When the coronavirus pandemic hit the art world, galleries, museums and art institutions were forced to recognize the importance of the online world, making many of their collections and exhibits available online. Turkey’s foremost museum of modern and contemporary art, the Istanbul Modern, has been particularly pioneering in its shift to the digital across this period.
The museum began by offering virtual tours of a number of previous exhibitions, such as “Artists in Their Time” and “Lütfi Özkök: Portraits.” Later, artists whose works were included in the museum's “In Pursuit of the Present” collection were invited to talk about how they were spending their time during this period of self-isolation. A number of thought-provoking videos were made, which shined a light on their various lifestyles and artistic practices to inspire art enthusiasts and encourage them to keep art at the center of their lives despite a hiatus in activities and events.
On top of this, the museum also invited viewers to enjoy the Artists’ Film International, a program featuring videos, animations and short films by artists from around the world. The theme of each work centered around the concept of language, with eight artists invited to attend and showcase their work.
More recently, the museum has enticed online visitors with a new photography exhibition. Forty-three artists of all ages have come together to showcase their moments captured of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Photography in Days of Pandemic” can be seen on the museum’s website from June 1 to Nov. 15.
The artists were invited by the Istanbul Modern’s Photography Department and Advisory Board to ponder the question of “what can one do with photography” when confined to the home.
Demet Yıldız, director of the Istanbul Modern’s Photography Department, said that while the whole world was going through a strange period in which movement and interactions were heavily restricted, Photography Advisory Board members sought to “try to understand and make sense of existence in a time that is not easy to describe – uncertain and ill-defined. For some, this is a time for new discoveries, while for others it may have led to some introspection of previous practices, imbuing them with new meaning. We believe that the new meanings we will discover in response to what we feel and what we see will be an important and meaningful cultural legacy for future generations,” she added.
The artists participating in the exhibition, which reminds us of the image's strong and unwavering connection to the future beyond while witnessing the present, include Yasin Akgül, Merih Akoğul, Burcu Aksoy, Emin Altan, Coşkun Aral, Ani Çelik Arevyan, Barbara & Zafer Baran, Kerem Ozan Bayraktar, Dilan Bozyel, Orhan Cem Çetin, Halûk Çobanoğlu, Yusuf Darıyerli, Burak Dikilitaş, Sinem Dişli, Saygun Dura, Murat Durusoy, Eser Epözdemir, Didem Erbaş, Canan Erbil, Murat Germen, Meltem Işık, Ali Kabaş, Elif Kahveci, Ege Kanar, Yonca Karakaş, İzzet Keribar, Yağmur Kızılok, Neslihan Koyuncu, Sıtkı Kösemen, Aslı Narin, Ömer Orhun, Emin Özmen, Ahmet Polat, Jochen Proehl, Ozan Sağdıç, Ahmet Sel, Yusuf Sevinçli, Deniz Ezgi Sürek, Tahir Ün, Emre Ünal, Lale Tara, Begüm Yamanlar and Pınar Yolaçan. The online exhibition also includes texts describing the artists' work in the days of the pandemic.
Explanation of testaments
Speaking on his own contribution, artist Emin Özmen says: “From my window, I always see a group of men who are always sitting on the ground floor of an abandoned building, chatting every day, rain or shine. While walking past them on the way home, one man sitting in the middle with a piece of cloth he uses instead of a mask and prayer beads, suddenly caught my attention. After a brief moment of hesitation, I stepped in to take a snap of him.”
Like Özmen, fellow artist Yusuf Sevinçli's photo contribution also tells a story: “As usual, while sitting calmly in my chair in the living room, I took a picture of the crows that catch my eye outside with the help of my phone and some binoculars. This is not so much a comment on the outbreak, but a tiny observation that time is still ebbing and flowing despite the sense of everything coming to a halt.”
Explaining what lay behind her photo of a rose canvas in a jungle, Ani Çelik Arevyan said: “Generally, man has not left a good impact on nature; he has transformed it for himself, disrupting the natural order. While nature inspires us and provides for the infinite possibility of creation, we fail to value it enough. Yet in these photographs, we acknowledge the power and greatness of nature and look at the traces of a painter who has perhaps just moved away from his canvas.”
For her “Safe Zone” piece, Canan Erbil states: “The more the phrase ‘stay home’ has been repeated over the month, the more it has come to lose its original meaning in my mind and placed itself in new contexts. Where does the inside end and the outside start? Who or what determines this boundary? This state of staying inside that creates its own enclosed basin creates a claustrophobic space that keeps on expanding by folding inward and stretching the present tense – carrying what Bergson has identified as the ‘homogeneous time,’ or time that can be measured in space.” With this work, the artist aims to track down the places that create their own refugees and to obtain a real perception of time that she can obtain with her own intuition.