In a Constantly Changing World, it is Important to Adapt and Keep Your Balance
When I was a child, I would draw and paint the pictures in all my reading books. Even then, I was an active producer and reader of art. One of my most special and old memories was painting a clown in one of my books, and reproducing it. It was a great satisfaction for me. I clearly remember that I said to my mum afterwards: “I want to be an artist”.
Bermuda Triangle. One of my first experiences in the field of art, years ago, was when I was working as an exhibition assistant curator. Being between the artist, the institution, and the curator was like flying over the Bermuda Triangle. The artist changed the curatorial design after it had been planned with them. It was a retrospective exhibition and they kept changing its narrative. In my young and inexperienced state, I was trying to establish the most correct communication with the artist who was very nervous during the process. I gained experience from such stressful situation, and keep this memory in my mind. Today, I try to keep my relationships with institutions and art experts strong, empathetic, transparent, and constructive.
Since I am a really disciplined and organized person, I have always organized, prepared, and produced things with great fun. I do not hesitate to say that I do what I really love about my relationship with art, since my childhood, which was at first as an amateur, and then as a professional. I studied painting in my undergraduate degree but being an artist was too bumpy for someone like me. Before I graduated from school, I really went on a quest and started to research what I could do in another productive dimension in the field of art. In the last year of my undergraduate program, I started the Art Management Master’s program, between art management and art history. When I first entered the school, I remember thinking that I was in the right place. Turkey’s art production is very Istanbul-centralized, unfortunately. So I moved my life in Antalya to Istanbul for my masters, and to curate, and I started to meet artists and various art experts. The turning point of my career was achieving the dream of curating, as a young student, during my fieldwork with German curator Marcus Graf, one of the most prominent curators in Istanbul. He was my professor at university and a highly disciplined curator, art writer, and historian, with whom I have worked and learned directly. In short, having made the right decisions and meeting the right people, was a chance for me to realize my dream and passion.
Multitasking. Art is a versatile, multidisciplinary field. Therefore, as someone who is interested in art, you are under an invisible obligation to acquire a lot of training and material. Besides my work as a curator, I am also an art writer. The curator is also someone who writes exhibition texts, asks questions, guides the audience, and offers new perspectives for the artist to express her/himself. Consequently, writing happens in parallel to curating. Besides that, I have my academic identity. Directing young candidates who want to go into this field is invaluable. Academically, I have completed my Bachelor of Painting and Master of Art Management and I am currently pursuing a PhD at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Western Art and Contemporary Art History program. Every day, the future is gaining a more multidimensional, intertwined form. It is very important to follow what is happening, and remain contemporary, follow artists and new dynamics in the field of art. It is useful for curatorship, authorship, and my academic career.
I never curate without assuring equality between working partners, while focusing on the artist’s project and intentions.
What inspires me most about curating are the venues (because in Istanbul we have many beautiful buildings as exhibition venues), the streets (because I am interested in public space), and definitely visits to artist studios.
Blown away. Most recently, I have visited the installation “Bergama Stereotip” (2019 – 2020) by artist Cevdet Erek in Istanbul Contemporary Art Museum ARTER. It was absolutely impressive. It is a spatial architectural and 13-channel sound installation where people can climb up the stairs. The structure makes you feel like you are in a temple, while the sound makes you feel like you are attending a spiritual ritual, suddenly moving away from the context of time and space. You can say that this work takes the audience away.
Team building in the snow. About 3 months before the corona virus pandemic started, I curated an exhibition called “Passage” at Eldem Art Space in Eskişehir [scroll down for English]. The venue organizes exhibitions as a non-profit art institution. It is an historical charming mansion dating back to before the foundation of the Republic of Turkey. Since the venue is a non-profit one, it does not have a big budget, but we have progressed on a collective production model with its manager, team, and all the artists I invited to the exhibition. We came together in many formal, and sometimes more fun meetings. There were times when the team and I were stressed, and times when we laughed a lot under the snow and the wind of the cold weather of Eskişehir. There may be times that you prevent the work to be done when you are trying to help. At the end of everything, a beer, a hamburger, a dance floor, shoulder to shoulder fun and a chit chat, or a celebratory dinner with the whole team are the best moments left after this entire exhibition process. As a result, the exhibition opened to the audience in a way that really satisfied us. It is a great feeling to work with a team, to collaborate with different people, meet new artists, and explore places.
Curating with diversity and equality in mind. In 2019, I curated “standard” at adas.ist [link in Turkish], a semi political, sociological exhibition. It discussed Michel Foucault’s surveillance theory, with as a main focus, this surveillance issue and how it is progressing today. It was an interdisciplinary exhibition, produced in many mediums (video, photography, painting, sculpture, installation, etc), which is something that I pay close attention to. I also pay attention to the age differences and the gender of the artists I work with. Including artists from different generations and disciplines, maintaining an equality between women and men artists is important to me.
Our new kitsch world. Popular culture and kitsch are so predominant in society, and that question is also very important to me. I curated SO BEAUTIFUL in 2019 at Krank Art Gallery to discuss Clement Greenberg’s “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” essay (1939), where he claims that avant-garde and art are elements of resistance against the “dumbing down” of culture caused by consumerism. Turkey is a multinational and multicultural country. However, Marshall McLuhan’s predictions of a global village is a reality today. Even though there are borders in the world, consumption of technology and popular culture changes and assimilates local cultures. Something that belonged to American culture in the past may belong to your culture today. After all, the society I live in is changing from moment to moment (in fields as varied as food, clothing, art, and culture). Just think about it, we are the Netflix generation, I haven’t watched TV for almost 20 years. The advertising industry is also changing the society really fast. Consumption spreads kitsch consumption around teh world in the simplest way. I realized this exhibition about five years after designing it. Interestingly, the idea I defended 5 years ago and the idea I defended while setting up the exhibition were different. Everything is very variable, nothing can stay stable. So it’s intriguing and fun to make observations like an anthropologist.
