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

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I participated a conference at Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich between 20 – 22 May 2015.

This conference explored the role and potential of the museum in relation to human
engagements with the sea and major water courses such as lakes, lagoons and large river
systems. It primarily intends to address questions in the cultural rather than the scientific or
ecological spheres, though it will include responses to environmental factors and climate
The themes  addressed are coastal communities, fragile coastlines, water (its meanings
and histories) and representing coastlines and the sea. Each plenary and workshop session developed questions and discussions in the area of each theme. The background to these
questions is thinking about the ways in which museums reflect or provide evidence for such
discussions, and how they engage their audiences with their implications. 

Gezi Uprising Anniversary

Exactly two years ago, on May 31, 2013, I woke up to the news of brutal police violence in Gezi Park, Istanbul. Some of my friends were occupying the park to protect its trees. Frustrated and angry, I created a Facebook event to organize a protest at Zuccotti Park, hoping that I could get in touch with people to voice our concerns together from New York City. Within a day, almost 3000 people gathered to protest in Zuccotti Part. Occupy Wall Street friends were there to support us.

Since then, New York Gezi Group held many protests, teach-ins, panel discussions, conferences. Most importantly nothing will be the same for younger generations, the shape and nature of Turkish politics have changed forever. I am just proud to be part of this.

Teach-in: What binds us together?

The University of the Commons
RIT (Research Institute on Turkey)

Teach-in: What binds us together?
Solidarity and New Institutional Horizons

Michael Hardt with Nidhi Srinivas & Hakan Topal

Thursday, April 9th, 2015. 5:50PM-7:30PM****University Center,  65 Fifth Ave. Basement floor, Rm. UL 102****The New School, New York

Public institutions, which play a critical role in democratic societies, have been under perpetual attack since the 1980s; the 2008 economic crisis further highlighted their precarity. Facing budget cuts, salary and hire freezes, public universities, research centers, museums, theaters and art spaces are deprived from public support and are forced to adapt new neoliberal models. In addition, modern solidarity networks such as political parties, unions and associations are unable to imagine new and steadfast remedies for their constituents, leaving them in the mercy of neoliberal administrations.

The Occupy and other movements have showed us that, in times of hardship, we are extremely agile in producing alternative solidarity networks on a temporary basis. However, when these movements lose momentum, networks quickly disappear or are subsumed under old organizational models.

In this “teach-in”, together with philosopher Michael Hardt, Nidhi Srinivas and Hakan Topal, we will speculate on various pressing questions regarding to imagining new institutions, cooperatives and collectives.

· How can we transform our marginalized synergy into sustainable assemblages, which can eventually provide salient alternatives to current institutional structures?

· What are the new forms of collaborative production? Can the so-called “sharing economy” and new technical models provide some answers?

· How can we imagine novel institutional organizations without repeating the mistakes of modern disciplinary institutions?

· What binds us together around a “common” goal? Love? Friendship? Passion? Respect? Work ethic? Urgency? Political will? Ideology? Hope for a better future? ___ ?

· And, what separates us?

Suggested Readings:

Hardt, Michael. The Procedures of Love. 2012

Deleuze, Gilles. Lecture transcripts: Spinoza’s Concept of Affect.


Michael Hardt is the chair of the Literature Program at Duke University. His recent writings deal primarily with the political, legal, economic, and social aspects of globalization. In his books with Antonio Negri (Declaration, and the Empire Trilogy including Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth) he has analyzed the functioning of the current global power structure as well as the possible political and economic alternatives to that structure based on new institutions of shared, common wealth.

Nidhi Srinivas is Associate Professor of Non-profit Management at The New School in New York City. His research interests center on critical theory, civil society and post-colonial management knowledge. Srinivas serves on the advisory board of Research Institute on Turkey.

**Hakan Topal **is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. He is Assistant Professor of New Media and Art+Design at Purchase College and is one of the founding members of Research Institute on Turkey, where he now serves on the advisory board.

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

Flicker in white cube.

Images from Istanbul during and after WW1
– 1914-1918 German-Ottoman Cooperation. 
– 1918-1923 The British Occupation 

Source: Imperial War Museums (Collections)

CLUSTER: Urban Planning, Pedagogy and Activism in Post-Revolution Cairo Wednesday, November 12, 5:30 pm

Supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation, Omar Nagati and Beth Stryker of CLUSTER (Cairo Lab for Urban Studies, Training and Environmental Research), an organization created in the wake of Egypt’s 2011 revolution to establish a critical space for urban discourse, and platform for art and design initiatives, share their work and projects.  

Located in Cairo, CLUSTER explores the shifting dynamics of urban space, culture and democracy in post-revolution Cairo through symposia, design workshops, exhibitions in downtown Cairo passageways, and pubic programs.  Their conversation will be moderated by Hakan Topal, Assistant Professor of New Media and Art+Design at Purchase College.

