Art’s Response On Climate Emergency & Sustain...

Art’s Response On Climate Emergency & Sustainability Issues: Sinem Çelik in conversation with Art Curator Begüm Alkoçlar

seventyfour conversations begum alkoclar

Rapid production hence the rapid consumption as an acquired habit, while destroying natural resources on the planet, causes the fundamental problems of the earth: climate change and global warming. A group of people trying to act with the awareness of this exploitation, develop concepts and events -through whatever the medium may be- towards renewable resource capacities. Those who are aware of the severity of this situation are the ones taking responsibility for their actions.

Şifa Girinci, Growth – Dekota, Neon installation, 2015 (private collection)

1. Climate emergency and sustainability issues are two of the most essential concerns recently. How is the art worlds response to these?

Climate change is one of the main problems that creative sectors have been focusing on in recent years. Hence, the question of sustainability has also been incorporated into art theory, production techniques, and approaches. First, if I need to talk about climate change; the increasing numbers of wildfires, the decline of the water supplies – drought, and consequently the loss of biodiversity and decreased agricultural productivity point to even more uncertain climate standards in the future. Climate change demands a course of action by the masses. The reason behind art’s activist attitude is the necessity to implement unprecedented changes in all areas of society in a speedy manner. Therefore, the art scene has been exhibiting a direct and harsh attitude towards ecological problems in recent years. As for the sustainability topic -the reason I avoid referring to this as an ‘issue’ is we are starting to realize that in these times of pandemic, we survive with art (a rapid increase of ratings on visual arts, book sales, music streaming platforms and creation of online museum collections and contemporary exhibits) and if this awareness that started to sprout, what we need to worry about is not “sustainability” in art but art’s sustainability.

At this point, another question emerges, “What can we do for the issue of art’s sustainability as an individual and as a society?”

2. I believe art is a vital tool for raising awareness and influencing people to become active citizens. The good thing is that we see more and more activist art performances; can you give us some recent Works around this?

While climate change and the decline of natural resources forcing artists to contemplate sustainability notion, artworks that address this concept are not only in performance art but in lots of different media. If we are to give an example in contemporary Turkish artists; Hale Tenger, Deniz Aktaş, Özlem Altın, Ozan Atalan, Buğra Erol, Şifa Girinci, Y. Bahadır Yıldız, Eymen Aktel, Serkan Taycan, Ayşe Ceren Sarı, Serkan Kaptan, Emin Mete Erdoğan, Elmas Deniz, Güneş Terkol, Güçlü Öztekin, Müge Yılmaz, focus their practice on criticism of these vital issues, expanding their sphere of influence, therefore raising awareness. 

The artist collective birbuçuk (“one-and-a-half” in English) aims to re-interpret and re-discuss the information, knowledge, and suggestions revealed through scientific and socio-political works around ecology. 

Another example is TAPA (Transformative Art Project for Activists), which is a formation engaged in art production and activism about social, political, and ecological problems.  

GÜNEŞ TERKOL and GÜÇLÜ ÖZTEKİN (16th Istanbul Biennial)

Güneş Terkol and Güçlü Öztekin created a venue for the 16th Istanbul Biennale, where artists and audiences can come together, while they use recycled materials in their practices and the biennial venue; besides the curtains, lamps, flags, masks, and costumes they use are not just the part of the work but the whole venue itself. 

GÜNEŞ TERKOL and GÜÇLÜ ÖZTEKİN (16th Istanbul Biennial)

Buğra Erol is an activist artist, who has been using recycled materials in his art for the last decade. Besides the protests the artist does on the issue, he also captures the essence with his approach, creating art by upcycling an old technology product “slide films.” He turns a photograph that documents the reality of life into a protest element in the cyclicity of time and reality (this cyclicity exists as a phenomenon that coincides exactly with the concept of sustainability).

Şifa Girinci, turns the donnée, the first step of data art into her visual language. With “The Myth of Growth”, the artist puts ecological problems against information processed with statistics and research reports. I think she is in search of an “arcadia”. 

