Following the road of the “Med Art Spaces” project, I contact Didem Özbek, artist and co-founder of PiST/// Interdisciplinary Project Space, in Istanbul. The big Turkish city, on the crossroad among Asia, Europe and Middle East, represents today one of most interesting places in the Mediterranean related to the diffusion of contemporary art.
Talking about mobility, interaction, Mediterranean, art and society, we find out some interesting information around this independent art space located quite close to the Taksim centre of the city.
Let’s say that at the present moment PiST/// is engaged in a collaborative research project - with Arrow Factory, Beijing and Collective Gallery, Edinburgh – carried out in these three different cities during 2011. For this interdisciplinary project they are planning artists’ exchanges, public events and published texts.
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: Which are the main aims and activities of PiST///?
Didem Özbek: PiST/// Interdisciplinary Project Space is a non-profit, independent art space, in Istanbul, Turkey. It is co-directed by artists Didem Özbek and Osman Bozkurt and opened on May 2006. Projects on urban issues, identity, public space / private space conflicts, the power relations in the art scenes & markets are some of the issues interesting for PiST. Through its program, PiST aims to focus on the production of new and experimental works of local & international art professionals (emerging or established artists, curators, writers and more) to exhibit, perform, screen, discuss and publish. The whole process of PiST is considered as an art project itself. PiST aims to promote the artists it collaborates with internationally and create local awareness for contemporary art.
HBM: Which role do art and creativity play in the contemporary society and in your geographical area?
DÖ: Art is not a necessity or need for the major part of the society we belong to. But the creative solutions many people develop in their daily life conditions are very inspiring for our artistic practice. PiST enjoys engaging the chaos and energy created on the street and this helps developing our art projects. We live and work in a city where parents take their kids to shopping malls as a weekend activity. Rather than visiting free entry exhibitions in art galleries or institutions, the majority prefers window-shopping or sitting at food halls all day. As long as the art pages of the media target the same limited art audience, and if there is no educational policy for the future generations to feel art as a part of daily life, the art scenes will always act as a closed minority within the major society. Collecting art will also develop as an intellectual relief, include people in a new social circle or work as an investment tool. As we see in past stories of established art markets, the more an art dealer, artist or collector is going to receive celebrity media coverage within an emerging art market, the more the nation can become used to hearing or seeing ‘art’ out of its context. For us art is a way of living, it is our profession, problem, question and language we create to communicate in contemporary society.
HBM: What does the Mediterranean space mean for you?
DÖ: The Mediterranean space is more relaxed, enjoying life, noisy with bright colors and summer heat. It could be nice by the seaside, as a familiar space that repeats itself in another Mediterranean city, but with no need of acknowledging the others. This is a question that is really open to prejudice.
HBM: Do you interact with other centres/realities of art and creativity in the Mediterranean? If not, will you do it?
DÖ: In 2009, Madre Museum in Naples, Italy has invited Osman and me as artists to take part in an exhibition series called TRANSIT. The project has aimed to match artists from Naples with artists from Athens, Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul, and Tel Aviv. Unfortunately the project was not designed to exchange artists in between six different Mediterranean cities or it did not unite the whole exhibition series within a single exhibition or publication. PiST also hosted the Istanbul vs. Naples part of TRANSIT II and preferred to call it as TR_ANS_IT. In general it was a very good opportunity for us to experience working with a team of Italian-Turkish curators and we also enjoyed matching with Naples based artist Danilo Correale.
Turkey has 8.5 neighboring countries. 3.5 of them are by the Mediterranean Sea. While we have not gone for it yet, we would especially like to collaborate with art professionals from Greece. We also have a few contacts in Egypt, Israel, and Morocco on the African coast of the Mediterranean Sea. While such countries still seem more difficult to reach from Istanbul, collaborating with art spaces or art professionals from the African side sounds more refreshing for us in comparison to the European coast.
HBM: Are you involved in any Mobility Program? How can one improve and promote art and artists mobility in the Med?
DÖ: During the TRANSIT exhibition PiST traveled to Italy and Italians were in Istanbul. By 2011, PiST aims to start an international residency program. This means we need partner spaces to host and exchange art professionals. It would work well by having partners by the Mediterranean Sea as well.