on site art projects

The Roving Eye: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia

A space for art in Istanbul – this is how ARTER can be described in the shortest way possible. Let us look into more detail at this Istanbul based art space in consideration of its site, its funding and in particular of the current exhibition The Roving Eye.

ARTER was opened in 2010 with the aim of offering an infrastructure for the production and exhibition of contemporary art. Thus ARTER not only wants to be a space for displaying artistic work, the ambition to support artists financially in producing their works is not less important. ARTER is displaying international art – this will show the following discussion of the exhibition of Southeast Asian art – but there is a strong concentration on local Turkish artists as well. The last exhibition, for example, engaged itself with the Grande Dame of Turkish art, Füsun Onur, before that, amongst others, Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Fatma Bucak, Sarkis, Volkan Aslan or Kutluğ Ataman were shown.


The exhibition rooms are situated in a building constructed in the 1910s; it was extensively restored and provided with white cube rooms. The exhibition space is spread over four floors, counts 864 m2 and is located on Istiklal Caddesi, which is the biggest street in Istanbul for shopping and strolling and ensures to be – in terms of contemporary art – in the middle of the most active quarter of the city – Beyoğlu.

There is no entrance fee; accordingly ARTER is a non-profit organisation. However, it is not financed by public funding, but by a private commercial sponsor. A condition that is paradigmatic to Istanbul, because there is no public funding provided for supporting contemporary art. Let me shortly point out this financing model that is typical for Istanbul: For a long time, there was no museum or space for modern or contemporary art. Then, starting in 1987, the Istanbul Biennial founded by the also non-profit and non-governmental Istanbul Foundation of Culture and Arts has become a place for national as well as international art in theory and in practice. The first major museum of modern and contemporary art in the Turkish metropolis opened in 2004 is called Istanbul Modern and financed by a number of private sponsors. Then, actually within the last ten years, Istanbul gained several privately financed institutions and initiatives in the field of contemporary art (for example, SALT, Depo, Pera Müzesi, Apartment Projects, SAHA, Collectorspace, 5533, The Moving Museum Istanbul). ARTER itself is sponsored by the Vehbi Koç Foundation, a big Turkish non-governmental charity organization in the fields of education, healthcare and culture. The head of ARTER is a former director of the Istanbul Biennial and curator Emre Baykal.

ARTER’s exhibitions are the outcomes of intensive research; thus, the production of The Roving Eye, for example, took two years. The achievements of the scientific research are manifested in the catalogues accompanying each exhibition. In The Roving Eye, 48 works from 36 Southeast Asian artists from Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia are on display. However, the curator Iola Lenzi did not aim to show the artists under consideration of their nationality; she rather wants to point out main features and important approaches of the art of a region.

One of the characteristics of Southeast Asian art can be described as visitor’s participation as well with Nicolas Bourriaud´s term of relational art, based on human interactions and social aspects ratherthan on “the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space”. Bourriaud´s concept came to my mind when I explored ‚History Class Part 2’ by Sutee Kunavichayanont. The first part of this work was situated in a public space, namely in the front of Bangkok´s Democracy Monument, where the artist arranged traditional classroom desks. Pictures and writings which are connected with the political history of Thailand and which are actually erased from history books are engraved in the wooden desks. People should produce a rubbing of the engraved pictures in order to bring tabooed history back to mind in a figurative sense. In the original context of the street, the ‚history class’ brought back the knowledge of Thailand’s history to people out on the street. The approached audience changed by showing part two of this work in an art institution in Turkey. Nevertheless, for me as a visitor, it was an exceptional feeling to sit down at the desk drawing as so many other visitors did at the same time. Not only me, but all participators, fell in a deep concentration, so that I forgot that I was acting in an art space. Other features of Southeast Asian art are highly social, political and historical topics. Josephine Turalla’s work ‚Scandals’ is one example for the participative artworks shown at ARTER. The audience not only sees bizarrely beautiful shoes made out of rounds of guns, but they are also invited to wear them and to contemplate about the relation of beauty and force.

Another interesting work is the three channel video installation ‚Plurification’ by FX Harsono; a piece commissioned by ARTER especially for this exhibition. In a documentary style, it is showing three examples of collective Indonesian life (from Muslim prayer, industrial assembly-line work to political demonstrations) and addresses the issue about the rising religious fundamental tendency in a secular state. Interestingly, Turkey faces a similar challenge. Thus, the exhibition encourages the audience to think about parallels between Indonesia and Turkey.
Beside these examples, there are 33 other works in different media from ceramics, photography and drawings to video works, performances and installations to explore. The exhibition is open until January, 4th 2015.