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Art, Politics and Other Things in Life — A Blog by Hakan Topal

Category: Publication

Urban Discharge: A Manifesto*

By xurban_collective, 2017

* Text written as part of Harbor exhibition on view at Istanbul Modern.
* Turkcesi asagida (Turkish version is below).

Between 2000 to 2012, as xurban_collective we researched the assault on social and spatial justice on a global scale. This onslaught is a total mobilization against the very foundation of democracy — the commons. The looting of common resources, the degradation of the public sphere, the dissolution of social bonds, the corruption of souls, and the dominance of morality over ethics happened mainly in cities. The sad part is that the masses voluntarily participated in this augmented cultural, economic and political attack.

History echoes itself in a non-cyclical way.

We foresaw what was coming. In S.i.e.g.e.c.r.a.f.t (2004), we compared the siege of Istanbul in both real and metaphorical enunciations by contemplating Istanbul’s panorama; the quickly changing city-scape provided various clues about what happened, and what was going to happen next. The city is a witness. It wisely told us a silent story; neoliberalism was indeed a tragedy wrapped up in the excitement of a gold rush. The sad thing is that almost everyone got caught in this extravaganza as Istanbul was marketed as the destination, the emerging market, the up and coming city. Foreign pundits wrote op-eds about how art, culture, politics and the economy were so rosy, and everything indeed smelt like tulips. Now that this era is over, we know how the story unfolded. The city was right.

During medieval times, the siege employed military forces encircling the city walls; relentless and cunning attacks were crafted to suffocate the residents. Surrender or die! Today the siege comes with a modified order; surrender or not be financed. It is not by military forces, but the [MBA-educated] financial elite masterminded the onslaught by using discursive strategies to overcome legal barriers. The neoliberal reasoning penetrates the public agenda, dominating every single mouthpiece, starting from newspaper pages on economics. The next thing you know, every single pundit starts to talk about the economic realities of the 21st century. What they really championed was the deregulation and conquering of the commons at the expense of democracy. Privatization — the looting of the commons — extracts every little bit from the public. David Harvey likens this contemporary capitalist rush to a tsunami; capital flows into the emerging markets with great excitement, when it withdraws it leaves social, political and economic devastation behind. However, we think that the capital influx is more like wastewater overflowing from the toilet. Yes, it arrives within, and once it starts to overflow no one can stop it, until it is too late. In this respect the financial crises are pragmatically used as a way to keep the working classes in check; it is “the accumulation through dispossession,” as Harvey puts it. While societies crumble, privatization, depoliticization, and the exploitation of natural resources charges full steam.

The neoconservative order has no ethics, no taboo, no sacred places. Any location can be exploited without guilt. For instance, let’s look at Mecca — the holiest site on earth for Muslims — transformed into something similar to Las Vegas; numerous historical sites, including an Ottoman Castle, were erased to erect condominiums and a shopping mall. One wonders why Muslims do not raise their voices. In Istanbul, the outlook is no different, and the consequences are equally devastating. The cityscape has been altered with kitschy replicas of Ottoman architecture supplemented by thousands of ugly corporate design.

A city is a machine in perpetual flux. Feudal forces work vigorously to rechannel its energy. The land is extracted from its waterfront; the sky is occupied, views are blocked. Waterfronts, old ports, and city centers are redefined at an unprecedented speed. Global tourism relentlessly consumes as philistines invade the city center, and leave garbage piles and decay behind. The [religious] bourgeoisie is content with this degradation, degeneration, and disgrace; as long as their coffers are filled with fresh dollars, they happily support these nasty developments.

While the tyranny of the market is ever growing, port cities share a common destiny. As money overflows, nationalist/religious rhetoric stinks, and breeds fundamentalism.

We cannot be silent. As artists, writers, and academics, we are the cultural forces who are relentlessly resisting. When we say NO, it resonates far and beyond. When we say NO, our voices combine and get louder. When we say NO, we mean it.

Vive la resistance!

//  TÜRKÇE

Kentin Tahliyesi: Bir Manifesto

xurban_collective, 2017

xurban_collective olarak 2000 ile 2012 yılları arasında, sosyal ve mekânsal adalete yapılan saldırıyı küresel ölçekte araştırdık. Bu taarruz, doğrudan demokrasinin temelini, yani müşterekleri hedef alan toplu bir seferberlik. Ortak kaynakların yağmalanması, kamusal alanın bozulması, ruhların yozlaşması ve etiğe ahlakçılığın hakim olması temelde şehirlerde yaşandı. Üzücü kısmı, gitgide artan kültürel, ekonomik ve siyasi hücuma kitlelerin gönüllü bir şekilde katılım göstermesi.

Tarih, periyodik olmayan bir biçimde kendisini yankılıyor.

