artists & participants
For its first major exhibition of 2016, “TILL IT’S GONE: An Exhibition on Nature and Sustainability”, Istanbul Modern brings together artists who address nature and ecology with a particular emphasis on the notion of sustainability. Cosponsored by Eczacıbaşı Group and Şekerbank and with the contributions of TAV Airports Holding, the exhibition is on view January 13 - June 5, 2016, and features works by twenty artists and art collectives from different corners of the world proposing different perspectives on our perception of nature and new kinds of awareness vis-à-vis our relationship with the ecosystem. The press conference for the exhibition was attended by the Chair of the Board of Istanbul Modern, Oya Eczacıbaşı; the CEO of Eczacıbaşı Group, Dr. Erdal Karamercan; the General Manager of Şekerbank, Halit Yıldız; the exhibition curators, Çelenk Bafra and Paolo Colombo; the artists Alper Aydın, Bingyi, Jasmin Blasco, Elmas Deniz, Lars Jan and Annie Saunders, Maro Michalakakos, Camila Rocha, and Canan Tolon; and representatives of ikonoTV’s “Art Speaks Out” program.
Curated by Çelenk Bafra and Paolo Colombo, the exhibition features paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, photographs, and moving images by Roger Ackling, Bas Jan Ader, Alper Aydın, Bingyi, Jasmin Blasco and Pico Studio, Charles A. A. Dellschau, Elmas Deniz, Mark Dion, Hamish Fulton, Rodney Graham, ikonoTV “Art Speaks Out”, Lars Jan, Mario Merz, Maro Michalakakos, Joni Mitchell, Yoko Ono, Camila Rocha, Canan Tolon, Francesco Garnier Valletti, and Pae White.
Bafra and Colombo describe “TILL IT’S GONE” as “the manifestation of a yearning for nature, a livable world, and a desire for sustainable ecological balance”. The exhibition aims to reinforce humankind’s relationship with nature and the ecosystem and introduce fresh perspectives by looking at the concept of sustainability through the lens of art.
Ranging from diverse periods from the nineteenth century to the present, the works in the exhibition reflect their artists’ perception of nature and relationship with the concept of sustainability, offering interpretations of and inventive proposals for interactions between human beings and the ecosystem, and plants and animals in particular. Some of the works suggest the impossibility of solving major ecological issues, while others make proposals for safeguarding the ecosystem and the survival of humankind in harmony with it. A considerable number of the artists use nature itself as the medium for their production.
The exhibition takes its title from the refrain of the 1970 song “Big Yellow Taxi” by the Canadian singer-songwriter and artist Joni Mitchell:
You don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
The song emphasizes how we do not understand the value of nature “till it’s gone”; the exhibition likewise emphasizes nature’s indispensability for human life and what can be done before it is too late. We continue to hear different versions of this popular song, which, at the time it was released, became an environmental anthem of a generation whose awareness of the radical changes affecting the world was rapidly increasing. The curators believe that special attention should be given to artists who have brought the issue to a cultural and social turning point through the subtle interpretations they offer; therefore they dedicate “TILL IT’S GONE” to the generation of 1968 –which includes Joni Mitchell– who contributed to the development of environmental awareness, and to all artists who bring new perspectives to bear on environmental problems.
Oya Eczacıbaşı: “Nature and environmental issues are a priority for art institutions.” Welcoming the new year with “TILL IT’S GONE: An Exhibition on Nature and Sustainability”, Chair of the Board of Istanbul Modern Oya Eczacıbaşı stresses that nature and environmental issues have become a priority for art institutions: “Art institutions frequently conceive publications and projects on these topics. In 2011 Istanbul Modern presented “Paradise Lost”, featuring artists working with video and digital media to reflect nostalgia for a lost nature as well as the conflicts between nature and technology. The opening of our photography exhibition “Habitat”, which offers different perspectives on the constantly redefined concept of the spaces we live in, coincides with the preliminary program of “TILL IT’S GONE”. Furthermore, the last edition of the VitrA Contemporary Architecture Series, which focuses on housing architecture, is held in the pop-up exhibition area during the run of “TILL IT’S GONE”. We hope that our exhibition program elicit awareness through art and inspire audiences to think about environmental preservation and a sustainable future.” Çelenk Bafra: “We need artists to turn upside down our relationship with nature and the superficial and insincere views on its preservation.”
