İstanbul contemporary art space and research center SALT Galata is currently hosting “Tercüme Eden.” The third iteration of “Translated By,” curated by Charles Arsène-Henry and Shumon Basar, the exhibition began life in London before later visiting Japan.
Arsène-Henry and Basar were joined at the exhibition’s opening on April 6 by their co-curator for the Turkish edition, Suna Kafadar. The two original curators spoke about the origins of “Translated By,” explaining how it was born from a wish to explore the connection between fiction, books and voice, and how these in turn relate to space. The show’s name relates to the sense in which an author is a translator of place for the reader.
As the original curators note in the book that accompanies the exhibition: “Writing not only takes place, in the sense of being situated somewhere: it also captures place, and thus, in a way, comes to possess it. […] We are calling this process, whereby the writer situates a story in a place by capturing it with words, ‘translation.’ It’s a sideways manoeuvre. Part interpretation, part alchemy. Equally faithful and unfaithful to what is there, is not there, and could be there.”
In its simplest form the exhibition is an audio guide comprising short (5-10 minutes) recordings of works originally produced in the written form. The first exhibition, held at London’s Architectural Association gallery in early 2011, featured 11 texts, recorded in English and accompanied by a seat and image selected by the extract’s author. Each piece dealt with a specific place, and by sitting as directed by the writer and looking at the image of their choosing, visitors were invited to immerse themselves in the place; to have the author translate it for them.
By the time the exhibition moved on to the CCA Kitakyushu, Japan, in December 2011, it had lost some pieces, gained others and also acquired a second language: Listeners could choose from handsets in Japanese or English. Props were absent from the Japanese exhibition, instead listeners moved between the numbered audio exhibits in near-darkness, their gaze drawn to the individually spotlit labels. The space itself was unheated and pine-scented; visitors were offered heat pads and blankets; the exhibition enveloped them in multiple senses.
The latest edition has metamorphosed one more: Gone are the spotlights and the cold, but, as Basar noted, “The core is the same.” New texts bring the total up to 14 and while the paired languages remain, the current duo is English and Turkish (though the sign at the entrance to the exhibition, like the book that accompanies it, is trilingual). The listening points for the numbered exhibits are scattered about SALT Galata meaning that, as in the other iterations, listeners move within a discrete outer space, as well as within an inner, larger world.
Speaking at the opening about the three iterations, Arsène-Henry said they viewed the London show as a mixtape, Japan as “mindscreen cinema” and the Turkish edition as a volume. Turkish Review asked the curators to elaborate on their perceptions of “Tercüme Eden”: “Volume is a word that means a book, the amount of space a substance occupies and a measure of sound. ‘Tercüme Eden’ in İstanbul, for the first time, had to exist on several levels instead of one. […] In İstanbul, ‘Tercüme Eden’ is volume, at the frontier between book and space, mediated by sound.”
The new location was reflected in added texts -- and by extension, places -- selected in close cooperation with Turkish curator Kafadar. It was also Kafadar who also translated the exhibition’s title: “Tercüme Eden” literally means “one who translates,” rather than the simpler “tercüman” -- translator.
Sevim Burak’s İstanbul and Murat Uyurkulak’s Diyarbakır are joined by quintessential 17th century Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi’s Baghdad, Vahram Martirosyan’s Yerevan and Narmin Kamal’s Baku. With these additions still fewer of the show’s pieces are present in their original language. When asked about whether “Tercüme Eden” has lost or gained something in translation, the curators described the process as an inevitable act of disposal, not loss. “In translation, you move from one language to the other, but also from one place to another (Michel de Certeau tells us that in Greece, another name for mass transit vehicles is metaphorai, metaphor). And in every movement you leave things behind,” they told Turkish Review.
It was in an effort not to leave too much by the wayside, they said, that the use of Japanese has been retained both at the exhibition’s entrance and in the book. As for the entirely absent texts, “what matters is that they’ve been brought to the listener via the act of a translator.”
Of course, a translation’s success can be judged on how well their output can be understood by its reader (or in this case, listener). An author’s skill may lie in their ability to translate a place unknown to the reader, the translator’s in preserving this as they move laterally between languages. This is well illustrated by one of the more challenging sections of the Çelebi translation, provided by Koç University’s Assistant Prof. Sooyong Kim.
