Interview with Mari Spirito

Özge İnal: Before we get to my questions about the current exhibitions at Alt art space, I’d like to get to know you better. You founded Protocinema art organization in 2011 and before that was director of 303 Gallery in New York. Can you tell me about the process of your journey from New York to Istanbul?

Mari Spirito: I first came to Istanbul in 2007, and after many visits and time here, I was including artist from Turkey in exhibitions in New York and making exhibitions in Istanbul with artist from elsewhere. For example, in 2010, I included Can Altay in a group show at 303 Gallery in Chelsea, New York, where I was director at the time. The exhibition was called One Leading Away From Another and also included works by Latifa Echakhch, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Ceal Floyer, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Alicja Kwade, Gabriel Kuri, Peter Nadin, Kelly Nipper, Kristin Oppenheim and Sarah Ortmeyer. That same year, November Paynter and I co-curated the show Never Neutral in an unused space in the Mısır Apartments building, including works by Chris Marker, Enrique Metinides and Dara Birnbaum, which explored the shifting and complex use of documentary approach in contemporary art. The following year, I included Cevdet Erek in a show called The Art of Climbing Mountains, at the gallery, with Adrian Ghenie, Adriana Lara, Mike Nelson and Joel Shapiro. All of these exhibitions explore my interests in how different individuals come to their belief systems and how ones’ perspective and perception is part of that.

Öİ: Alt art space created a significant ripple in Istanbul within a short while. It attracts a following through artist talks as well as performances and exhibitions. What are Alt’s goals for Istanbul?

MS: Thank you, that is nice to hear. Alt art space is a mission driven organization and presents visual arts, performance and public programmes, collaborating across disciplines and cultures. Alt embraces and shares new forms of artistic expression that respond both to global concerns and changing conditions on the ground. Located at the center of bomontiada, a historical beer factory re-purposed as a public social space, the space aims to allow multiple authors to invest in and shape its future dynamics.

Öİ: Alt embodies a part of the entirety of bomontiada and this type of complex structure is a new suggestion for Istanbul. Can you tell us about Alt art space and bomontiada? Which reason did you have to open it?

MS: Alt art space at bomontiada is inspired by the creative committee of bomontada, Cem Yegül, Vasif Kortun and Alexis Sanal to give Istanbul a creative gathering place. For many years the site for the former Bomonti Beer Factory was a place where people would meet, eat, drink, be together and exchange ideas. This is what we are continuing. I was invited to Direct and Curate this space by the committee. For me this is a very exciting time to add additional voices to the community here, the voices of artists, performers and dancers, and what ever else we find. We will bring in artists from Turkey and abroad. Since I have been working in the art field for over 20 years, and with artists from Turkey for about eight years, in Prorocinema and other contexts, it feels natural for me to embark on such a special project.  As far as vision and usage, let me quote part of mission “Alt art space will present visual arts, performance and public programs, collaborating across disciplines and cultures. Alt embraces and shares new forms of artistic expression that respond both to global concerns and changing conditions on the ground. Alt aims to allow multiple authors to invest in and shape its future dynamics.” We will present art from here and everywhere. We hope for people to come and participate in whatever ways they feel comfortable – and to be a part of it.

Öİ: Watching Andreas Angelidakis’ video “Building an Electronic Ruin” inside his installation “Soft Ruin” prompted me to think about forms of building and obsolescence within other contexts. The work also touches upon the possibility that our quotidian cultural devices will soon turn into ancient rubble like the ruins of Rome. Within the concept of “age value” as referenced by Angelidakis, Alois Riegl elaborates on the transformation of industrial structures built for utilitarian purposes. In this regard, is it possible to draw a similarity between Angelidakis’ exhibition and Alt’s function inside the former Bomonti Beer Factory as an art space that also largely preserves its historical identity?

MS: No. Sure. To be fair, this is a very good observation and is one part of Angelidakis’ complex work and vision. To address your question – the function of Alt art space is to exhibit art and have dialogue around art and ideas thru these works, performance, talks, screenings and so on. The primary role of Alt art space is to engage the community that is living in Istanbul here and now. Honoring our past is one aspect of building something now, but in no way part of our mission.

Öİ: Hera Büyüktaşçıyan’s sculpture-intervention in the previous exhibition referred to the historical identity of the space, as seems to be the general approach in this exhibition as well. It appears that the following exhibitions in Alt art space are also likely to be in touch with the texture of the space.

MS: Thanks, that is a very nice observation – lets be honest with each other – there is no single approach to future exhibitions – this is very important. Why? If it is true that our positions and actions are based on our given experiences an knowledge up to that given point (other wise know as now) – that means that: when have additional experiences and knowledge– which we hope is every day of our time here on earth (tomorrow or the day after that) – that our positions and actions change. So – to answer your question – no and/or I have no idea, it is very unlikely. If what you mean by “be in touch with the texture of the space” is for any selected works to have a consciousness of context, to be aware of site, which also includes responding to the city and the concerns of the people in it, then a version of yes that is wider than and not limited to the specific historical references that you seem excited about. Also – please keep in mind, there is no one set-in-stone “general approach” – this is a journey of discovery for all of us. Especially since I keep calling for participation and multiple voices by way of proposals, there are surprises ahead, I hope.

Öİ: Michelle Lopez’s installation, “Halyard”, is quite affecting in that it situates the flagpole, which is part of our visual memory; cold, metallic and overwhelming in its power and magnitude, within the space, in effect dismantling it. Once again in this installation we observe a reference to the beer factory’s expropriation in the early years of the Republic. Can you expand on that?

MS: Ah, I see where you are going. This installation has nothing to do with expropriation, if there are relationships drawn then that is a very nice additional layer of meaning. This installation conjours images and feelings about flags and all the associations that come along with it – nation-building, loyalty, otherness, pride, excess pride, and so on. It is a sculpture that the most important part of it exists in your mind – which is pretty amazing. Also everyone’s mind is different so there are further implications.

Öİ: Mounira Al Solh enables us to touch upon developments in the Middle East that are currently high on the world agenda. The previous exhibition featured a work by Hasan Özgür Top that referenced the Syrian Civil War. Will the rhythm of regional events continue to have a place in Alt art space in the future? 

MS: To be honest, I do not know yet. I can tell you that I’m interested in artwork that speaks to both my mind and emotions; work that responds to the current time with an understanding of the past; work that could only be made by one individual and has universal impact. My personal concerns circle around cognitive thought processes, perception, and belief systems. For me, art is about how we understand and then represent the world; how we communicate to each other, and then what the result of that communication has the potential to be. I am interested in supporting the voices of artist – in order to answer this question it would be best for you to ask the artists. Thank you.

Translation: Zeynep Beler

Image Credit: Andreas Angelidakis – Soft Ruin [Yumuşak Harabe] (2015) Building an Electronic Ruin [Elektronik Bir Harabe İnşa Etmek] (2015)