Istanbul Modern Curator Çelenk Bafra points out that no other species or natural force could do what we have done to our planet for the sake of progress and an ambition for power: “It seems that neither global political initiatives such as climate conferences nor personal decisions that embrace a return to nature can remedy the impasse into which we have driven ourselves. Consequently, now more than ever we need artists to reverse our relationship with nature and the superficial statements and insincere solutions on its preservation. I believe we can benefit art’s unsettling yet healing power.”
Paolo Colombo: “The urgency of a deep reflection on sustainability is evident.” Istanbul Modern’s International Art Advisor Paolo Colombo says: “The urgency of a deep reflection on sustainability and finding a new way to address our interaction with nature is, unfortunately, evident given the ubiquitous news of pollution in various megalopolises and other climate-related catastrophes around the world. In the exhibition, through their work, artists engage in a stimulating dialogue with us and one another about these issues. The theme is wide and layered. Our exhibition is but a drop in the ocean of a new awareness that is gradually expanding and that hopefully will become the behavioral norm in years to come.” Erdal Karamercan: “The exhibition is the point where social sustainability meets nature, which itself is a fundamental part of sustainability.”
The CEO of Eczacıbaşı Group, Erdal Karamercan, states that sustainability has always been a priority for the Eczacıbaşı Group: “As founding sponsor, we have been with Istanbul Modern for eleven years. Following the Climate Conference held in Paris in December 2015, Istanbul Modern welcomes 2016 with a contemporary art exhibition that honors nature and focuses on environmental awareness. The exhibition ‘TILL IT’S GONE’ is the point where social sustainability meets nature, which itself is a fundamental part of sustainability. The exhibition thus demonstrates, once more, the Eczacıbaşı Group’s approach to the issue. Within this context, it gives us great pleasure to present the exhibition ‘TILL IT’S GONE’, in which international artists who look at nature from the standpoint of sustainability display their common attitude toward the world we live in and toward ecological issues.” Halit Yıldız: “We support sustainable development at both the environmental and social levels.”
The General Manager of Şekerbank Halit Yıldız expressed that with the exhibition “TILL IT’S GONE” Istanbul Modern had produced a universal work and that they were delighted to support this exhibition. Emphasizing that the expansion of financial access, support of local production, and preservation of cultural heritage are important for achieving socially-inclusive growth, Halit Yıldız stated: “While developing our activities in line with our mindful approach to banking, not only do we support economic production, but artistic production as well. We took our best step toward this approach five years ago by making contemporary art available to the local public in our branches through our “Açıkekran” platform for new media arts, launched with the aim of bringing contemporary art to wider audiences.” Noting that throughout the course of the exhibition, workshops related to sustainability would be held within the scope of the project ‘The Color I Touch’, which they have been carrying out with Istanbul Modern for four years, Yıldız added: “We hope to continue our long-term work with Istanbul Modern and to contribute to artistic and cultural life through our collaborations in the future as well.”
Productions and collaborations specific to the exhibition
The preliminary program of “TILL IT’S GONE: An Exhibition on Nature and Sustainability” began on December 23 in collaboration with ArtCOP21, the global festival of cultural activity that ran alongside the World Climate Conference held in Paris. Within the scope of the preliminary program, the artist-activist Yoko Ono’s installation “Ex It” was opened to the public on December 23. Donated by the artist to Istanbul Modern, “Ex It” is, in Ono’s words, “life as a continuation”.
“Art Speaks Out” program conceived by ikonoTV, has been on view in the exhibition hall since the preliminary program.. Featuring a total of fifty-seven international participants, including the artists from Turkey Ahmet Albayrak, Kerem Ozan Bayraktar, Begüm Yamanlar and Müge Yıldız, the program includes video art, silent documentaries, and experimental films that address environmental issues such as global warming, urbanization, carbon emissions, the destruction of green spaces, and desertification.
An emerging follower of Land Art and Environmental Art, Alper Aydın from Turkey, was commissioned a work for “TILL IT’S GONE”. Calling to mind the relationship between nature and the construction of an individual’s identity, Aydın built a “Stone Library” using stones collected in different sites in Turkey in order to represent the collective memory of the innumerous communities of this geography.
For the exhibition, Elmas Deniz has made artistic interventions on a “drone” footage in the extraordinary and magnificent landscape of the Southern Caucasus Mountains. Questioning how images and experiences of “beautiful” and “untouched” nature are more and more in demand, the video titled “Human-less” and the sculpture of a hybrid drone-bird accompanying it explore the ways in which humans and human-made technology perceive, present, and exert power over nature.
Chosen as the key visual of the exhibition by the curators, Maro Michalakakos’s painting of a flamingo that has knotted its neck around its own leg is a metaphor for a world damaged by our own incompetence and mistakes. Michalakakos from Greece, has produced new watercolor paintings specifically for the exhibition in a style that echoes nineteenth-century scientific representations of birds.
