I Can't Go On, I'll Go On*

#28
PASAJ
About Diğer Yazıları

This article emerged with a need for an answer to the 28th Issue of Orta Format, which focuses on the independent initiatives' sustainability methods and termination decisions. The first part of this article aims to explain the concept of PASAJ's independence and its path as an independent space after a short introduction, and the second part to explain what PASAJ means through the perspectives of the artists. 

Art historian Avelina Lesper, in Is Contemporary Art a Fraud? interview (translated Turkish by Belit Sak), states that "We are making the highest production in history." We can say that this discourse indicates a need for production. After production, we need a platform to share, discuss, and transmission of the skills and knowledge.  

The environment we are in Istanbul, Turkey, galleries represent a small number of shows by the artists and in the effort to convey them to collectors. On the other hand, when we look at the number of artists present, we can talk about short passes in a narrow field - An environment that only a group of artists have visibility while the existence of the others does not consider that important. 

The contemporary art market is so pragmatic and tends to be instrumental that uses these people somehow, even if they are not actively involved. Gregory Sholette describes this as "failed artist" in his book, Dark Matter Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture that refers to an unsuccessful, falling artist. He writes that the system needs those artists to work properly, and they have become a part of the system (Sholette: 2014). As Jeff Koonz's value rises, the value of 100 other artists decreases. The market works in this way. 

In this "highest production era" will only a small number of artists be able to make exhibitions for the audience and collectors they can reach? In a dynamic, fidgety city like Istanbul; is including it in the system the only way to experience art? Will we ignore its questioning attitude and place in social transformation?

At this point, independent art spaces gain importance in terms of balancing the existing forces and providing polyphony in the contemporary art environment. They offer an alternative to commercial galleries, company/bank-dependent museums, and art institutions. These spaces in which anonymous and pluralist structures rise in value; sustain themselves by taking initiative, having a self-managing system, and not serving any institution. With their flexibility, communication methods, the autonomous environment they create, their programs and goals; they differ from other actors in the art environment. As Stine Hebert and Anne Szefer Karlsen stated in their book, Self-Organised (2013), the dependencies of independent art spaces are based on a common benefit, not a necessity or formality. 

We believe these structures can be anywhere and in any medium. Nevertheless, PASAJ puts participatory art, transfer of skills, and experience in the centre by going one step further than viewing and intellectual interaction. It emphasizes the need to open a space for artistic production that we can actively involve with a common experience. 

What does this common experience do? Julia Kristeva writes in the article Strategies for survival-Now (1995) that we all need a common experience: "I do think we all need an experience by which I mean something new and surprising, painful or pleasant, and then the understanding of this experience. Is this still possible?" This egalitarian structure makes the art a common experience that a person without an artistic background can be involved in, rather than an act that presents art to the discretion of only one fraction. 

PASAJ, which has moved out four times, reshapes with the neighbourhood and inhabitants to catch the surprises mentioned by Kristeva in each location. Unlike an institution, its flexible structure that dances to another tune allows this. Working hours change according to each project, every moving out brings new acquaintances and collaborations. 

The dominant art scene in Istanbul is still in an elitist sense of art. It gives place to clean, presentable, risk-free spaces and art pieces.  

The environment that we try to establish is a bit more "dirty", in-between, hybrid, unpredictable, process-based, and perhaps not completely clear. On the other hand, such extreme figures are mentioned in the art market today, and aggressive competition is going on that the irregular regularity that we try to create can seem like a whim or hobby. However, PASAJ is not a utopia; it is a living, real initiative… After all, art is not a concept that has a direct relation to marketing and sales.  

Lack of financial resources can shorten the lifetimes of independent art spaces. İstanbul is an expensive, chaotic city, and has transportation difficulties. On the one hand, while the dynamism here feeds production, on the other hand, we have to find the solutions consistently against financial problems.  

The question arises from this: How long should it continue like this, should these structures maintain? 

As the co-founders of the PASAJ independent art space which has been actively continuing since 2010, we also ask ourselves this question consistently: Why do we still do this work that requires a lot of effort, time, and money without hardly any financial return? Even voluntarily and willingly?

When we asked whether sustainability is a necessity and why amberplatform is an initiative that should sustain, Ekmel Ertan gave this answer: "The awareness of the advantages of working independently, the experience we have gained in this field for years, the wide network of international relations we have built, the idea that we should not underestimate the advantages of direct interaction with the next generation via academic platforms. Not to abandon this field, in which not so many people devote time, but we find it important in many contexts." 

