Environmental Art Events in Turkey

With various galleries in Istanbul running ecologically-focused exhibitions, we take a look at the movement of environmental exhibitions in Turkey…
Nowadays, due to the deterioration of the world’s ecology, the climate crisis and sustainability have become frequently discussed topics in the field of contemporary art. As a response to this situation, while many artists in Turkey have been making works about environmental issues, several institutions and organizations have also been holding environmentally sensitive events and exhibitions recently.

Kale Design and Art Center is an institution that believes in sustainability in all areas of life; also known as KTSM for short, Kale Design and Art Center is a young entity which was opened in Karaköy in 2019. Defining itself as a production and meeting point that allows interdisciplinary sharing, KTSM organizes its exhibition program on waste and its possibilities throughout the year. Also the founder of the ‘Take Good Care of the World’ movement, KTSM invites everyone to be a part of this movement with the thought that big changes can come from the combination of small actions.

The institution’s current exhibition, ‘Beyond The Surface: Water’, which will be on view until August 30 and is curated by Rana Kelleci, presents a selection of Silvia Bener’s works in which she explores water as the essence of everything and a concept in which existence makes itself visible. Adopting water as her main medium for more than ten years, Bener draws inspiration from the traditional art of marbling with her technique, which she calls “Aqua Materia Art”, where she works with paints on water. Unlike the marbling technique, she works with large boats that allow bodily movements. By using materials in different sizes or by producing her own paints, instead of creating a predetermined form, Bener withdraws her will as an artist and allows all the conditions that created that moment to take shape on the water.

Silvia Bener’s exhibition view at KTSM, image courtesy: Kale Design and Art Center

Another project that draws attention to environmental issues is the ‘Dry Summer’ project at Eldem Art Space in Eskişehir. Curated by Melike Bayık and funded by an EU Project CultureCIVIC: Culture and Arts Support Program, ‘Dry Summer’ is a research-based project demonstrating the ecological circumstances of the water crisis. The project, which is designed as a multi-layered project and will last until the end of November, presents exhibitions, talks and workshop programs focusing on water ecology, the threat of drought and environmental disasters that water – or lack thereof – can cause. Within the scope of the exhibition part of the project, there are works by 12 artists and an art collective in different disciplines such as photography, video, installation, watercolor, glass tube, painting, and performancce documentation.

Artwork exhibited at Dry Summer by Berna Dolmacı: Misty Blue, 2022, acrylic, clay, coffee, henna, tea, hibiscus and seeds on waste paper, 450 x 450 x 110 cm, photo credit: Orhan Cem Çetin

It is also worth mentioning OMM (Odunpazarı Modern Art Foundation), another environmentally sensitive institution in Turkey. The museum, which was opened in Eskişehir in 2019, in addition to showing exhibitions focused on environmental issues, also regularly organizes workshops, screenings, and education programs on sustainability. Alongside the arts program, OMM also places emphasis on sustainability in its daily activities; the museum does not print brochures, but instead provides access to brochures with QR codes and prefers to support each exhibition with podcast series instead of brochures. OMM’s latest podcast series Near Future focuses on sustainability, climate change, and the future of the planet. Additionally, the cafe of the museum serves only plant-based and non-exploitative foods.

Odunpazari Modern Art Museum’s building made by Kengo Kuma & Associates, images via Kengo Kuma and Associates

In this period of climate crisis, when every institution and individual must review their life and operations for a better world, many tasks fall on art and art institutions. Since the treatment of the environment is often affected by the cultural practices of communities and the arts have a determining effect on culture, the importance of every event and artwork that raises awareness about the environment in the field of art is undeniable.

One of the most outstanding events related to upcycling and efficient use of resources that happened recently was Upcycle Istanbul Art & Design Festival; taking place between June 4-5 in Museum Gazhane with the claim that they were “starting the upcycle movement”, the festival ran with the motto ‘transformation that adds value to the past’. Focusing on the impact of all kinds of change on sustainability, the first edition of the Upcycle Art and Design Festival featured art installations as well as designs that give waste a second chance.

In the art exhibition section of the festival, there were art installations investigating environmental issues and sustainability; Ilgın Seymen’s installation ‘Green Field’, which she made with green paint on rubble, is a work that ironically criticizes the act of ‘creating green space’. Since the concept of ‘creating green space’ is an action that involves re-intervention in the already intervened nature, with this work the artist reveals the paradox that the systems established to improve the quality of life of people cause natural destruction. Another installation worth reflecting upon is ‘Door’ made by Murat Fesih Avcıbaşı. Using the door as the metaphor of interior and urban transformation, the work aims to transform used and decayed doors into an artistic object. While the work refers to the history of the Gazhane Museum, which was brought to Istanbul as a new ‘living space’ through the restoration project of the 130-year-old gas works, it also underlines the ecological and cultural potentials that can be realized through upcycling.

Ilgın Seymen, Green Field, 2022, green paint over rubble, 7 x 4 meters, image courtesy: Upcycle Art and Design Festival

Besides the exhibition section, the festival featured also workshops on upcycling with the participation of children and adults, bazaar section with stands made of cardboard beverage cans, sustainable fashion exhibitions of university students and the Fung Istanbul concert, which plays music with instruments made of waste materials on the upcycle stage designed by Picnic Works. Furthermore, the festival offered its visitors an upcycled skating rink experience and prepared an online talk program on environmental issues on YouTube with the support of Harvard Business Review.

Taking the sustainability theme as one of its focal points, Upcycle Art and Design Festival aims to continue to be held in the following years. Also, not limiting itself to the festival area, Upcycle Art and Design Festival will implement the upcycle street signs project in the coming months within the scope of the ‘Take Good Care of the World’ movement led by Kale Design and Art Center.


Yazar: Ece Başar