There is a variety of art producers in the city. They are individuals or groups, institutions or not, independent initiatives. There are different places in the city that belong to some of these cultural actors; such as open art spaces, venues, personal ateliers, exhibition halls, or stages. Well, Spatial Experiences is actually a consequent work of a preceding search, which set off with the aims to visit the independent cultural spaces and listen to the experiences gained by the hosting art actors through the spaces, hoping these gatherings would create a platform to formalize new topics for the cultural actors in the city.
In the summer of 2018, NomadMind and Kendine Ait Bir Oda (KABO, One’s Own Room), two independent organizations, came together to make a joint event. As a result of the long brainstorming that took place during the search for a scope for the event, it was realized that the motivation to do this activity itself could possibly be one of the fundamental axes: to come together. Thus, two independent organizations, each owning a place that produces cultural projects in the city, have framed their desire to produce something together. What brought them both to put their heads together was to call others in the city with similar anxiety and purpose. So they organized a forum titled “Offering Space To-gether”.
This event in the Basmane Agora Archaeological Excavation Site turned out to be a discussion space where organizations with different production areas with limited facilities, existing in various scales and forms, gathered together and circulated open-ended questions without any filters. The biggest output of the event was a question: “Can we create more robust communication networks to address economic and social problems in the name of developing common production areas?” Later we will meet with this question again.
The forum was not a call only open to the art producers but anybody from the city interested in and cared about arts and culture, thus, by providing a discussion forum in which the borders and centre were not defined, the event enabled the participants to voice a list of demands. The goal behind the event to open a space of communication turned into an open-ended continuum, a desire to make a series of events. That is how Spatial Experiences was born.
The first stop of Spatial Experiences was Nazım Hikmet Cultural Center (NHKM) – İzmir. It was thought that the visits realized under the headings proposed and briefed by the hosts to grow into open conversations reflecting the dynamics of each space according to its nature, expanding from the topics presented by the hosts. Certain existing conditions; such as the physical construction/condition of the venues, their location and values they presented in the city, their history and visions, the disciplines and the population they appealed; foreshadowed dynamic and rich content designs for each space. Especially, NHKM-İzmir opened important topics on the physical conditions of the spaces and the transformed spaces within the context of its transformation process from old Konak Movie Theater, located in the city centre, into a theatre stage.
“Economic Crisis and Art Production”, the topic of the discussion proposed by NHKM-İzmir, was referring to a critical issue to exchange experiences for the participants mostly composed of independent and non-institutionalized art producers and cultural managers. Sustainability is an existential problem for anyone who wants to create a medium in these disciplines, as it is necessarily defined with economic competence. Precisely, that is why it can be considered to be an enlightening experience for non-profit organizations to be guests at a profit-oriented space, what is more, talk about making a profit. On the other hand, the heterogeneous structure of the participants; from local government employees to gallery owners, academicians to art viewers, cultural managers to artists; helped to open up issues such as joint production possibilities and strengthening relations with local administrations and universities in the city.
Another outcome of the event held with the contribution of participants from diverse social and economic structures was a topic, ambiguous but haunting throughout the series. In the next destinations of the series, the foundation of the discussions was the same albeit the change of participants; the city of İzmir has a unique solidarity network among the art producers. The situation of being in touch with each other and that initiatives are already supporting each other through social relations at their own amplitude, is a unique dynamic to this city. In general, the NHKM-İzmir event ended with a question of whether this dynamic can be moved one step further and systematised into an organization, a structure or not. This is the first time we meet the question we mentioned at the beginning. However, it would be right to emphasize that the aim of the Space Experiences series has never been to establish such a structure, but it has actually, as mentioned above, aimed at an open continuum.