Commissioned by the curators of the exhibition, Camila Rocha was inspired by the rich visuality in her native Brazil and the country’s philosophy of nature to design a garden for “pleasure”, using living, artificial, and produced plants. A site-specific installation in the lower-floor foyer, over the course of the exhibition “Sefatoryum” will accommodate both participatory programs and intimate encounters among people debating nature and sustainability.
Within the scope of “TILL IT’S GONE: An Exhibition on Nature and Sustainability”, the Istanbul Modern Education and Social Projects Department offers a program titled “Nature-Friendly Art Workshops” prepared specifically for the exhibition. The exhibition catalogue, as well as products selected for the exhibition, can be found at the Istanbul Modern Store, while publications on the artists in the exhibition are available at the Istanbul Modern Library. Conversations with artists, panels, and meetings with individuals and organizations working to raise environmental awareness are programmed throughout the course of the show.
A conversation moderated by exhibition curators Çelenk Bafra and Paolo Colombo will take place on Wednesday, January 13, at 18.30 at Istanbul Modern Cinema. Five of the artists who have come to Istanbul for the exhibition, Bingyi from China, Jasmin Blasco from the USA, Maro Michalakakos from Greece, Annie Saunders (choreographer and performer of Lars Jan’s “Holoscenes” project) from the USA, and Canan Tolon, who works between the USA and Turkey, will discuss the conceptual framework of “TILL IT’S GONE” through the lenses of their own artistic practices.
In conjunction with “TILL IT’S GONE: An Exhibition on Nature and Sustainability”, and with the contributions of Education Sponsor Garanti Bank, the Istanbul Modern Education and Social Projects Department has prepared a special workshop program titled “Nature-Friendly Art Workshops” for school groups. Berrak and Nezih Barut, Berrak and Kamil Coşkun, Cem Eren, Bergüzar Korel and Halit Ergenç, Esra Oflaz Güvenkaya, Selen Sarıoğlu, Türkan Özilhan Tacir, Aylin and Özcan Tahincioğlu, İrden and Hasan Ulusoy, Arzuhan and Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ, and Cem Yılmaz offer their contributions through an event held for the first time to support the education programs of the exhibition “TILL IT’S GONE”. These programs aim to help young people become acquainted with the concepts of nature and sustainability and produce artworks inspired by them. In the workshops, youths age 4 to 12 explore the relationships between nature and art through the works in the exhibition, examine nature a little more closely as something of which they are a part, and find the opportunity to propose ideas for a better future. Through this exhibition, Istanbul Modern offers three different activities to help children become acquainted with and interpret nature through art: “The Textures Through My Magnifying Glass”, “The Tree of My Dreams”, and “A Manual of Environmentalist Ideas”. Furthermore, on the occasion of the exhibition, Özden Çetin has donated a three-hundred-year-old olive tree to Istanbul Modern.
In conjunction with “TILL IT’S GONE: An Exhibition on Nature and Sustainability”, and with the contributions of Cinema Sponsor Türk Tuborg A.Ş., Istanbul Modern Cinema is preparing a program titled “Beauty and the Beast” consisting of films from the century-old history of cinema in which animals have leading roles. Opening a space for animals on its screen May 5-15, 2016, the program features films from different eras, genres, and cultures in which animals take part either as characters or as a theme. These films remind us of our instinct to take hold of and tame a world that is alien to us and to gaze at something that is unknown, however familiar it may be. It shows how humans can empathize with other living beings even as they take advantage of them, cause them damage, and even destroy them. Representations of animals, which often appear on the screen as the “natural” opposite of civilization, tap into our fears and desires, while at the same time projecting these feelings back to us.
In addition to the bilingual (Turkish-English) exhibition catalogue, the Istanbul Modern Store offers a selection of products—posters, postcards, magnets, notebooks, bookmarks, bags, cushions, and iPhone cases—featuring Maro Michalakakos’s watercolor painting that is the key visual of the exhibition. A selection of notebooks, puzzles, and designer’s objects inspired by the concepts of nature and sustainability are also available.
Besides artists’ books and catalogues of exhibition artists, publications addressing the relationship between art and nature are available at the Istanbul Modern Library. The Exhibition Catalogue
Published bilingually in Turkish and English, the exhibition catalogue includes photographs of the works in “TILL IT’S GONE” as well as three new articles. A text coauthored by the curators, Çelenk Bafra and Paolo Colombo, presents the conceptual framework of the exhibition. An article by Richard Heinberg, an educator and environmentalist known for his work at the Post Carbon Institute, seeks an answer to the question of “why sustainability?” And the art historian Dr. Roger Cook’s article “Good Air My Friend: Art for the Anthropocene” interprets art’s relationship with nature in the context of the works in the exhibition.
