In our quest to cover
the Istanbul art scene in conjunction with Contemporary
, we were repeatedly directed to Mari
Spirito. Shaping the scene as much is she is participating in it, Spirito is
the Founding Director of Protocinema
, a not-for-profit, nomadic art organization that works with
artists to create unique exhibitions in Istanbul and New York. Spirito’s
influence in Istanbul is palpable—in other interviews both Arie Amaya-Akkermans
Elizabeth Thomas dropped her name—as well as in the greater art world,
especially coming off recent collaborations with major contemporary artists
. Formerly the director of 303 Gallery, through Protocinema
Spirito is bridging the art worlds of Istanbul and New York, creating a stream
of artistic exchange between the two cities. Spirito shared with us the details
of Protocinema and the divergent yet comparable art worlds of Istanbul and New
you tell us about Protocinema?
Spirito: I founded Protocinema
in 2011 as
a nomadic, mission-driven art organization based in Istanbul and New York, with
a hands-on education program. We make exhibitions by artists from many parts of
the world in both cities, always in different spaces, including storefronts,
apartments, parks… it’s up to the artist. Most recently we showed new work by
in a mechanic’s garage in the
neighborhood of Dolapdere during the Istanbul Biennial. It was a film,
photography, and sculpture installation called Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite
. On November 7th, we open an exhibition with Köken Ergun
basement of the Westbeth building in the West Village, New York. It is a
three-channel video installation called Ashura
about an Istanbul community and their preparations of the holiest day in the
Shi'a Muslim calendar. Köken’s work often looks at rituals and ceremonies in
various sub-cultures, as well as the customs that define and bind communities.
I think New Yorkers will really get it.
does your approach to curating differ in New York and Istanbul? Generally, how
do the art scenes differ?
MS: My approach
to making exhibitions doesn’t really differ in Istanbul or New York—my approach
is inclusive in many ways. Each of these cities shares scale, energy, and is at
the center of their own region, while counterbalancing very different
opportunities and strengths in the realm of contemporary art. One scene has 800
art galleries and institutions and the other has closer to 100. They differ
from each other in every possible way, while sharing many of the essential
factors that affect the production and understanding of exhibitions.
Artsy: Do you
primarily live in Istanbul? How does living in Istanbul compare to New York?
MS: I live both
in Istanbul and New York. I see cities more as friends, and I prefer to have
many friends. They enrich my life. The art scene is more geographically
condensed in Istanbul than New York, and while I’m there I’m lucky to live
somewhere that feels right at the center of it all.
does the role of the artist differ in the United States and Turkey? Are top
artists seen as celebrity figures, as they are in the United States?
MS: Well I’d
question whether top artists are actually seen as celebrities in the United
fact that artists, curators, and people from the art world know me doesn’t make
me a celebrity. The world out there is much larger than what you imagine.” Of
course, there are some names in both places that have wider recognition, and
how that manifests corresponds to the difference in scale of the art scenes
which I mentioned earlier. One thing my practice has really taught me is that
art is very similar wherever you go. Working nomadically and internationally
like I do really dispels a lot of the notions of ‘here’ and ‘there’.
Spirito is the Founding Director of Protocinema, presenting transnational-nomadic exhibitions in New York and
Istanbul, mission-driven with a hands-on education program, since 2011. This
past summer Spirito collaborated on a Research Project titled: Asar-ı Atika/
Ancient Works with Övül Durmusoğlu, Rossella Biscotti, and Akram Zaatari,
originating at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara. Spirito is a
consultant for Art Basel's Talks Program, 2013. She holds a BFA from
Massachusetts College of Art, Boston. Prior to Protocinema, Spirito was
Director of 303 Gallery, New York from 2000- 2012; and is on the boards of
Participant Inc., New York, New Art Dealers Alliance, New York. and
courtesy Protocinema, Istanbul:
Köken Ergun, Arshura, 2012
of: Trevor Paglen, Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite (Design 4;
Build 3), 2013
Semi-Circular 2-way Mirror, 2006.
2012, glass, borrowed books. Courtesy:
Protocinema, Istanbul; Art: Concept, Paris; Xavier Hufkens, Brussels, photos
2012, glass, borrowed book, glass - 20.3 x 12.8 x 2.4 cm, book - variable (5). Courtesy: Protocinema, Istanbul; Art: Concept, Paris; Xavier Hufkens, Brussels,
photos Batu Tezyuksel.