It is certain that we also have this sense of responsibility. We try to sustain these spaces for the freedom of artistic expression and the practice of criticism that we want to establish for all of us. We want to continue on our way, but what do the artists think about these initiatives? Can these venues fulfil the role they want to play ideally? How much do these fields give independence to artists? 

To find the answer, we asked these questions to several artists who made productions in PASAJ. 

Evrim Kavcar talks about PASAJ's "comforting, reassuring" feature. Kavcar created a participatory dictionary and talk series, Dictionary of Sensitive Sounds, that started with reference sounds they received from Karaköy pier in April - May 2019, together with Elif Öner: "More independent space means more independent thoughts. A space that is cut adrift, gives people a room. A space where we can be alone together, be on our own. Its structure away from monetary policies is another motivation for the artists," she explains.  

Ekmel Ertan made an installation exhibition, Today's History, which he planned as a three-part project for PASAJ's space in Nimet Inn. He explains, "I could not possibly have done this exhibition elsewhere as I do not have a career as an artist. The experimental and participatory aspect of this place which allows and supports everything has already made it possible to make this art-work here. And you probably could not do such an exhibition in the gallery, something that you would invite the audience three times... Besides, we have done everything, from installing to the end, together." 

Hacer Kıroğlu, who made the Silent Square project with a curation of Inez Piso added the Nimet Inn that includes PASAJ, and surrounding inns including Russian churches. She explains: "The building of PASAJ led me somewhere I never thought of, it carried my work. The flexible structure of PASAJ faraway from bureaucracy made me think faster. It was a new experience for me, and a project-specific to space had emerged."  

Burak Kabadayı said, "I spent six months in the neighbourhood, and PASAJ provided my first dialogue with children. If PASAJ did not assist, such a project would not be created." for his 24 Hours project that he produced with children on their perception of time. He added: "We opened the exhibition not in an exhibition venue, but in a place that the locals use every day (Ismail's Restaurant), and the work has become a part of that place. That is a unique form of production…"

Banu Taylan, again, explained her experience in the Garden Choir event in Halep PASAJ as "In the event that I moderated at PASAJist and Halep Passage, we experienced discoveries and experimentation by making improvised music. Most of the participants were the dwellers of Halep Passage. By using the objects donated to the transformation garden, musical instruments, the sounds made by the instruments, and everything we love during the project; sometimes we played with the sounds in the passage, sometimes by walking around, and sometimes by setting in a corner. It was very delightful to read from the same songbook, to be separated, and meet again in the same places."

Nicoletta Daldanise also said "By sharing our personal reflections in a wider context, PASAJist offered the audience the opportunity to critical touch in sensitive issues such as poverty and artist status," for the exhibition "Money Issue" that she worked with Elmaz Deniz and Özgür Demirci as a curator.  

Based on these discourses, we can say that independent art venues liberate the artists with their flexible and non-hierarchical structures. Besides that, we can say that these venues, which are very different from the white cube, have the feature of getting artists out of their comfort zone and forcing them. The display forms here must be varied, and works must be placed according to the opportunities provided by the venue. On the other hand, the works produced on political issues can be exhibited more freely. 

In addition to the limited available funds, the sustainability of these art spaces seems to depend on the development of alternative economic models. 

PASAJ's Çorbada Tuzun Olsun (Have Your Hand in The Pie) fundraising party, which has been held since our first year, provides us with a small budget in this context. Our Erasmus + projects also contribute to the sustainability of the space, even just a bit. Apart from this, there are some collaborations we have established. We are positioned in the places which are given us by supporters such as a restaurant owner like Uncle İsmail, an independent architect who opens his office to PASAJ for a limited time, or the empty warehouse provided by Ot Cafe. Through the collaboration we have established with Ramada Encore Bayrampaşa, every year an artist stays in this hotel and makes a short-term research residence about Bayrampaşa.

At the same time, we think that we can learn strategies from other disciplines, and we are inspired by the models they apply. In cooperation with amberPlatform and Halka Sanat, we launched Independents Index created with a participative structure. In this project, we are working on mapping the independents in Turkey with a multidisciplinary focus.  

We are trying to create the best version of the PASAJ with what we have, and set goals for the future: We strive for a system in which artists can get royalty they need and deserve for their production, where we can remunerate our volunteers for their efforts. We also hope to receive remuneration for the time that we spend on PASAJ. Besides, it is crucial to us how we construct our spaces, with whom we share them, and how we express ourselves rhetorically. For this reason, while ending this article, we would like to thank the Orta Format team for allowing us to express ourselves and creating a room for us.