Bunların olacağını öngörmüştük. “S.I.E.G.E.C.R.A.F.T”ta (2004), İstanbul panoraması üzerine düşünerek, şehirdeki kuşatmanın hem fiili hem de metaforik ifadelerini karşılaştırdık. Hızla değişim geçiren şehir panoraması neler yaşandığına ve sonra neler olacağına dair çeşitli ipuçları veriyordu. Şehir, tanıktır. Bilgece, sessiz bir hikaye anlattı bize; neoliberalizm, refah heyecanı kisvesine bürünmüş bir trajediydi gerçekten de. İstanbul; has istikamet, filizlenmekte olan pazar, gelecek vadeden şehir olarak pazarlanırken bu fantezi neredeyse herkesi etkisi altına almıştı ne yazık ki. Yabancı uzmanlar sanat, kültür, politika ve ekonominin hoşluğuna ve her şeyin laleler gibi pirüpak olduğuna dair yazılar kaleme alıyorlardı. O dönem sona erdi ve olayların nasıl geliştiğini biliyoruz. Şehir haklıydı.

Orta Çağ kuşatmalarında ordu şehir duvarlarını çevrelerdi; sakinleri bunaltmak adına amansız ve kurnaz saldırılar planlanırdı. Teslim ol ya da öl! Günümüzde kuşatmanın buyruğu değişmiş durumda: Teslim ol ya da finanssız kal. Saldırıyı askerler değil, [işletme yüksek lisansı yapmış] elit finans tabakası, hukuki engelleri atlatacak dolambaçlı stratejilerle idare ediyor. Neoliberal düşünce kamu gündemine nüfuz ediyor ve gazetelerin ekonomi sayfalarından başlayarak her söze egemen oluyor. Sonra her bir uzmanın 21. yüzyılın ekonomik gerçeklerinden bahsetmeye başlayıverdiğini görüyorsunuz. Asıl başardıkları şey, demokrasi pahasına, ortak olanın nizamsızlaştırılıp işgal edilmesi. Özelleştirme, yani müştereklerin yağmalanması kamunun elinde bir şey bırakmıyor. David Harvey günümüzdeki bu kapitalist hücumu bir tsunamiye benzetiyor; sermaye büyük bir coşkuyla, gelişmekte olan pazarlara akıyor ve geri çekilirken ardında toplumsal, siyasi ve ekonomik yıkım bırakıyor. Bize göre ise sermaye akışı tuvaletten taşan pis suları andırıyor daha çok. Aynen öyle, içeriden geliyor ve çoğalıp taştığında kimse onu vaktinde durduramıyor. Bu bakımdan finansal krizler pragmatik bir şekilde, çalışan kesimi kontrol altında tutma yolu olarak kullanılıyor. Harvey’nin dediği gibi, “mülksüzleştirme yoluyla birikim yapmak” bu. Toplumlar harap olurken özelleştirme, depolitizasyon ve doğal kaynakların istismarı son sürat fatura kesiyor.

Yeni muhafazakar düzenin etiği, tabusu ya da kutsal alanları yok. Her yer zerre suçluluk hissetmeden sömürülebilir. Örneğin Mekke’yi düşünelim, Müslümanlar için dünyanın en kutsal yeri olan bu şehir Las Vegas’a benzer bir hale dönüştü; özel mülkler ve bir alışveriş merkezi yapmak adına, Osmanlı döneminden bir kalenin de aralarında bulunduğu çok sayıda tarihi alan yok edildi. Müslümanların neden ses çıkarmadığını merak ediyor insan. İstanbul’da da durum hiç farklı değil ve sonuçları da aynı derecede yıkıcı. Şehrin peyzajı, Osmanlı mimarisinin zevksiz taklitleriyle ve binlerce çirkin kurumsal tasarımla başkalaşmış halde.

Şehir, daimi akış içinde bir mekanizmadır. Feodal güçler onun enerjisine yeni yönler vermek için şiddetle uğraşır. Toprak, kıyıdan koparılır; gökyüzü işgal edilir; görüş açıları tıkanır. Kıyılar, eski limanlar ve şehir merkezleri benzersiz bir hızla yeniden tanımlanır. Küresel turizm amansızca tüketiyor, kültürsüzlük şehir merkezini zaptediyor ve ardında çöp yığınları ve çürüme bırakıyor. [Dindar] burjuvazi bu bozulma, yozlaşma ve rezaletten memnun; cepler para dolduğu sürece bu nahoş gelişmeleri memnuniyetle destekliyor.

Piyasanın tahakkümü gitgide arttıkça liman şehirlerini ortak bir yazgı bekliyor. Para akışı çoğaldıkça milliyetçi/dini söylemler de buram buram yayılıyor ve muhafazakarlık palazlanıyor.

