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MARGHERITA MOSCARDINI. ISTANBUL CITY HILLS

Interviewed by Daniela Bigi

TURNER PRIZE-Laure Prouvost, Wantee, 2013

Istanbul City Hills. On the Natural History of Dispersion and States of Aggregation, partial view of the intervention, 2013.

DB: On telling about your residency in Istanbul, thought by AlbumArte and strongly supported by the Ambassador of Italy in Turkey, it’s very important for you to underline two aspects which I consider particularly meaningful to understand (or question, why not?) some peculiarities of the contemporary situation of art and of its inner workings. You highlight the presence of a client who commissioned your work – an expression almost in disuse nowadays and that instead it is pivotal for you to employ, I guess for its historical/semantic value – and you focus the attention on the difference between a plan and an exhibition project. This is very interesting, indeed…
MM: I like the expression client demand, it gives me boundaries and conditions that don’t have simply to do with the person or the institution inviting me to think about a work, but involve the whole starting context. Therefore, mentioning the client demand means to me telling the preconditions, it’s a sort of introduction: a tool, which I would define as technical. In this specific case, the client (AlbumArte, Rome) required me to reside at Palazzo Venezia, residence in Istanbul of the Embassy of Italy in Turkey and to showcase an exhibition at the Italian Institute of Culture. Prior to being places (full  of history, functions, furnishings and activities) they are diplomatic agencies that represent a country within another country. As a guest, this aspect totally influenced how I experienced the city and then tried to narrate it.
You’re also asking me about the difference I make between producing an exhibition and a project, well, it’s a good, hard question. I think that the publication that comes with it can answer for me: the book portrays the project, a dossier documents the exhibition. They were conceived to be one. The book has 144 pages, whereas the dossier 16: one sixteenth escaped from binding.
DB: following a line of research that you have been pursuing for a long time, you confronted with the transformation of the Turkish capital city, observing times, faces, reasons, managements, and also organization, critical situations... You chose the dimensions of waste, of debris, as evident traces of change as the matter of your work as well as the core of research. What happened?
 MM: it occured that on arriving in Istanbul this last March, it doesn’t take me long to see how the city has changed from when I visited in 2010, back then it was the European Capital of Culture and it seemed as if it were posing still in the international spotlight. Now it moves fast: construction sites active 24/7, empty buildings waiting to be taken down, others already demolished and new ones being built downtown as well as in the suburbs. An extensive research (carried out by Eugenio Crifò), and the availability of valuable colleagues, architects and local consultants, help me better understand the dynamics and the similar kind of the massive interventions to which the whole city has been subjected, the logics of urban planning and the procedures for their release and public sharing. I’m aware I can’t work alone, but mostly I would never let my work, as a guest of a country which is not mine (and also with such a fragile equilibrium), judge a situation that I can’t get to know in its deep contradictions. So I start searching for the ways in which this work can express the voices of those I meet and that quickly become valuable participants. For the same reasons I choose to use waste material, that Istanbul continuously produces: I can introduce them and let them do the talk. Guessing that the engine of such a rapid transformation could work side by side to an equally efficient disposal system of the debris coming from construction sites, I wonder about their future: if and how waste  is collected, transformed and re-used.
I reckon that they don’t have their own life: they are absorbed by the municipal waste disposal system. It is based on the coexistence of two structures, an informal one managed by individuals and a formal one pertaining to the municipality.  On observing the first one, I understand that it involves the re-use and transformation of all solid materials except for glass. I want to know more about it, trying to follow the route of the glass fragments of downtown Istanbul. In the mean time, two things happen simultaneously: the city moods involve Gezi Park and we happen to find out about Özen Cam, the largest facility collecting, storing and fragmenting glass waste in Istanbul. We visit it several times and peculiar analogies between the transformation processes of urban, natural and social kind arise spontaneously. The project will develop along these three lines of research.

TURNER PRIZE-Laure Prouvost, Wantee, 2013

Istanbul City Hills. On the Natural History of Dispersion and States of Aggregation, veduta parziale dell'intervento, 2013.

