Perşembe Pazarı Projects Statement

Perşembe Pazarı Projects
Inspiration and Disappointment

The title of this exhibition is Perşembe Pazarı Projects—plural—because the entire series was made up of four years of works, leading up to this culminating exhibition. We chose this topic for our final exhibition for good reason. The Istanbul art world’s neglect of independent art spaces has been disappointing, however, it has been Perşembe Pazarı and its people that have ultimately given us the greatest rewards throughout the process of running Caravansarai. 

Perşembe Pazarı has been a hardware-supplying neighborhood for the past 30 odd years. Before that, it was the glamorous center of banking life. Before that it was a port whose commerce catered to sailors (chandlers, prostitution, hospitals) and trade (merchants, caravanserais, markets). From a historical perspective, it would appear that this area has not followed a linear path of upward development—going from merchant class to working class, to low class, to high class and back to working again. With the renewed interest of the cultural and tourist trade in Karaköy (which includes Perşembe Pazarı) it is now being developed in an upward arc towards moneyed gentrification.

Wild fluctuations in class throughout the history of this area are still reflected in Istanbul’s current fixation on the idea of public space.  After the events and protests of June 2013, it is suddenly extremely trendy in Istanbul to question the politics of space in relation to freedom of expression. But this is not a new concern of ours. Since we (foreign artists) opened our space in Perşembe Pazarı in 2010, we have been simultaneously victims as well as perpetuators of the politics of space and class.  

The people working the tiny and twisted streets of Perşembe Pazarı are unconcerned with the notions of contemporary art and culture.  And conversely, Istanbul’s cultural elite consider our neighborhood at its very best low-brow, and at its worst downright sleazy. The discord between the “high-class” contemporary culture that happens within the walls of Caravansarai and the “low-class” commercial aspect taking place on the streets outside is striking. With this exhibition we accentuate this clash by turning our private world to the outside and integrating the public space within. 

As foreign artists who have been living and working in Perşembe Pazarı, we are a curiosity and a reminder that this neighborhood is heading for another change. We consider gentrification a non-topic:  It is simply the nature of a city to transform over time. Our main concern is to capture a moment in the history of a place our collective has called “home” for the past four years. 

The neighborhood and our activities in it is what kept us motivated throughout the past four years. A handful of local artists and friends, along with our foreign artists-in-residence understood what we were doing and liked it. Even many of our hardware-selling neighbors developed an understanding of us and our projects over time.

Disillusionment came when we realized that we were suffering from a lack of support. In Turkey, we now understand, there is a certain ingrained sense of financial, social, and professional support that is necessary to pull things off. As foreigners who just dropped from the sky into Istanbul we do not have with those sorts of connections.

It has always just the two of us doing everything. The misconception is that we were funded and didn’t need any help. Actually we found it exhausting to have to do everything alone, as we were not able to afford to pay people (from cleaning the building, to hanging shows, to designing things, organizing, translating, documenting, etc.) Our friends mistakenly thought we actually enjoyed working in this manner!

This show is an homage to the one connection we did establish: the connection with the neighborhood of Perşembe Pazarı and the inspiration it provided us. 

© Julie Upmeyer, Anne Weshinskey 2016