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What Do Buildings Witness and Which Stories Can They Tell?

A series of architectural interventions at SALT Beyoğlu, Istanbul, considers how we see, hear and describe socio-political upheavals

In 2018, Istanbul’s SALT launched ‘Conversations’, a programme inviting curators to develop an exhibition after extended stays and dialogues with the institution and its context. The format has been taken up in a thoughtful way for ‘The Universe Flickers’, curated by Annie Fletcher, which is the second in the series. For the show, Fletcher has eschewed a heavy-handed curatorial voice and conceived of a politically astute, artist-driven conversation including works by Anna Boghiguian, Rana Hamadeh, Navine G. Khan-Dossos and Merve Ünsal. Presented as a set of small solo presentations, the exhibition advocates for a mode of acting in the world driven by close observation.

Ünsal, the only Istanbul-based artist in the group, worked in close dialogue with the city, observing neighbourhoods to capture sounds and images. She is keenly attuned to the banal in her audio piece SALT Beyoğlu’nu Dinkerken (Listening to SALT Beyoğlu, 2018), made of recordings from overlooked nooks at SALT Beyoğlu: water running through pipes, noises under the staircase. The unconscious lives of buildings resurface in her second installation, Duymamiş Olayim (Ignorance is Bliss, 2018), which presents a radio broadcasted from speakers on five geometric structures, each signifying and ‘voicing’ a building in the Beyoğlu neighbourhood. This dialogue, spoken in Turkish, is less of a conversation or confessional history and more of a nonsense poem, concerned with what lies below plain sight and how we process that through historical narratives.

Anna Boghiguian, How Minds Are Made, 2010-2011. Courtesy: SALT Beyoğlu; photograph: Mustafa Hazneci

Architectural intervention also guides Khan-Dossos’s floor-to-ceiling panel murals, Scenes from a Pre-crime (Performance for Security Guards) (2018). Her gestural, soft monochrome paintings animate the architecture: for instance, the murals draw attention to the gallery’s ceilings, where intricate in situ paintings reveal evidence of the building’s domestic past. Associations of the domestic are complicated by Khan-Dossos’s incorporation of forensic rulers in each mural panel. The rulers introduce a menacing spectre, speculating on past and future acts of violence that could take place in the building, illustrating the gaps in memory inherent to any place while also signalling a constant possibility of violence.

Rana Hamadeh’s The Ten Murders of Josephine (The Tongue Twister) (2017–18) pushes witnessing into the realm of the operatic. The multimedia work draws from research including Franz Kafka and the 1781 Gregson v. Gilbert court case spurred by the Zong Massacre (a mass murder of African slaves in 1781 for insurance purposes). Hamadeh’s installation stages multiple forms of language, from operatic performance, mechanical printing of technical and legal information, to a telephone-based recording. The operatic dimension injects an emotional drama into the acute violence of documented speech, especially in its juridical and administrative contexts.

Rana Hamadeh, The Ten Murders of Josephine (The Tongue Sisters), 2017-18, installation view. Courtesy: SALT Beyoğlu; photograph: Mustafa Hazneci

Boghiguian’s work enacts a similar trembling of language through her drawings and textual scrawl. Rows of the artist’s paintings on serrated notebook paper line a Chroma key blue corridor, revealing painted and written fragments from Boghiguian’s peripatetic life. Titled How Minds Are Made (2010–11), Boghiguian’s vivid textual drawings bridge political observation, maps and diagrams of the sensory organs. These drawings emphasize perceptive tools, from ears and brains to written language, that allow us to perceive and describe our dystopian present and its nascent structures of feeling.

This claim for understanding the interconnectivity of politics and personal sensory organs lies at the heart of ‘The Universe Flickers’. The show advances a set of propositions for considering how we approach seeing, hearing and describing the present violence and socio-political upheavals that render the future so uncertain. Sensory capacities become the necessary tools to capture the world in its flickering moments, so that new understandings might emerge.

‘The Universe Flickers’ was on view from 12 September until 30 December 2018.

Main image: Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Scenes from a Pre-Crime (Performance for Security Guards), 2018. Courtesy: SALT Beyoğlu; photograph: Mustafa Hazneci

Andrew Hibbard is a writer and curator based in London, UK.

Issue 201

First published in Issue 201

March 2019
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