Omar Nagati is a practicing architect/urban planner living in Cairo. A graduate of Cairo University, he studied and taught at the University of British Columbia and University of California Berkeley, with a specific focus on informal urbanism. Nagati adopts an interdisciplinary approach to questions of urban history and design, and engages in a comparative analysis of urbanization processes in developing countries.  Together with Beth Stryker, Nagati has recently cofounded CLUSTER, a platform for art and design initiatives and urban research and design initiatives downtown Cairo.

Beth Stryker works between NYC and Cairo and has curated exhibitions and programs for the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival in Cairo, Beirut Art Center, Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, Smack Mellon, the AIA/Center for Architecture in NYC (where she held the position of Director of Programs), and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, among other venues. With Omar Nagati she co-founded CLUSTER, a platform for art and design initiatives and urban research in downtown Cairo.

Hakan Topal is an artist living and working in New York City. He is an Assistant Professor of New Media and Art+Design in the State University of New York’s Purchase College .   He was cofounder of xurban_collective (2000–12) and has exhibited extensively across the globe. He represented Turkey at the 49th Venice Biennale.  He is coeditor of The Sea- Image: Visual Manifestations of Port Cities and Global Waters (D.A.P.), emerging out of work for Istanbul European Capital of Culture 2010.

The Overlooked Besieged Alternative in the Middle East: The Rojava Cantons


In my previous article I wrote about how both soft and hard Islamists render a very dark future for the Middle East. I finished my article by stating that the Kurdish Movement may provide a salient alternative for the whole region. However, this alternative is currently under attack by Islamists and its supporters.

As I write this article, ISIS thugs surround the northern Syrian city Kobanê — also known as Ayn Al Arab. While both the Kurdish guerilla group PKK, Syrian arm PYD and some factions from the Free Syrian Army are desperately fighting to keep ISIS out of town, the situation is getting worse by the day. Turkey is reluctant to open its borders for humanitarian and military assistance, and so help ISIS to take over the town. In fact, the Turkish government sees this siege as an opportunity to eliminate autonomously controlled cantons established by PKK/PYD in 2012. While in effect ISIS seems to be running a proxy war for Turkey, the Syrian civil war and the sectarian fire is quickly spreading all over the region, igniting already tense ethnic issues.

To read more continue to Public Seminar website >>

Utopias and Realities

Monday, September 29, 2014
Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Ave, New York, NY 10003
Admission Free

Curated by Graciela Cassel, TransBorder presents an international panel of artists to discuss current positions relating to reality and utopias as well as individual and  social concerns. Our presence as “bio-political” beings assures our continuing interest  in creating new spaces: for some, these spaces are utopias, for others, realities.


Kathleen MacQueen (USA)
Gerald Pryor (USA)
Hakan Topal (Turkey/USA)
Jorge Zuzulich (Argentina)
Alejandro Schianchi (Argentina)



20 September – 16 November 2014
Opening: 19 September 2014, 19hr

nGbK / neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst
Oranienstrasse 25, 10999 Berlin

Facebook event page

Artists: Pedro Barateiro, Ricardo Basbaum, Paolo Bottarelli, Anne Dukhee Jordan, Wietske Maas, Amina Menia, Yves Mettler, Pratchaya Phinthong, Timur Si-Qin, Sun Xun, Hakan Topal and Clemens von Wedemeyer.

With texts by Dipesh Chakrabarty, Reza Negarestani and Beatriz Preciado.

Curated by: Elena Agudio, Dorothee Albrecht, Bonaventure Ndikung, Matteo Pasquinelli, Eylem Sengezer.

The Greek word metabolē meant originally to change and, literally, to throw over. In times of worldwide human-made transformations, climate change and ecological awareness, expanding and exploding the notion of metabolism seems to be crucial to understand present and future politics. The exhibition investigates the understanding of ‘metabolism’ in contemporary art in a dialogue with philosophical and scientific research beyond Eurocentric rationalization.

Biological metabolism is a process that constitutes living beings in their continuous exchange with their environment. Photosynthesis, for instance, struggles to capture and condense solar energy at the basis of the food chain that sustains the whole biosphere. For the parasitic relation of terrestrial life with the outside cosmos, French philosopher Michel Serres in his book The Parasite once defined the sun as our energetic horizon and the very ‘ultimate capital’.

Like many other scientific ideas, as soon as the concept of metabolism emerged in the 19th century chemistry and biology, it generated a contagious fascination in art and politics. Marx himself registered the ‘metabolic rift’ provoked by the industrial revolution and envisioned a ‘social metabolism’ long before environmentalism. However today the human appears to be made also of the non-human, of a heterogeneous stratification of minerals and microorganism, including machines, synthetic materials and immaterial data.

The exhibition The Ultimate Capital is the Sun brings together artists, philosophers, scientists and curators to explore various grounds of metabolism with no desire to establish a centre of gravity.

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(c) 2017 - Hakan Topal