The Dictionary of Independent Art Spaces* : INDIctionary, Zeynep Okyay (PASAJ)

This project proposal “The Dictionary of Independent Art Spaces* : INDIctionary” was drafted down in 2015; and it was written to present the role, modus operandi and aims of independent art spaces and to emphasize their significance in the contemporary art scene in the three major cities of today’s Turkey, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. It consists of three sections; introduction, glossary and conclusion. Firstly, an introduction to the contemporary art scene in Turkey is made, and later, the definition of an independent art space is deepened. With the terms selected in the dictionary section, the specific features of the independent art spaces are emphasized, and the quotations from the interviews with the founders of the selected spaces are included. In the conclusion section, the effects of these characteristics are discussed.

The project confers to other theses inclusive of the subject matter; literature survey and interviews are used as the research methodology. Interviews were conducted with SAHA Association on existing funding sources; with Julie Upmeyer of Caravansarai on sustainability; with Banu Cennetoğlu of BAS on flexibility; with Mehmet Dere of 49A and Fırat Erdem of Flash Atölye on the art scene and sustainability in Izmir; with Özge Ersoy of collectorspace on autonomy; with Erkin Gören of Mtaär on transience; with Merve Kaplan of Torna on being in the periphery; with Cemil Gökçe Batur of Torun and Ipek Cankaya and Sezgi Abalı of Halka Sanat Projesi on raising funding; with Göksu Kunak, the curator of MASA in Berlin, on mobility.

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Since they are different structures from museums, galleries and art institutions operated by the state and private sector, instead of confining in the existing institutional language, it attempts to produce a new language. The project is in the format of an add-on glossary. The initial words chosen are ‘in-kind support’, ‘flexibility’, fundraising, temporality, ’mobility’ and ‘periphery’. The aim is to convey the experience and findings of different authors. Each addition will bring about the exchange of information and experience, as required by the format of the dictionary

Independent art spaces are defined as art organizations independent from government and private sector managerially and financially, which provide space to artists who produce in the field of contemporary visual arts by cooperating with them. The existence of such organizations, which have a rather excessive role compared to their budget, is necessary for balancing the existing powers and democratizing the contemporary art scene. Julia Kristeva writes that we all need a common experience in her essay titled ‘ Strategies for survival-Now’[1]. This experience does not necessarily have to be successful from beginning to end. Failure, in this case, leads to another kind of success, educates, teaches know-how.

Artists and places of independent art scene seem to challenge each other constantly: their technical equipment is undersized and little compared to the commercial venues… On the other hand, the freedom it provides to the artist brings in infinite possibilities. But every autonomy requires responsibility.

Their contact is the artists and the audience but there is no eligible public fund for independent art spaces, and production funds for artists are newly emerging. Independent art spaces seek out to raise funds themselves; they receive support from artists, artist groups, small publishing houses in their network. Although very popular abroad[2], side events to raise a bit of support, such as selling alcohol at the openings, are not very common.

Paola Ferrario, photographer for hire, opening, PASAJ Tarlabaşı, photo by Giorgio Caione

The funding for the sustainability of independent art spaces initiated by SAHA association is important in terms of focusing on the sustainability of the spaces. There are both independent art spaces that make, or at least try to make, a regular annual program as required by the application, and there are ones that refuse to do so.

The market is competitive, and independent art spaces are collaborative. On the other hand, they should not be seen as a stepping stones. Their structure that does not impose nor advertise but shares the success will never put them on media focus. But this does not indicate that they do not achieve awareness or recognition.

There are commercialised, deactivated or mobilized ones among the independent art spaces in Turkey. Their number never exceeded twenty. Some of them ceased their activities because of the personal problems arisen within the team, while some did due to their founders’ desire to focus on their own artistic practice or simply because of the difficulties in running a venue.

Although independent art spaces’ history in Turkey is a recent one and they are few in number, they hold greater influence than they appear to have because of their contribution to the independent art scene and their organic bonds with a variety of other organizations. In addition to their active presence in the contemporary art scene and connection with the alternative culture, their existence is necessary and important because of the creative and rapid solutions they find against the problems thanks to their bureaucracy-free structure.

PASAJ Tarlabaşı, Dream Circus Project, 24 November 2014, photo by El

As a conclusion, the independent art spaces are initiatives attempt to create new opportunities and alternative structures. There are distinctive visions and missions among them. The strong characteristics of independent art spaces include productivity, independence from the market, flexibility as well as being a hub for criticism, bounding with people from different backgrounds, reaching out to the local, being a non-hierarchical grassroots structure, and being non-competitive. Nevertheless, they also have weaknesses: Incapability to network, archive; indiscipline, dependence on the venue, tendencies to carry excessive mission, a lack of audience development work, etc. Most independent art spaces have not yet been able to form a self-sufficient structure. Because they cannot achieve this self-sustaining structure, working people are often voluntarily involved in the organizations and need to do complementary work. This can lead to a general lack of focus.

* Zeynep Okyay, Department of Cultural Management, M.A., graduation project, 2015; Jury: Asu Aksoy, Deniz Unsal, Vasif Kortun

**Zeynep Okyay co-founder of PASAJ independent art space and board member of BIS / amberPlatform.

[1] “I do think we all need an experience by which I mean something new and surprising, painful or pleasant, and then the understanding of these experience. Is this still possible?” And then she continues: “Perhaps not. Perhaps charlatanism has become easy now that everything is for show and profit and there’s no fringe.” (Kristeva; 1995)

[2] In her thesis titled “Sanatçı İnisiyatifleri ve Sanatçılar Tarafından Yürütülen Mekânların İstanbul Güncel Sanat Alanındaki Rolü” (The role of Artist Initiative and Artist-run Spaces in Contemporary Art Field in Istanbul) in which she compares artist initiatives in Berlin and Istanbul, Elif Bursalı mentions that “The team organizes three-day short exhibitions and sells drinks at exhibition openings and organizes mini-concerts with small amounts of entrance fee. Endewart says that they can pay the rent of the place with these sales.” (Endewart, 2011)