Residencies in Turkey - self-sufficient spaces, innovative initiatives

For the last 6 years, the Res Artis Newsletter has been coming to you from Turkey. Starting in 2013, it will be sent from the Res Artis office in Amsterdam. In honor of the last newsletter from Istanbul, here is a special feature about residencies in Turkey, featuring the Turkish members of Res Artis.
-Julie Upmeyer, 2012

Following a long history of patron-run, friends and family, summer-time artists retreats, the first more formalized residencies began with agreements between Istanbul and various European cities. For example, the Istanbul-Berlin residency program began in 1988 and has hosted two Berlin artists in a central flat every year. The independent art space PIST has been hosting artists with a similar agreement from Denmark and the Netherlands. The first larger-scale residency program began in 2003 and ran until 2010 within Platform Garanti (since re-opened as SALT).

The following residency programs have found creative solutions to the almost complete lack of public funding in Turkey and have managed to remain independent from the influx of massive corporate support of arts and culture.

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The first in the wave of independent artist residency buildings in Istanbul, Caravansarai opened in 2010 with their production space, studios and residency programs in the bustling hard-ware district of Karaköy. Amongst the unpacking of tubing, copper sales, toilet-seat purchases and money deliveries to the neighboring Central Bank of Turkey, guest and local artists work on all types of investigation and production.

How did you come to run a residency in Istanbul?

Julie is a visual artist with a strong desire to collect and repurpose materials for her installations and artworks. She wanted a studio where she could work in a creative environment without being alone. Anika needed space with high ceilings to practice foot juggling and teach circus skills to her students in Istanbul. We happened to meet in Istanbul, and eventually decided to pool our creative and financial resources and buy a building in which we could produce our own work, as well as to provide space for other artists like us.

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Across the waters on the Asian side of Istanbul, three friends opened Halka Art Project in 2011, focusing on the production and presentation of contemporary art in the quiet residential neighborhood of Moda. Residents live and work in their three-story building, often concluding their time with a site-specific work in their exhibition space.

Why the Asian side? Are there advantages to being a bit away from the intensity of the Beyoglu art scene?

Although European Side is the main cultural location in Istanbul for so many decades now, with areas such as Beyoğlu, Karaköy, Taksim and Nişantaşı, alongside the Historical Peninsula, we believe that, Kadıköy on the Asian Side has a huge potential to be a strong alternative. It has a lively environment, especially our district, Moda, a vibrant, culturally rich and art friendly neighbourhood which is able to create a centre of concentration and recreation for our guest artists and theoreticians. That is why halka art project choses to be located in.

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The newly opened Maumau art residency actively mixes visual and performing artists with curators, historians and authors. Their building combines living, working and office spaces and is also home to a film house producing its own documentary films as well as offering subtitling and translation services.

What inspired you to invite such a wide range of creators into your own workspace?

As a writer I experienced how art residencies are beneficial for artists on working process in terms of having time and space to create and also sharing the same environment with other artists. So when I came back to İstanbul, I wanted this kind of a fruitful environment to be my lifestyle. Luckily I had chance to create maumau as a space for artists and for myself to work together.

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Outside Istanbul, the first independent residency program was started in 2005 in Ibrahimpaşa in central Turkey – Culture House Babayan. Guest artists live, work and exhibit in natural cave apartments and studios. Their projects often focus on ecological themes and particularly water issues through their annual International FabrikArtGroup Contemporary Arts Festival.

How important is the landscape to the work that your artists produce while in residence?

The importance of the volcanic tufa stone shapes of Cappadocia (Turkey) lies in the fact that nobody can ignore or get away from the landscape's strong visual impact (fairy chimney’s) and the way it was and is used (cave houses and churches, underground cities). This counts for artists, local people and travelers and counted for the ancient inhabitants. As Babayan Culture House AiR located in the midst of this Cappadocian
environment, we know that all artists that work in the residency have this extraordinary landscape as one of their visual aims. All artworks existing in concept, designed, and created in just one month of residency, carry, without exception this influence in a conscience or sub conscience way. The landscape, destroyed slowly by the modern world influences, is portrayed and expressed in an unique artistic way for the future.

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Summer being always a popular time to NOT be in the big cities of Turkey, several residencies take place only once a year, during the summer, in or near popular holiday locations.

Casa dell’Arte Residency Program has, since 2007, hosted young artists from Europe and the Middle East in their beautiful seaside location in Bodrum. Their program, physically located among remains from Greek, Lydian and Lelegian civilizations, bridges history and contemporary times through frequent visits from visiting curators, academics, artists and historians

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In the same region, The Gumusluk Academy Trust for Arts, Culture, Ecology and Scientific Research invites individuals to submit proposals for research projects or workshops to be held in their campus, which includes an arts house, various studios and open-air amphitheater.

Why do you fell the ‘Academy’ structure is important for artists?

The trust was founded to bring together the arts, sciences, and philosophy with the nature. Since 1996, established masters of various disciplines and participants are meeting and working together. The Academy stands apart from the official educational institutions in that it's a place where the masters and the participants live, work, discuss, produce and share together. Its doors are always open to people who want to make individual study or group workshops in all areas and all levels.

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For those wanting to experience summer IN the big city, Gallery/Miz found a solution to their Istanbul gallery’s empty summer months by initiating a residency program, transforming their gallery space into a shared artists studio for the months of July and August. The residencies conclude with an exhibition, thoroughly integrating residents into the art world/market of Istanbul.

You are now involved in not only the presentation of artwork, but now the production as well. How has this changed your relationship to artists?

Previously, we dealed with the end products of artistic research, knowledge and creativity. Thanks to our AIR programme, being both the witness and the location of artistic production doubled our admiration for artists, artistic creativity and art in the wider sense. During the residencies we had the opportunity to observe the different working methods of the artists, assist them in their research, share their excitement and passion, which was an invaluable experience. Our first residency experience has shown us that an artist residency is based on a mutual dialogue between the hosts and the guest artists, moreover it is an enriching period during which both parties learn from each other.

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Perhaps the most ambitious residency project thus far in Turkey is the soon to open Theatre Madrasa in Şirince, near Izmir. Built from ground-up using local materials and traditional building techniques, it will be a center for workshops, theatre camps, conferences and a residency for performing arts groups. An initiative of Seyyar Sahne, a theatre group from Istanbul, along with many friends and supporters, the group aims to be a vital space for theatre research and production in Turkey.

What was the biggest surprise you encountered during the development period?

The biggest surprise that we have encountered was the great support that the small or amateur theatre groups in Turkey gave to us. They embraced our project at a great pace, which, in turn, motivated and strengthened us in the process of construction. They donated to us the revenue they had from one of the performances of their plays. However, the major surprise was the donation, which amounts to the 15% of the total cost of the construction, made by one of the prominent authors and playwrighters of Turkey, Adalet Ağaoğlu, when she read from the newspapers that we were in a serious financial bottleneck. Words are incapable to express our gratitude to her.