Istanbul's year-long European Capital of Culture program kicked off in January, on what we recall as a horribly cold and rainy night particularly ill-suited for city-wide simultaneous fireworks shows. These turned out to be not simultaneous at all in the sense they didn't happen at the same time. The set over the Halıç sort of sputtered out lamely in the downpour. Everyone took this as a bad omen. "O! Istanbul isn't ready to be a European Capital of Culture," said all the haters, because everyone knows how prophetic fireworks shows can be.
Seven months on, there are a 1000 things going on every single day in nearly every neighborhood in a very simultaneous way. We have been to a minuscule proportion of the events and we have been impressed.
Here is a sampling of things we have seen lately. Some have been quite good, others a little head-scratching. We have not yet been out to the Sabancı to see the Legendary Istanbul exhibit but we will this week. This is one of our favorite museums in the world and we have very high expectations.
Body World: This is some fucked up shit. If you have an extra 25 TL in your pocket, check it out at the Antrepo #3 next to the Modern. It's worth it. Some German (GO FIGURE) "plastinated" donated corpses, resulting in an exhibition of actual human bodies and their components flayed and cross sectioned and sliced so it's possible to look at the muscles and nerves and other weird parts of your body you don't spend a lot of time thinking about exactly as they are in alive, non-plastinated bodies. Our takeaway was that for being so very small, one's ovaries certainly cause a lot of problems.
Free concerts: The ECC has presented a lot of good Balkan music shows. We saw the band Kolektif Istanbul play on Galata Kulesi Square, which was not unpleasant. We also watched the Balkan/Macedonian DJ Kiril perform on Taksim Square. This was notable not for the music, which wasn't particularly memorable, but for the fantastic dance performance by some young Turkish dudes in the audience. Turkish men often dance with each other in an incredibly unself-consciously homoerotic way that would be jaw dropping if you didn't know it's not really what it looks like but it is also confusing because, at the same time, it still sort of is exactly what it looks like.
Unable to get any women in the audience to dance with them, these two guys bumped and grinded (ground?) with each other and writhed around on the pavement, miming all kinds of sex acts. One of them targeted an older guy with a potbelly who was probably just passing through Taksim Square and looked exactly like your corner Bakkalcı (guy who runs a small neighborhood shop), for some extra pelvic attention. Anywhere else the kid might have gotten punched in the face but potbellied Bakkalcı guy started grinding and pumping right back at him. We were rolling. We don't think this sort of thing happens very often in other European Capitals of Culture.
Kariakaturka 2010: More than 100 editorial cartoons from Switzerland, Germany and Holland presenting views of Turkey. All are translated into English and Turkish. It's quite excellent, mostly because the Turkey presented in the cartoons is unrecognizable to us, but we all know how the Swiss, Germans and Dutch view Turks. It's open through August 6th at the Tütün Deposu in Tophane. And, if you haven't wandered around Tophane in a while, you should because there are a ton of new galleries opening. There's even talk about a new Art Walk, connecting the Pera Museum with the Modern. This idea is süper! We support it.
The historic tram towing a stage up and down Istiklal on which a Turkish blues band played Mustang Sally. This added very little in the way of awesome to the general cacophony of Istiklal on a Friday night.
Sanat Limanı (Art Port) Exhibition: This is held in another one of the old customs buildings (Antrepo #5) next to the Modern. Do you like Contemporary Art? Is the Istanbul Biennial your bag? We don't and it isn't so we might have differences of opinion on this. We're tired of installation pieces that we don't understand created by central Europeans protesting globalization and that's pretty much what's on display at Art Port.
Our first reaction upon entering was "What is that smell?" It turned out to be 10-12 slabs of rotting cheese covered with band-aids and cotton balls placed upon pedestals. Our objection to this is not so much that it offended our sense of smell but because it was so completely derivative of the installation we saw at the Biennial of a slice of white bread sitting on a pedestal. Maybe you think bandaged cheese sitting on pedestals articulates a lot about corporate influence over art and culture but we think after the piece of bread spoke, there was really nothing left to say.