The best way to get to know an artist is to be friends with them. Or not. To dance at parties, have breakfast together, knock on their door for a coffee or a whiskey on short notice, to communicate with them and remember that they have human concerns like everyone else in society, far beyond their identity as an artist… Artists are the most sensitive identities in society. But it is also very precious to know and realize that there is a variety of world views. Approximately 2 years ago, I woke up and realized that all of my friends were artists and art experts, and that my social circle is really just a world of art and culture. It is definitely great to be friends with some artists, they are the people who can understand and listen to you, but after all, they are people I work with, so I prefer not to be friends with them. That morning I realized how super cliché my situation was, so I started to search for dance schools in my area. As a result, I enrolled in an unfamiliar dance class, and started learning Lindy Hop. I made many friends from different professions such as lawyers, engineers, software developers, architects, etc. Sometimes it was a very nice thing, and sometimes not, as it can be difficult to understand each other because not everyone in Turkey belongs to an art and culture audience, unfortunately. Personally, I can socialize with anyone, but except for a couple of my close artist friends, my preference is to not to be friends with people from the art world, it is a complex world. It sounds brutal, but basically while sharing something from your personal life, it feels like you are telling it to the whole art scene. Moreover, I find it more fun and relaxing to be friends with people from a white-collar opposite background. Oh, what a relief!
The music I listen while working is really varied. While writing, I enjoy calmer songs, sometimes classical music or jazz. But when I am setting up an exhibition, designing an exhibition digitally on the computer, or during the time I spend before or after class at school, since my mood is more dynamic, I listen to rap, alternative rock, Punk etc. Some new and critical group names specific to Turkey are Adamlar, KÖFN, Nova Norda, Murda etc.
Literary classics. Some time ago, I read the Turkish classic novel “Araba Sevdası” (A Carriage Affair, 1896) by Recaizade Mahmud Ekrem, it is a love story set in the latest period of the Ottoman Empire. The content impressed me so much that I read many related essays and articles. The book deals with society’s cultural transition period from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic of Turkey, with a great analysis of characters. In 2015, Burçak Bingöl organized an exhibition in Turkey Zilberman Gallery by referring to this book.
Contemporary literature. A more recent novel is Sally Rooney’s “Normal People”. I don’t think I need to explain its content because it is very popular. I just want to ask the reader the following question: do you prefer the book or the series? The answer is very open-ended, the pleasure is very different in both. The author was born in the same year as me, so while reading the book, I felt like I was texting with my friend on Whatsapp or Instagram. Perhaps because she is someone from today, from the world we are all in, I found her style so nice and subtle.
I manage to keep sane by walking alone every day, swimming some days, and watching movies and series.
Of course, several of my exhibitions and art projects have been postponed since Covid started. Like many other people who focused on doing alternative projects, I started considering alternatives. I try to produce things that perhaps can sustain themselves, regardless of space and time. I was positively affected during this period. It has been a wonderful time, when I was able to reconsider my production model and my view of life, and be more productive, and stay alone (this was my choice, because I am very social because of work and school). It teaches me that it is very valuable to hug, to have a more sincere intimacies than ever before, to touch, or to be able to meet people comfortably, without a mask. Moreover, I really miss producing, setting up exhibitions, and playing games while setting up the venue!
The perfect meal with friends would involve Black Sea Cuisine. Black Sea Cuisine is the most up-to-date and the most visited cuisine in recent times. Crumbly cornbreads, cheesy and baked foods like Muhlama (made with Black Sea butter), fish, salads… It is our current weekly routine, until I get bored! However, Turkish cuisine is always very colorful, tasty, and has incredible variety.
If I was a collector I would collect a lot of artists. I have a really, really big list in mind. I would collect German photographer Andreas Gursky, Turkish-German artist Nasan Tur, Turkish artist duo Özlem Günyol & Mustafa Kunt, Barbara Kruger, Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, Turkish impressionist painter Avni Lifij, Turkish painter Mübin Orhon etc. As I said, it is possible to add many more names.
If my 10-year older self visits me from the future, she would tell me that although sometimes it can be very difficult to endure and continue, to never lose my excitement and keep going. She would also say: you are what you believe, continue to produce, you aren’t working—it’s like a hobby. Spend more time for yourself, dance more, travel, have fun, see your family and friends more. In 10 years, when you turn 40, do not let it be too late and do not regret it! Remember what Marcus Graf said: work hard, party hard, and find the balance!
If I wasn’t curating I would still be an academic and be interested in art, but I would definitely be a marathon runner. Sport is my second favorite thing.
Melike Bayık (Melike Bayik) lives and works in Istanbul. She was born in Antalya, Turkey in 1991. She curated the exhibitions “standard” (2019) at adas.ist, “Passage” (2020) at Eldem Sanat Alanı, “SO BEAUTIFUL” (2019) at Krank Art Gallery, and the projects “Far View” (2020) and “TRY IT” (2019) in London Turkish Trade Center; “Center Shifting” (2019) at Ferda Art Platform, “Espulsa” (2019) at FAART Space, and Şükran Moral’s semi-retrospective exhibition. In 2019, she graduated from the Art Management Graduate Program at Yeditepe University, Institute of Social Sciences. She has been working as a Research Assistant at Art Management Department since January 2017. In 2019, She entered the Contemporary Art History Doctorate Program at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Institute of Social Sciences. She is a member of AICA Turkey since 2019. She writes art articles in various newspapers, magazines and blogs and continues her curatorial projects.