Sessiz kalamayız. Sanatçılar, yazarlar, akademisyenler olarak bizler inatla direnen kültürel güçleriz. HAYIR dediğimizde, seslerimiz bir olur ve daha gür çıkar. HAYIR dediğimizde, bunu kastederiz.

Yaşasın direniş!

 

MaHKUscript, Journal of Fine Art Research issue 2: “Critical Spatial Practice”

My contribution to MaHKUscript, Journal of Fine Art Research issue 2: “Critical Spatial Practice”:
Artistic Responses to Natural Disasters: The Case of New Orleans


About the Issue:

The second issue of MaHKUscript focuses on the current state of Spatial Practice. What concepts (such as territory, agency, agonistic negotiation, blurred boundaries, grassroots democracy, heterogeneity, cross-benching, participation, relational aesthetics, post-public environment, micro-urban tactics, etc.) are crucial in defining this field? Does the topical situation of thinking in terms of counter-space demand the developing of novel concepts? What role does artistic research actually play in the further articulation of critical spatial practice? Finally, what is the most strategic way to incorporate this new way of thinking and working in art education?

These are questions that cannot immediately be answered, but they invite further discussion and articulation. With this in mind MaHKUscript invited Markus Miessen (Berlin/University of Gothenburg) to deliver a keynote article. In his contribution “Crossbenching as a form of institutional Polity,” Miessen starts from the following proposition: to “do” spatial practice is to immerse oneself in a conflictual process of material production, equally including architects, artists, financiers, and builders. As a consequence, Markus Miessen argues, we have to eventually urgently reframe questions of—participatory—ethics and politics.

To test his ideas in a topical research-oriented art practice, Miessen interviewed Flaka Haliti (PhD Researcher Academy of Fine Arts Vienna). In this conversation concepts such as distance, separation, home and base are specified.

In a commissioned artist contribution “Mineral Rights,” Lara Almarcegui  (Visiting Professor MaHKU Fine Art, Utrecht) addresses related questions about the concept of territory, and specifically land and resource ownership. Using two case studies (Tveitvangen and Graz) the artist links this to the topical debate about the commons.

In addition MaHKUscript made an open call for authors to contribute to the proposed debate by responding to the above questions. This resulted in a multitude of reactions and inspiring perspectives.

For a start there are the incitements of new contextualisations and formulations of artistic strategies. In her article “The Radical Potential of Poetic Gestures” Tina Carlisi (Concordia University, Montreal) proposes to take up the 1960s thinking about utopian spaces anew. By means of poetic micro-actions—such as guerrilla gardening—the author envisions developing micro-utopias that, as “shared space” can offer resistance to techno-driven and neo-liberal understandings of public space.

Laura Gibellini (School of Visual Arts, New York) also explores the potentialities of topical strategies. In her article “Not Doing. On Unpredictability and Allowing Things to Happen” she describes how both Yvonne Rainer and Philippe Parreno develop choreographies of chaos in their respective art practices. In line with philosopher Quentin Meillassoux they disrupt any linear conception of space by proposing an undetermined becoming.

Other contributions question the role and position of the—mostly globalizing—logic of the biennial, in the light of the current spatial practice discussion. In his case study “Gentrify Everything: Looking for New Forms of Critical Artistic Agency” Pieter Vermeulen (Sint Lucas, Antwerp) describes the strategic method of the small-scale BORG biennial in Antwerp that focuses mainly on the context of its location. This demonstrates, Vermeulen states, a different form of agency that can contribute to criticizing the globalizing perspective that is advocated by the neo-liberal agenda.

Hakan Topal’s (Purchase College, SUNY, New York) “Artistic Responses to Natural Disasters: The Case of New Orleans” about the Prospect New Orleans Biennial can be understood from a similar perspective. This case study evaluates how this biennial format—at the time of hurricane Katrina—offered a subtle counterbalance to the way the media spectacularized natural disasters, by inviting the participating artists (such as Superflex and Paul Chan) to re-think life in New Orleans by using the power of imagination.

Finally there are contributions that focus on further defining Critical Spatial Practice. In her article “Critical Spatial Practice as Parrhesia” Jane Rendell (Bartlett, UCL, London) proposes a further articulation of the concept. She makes a strategic link to Foucault’s interpretation of Parrhesia: critical spatial practice as a self-reflective practice that starts from the perspective of “telling truth” and questions and transforms the social conditions into which it intervenes.

Such a spatial strategy could for example take the shape of de-essentialization. In “The Real Properties of Immovable Estates: Ambiguity and the Invention of the Coast,” Daniel Fernández Pascual (Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmith’s College, London) uses the example of the development of Spanish coastal regions to show how the speculative mechanisms of real estate investments—and the circulation of capital—reclassify the natural environment in a way that creates a coastal ontology.