DB: now I come to understand that your work found a formal synthesis only at a certain point of its path, after a complex experience... Can you outline for me further details of that situation and other steps of your thoughtful analysis?
MM: the term urban regeneration has been used to describe the current situation of Istanbul, and I can see that: the government, quick and efficient, orders to evacuate and demolish entire districts without diffusing or discussing any urban planning.  This happens in Sulukule, in Tarlabasi and in all those city areas for which there is a plan to uproot communities that have been settled there for generations, who have woven relations, business, lives. The eviction is meant to demolish the old and build the new, which is then offered at a triple price, in order to ensure that the former inhabitants won’t be able to afford it and then will move away from the center. So, thousands of people are forced to move to those kindly called villages, 50-60 km out of town, all identical, signed by TOKI. It’s a government agency rather careful, it seems, to serve specific interests of private individuals. It is in charge of most of the new generation construction work.
This is, in a nut shell, the local version of gentrification. I simply think that only a natural phenomenon like an earthquake has the right to regenerate the urban layer of a metropolis. Relief formation and erosion are processes by which the surface of our planet is renewed; this incessant relief formation/destruction ensures a favourable habitat for life, and that earthquakes are the price we pay for this vitality. Erosion residues leach into depressions adapting to the existing morphology. In this way they generate new reliefs and continuously  reconfigure the landscape, which consequently eludes any representation.  Just like erosion is not a loss or consumption but an energy transfer, a transformation necessary for life, revolutions express the desire for social regeneration. Mass aggregation and dispersion, reacting to the moods of a city, to the forces it challenges and to the constructions it inhabits. Seen from above, the crowd is an organism that takes shape around the built environment: it becomes the “postitive” of the negative mold that the urban voids are, and if an indivdual stands aside or becomes one with the body of the organism, that doesn’t change its essential nature of being a device that, on filling up empty spaces, incessantly measures, shows and reconfigures architecture. It becomes architetture itself.
DB: so how did you decide to proceed?  You thought of encapsulating into a single work this tangle of tensions, which are at once regenerating and degenerative.
MM: On following the itinerary of glass fragments from downtown Istanbul, we learned about Özen Cam, a company that processes 70% of the national glass waste and that in its Kayaşehir facility, about 50 km out of the city, collects and crushes glass waste coming from all Istanbul municipalities. The fragments are processed as if they were raw, just excavated material: first they are piled up in heaps and progressively selected and crushed according to their further use; then the fragments are transported on conveyor belts and accumulated into other heaps of regenerated material, ready to be re-melted and re-used (for construction work as well). Basically it is a plant that produces mountains where a process of a natural order is shown through mechanics.
And, to come full circle, the plant lies at the foot of a new generation TOKI settlement. In the meanwhile, the protests become a complex and extraordinary organism, that so much violence is trying to repress.  Its contents coincide with the deep-seated reasons of my projects, the materials it generates add up to demolition debris.
   DB: this climax is fascinating. And it is hard to find such a personal urge within the mechanism of the residency, which risks falling down under the weight of standardization of aims and approaches.  So, when and how do you finally get to Istanbul City Hills. On the Natural History of Dispersion and States of Aggregation (curated by Maria Rosa Sossai)?
MM: it is hard to render the complexity of what the project had to go through for months, it’s complicated to do it in special contexts. Which are positive for the maximum level of tension they carry in every word, but that are also hostile  when there are words that shouldn’t be spoken.   I work on several elements that could find a place, and maybe used as furniture, both in the rooms of the Institute and of the Embassy.  In the hall of the Institute I assemble a carpet on the floor: 3000 kilos of glass debris. I use the whole walkable area, leaving an open passage so that the two adjacent rooms are still connected.

TURNER PRIZE-Laure Prouvost, Wantee, 2013

Istanbul City Hills. On the Natural History of Dispersion and States of Aggregation, 2013, still da video.

I block off the main entrance on its threshold with a modelled glass pane, that has a holding function and reports a vertical section of Istanbul area (thinking of the walkable area as downtown). The visitor can get in from the kitchens and walk through the service areas, which overlook the work at various points. The French window overlooking the Golden Horn is blocked off, but still lets the natural light come in. It’s the only but necessary condition to see the work. An Eviction Map of Istanbul shows the demolished areas, the ones being taken down and the ones that are scheduled next, a short video-documentary describes the activities of Özen Cam plant. It is projected onto a wall as a note. While at the Embassy a pane was specifically designed to be superimposed to a special window with a view on the Bosphorus. Piano nobile, Light Blue living room. It’s an Italian experiment manufactured by Vetroricerca in Bolzano, they received 30 kilos of glass fragments from the demolitions in Istanbul with the request to melt them into a single pane.   From there the city can be seen through the residues of its own transformation. Lastly, the publication: it includes an illustrated, choral conversation where the stories of all those who took part in the project intertwine on various (technical, scientific, academic, informal) registers.
(Translated by Nadia Vitari)

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