By Dean Dempsey


As the plane lands into Atatürk International airport I notice fire trucks parked around a burning
building, people in reflective gear littered around it, watching, waiting. The scene felt remarkably quiet,
and the black smoke hardly moved, sitting heavy on top a glowing orange ring, thinning into the air
around it like spilt molasses. I hope that’s not my hostel, I thought.



Runa Islam Be The First To See What You See As You See It 2004 16mm film with sound Courtesy of the artist and Jay Jopling/White Cube (London)

Runa Islam Be The First To See What You See As You See It 2004 16mm film with sound Courtesy of the artist and Jay Jopling/White Cube (London)


It was my first time in Istanbul, and I came for no other purpose then to consume as many döners as
humanly possible (I stomached 9 in 4 days) and to get a glimpse into the city’s exploding art scene.
At a space called ARTER I caught The Move, a show curated by Başak Şenova featuring Adel Abidin, Rosa
Barba and Runa Islam (through Dec 13). Among Runa’s work is “Be The First To See What You See As
You See It”, which I first saw at Tate Britain several years ago. The 16mm film shows a variety of Chinese
porcelain being handled by a woman, who, very delicately, destroys them. The camera follows her
movements, and perhaps her gaze, as she navigates in a room of chinaware placed on pedestals. Scene
by scene, Runa arranges disaster with agile and precise calm, building with intensity like very slowly
squeezing a balloon until it bursts. These hapless but calculated movements are at once gorgeous and
irritating, testing nerves with the uncertainty of expectation. There is also something kind of sexy about
it, as the petite hands glide against the objects’ surfaces to arouse a taboo of the inevitable –



Adel Abidin Three Love Songs 2010 Three-synced channel video installation

Adel Abidin Three Love Songs 2010 Three-synced channel video installation


Adel Abidin’s work in the exhibition included a video installation entitled “Three Love Songs”, a triptych
of Western blonde women singing in Arabic in different locations. On one screen, a woman emerges
from red stage curtains as a pop singer, dancing and pointing at the camera, or the audience, in fullfledged
karaoke stardom. She moves her hips and body like an under-practice stripper, singing in that
terrible pop-whitegirl voice as subtitles stream below with lines like “By Allah we will level the enemy’s
head” and “We will wipe America from the map”. What a doll! That’s the kind of girl to bring home to


As the song finishes, the curtains open and she returns to her dressing room, powdering her nose as the
central video channel of the triptych begins. This Barbie is seated in early 1960’s style with a Betty
Draper hairdo. She smokes a long cigarette, singing in a retro-lounge as Arabic and English subtitles
continue the anti-Western banter, and at one point, oddly, states “By Allah we owe our lives to your
moustache”. I have a feeling she’s not talking about John Waters. Born in Baghdad, Adel uses cliché
“blonde beauties” to sing songs that glorify Saddam Hussein as a metaphor to stereotypes and the
signifiers often used in profiling. But here is the best part; Adel has the women sing lyrics in the English
alphabet without any translation or explanation of what it is they are in fact singing.



Nezaket Ekici Border Inside 2011 Video-Performance Courtesy the artist and Pi Artworks

Nezaket Ekici Flesh (No Pig, But Pork) 2011 Performance Installation Courtesy the artist and Pi Artworks


Just around the corner at Pi Artworks is the exhibition, Imagine, by Nezaket Ekici (through Dec 29). An
ex-student of Marina Abramović, Nezaket uses performance to investigate the ways in which food
functions in social life, tradition and regional histories. Her films and stills make the mundane and daily
routine of consuming food something alien, grotesque and completely awkward and unnatural. In her
“Border Inside”, she’s videoed chewing up bubble gum and placing it on glass, and bit by sticky bit,
forms the American flag as she brandishes ballroom attire. I love disgrace, and it is well into the video
before the viewer realizes her spit asked U.S. patriotism for a dance. An American audience is unaware
it is staring directly at itself in the wet glory of artificial flavor. In “Flesh (No Pig but Pork)” she evokes
her Muslim origins and religious aversion of eating dead pigs. She is blind folded with kitchen cleaning
gloves, ready for both unrestrained and unbiased indulgence, yet equipped to keep clean from dirt and
moral filth. She allows the raw swine to gloss her lips and face as she resigns resistance. Nezaket
objectifies cultural tradition and ritual, and through that isolation, questions the ways in which we
perceive the social norms of behavior and daily practice.



Pawel Althamer Pawel Althamer: 6 Sculptures 2011 Exhibition View Courtesy the artist and Galeri Mana


Pawel Althamer is on view at Galeri Manâ through January 12 in his solo show Pawel Althamer: 6
Sculptures, curated by Abaseh Mirvali. The works were first conceived as recent commissions from the
Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, and interestingly are casts of people who worked at the museum and
Deutsche Bank. The work is inarguably a bit spooky, yet still playful, like ghosts sleepwalking not meant
to be witnessed. The sculptures are life-size and stand in the room in such a way that the viewer must
psychically engage with them, navigating within frozen casts that wield sleeping faces in a phantom’s
body. The characters are stuck in time and place, unmoving and restrained by the draping which traps
them. These sculptures are made of plastic and metal wire constructions, but Pawel is known to
embrace a variety of materials, including human hair and animal intestines (the latter of which I ate on a
sandwich later that evening).



Ivan Navarro Suspect 2012 Mixed-media Courtesy the artist and Egeran Galeri

Ivan Navarro ODIO 2012 Mixed-media Courtesy the artist and Egeran Galeri


Another artist I want to mention is New York-based Iván Navarro whose exhibition Light At the End of
the Tunnel is on view at Egeran Galeri through January 12. Iván uses mirrors and neon to implicate the
viewer in its metaphor to systems of power. One-way mirrors denote interrogation rooms and create
the effect of infinite space and danger, with neon-lettering spelling out words like “Hopelessness” or
“Suspect”. The illusionistic depth of the work demonstrates an uncertainty of the subject – us. We are
peering inside as the bowels of the work stare back at us, trying to anchor a beginning or end in an
immeasurable space. Alongside the three wall-works are three free-standing pieces, including “ODIO”,
which is Italian for “hate”. The sculpture recreates a bottomless well with the piece’s title circled along
the inside. The word “odio” is as deep as the blackness inside the piece, falling again and again in the
infinite pit, as forever and vast as its literal definition. So will you fall inside or help little Timmy out?


Istanbul is one of the strangest and remarkably beautiful cities I’ve yet to visit. I’m a sucker for
imperfection, for spontaneity and unrefined landscapes. I loved the massive holes in the street, the way
sidewalks dropped off abruptly, how the direction of traffic would change by the will of the masses, the
way laundry and rugs hung from makeshift clotheslines, the jagged walkways that lead nowhere, how
hundreds of stray cats and dogs roam the city and everybody seems to look after them, picking them up
for a quick petting then carrying on. At the same time, its position between Europe and Asia sets the
stage for a cultural traffic jam of conservative religious groups and a more modern cosmopolitan
identity. As fundamentalists struggle for more power, galleries continue to open shop and push the
envelope of intellect and art. Local government is pushing out underground clubs and cafes yet
communities are organizing against corporate and private takeover of their neighborhoods. Steps
forward are matched with steps backward. But I guess it’s that way everywhere.


Dean Dempsey is a visual artist based in New York City who uses wit and humor to manipulate strangers
in giving him money.