Picture a castle-like red brick mansion, resting beside the second Bosphorus bridge, the strait that divides the city of Istanbul, Turkey into Europe and Asia. This mansion, tiered and grand, was built in 1911, then abandoned when World War I broke out. For years it was called the “Haunted Mansion” or Perili Kösk. It remained empty; people in neighboring homes heard ghostly sounds–wind blew through cracks and broken windows, the turret cast shadows over the street below.
In 2007, the building was renovated to meet contemporary office standards, and then leased to a major conglomerate called Borusan Holding. Borusan comprises of several companies, including steel production, rights in Turkey to represent CAT and BMW, as well energy and logistic services. Borusan was founded in the late 1950s by Asım Kocabıyık whose guiding principle was to give back to his community. This principle is made manifest through the educational and cultural objectives of the group, now led by the present chairman, Asım’s son Ahmet.
A few years after moving Borusan into Perili Kösk, Ahmet decided the office should also house a contemporary art museum open to the public. He was passionate about viewing and collecting art, believing that setting artworks in a work environment would create a new, inspiring atmosphere.
Since its inception, the museum has featured print editions by Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt, light art installations by Brigitte Kowanz and Doug Aitken, and new media from Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Daniel Roizin. Ahmet is specifically drawn to pieces that have the ability to transform the spaces they inhabit. These include Andrew Rogers’ Unfurling (2007), a sculpture made from the same raw materials used in various Borusan production companies, and Jerry Zeniuk’s painting Istanbul Wall Painting (2007) in the 8th floor meeting room. This work is composed of thirteen strips of various colors that mimic the changing light reflected off the Bosphorus strait, which bathes the room throughout the day.
A glass elevator cuts through the center of the building, which consists of ten floors. In the main office space, the tops of employees’ desks feature pictures of their relatives or pets. Sometimes there are binders, folders and stationary objects splayed out in the open; things people forgot to take home or lock in file cabinets. Higher floors, where top ranking executives have offices, express the same openness: large ashtrays sit on tables, jackets hang on the coat-racks. On the sixth floor, plasma screens surround a large leather chair. The screens project looped footage of the founder, Asım, who passed away in 2012. The screens are interactive, the recordings interchangeable. They move from standstill imagery into new experiences. It’s the kind of space that Ahmet hopes to create with each new exhibition at the museum.
Artwork in the office represents innovation, it makes people think and pause throughout the day, giving them colors, shapes and forms to contemplate. For the first few years, Ahmet was happy to share his selections with the people of Istanbul and the rest of Turkey. Yet, with every acquisition from local and international artists, Ahmet’s connection with both the mediums and their creators grew, extending beyond the walls of the Perili Kösk.
Last month, a selection of this artwork, belonging to Borusan Contemporary—including projections, recordings, and installations made by artists from around the world—was displayed at 208 Bowery in New York City. The show was set-up in a pop-up gallery just around the corner from The Bowery Ballroom, a few blocks away from the subterranean bar Home Sweet Home, and just west of Bang Bang, the famous tattoo shop with its shiny, black interior. Titled Overtures, and organized by Kathleen Forde, Borusan Contemporary’s Artistic Director at Large, the works on view explored memory, human perception, and the environment.
Some people were at the exhibition’s opening reception for the free booze, others were meeting friends. Without fail, however, each guest seemed compelled to freeze in front of an installation, whichever drew them in. They watched, transfixed, as U-Ram Choe’s beautiful robotic flower sculptures opened their petals only to teasingly close back again. They stood in front of Michal Rovner’s gray images of a moving jackal at night. The animal’s eyes, glowing and haunted, reflected off the empty plastic cups of white or red wine. A crowd formed beside each screen comprising Ali Kazma’s Written, and voices overlapped as people attempted to read out loud the displayed text before the footage changed.
Below is the full selection:
Jim Campbell’s Grand Central Station (2009) monitors the passage of commuters through Grand Central Terminal in New York. It incorporates low-resolution video-based imagery and a color photographic transparency mounted on brackets in front of a panel of white LEDs. The exposure time is the duration of an average New York commuter’s footstep. Once every 34 minutes, the photographic and video imagery align for a fleeting moment. Campbell intends this work to be part of an ongoing series which measures time with natural rhythms.
Based in Madrid and New York, Daniel Canogar employs a variety of mediums in his practice including photography, video, sculpture, and installation. In Hipocampo 2 (2010), he explores the ephemerality of a telephone signal. A relic in the age of information, the discarded telephone cable wires were found in a dumpster near the artist’s home. Flickering with light and emitting buzzing static sound, the illuminated cables evoke neural synapses firing in the brain and crackling communications from an earlier time.
Korean artist U-Ram Choe is known for his complex kinetic sculptures incorporating stainless steel, robotics, biology, mathematics, computer technology, and mechanical engineering. Una Lumino Portentum (2008), a graceful robotic sculpture, comprises mechanical floral forms with life-like “petals” that open and close, illuminate and darken. His biomorphic subjects are accompanied by ersatz scientific documents and given Latin names to echo scientific nomenclature.
Working in Dublin and Vienna, John Gerrard’s Sow Farm (near Libbey, Oklahoma) (2009) is a simulation depicting an agricultural complex on the American Great Plains. Each of the corrugated iron sheds that come into view houses a large but unseen community of adult female swine engaged in mass farrowing (giving birth to piglets). Gerrard’s work frequently refers to structures of power and networks of energy that have made expansion of human endeavor possible in the past century.
Claudia Hart is an artist, curator, and critic based in Chicago. Her practice addresses issues of representation and the role of the computer in shifting contemporary values about identity and what might be called the natural. The Seasons (2009) portrays a room in which a slowly evolving sculptural figure of a seated woman gradually transforms. In the animated loop, a variety of visual, temporal, and conceptual cycles are offset and overlaid so that their movement is obscured.
Istanbul-based video artist Ali Kazma’s Written (2011) shot in the artist’s studio, concentrates on Kazma’s fascination with texts. In this six-channel video installation featuring quotations taken from his reading notes, Kazma utilizes the digital medium of filming and editing. Words on paper are shown burning with footage played in reverse causing the quotations to reappear. Nothing completely disappears, language remains, and words endure while ashes turn into flame. Every screen shows a different state of generation and regeneration that creates a feeling of flux and dynamism.
Michal Rovner, based in New York and Israel, uses digitally manipulated photography and film to create installations based on abstracted human and natural forms. Black Forest (2016) was made using night-vision photographic equipment. The work features spectral gray images of jackals at night. While Rovner compares the images to daguerreotypes, they are grainier and ghostlier, with the eyes of each animal appearing white.
Allard van Hoorn is a Dutch sound, installation, and performance artist based in New York City. 034 Urban Songline (Water Score) (2015) is a site-specific commission developed as a sound and video work for Borusan Contemporary, which is housed in the historic Perili Köşk sited on the Bosphorus River in Istanbul. In the work, he translates the shape of the waves of the river splashing up on its banks into music. The generation of sound in this context was inspired by the tradition of Songlines, indigenous Australians’ creation narratives and mapping system connecting people with the land.
Overture was on view from October 12-28th 2017.♦
Mina Hamedi grew up in Istanbul, Turkey and is of Turkish/Iranian descent. She holds a B.A. from NYU’s Gallatin School and an M.F.A. in Nonfiction from Columbia University School of the Arts. She is the managing editor of The Grief Diaries, an online journal, and has had work featured in Arcturus and EuropeNow.