Critical Spatial Practice, as most of the articles in this publication clearly emphasize, continuously deconstructs the globalizing rhetoric of essentializaton by means of the dynamic perspective of transfrontier multiplicity. Such a perspective can be traced back to the transgressive potential of the historical silk road figure, concludes Mi You (Academy of Media Arts, Cologne) in her article “The Nomad, Space and Network of the Silk Roads”a critical reflection on the eponymously named curatorial project she realized recently in the Asia Culture Center, Gwangju. Not only does it represent a maximized commodity flow, above all it represents a nomadic connectivity that contributes to a dynamic understanding of humanity’s self-awareness.

Editor: Henk Slager

Speculation Now

I contributed to the book “Speculation, Now: Essays and Artwork” with a glossary entry titled “Intentional Failure


What needs to change in our understanding of reality for reality to change? In the face of radical uncertainty, an awareness that things could be otherwise is beginning to organize common frameworks for action and debate. Interdisciplinary in design and concept, Speculation, Now illuminates unexpected convergences between images, concepts, and language. Artwork is interspersed among essays that approach speculation and progressive change from surprising perspectives. A radical cartographer asks whether “the speculative” can be represented on a map. An ethnographer investigates religious possession in Islam to contemplate states between the divine and the seemingly human. A financial technologist queries understandings of speculation in financial markets. A multimedia artist and activist considers the relation between social change and assumptions about the conditions to be changed, and an architect posits purposeful neglect as political strategy. The book includes an extensive glossary with more than twenty short entries in which scholars contemplate such speculation-related notions as insurance, hallucination, prophecy, the paradox of beginnings, and states of half-knowledge. The book’s artful, nonlinear design mirrors and reinforces the notion of contingency that animates it. By embracing speculation substantively, stylistically, seriously, and playfully, Speculation, Now reveals its subversive and critical potential.

Speculation, Now: Essays and Artwork
Edited by Vyjayanthi Venuturupalli Rao,
with Prem Krishnamurthy and Carin Kuoni
With an Afterword by Arjun Appadurai

Artists and Essayists
Arjun Appadurai, William Darity Jr., Filip De Boeck, Boris Groys,Hans Haacke, Darrick Hamilton, Laura Kurgan, Lin + Lam, Gary Lincoff, Lize Mogel, Christina Moon, Stefania Pandolfo, Satya Pemmaraju, Mary Poovey, Walid Raad, Sherene Schostak, Robert Sember, Srdjan Jovanović Weiss

Advanced Praise for Speculation, Now
Speculation, Now holds a critical mirror up to the speculative practices that pervade contemporary life only to come away with a generative theory supported by a lexicon. In the book’s course, speculative practices emerge not as edges but as engines of artistic, scholarly, and economic creation, with the lexicon framing core concepts for a speculative renewal: from Credit and Risk to Shadow Worlds and Witchcraft. The voices are many and the disciplinary perspectives kaleidoscopic. But the overall effect is brilliantly choral. Under ever increasing pressure from degrees of complexity and interconnectivity so great that commonplace ideas of sequence and causality routinely fail, speculation is reborn. It casts aside its prior dreams of mastery in the name of strategies of productive drift and play.”
–Jeffrey Schnapp, Harvard University

“The line between the present and the near future has all but collapsed, and Speculation, Now revels in this space, envisioning a world on the cusp. This wildly diverse book makes the case for a broader definition of applied speculation, not one limited to calculated risk or dreamy conjuring(though it represents both those extremes), but a process that represents an engaged way of understanding the present: through the active desire to change it.”
–Emmet Byrne, Walker Art Center

Glossary Contributors
Benjamin Aranda, Judith Barry, Katherine Carl, Celine Condorelli,Holland Cotter, Özge Ersoy, Reem Fadda, Luke Fowler, Peter Geschiere, Kenan Halabi, Orit Halpern, Graham Harman, Larissa Harris, Victoria Hattam, Jamer Hunt, Angie Keefer & Lucy Skaer,Joachim Koester, Elka Krajewska, Nicolas Langlitz, Marysia Lewandowska, Josiah McElheny, Brian McGrath, Metahaven, Sarah Oppenheimer, Trevor Paglen, Dushko Petrovich, David Reinfurt,Amie Siegel, smudge studios, Beth Stryker, Iddo Tavory, Chen Tamir, Elizabeth Thomas, Hakan Topal, Byron Tucker, Nader Vossoughian, Aleksandra Wagner, McKenzie Wark

Published by Duke University Press and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School

Available in bookstores, at online retailers, and directly through Duke University Press at www.dukeupress.edu

(c) 2017 - Hakan Topal