The opening passage guides the listener towards Baghdad, and describes the “arid and barren” setting of the city’s fortress, set between a valley like the desert of Kamerü’l-Kum and the Kipchak Steppe, and the Tigris. The expression “like the desert of Kamerü’l-Kum” (in transliterated Ottoman: Kamerü’l-Kum çölü gibi”) of course lacks meaning for all but the most erudite. Kim solved the issue by referring instead to the more familiar Nineveh Plain, which is anyway in modern-day Iraq. When you listen to the English recording of Çelebi’s account, an Englishwoman describes it to you, in well-modulated tones, thus: “The fortress of Baghdad, Paradise of Iraq, sits amid arid and barren land, amid a valley like the Nineveh Plain and the Kipchak Steppe, on the eastern side of the Tigris, on its shore.”
Çelebi is not the only contributor to be voiced by their opposite gender: The speakers in the extracts vary tremendously, changing from language to language and piece to piece. This was done, the curators explained, to get “closer to the voice you hear in your head when you read: this is neither male nor female, while being male and female at the same time.”
Completing the entire exhibition is a marathon effort; listening from beginning to end will take closer to two hours than to one. You will scale flights of stairs, stare into atria and out across the Golden Horn, and even -- in a piece by Adania Shibli describing Qalandia Checkpoint -- get in people’s way, as you pause on a landing to listen (though most spots are provided with a simple seat for the listener). After exploring geography near, far and imaginary, you will finish as exhausted as if you’d travelled further than a few stories… And emerge onto the streets of your own İstanbul.
SALT: adding flavor to İstanbul’s art scene
The arrival of SALT in İstanbul was heralded by mysterious posters peppering billboards across the city. The news was already known in art circles, of course: SALT was to be the new face of the Ottoman Bank Museum, Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center and Garanti Gallery (all owned by Garanti Bank). The idea was to restructure these three to form a single autonomous organization. Founded on the concept of “two buildings, one program” SALT spans the venues of SALT Beyoğlu, on İstiklal Street, and SALT Galata, in the premises of the former Ottoman Bank.
SALT defines its goal as being to explore critical and timely issues in visual and material culture, and to cultivate innovative programs for research and experimental thinking. More than a simple art space, SALT describes itself as a “site of learning and debate,” one that aims to “challenge, excite and provoke its visitors by encouraging them to offer critique and response.”
The first to open was SALT Beyoğlu, which occupies a six-story building, constructed between 1850 and 1860 and originally dubbed Siniossoglou Apartment. The redesign of the building for contemporary use was completed under the auspices of Mimarlar Tasarım, the office of Aga Khan Award for Architecture winner Han Tümertekin. SALT Beyoğlu contains 1,130 square meters of exhibition space on three levels, as well as a walk-in cinema and restaurant.
While the restoration and redesign of SALT Beyoğlu is undoubtedly a remarkable one, particularly the entry space it calls the Forum, envisioned and successfully realized by Tümertekin as an extension of İstiklal Street into the building, the showstopper is unquestionably SALT Galata. The former Ottoman Bank was already an impressive structure, designed in the 19th century by Alexandre Vallaury. After the building ceased to function as a bank, in 2002 it was made into a museum. SALT Galata has seen this function retained while expanding it to include a specialized, public library and archive, and research space (collectively termed SALT Research) as well as workshop and exhibition areas; and a conference hall.
The reimagining of the Ottoman Bank building and its structural metamorphosis into SALT Galata was also the work of Mimarlar Tasarım. While essentially reinventing much of the building, the office’s architectural approach also cleared it of later surface additions to reveal original contemporary features. The museum’s new form continues to house objects and documents reflecting the little-known world of Turkey’s late-Ottoman and early-republican periods. The displays are contextualized, meaning the museum narrates not only the story of an institution, but also a representation of life during this period.
SALT Galata and SALT Beyoğlu both host regular exhibitions by prominent Turkish and international artists, as well as talks and performances, details of all of these can be found at the SALT website: www.saltonline.org