OF A FANTASTIC TALENT.
Dear Mayor of Istanbul,
I’d like to sincerely thank you and the city for the ongoing work you’re doing upgrading public transportation. I’ve lived here just over six years now, and I’ve seen a vast improvement and many positive changes. Automobile traffic its resulting pollution is a huge problem, and the more you do to unclog the streets and clean up the air, the better. In addition, you’ve made it possible for me to go from Taksim Square to my home in Yeniköy in under 40 minutes, mostly thanks to the underground. This means that rather than sitting in traffic with horns blaring and inching along at a snail’s pace, I can instead be home and spend valuable time with my daughter. This makes a huge difference to my quality of life, and I trust, hers.
That’s why I don’t want to sound ungrateful if I make a small suggestion … since you’re doing a great job improving how people move from point A to point B — how about also moving people in the figurative sense?
Istanbul is unlike any other city in the world and I chose to live here because its streets, its vistas, and especially its people, thrill me. There are moments I feel like there should be a soundtrack in the background. Part of that scene is that it has some truly iconic architecture. The problem is that today that architecture is old, really old … and it’s made me wonder if public spaces, like metro stations and corridors, squares and parks, couldn’t do more to stimulate the public imagination or create a sense of the moment we live in now. What art and architecture created today will be worth preserving hundreds of years from now?
There’s no lack of talent in this city, and one of the people I’d recommend you work with has a very distinctive Turkish voice. She’s also passionate to make changes in the city she calls home. Sema Topaloglu has a fresh eye and a style, which rather than being imitative or nostalgic, is independent and distinctive. Perhaps that’s just what Istanbul needs to continue to inspire wonder in the centuries ahead?
Thank you for reading this,
DESIGN PASSION: SEMA TOPALOGLU SAYS GOING TO WORK IS LIKE “BEING IN LOVE.”
As you can see from my imaginary, yet sincerely felt letter above, I’m a believer in Sema Topaloglu’s work and would love to see her achieve her dream of doing some iconic public space projects. I met her for the first time about five years back and have followed her work avidly ever since. It’s been a while since we last spoke, but she’s been busy, refining her distinctive talent as well as being named a “Name To Watch” by the likes of Wallpaper* Magazine in 2010. Read More…
PRESSURE GAUGES IN THE DORMANT SANTRAL POWER STATION.
In Istanbul the question, “when am I?” sounds in my head frequently. Its passages and corridors, its city streets and vistas that could belong to any number of eras. But then someone yanks out a cellphone and my dreamlike sense of dislocation is shattered. Once again it’s an old city pocked with wear.
There are two places where I get a particular kind of steam punk feeling though, the kind of mood that China Mieville’s gritty nightmare fantasy Perdido Street Station elicited in me.
Both are vast and filled with quiet, but evoke volumes of wonder. Both belong to the dwindling days of the Ottoman Empire, where history and tradition began to be steamrolled into the modern era.
HISTORIES COLLIDE AT HAYDARPASA STATION.
The first is Haydarpasa Train Station. Imagine the awe it must have inspired … you’ve lived in central Anatolia all your life—no matter how long or short—and you’ve boarded a train and left some shambling village and out you step onto the platform and into Haydarpasa. Suddenly the vast skies you’ve grown accustomed to are cut into by soaring monuments of human engineering. Read More…
WILL SHE BE ABOARD? SHE HAS TO BE.
On every voyage, no matter how small, you need a traveling companion to keep you warm. I fell in love with mine on my first vapur crossing in Istanbul. Her name is Camellia, Camellia Sinensis. You may also know her as tea. Don’t get me wrong, a piping hot cup of coffee is a beautiful experience, but when I board a vapur, she pales by comparison. I’ll drop my cup of coffee in a second.
CROSSING THE THRESHOLD … WILL SHE BE THE SAME?
I read recently that tea only became the drink of choice in the twilight hours of the Ottoman Empire, and that, not surprisingly, Turkish Coffee was favored until the Yemeni province of the Empire got uppity, or simply out of reach because of World War I … but don’t quote me on this because I can’t recall the source. Read More…
THE ENGLISH EDITION OF ISTANBUL EATS.
There are three things in life that really burn my butt. Number one is when somebody comes up with a great idea that I wish I’d had. Number two is when I couldn’t have done a better job myself. Number three is a fire about 1 meter high. Anyway, I guess I’m about to put an evil eye on Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer because their guide book Istanbul Eats — Exploring The Culinary Backstreets has achieved number one and two and managed to light a fire under my behind. Read More…