The visit to Shelter Artists Run Space, our second host, began with a talk about the motivation of Serife Aslan Yavaşça and Mert Yavaşça, the founders of the initiative, to open such an art space and with the account of their experiences in the process. Located in a completely residential area, far from the central axis of the city, the place exhibited completely different characteristics than our first stop, also with its very small physical dimensions and non-profit structure. For example, Shelter, who turns into an “open” art space in certain months of the year according to the needs and demands, is essentially a personal workshop which has been opened for sharing. During the talk, it was underlined that space was an initiative without any budget concerns, with the motivation to share a place of production and exhibition with colleagues. However, with the fact that it had been seeking funds to diversify the productions realized in the place, the discussion direction of the event turned into funding opportunities for the İzmir city and the art actors in the city provided by institutions outside İzmir for the last few years. The new framework of the discussion; shaped by the experiences of the independent artists or institutions that applied to these funds, of selected or unelected people, ideas of the concerned or critics; questioned the quest for funding as an economic model in order to perpetuate production and sharing. Especially how competition most likely to rise among the cultural actors and artists, readily in close relationship with each other, that answer to these calls, would affect the solidarity network unique to İzmir, whether this racing would weaken the network or would give rise to strong structures were discussed at length. In this context, the saturated ideas focused around the question of what kind of form it would take if solidarity and partnerships were to continue, and what kind of formation would emerge. At this point, yes, it would not be wrong to say that once again “the” question was entered into the shooting area.
Another topic discussed in Shelter deserves completely distinctive attention and care. Considering the dynamics that affect and shape the cultural producers of İzmir and the relations with the capital that form these dynamics, what should be the role of the cultural producers of İzmir in the case of gentrification? Do they have a role? How should these producers and actors stand? Can a common attitude be formed together? How much consensus can be shared with local governments?
Another project to discuss these and similar questions by an open art space, Hayy Open Space, located in an inn in Kemeraltı, Non-Registered Art Communities is a series of meetings on artists’ experience with international partners and fund support. Hayy, as the third stop of Spatial Experiences, was able to convey a brand new experience both in terms of being located in the city’s historic commercial centre and in terms of the twin dynamics of the simultaneous projects. The third destination of the series, realized in partnership with Non-Registered Art Communities and Spatial Experiences, has allowed Hayy to share its story while hosting the participants at its own space and to create a platform for the invited artist initiatives to share their narratives with the participants for a good amount of time.
Hayy’s story is to create an open art space. It realizes this by providing a place, time and opportunities to artists, artist groups and initiatives, sometimes it can be only giving a place to speak up and to be heard. The series of meetings where it invited different artists was designed in the perspective of giving a place to speak up formed a discussion platform by throwing passes at guests. Unlike the other two spaces we visited, this event’s conversation was especially started with the narratives of the invited independent art initiatives but soon the topic was fixed on the search for funding opportunities. NomadMind, Kabo and Hayy, who were moderating and looking for questions that were left incomplete in the previous events, invited participants to a series of inquiries, chiefly with the motivation to avoid communicative issues that may arise with fund competition.
What can be done to preserve the gratitude and appreciation expressed in a sincere manner “Thank you ….(there will be a name here)!”, a symbol of solidarity in İzmir? Fund calls resemble competition in which are winners and losers. Is it possible to prepare for the calls while they are still on? Could working groups be formed? With regular meetings would it be possible to share the experience of winning and losing the fund? Would it be possible to demand from the institutions and organizations that launch fund calls to make pre-evaluation briefing meetings and post-evaluation feedback statements specific to the tight communication network in İzmir? And maybe the most interestingly, could a joint application among a number of artists/artist initiatives to be made in order to maximize the outcome? Could the recipient of the funds create a budget for those who couldn’t? Would it be possible to continue the İzmir’s network based on production further in the search for funding?
We meet once again the question: “Can we create more robust communication networks to address economic and social problems in the name of developing common production areas?” More than once. It can be said that the biggest output of Spatial Experiences is to reflect the persistent appearance of this topic as a contemporary issue for the art actors of İzmir. The fact that the unfiltered open conversations throughout the events at the three distinctive spaces with different characteristics; located in the city/or not, being profit-oriented/or not, institutional/or not; always concentrated on certain focal points could be interpreted as that there are readily significant saturation areas, and clusters waiting to be transformed in the city of İzmir.
It will not be right to consider this opinion as a final outcome. This notion is as prominent as every other topic that has been put on the table within the scope of the series and as valuable as every heading which the owners of the spaces have chosen to underline. Within the frame of the topics that have been attempted to clarify above and could not have been mentioned yet, the series of Spatial Experiences, whose focus was being open-ended and in some ways undefined and frameless as well as being the experience and sharing itself rather than being an agent setting a goal, wishfully hopes that more robust communication networks will be established on Izmir scale.
*This article published at Unlimited magazine on August 2019.