Sunday, April 07, 2013

Merhba, Istanbul

Sunday Night

Just returned from my five days in Istanbul where my first solo show was held in the Ayse Taki Galerisi as a result of the kindness and generosity of both the gallery owner, Ayse, and my friend and colleague Umut Demirguc Thurman who worked incredibly hard to make the show a phenomenal success.
From the moment I set foot in the airport, I realised that this was going to be an overwhelming experience: the doors to the arrival halls opened to thousands of people all milling about, a crazy, shouting mass of humanity, hurrying to get places, eager to see their friends, their family, holding cards with unfamiliar - to me - Arabic lettering, scrawls in red biro or sharpie marker with unpronounceable names; people dressed in bright colours, strange fabrics, hats, dresses, long shirts... No one thing unusual but, to my northern European eyes, thrilling en masse.
Umut sent me a text, "I'm on the left" and so kicked off one of the most thrilling visit of my life. We jumped into a taxi - more on the taxis later - and set off to the gallery to drop the work.

Ayse owns the most long-established contemporary jewellery gallery in Turkey, having been in several locations around the city over the last 25 years, has shown a wide range of jewellers and she holds a small permanent collection. Her current gallery is in the cool, white basement of one of the smarter areas around the Taksim part of town. We made arrangements for the following day, when I would set up the show and headed off to the hotel, the Burckin Suites in the Fatih district, just off Sultanahmet, which runs through the historic peninsula section of the city, walking distance from the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar. (I can recommend this hotel unconditionally.)

Contemporary Ironwork

After dropping off my bags and quickly freshening up, we went for dinner and then Umut thought I should try a Turkish coffee and we went to the beautiful, cosy and friendly Cafe Kybele where we ordered said coffee. When it arrived, I tasted mine, thought it a bit odd but just assumed that this was "Turkish Coffee" - Umut tasted hers and nearly gagged. She called over the waiter and he tasted the coffee, looked strangely into the middle distance then ran off without saying a word. After five minutes, a different waiter returned with fresh coffees for us, explaining that someone had managed to top up the sugar jar with salt, thus we were drinking coffee with both sugar AND salt in it. In itself, not so funny, but he also said that they had been serving coffee like this for two days and nobody else had noticed. Must have been to tourists who will never drink Turkish coffee again.

Cafe Kybele - 2

Coffee In Cafe Kybele

I took breakfast in the hotel. The view from the breakfast room was spectacular

Breakfast Room View

And I was reminded that halva was a Turkish treat... thus I breakfasted on halva, coffee, freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice, fresh fruit and bread every morning. Shame halva is to fatty!
After breakfast, I headed out to explore the local area before heading to the gallery. The hotel is about five minutes' walk from the Blue Mosque:

The Blue Mosque - 1

I didn't managed to get inside the mosque - my attempts to visit were always thwarted by prayers or long queues - but from the outside it is still fascinating, especially for metalsmiths. The doors are engraved and stamped copper, cast iron supports hold the columns, bronze grilles surround the fountains.
The Blue Mosque - 5

Everywhere I turned, there was something amazing to look at. The city is bursting with remarkable relics which jostle for attention, constant reminders of the endless parade of cultures which have shaped not only modern Istanbul but, to varying degrees, modern Europe.

Ancient Column

I Am Iron Man

Setting up the show took a few hours. I took about 30 pieces with me in my hand-luggage: various problems with Turkish customs meant that I had to take most of the work myself which in turn meant that I couldn't take any of my needle pieces, none of the spiky balls or pieces made from bullet-casings. The resulting show was still a good cross-section of my work but not exactly ideal. I had wanted work like "Supercollider" represented but that was not to be.

"I AmIron Man"  - Installation - 4

"I Am Iron Man" Installed

Fuelled by Turkish coffee, we managed to get the whole thing up and ready by 2pm which should have meant that we had 4 hours to get back to the hotel, changed and return to the gallery for 6pm...

"I AmIron Man"  - Installation -

Which did not take any account of the terrible traffic problems in the city. I managed to get back to the hotel with no problem but the return from the hotel to the gallery was a different matter. Taxis in Istanbul are a somewhat scarifying experience and I am sad to say that my experiences in them got worse and worse each time... saving by far the worst to last, of course!
We managed to get back to the opening a mere half-an-hour late and it was already busy. I do find openings really tiring, having to be "on" the whole time, ready and willing to explain everything, sometimes many times over but at the same time, I don't grudge that: the people have been good enough, interested enough to come along and so I owe it to them to be hospitable. Ayse and her small gallery team had set up a wonderful opening with a slide-show from my workshop, an amazing music mix (combining a string-quartet version of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" with some of the darker orchestral music from the "Iron Man" film, tribal drums, Scottish folk songs and bagpipes) and a waiter serving drinks and snacks, including the most delicious fat grapes, of which I ate many:

"I Am Iron Man" - Opening Reception - 11

Lots of brilliant people came along, including the Turkish ex-ambassador to the UK, other jewellery artists and Umut's wonderful sister, Ufuk.

"I Am Iron Man" - Opening Reception -

"I Am Iron Man" - Opening Reception - 4
With the gallery team.

"I Am Iron Man" - Opening Reception - 9

One of the highlights of the show was the remote attendance of metals-brother, James Thurman, who came to the show by the wonder of high-speed internet and Skype:

"I Am Iron Man" - Opening Reception - 12

After the show ended, Umut, Ufuk and I headed off to the centre of Taksim for dinner.

Ufuk is just amazing. Over the course of the week, she took me to lots of wonderful places and introduced me to fantastic people. On Monday night, she took us to a restaurant tucked away up a tiny alley, a narrow restaurant on the top of a building overlooking the rooftops.

Turkish Food

The evening ended with us reading our fortunes in the Turkish tradition using our coffee grounds, a hilarious game.

Fortune Telling