ARTISTS AND WORKS
Roger Ackling not only chose nature as his principal medium, but also became iconic for leaving no carbon footprint. From the late 1960s until his death, his only medium was sunlight, which he harnessed with a magnifying lens to burn lines onto pieces of found wood. A selection of eleven works on wood from various periods is exhibited on two walls in the exhibition.
Bas Jan Ader’s video “Broken Fall (Organic)” (1971) employs the force of gravity as a medium. Via a shot of the artist hanging from the branch of a tree until his strength fails and he falls into a muddy river, the work reveals how incompetent humans are against the powers of nature. The force of gravity pulling the artist into the unknown recalls how the ocean took Ader when, in real life, he attempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean by boat.
Alper Aydın was commissioned to make the “Stone Library” with stones he collected from different sites in Turkey. A young follower of Land art and environmental art, Aydın makes works in nature focusing on natural processes such as existence, transformation, and destruction. His photographs taken at the Black Sea document his interventions using the rocks. In this highly conceptual series, Aydın jots down the actual weight of the stones on their surfaces, and even turns one of them into a “sharp” self-portrait.
Bingyi works on catastrophes in relation to the concept of apocalypse, as reflected in the title of her monumental scroll painting in the exhibition. It is a sophisticated artistic distillation of her experiences in sites affected by the disastrous Sichuan earthquake and flood of 2008 in China. Landscapes and other scenes in Bingyi’s work juxtapose the violent destruction of catastrophe and the vitality and reclaiming force of nature.
Jasmin Blasco’s “First Human Born in Space” (2015) was produced with Pico Studio in Los Angeles. Eight episodes narrate the hypothetical life of the first human born and raised in space, and the training, desires, and hopes that precede his coming to Earth for the first time.
The fanciful drawings of Charles A. A. Dellschau, who in the early twentieth century envisioned a (literally) bright future of space colonization, narrate a story nurtured by explorations of his time. This self-taught artist’s colorful compositions are remarkable for their imagination and inventiveness—not only for his time, but still today.
Elmas Deniz’s artistic intervention on found drone footages of a breathtaking natural landscape in the South Caucasus aims to question how images and experiences of “magnificent” and “untouched” nature are increasingly in demand. The premiere of “Human-less” (2015) and the accompanying drone-bird hybrid sculpture in the exhibition propose an alternative interpretation of the politics of visuality and the representation of nature in our contemporary consumption-oriented society, with its ever more sophisticated technologies. Mark Dion’s approximately one hundred nineteenth- and early twentieth-century prints of polar bears allude to the extinction of animal species and global warming, with particular emphasis on the severe melting of the polar ice caps. Dion’s “White Out” (1992) presents the bears as if they are already of the past—curiosities for a natural history museum.
Hamish Fulton, who addresses nature and the flow of time in terms of process and experience, says his art acknowledges “the element of time, the time of my life—in relation to the sun, moon, and stars.” Documenting and experiencing nature through his hikes, the artist concentrates on collecting, preserving, categorizing, archiving, and remembering objects and materials related to nature in order to propose new interpretations of existing conditions.
The earliest works in the exhibition are by Francesco Garnier Valletti, a lesser-known nineteenth-century artisan from Turin, Italy, who documented all the fruits growing in the region of Piedmont for a local nursery. Most of the fruits that Garnier Valletti made drawings or models of are not grown any longer, and exist only as seeds in seed banks.
Hallucinatory photographs of trees by Rodney Graham suggest a comprehensive overhaul of documentation and representation. Oak trees and branches are suspended both in the space and in the viewer’s mind to remind us how the visual representation of nature is constantly produced and reproduced. The shift in perception caused by the inversion of the images results in the disorientation of our perception in relation to the location of the horizon and the ground, and even what the branches and roots of a tree look like.
Lars Jan’s “Holoscenes” (2014) is a three-channel video installation presenting various performers in an aquarium, engaged in everyday activities, viewed from above. The aquarium unexpectedly floods, drains, and floods again, facilitating a chain of events that are choreographed in the enclosed space of the tanks. Initiated in 2011, this ongoing live performance series addresses issues of climate change and natural disasters, and how they impact our daily lives.
