Catherine Moriarty attended the opening and reflects on the exhibition.
Luchino Visconti’s film La Terra Trema captures the idioms and characteristics of a Sicilian fishing village. Released in 1948, the film addresses the shared experiences of this regional community and the complexities of the dynamics between the individuals it comprises. There’s a great shot of the village houses from above, which is held as the narrator says: ‘Neighbours are like roof tiles: water flows from one to another.’ (Fig.1)
A similar Turkish expression was selected by artist Isil Egrikavuk for the exhibition she curated with the Halka Art Project, Istanbul 14 September – 14 October 2017. Inviting various artists already working together, Egrikavuk wanted to explore the nature of collective action through shared processes. Coinciding with the Istanbul Biennial with its title ‘A Good Neighbour’, Egrikavuk asked her participants to critique the assumptions of this concept and to consider the form and implications of neighbourhood in the context of contemporary Turkish politics, and its potential as a ‘field of solidarity’.
The collective ‘dadans’ did this brilliantly with their performance Playing House which considered the speaking and listening dynamics of neighbourly communications. They deployed the snooper’s device of the drinking glass held to the wall to point out the tensions of ‘keeping an ear out for’ and ‘keeping an eye on’ the neighbours. These bodily metaphors were acted out throughout the spaces of the gallery and with the many visitors present on opening night. (Fig. 2 and 3)
In a rather different way, the collective HAH also looked at the dynamics of neighbourly proximity and the experience of knowing or not knowing the individuals we encounter. They asked visitors to write either a question, or to offer an answer, in order to generate coincidental and undetermined chains of multidirectional communication. The resulting web represented our dependency on local information exchanges whether serendipitous or sought out, understood or misconstrued. (fig. 4)
The collective Pelesiyer, based in Ankara, invited visitors to Halka art space to eat slices of fresh bread. This handsome loaf was made from the many responses the artists received from their different neighbours when they asked, ‘May I borrow a cup of flour?’ Presented in assorted vessels, the combined result of the numerous gifts was sent to a bakery in Istanbul. The flour, as the artists speculated, was made of various kinds and possibly from different bread-making cultures. The loaf, a co-produced and magnificent object, presented in front of photographs of the various gestures of giving, manifested the flows and exchanges of deliberate and direct interaction – verbal, bodily and material – complementing the work by the HAH collective which focused more on the coincidental. (Fig. 5)
Urban development in Turkey and disregard for its impact on the relations between people in habitually shared space underpinned the Gezi park protest in 2013. The projects at Halka, the exhibition and its programme of workshops, in exploring the choreography of quotidian interaction, its familiarity yet unpredictability, and particularly its embodied nature, opened a window on the power of negotiated engagement as both restorative and potentially dissident.
The energy and fresh air this generated contrasted dramatically with the stifling, overheated spaces of the official Biennial with its largely predictable content, arrogant presentation, and lack of genuine hospitality. As we queued for our QR codes to be scanned at the Biennial venues on the European side of the city, the open door of Halka, over the water, seemed particularly sweet. Without doubt, Isil Egrikavuk’s project encouraged more careful observation of the way the residents of Istanbul come together and move apart, to fish on the bridges and waterside, to sit in groups along the pavements, or gather around its monuments. (Figs. 6, 7 and 8)