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Now and then

Thomas Roueché on art to provoke and perplex

GOTHICK FRISSONS Beneath the Abdülmecid Efendi Köşk curious things were afoot. As part of You Know Who, the annual show from the collection of Ömer Koç, On the Trail of the Trickster, an immersive installation by Brigitte Pitarakis, co-curator with Selen Ansen, cast the viewer as archaeological explorer, submerged in a Byzantine past. As you navigated darkened rooms, golden wall paintings changed and shifted. Animals, plants and people came to life, only to disappear back into the gilded scenery. This was a fitting underpinning to a show preoccupied with strangeness, and an eloquent expression of life in a city as historic as Istanbul. Among works upstairs by artists from Hera Büyüktaşciyan to Marc Quinn and Ahmet Doğu İpek – many sharing a disquieting sense of the abnormal – lay Tableaux Prophétiques de la ruine de l’Empire des Turcs, a manuscript bearing an image of a serpent attacked by birds.

Images of snakes and birds recurred as we made our way through the Köşk’s gilded rooms, surely among Istanbul’s most wonderful hidden treasures. In one the floor buckled and bent beneath monitors showing the sharp eyes of birds (Hell–Heaven, by Murat Akagündüz, 2010). Time felt malleable in these grand spaces, and you found yourself suspended between a golden past, a fraught present, and a hopeful future.

DAYS OF FUTURE PAST The 90s Onstage (Salt Beyoğlu, until February 12, 2023) is as ambitious as it is involving. From a ground-floor installation which uses its proximity to İstiklâl Caddesi to present happenings and interventions by performance artists, to impressionistic portraits of the first outpourings of artistic freedom on the then newly deregulated TV networks, the show draws together politically inspired street actions, theatre, performance art, pop videos and TV chat shows – a cultural history of the era to which our contemporary moment is heir. The sense is one of radical possibilities. Costumes and materials from the Assos Performing Arts Festival are testament to a time when coastal resorts were places of artistic inspiration rather than mass tourism. As Salt challenges us to consider how performance in Turkey has shifted, it is moving to consider the work of Hüseyin Katırcıoğlu, the festival’s art director, stranded in the past by his untimely death in 1999.

ADVENTURES IN SLUMBERLAND At Arter, a three-screen work depicts a man lying on the floor, tossing and turning between sleep and wakefulness. We are voyeurs, witnesses to the vulnerability of a sleeping stranger. Volkan Aslan’s Huzursuz (Restless) takes us into Rounded by Sleep (until January 29), a foray into the world of dreams. Eda Berkmen’s elegant curation brings together a number of Turkish artists with works from Arter and the Sakıp Sabancı Museum – especially the whispering voice of Gizem Karakaş, İz Öztat’s video, and İnci Furni’s delicate watercolours. Nazmi Ziya Güran’s Lady in Pink on a Chaise Longue is an exquisite representation of the sweetness of an afternoon nap (şekerleme in Turkish). But it is in its consideration of what sleep means in these days of 24/7 capitalism that the show comes into its own most thrillingly.

The Great Good Place, a video by Annika Eriksson of a colony of street cats sleeping in the heart of Istanbul, and Dwellers of Gezi Park, an evocative watercolour by Nevhiz (2002), point to a sense of the collective resistance to contemporary life that sleep induces. The gallery is lit to evoke somnolence. Turning a corner, one finds oneself lost in Defne Tesal’s Nowhere, a forest of hanging fabric. Working one’s way through dense thickets of beige fabric, before the light of day from a floor-to-ceiling window onto the street breaks through. Hurriedly, one dives back under the covers.

BACK TO THE WALL The first artworks were created by our ancestors touching their palms to cave walls, forerunners of the frescoes and mosaics that adorned the villas of ancient Rome. Later, tapestries and hangings – portable murals – adorned the domestic space and daily lives of aristocratic dwellings, signifying wealth and status, and warming cold stone castle walls. At the Sakıp Sabancı Mardin City Museum, the city’s historic architecture is a perfect backdrop for Walls and Beyond (until April 9). A consideration of wall art from history to the present day, the exhibition draws on a vast range of approaches, bringing together more than 110 tapestries (many sensitively conserved thanks to the show), from traditional Yezidi hangings and church screens to works by contemporary artists. Also see

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