Mario Merz, a major figure in the Arte Povera movement, is represented via a monumental spiral table with granny apples that explores the notion of nature as a powerful, generous, ever-expanding force that proliferates in rational succession, as in the case of Fibonacci sequence. In the twelfth century, the Leonardo Fibonacci studied patterns of growth in nature and solved a rabbit population growth problem with what has become known in the Western world as the Fibonacci sequence, in which each number is the sum of the two preceding ones.
The key visual of the exhibition, Maro Michalakakos’s untitled image of a flamingo that has knotted its neck around its leg—a metaphor for the destruction that we inflict upon ourselves—is executed in a style that echoes nineteenth-century scientific depictions of birds.
The singer, songwriter, and composer of the song “Big Yellow Taxi”, Joni Mitchell, is featured in the exhibition with her lyrics, artworks in the vinyl covers and a closing scene of the ballet “The Fiddle and the Drum” (2007), produced in collaboration with choreographer Jean Grand-Maître and the Alberta Ballet Company. Set on an empty stage decorated only by circular photographs by Mitchell, the ballet is divided into sections, each corresponding to one of her songs—some on the subject of war (a major cause of ecological disasters) and others on the subject of human relations. It concludes with the choreography for “Big Yellow Taxi”, a lyric from which is the exhibition’s title.
Yoko Ono’s installation “Ex It” (1997–2007), made of coffins and living olive trees, offers a lyrical setting that inspires not only thoughts of death but also optimism about what awaits us as human beings. Accompanied by vivid sounds of birds and the artist’s own voice, this piece from the museum’s collection demonstrates, in Ono’s words, “life as continuation”: although death exists, life always grows from it. Ono’s work will be on display until March 20, 2016.
Camila Rocha’s commissioned work transforms the foyer of the museum into a new environment open to the mutual experience of visitors. Inspired by the rich visuality and philosophy of nature of her home country of Brazil, she has created a unique Garden of Eden of sorts, featuring living, artificial, and produced plants, stools and plant stands, sounds, reflective surfaces, and even a swing. “Sefatoryum” presents a hospitable platform for self-expression, collective thinking, and conversations on nature and sustainability.
Canan Tolon has been making “cultivated landscapes” since the 1980s using a broad array of organic materials, including grass and rust. The exhibition presents two of her early works that have been “breathing” and evolving for decades. In her profound works, Tolon brings forth contradictory yet complementary aspects of nature, time, and life, such as persistence and extinction, irreversibility and transformation, decomposition and growth.
For “TILL IT’S GONE”, Pae White has adapted her neon installation “C≈K¥◊CH∆RMS‡” (2014) as a site-specific work in a tunnel-like space that serves as a channel to the exhibition hall. A sort of light therapy to offset seasonal affective disorder, the light of the different neons simulates the effects of daylight, while the playful forms create a “light room” that audiences can enjoy.
The curators have also invited a video program conceived by ikonoTV on the occasion of 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21). “Art Speaks Out” is composed of five curated sections of fifty-seven international artists’ video works, which express different degrees of urgency for environmental solutions and correspondingly varied emotions such as anxiety, contemplation, curiosity, fear, and hope. Works by the following artists are included in the selection curated by Vanina Saracino: Gianluca Abbate, Ahmet Albayrak, Kerem Ozan Bayraktar, Daniel Beerstecher, Sandra Boeschenstein, Eelco Brand, Carlos Casas, Beth Derbyshire & Ulrike Haage, AK Dolven, Olafur Eliasson, Kota Ezawa, Simon Faithfull, Fisher&Rice, Isadora Willson Gazmuri, Catherine Gfeller, Anna Lena Grau, Joe Hamilton, Isabelle Hayeur, Markus Hoffmann, Olaf Holzapfel, Oto Hudec, Yoshiyuki Katayama, Wobbe F. Koning, Antti Laitinen, William Lamson, Clare Langan, Janet Laurence, Arjen de Leeuw, Tamara Lorenz, Gwen MacGregor, Anna Macleod, Jeffrey Peakall, Romy Pocztaruk, Thomas Porett, Arya Sukapura Putra, Anxiong Qiu, Jordan L. Rodgers, Orit Raff, Enrique Ramirez, Johanna Reich, Gonzaga Gómez-Cortázar Romero and David Cass, Nicolás Rupcich, Su Rynard, Linda Sanchez, Simone & Max, Wang Sishun, Xue Song, Michele Spanghero, Joon Sung, Con.Tatto, Myriam Thyes, Ubermorgen, Katy Unger, Lisa Weber, Begüm Yamanlar, Müge Yıldız, Shingo Yoshida, Ayako Yoshimura.