Şifa Girinci, ‘The Myth of the Growth: Text’, 2015

“Between Two Seas”, Serkan Taycan’s project (exhibited in 13th Istanbul Biennial) is a strong example. In the project, the artist sets a hiking route between the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea, passing through lignite pits to the new airport area and the third bridge and various city farms, showing the attendees the ecological destruction of İstanbul. There are plenty of artists I could not mention that are searching their paths through seeing, feeling, and thinking.

Besides, we executed an exhibition in Odeabank O’art Gallery concurrently with the 16th Istanbul Biennale named “Altı Üstü”, which criticized the humane way of comprehending issues caused by ecological problems. Alper Bıçaklıoğlu, Atilla Galip Pınar, Aylin Zaptçıoğlu, Bora Aşık, Tan Taşpolatoğlu, Tarık Töre, and Y. Bahadır Yıldız; developed a critical perspective towards individuals struggling with precariousness, uncertainty, and future anxiety to become unaware of the ecological crisis surrounding them. With this exhibition that I curated, I wanted to emphasize that people tend to overlook major issues that like ecological problems, which have a greater impact in the medium and long term. 

3. Whats happening to our planet and discussions around it are so depressive and upsetting; makes people feel hopeless. We all need more positivism; reach platforms or people, showing us new possibilities. Dont you think so?

It certainly is! After all, art is an element that provides this. Whether we are aware or not, art’s affirmative effect is fundamentally an instinct (at present) that leads a person to what is inherent. I believe that the order created by art has the power to defeat the authoritarianism of industrialization. As a result, environmental consciousness becoming the subject of art is going to globalize the culture and it is going to make “living” possible.

4. I ask this question to different people from various disciplines; curious to get your insights: how is the art community’s definition for WASTE?

Waste being a material of artistic production or an object of art with its mere existence, therefore its definition turns out to be a new method of expression and thinking. The influence of waste material on the possibilities of artistic expression has evolved into an autonomous language. The original aesthetic that waste conceived could not be so contrasting with one of its lexical meanings “useless”.

In 1914, when World War I began, George Braque and Pablo Picasso turned waste objects (newspapers, straws, linoleums, wallpapers, etc.) into forms of expression on the surface of paintings. Thus, waste replaced paint. Soon after, Marcel Duchamp came up with the concept of ready-made for the first time. The inverted urinal he named “Fountain” signed with the nickname R. Mutt, is quite unusual and has a protesting attitude. This emergent avant-garde attitude comes true with the purging of an industrial object from its truth that it is an object of use. The eliminated functional quality of the object finds its artistic context in the intellectuality. Duchamp’s keen attitude continues with the Dada movement (1916) as a rebellion against war, social and economic order, and the hypocrisy of all existing orders. These movements that change the direction of art fundamentally open the discussion of the process of aesthetics, meaning, function, originality, uniqueness, and thinking in art.

5. What are the common methods/tools being used in sustainable art?

In the act of creation, the artist’s direction of the creative process and the manifestation of the artwork shows a lot of variation. Pluralism of contemporary art – the point where everything is acceptable in art, material, technique use of shapes are tools that reveal the artist’s form of expression. The borders between disciplines are becoming ambiguous quickly. Methods and mediums are getting mixed and exhibited in an intricate structure in the physicality of the artworks. We often see ready-made and found objects becoming the material of art production. As I mentioned earlier, it is much more difficult to capture a common attitude in processing the material. Materials and techniques are both a medium. Even if the materials and techniques are the same, it’s the artist’s intellectuality that unveils a work. This way, we can think more about what is fundamental in art, can’t we?

Begüm Güney Alkoçlar (b. 1987, in Istanbul) is an art writer and independent curator as well as the co-founder and art director at Standart Istanbul. Upon graduating from Kadir Has University, Department of Graphic Design in 2014, she carried out her studies at Yeditepe University, focusing on Art Management. Begüm Güney Alkoçlar works as program director and curator at Odeabank O’art Gallery and contributes to the Mardin Biennial.

Serkan Taycan All rights reserved Versus Art Project.
All images are courtesy of artists stated above.

Sinem Çelik works as sustainability consultant and lecturer at BluProjects, which is a value-driven platform aiming to design solutions to inspire a better future. Recognising sustainability as a lifestyle and mindset, she also experiences a mindful living with her own ceramic brand BluCeramics.