Monday, August 20, 2012

The wound

"We Are All Flesh (Istanbul, 2011-2012),"
Berlinde De Bruyckere
The air hangs heavy and damp inside the old hamam, even though it hasn't been used as a Turkish bath in years. Sweat begins to glisten on the visitor's skin within minutes of stepping through its door. Without intending to, you become more aware of your body -- the hairs and pores on your arms, the muscles unconsciously tensed, the ever-so-slightly labored intake of breath into your lungs.

These heightened sensations, I think, must have been what Flemish artist Berlinde De Bruyckere had in mind when she decided to install two of the works in her latest show, "The Wound," inside the Çukurcuma Hamamı, a rundown bath just up the hill from the new Museum of Innocence and surrounded by antique shops.

Visually, the pieces are incongruous, even startling. In the hamam's first private chamber, what appears to be a massive, headless animal carcass hangs from the ceiling by its trussed hooves. Further inside, a stack of antlers and bones, stripped down to a glistening pink and white, take the place of a human bather's body on the central marble slab.

"Actaeon, 2011-2012," Berlinde De Bruyckere
Like the rest of De Bruyckere's works in "The Wound," on display up the hill at ARTER, these sculptures of wax, wood, fabric, horse skin and hair are uncomfortable to look at, but not without beauty. Her facsimiles of bones stacked up in a cupboard, a dead horse slumped on a table, gaping wounds, and chunks of fatty flesh are played not for their shock value but for the sense of vulnerability and mortality they provoke in the viewer -- a vulnerability that might not be so dissimilar to that of someone stripping off their clothes in a hamam for the first time, preparing to confront their own imperfect body and those of others in a place where hundreds of years of skin have already been pummeled, scrubbed, and sloughed off.

TO VISIT: "The Wound" is on view until August 26 at ARTER and the Çukurcuma Hamamı at Çukurcuma Cad. No. 43, both in Istanbul's Beyoğlu neighborhood. ARTER is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. The Çukurcuma Hamamı is open Tuesday through Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Admission to both venues is free, and if you walk between them on Postacılar Sok./Tomtom Kaptan Sok., you'll go right by the music door too.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The music door

A whisper of a Latin groove carried up the street as I made my way down the steep and narrow cobblestone alleyway, growing louder as I passed a crumbling red building. It's not uncommon for structures in Istanbul that at first glance look abandoned to actually be inhabited, so the summery sounds could easily have been coming from someone's radio inside. But the notices affixed to the imposing metal door drew my eye.

On four sheets of letterhead from the Ecuadorian Consulate General, each sheathed in plastic and tapped to the door in a careful line, someone had written the same message in English, French, Spanish, and Turkish, using a blue marker and a loose, lively hand:
This Music is YOUR Music, it makes the "Lovers' alley" more secure and your kisses sweeter...
Please protect it the way it protects you
The windows of the building, I then saw, were boarded up or missing, as was at least part of the roof. There were no signs of life within. Above the doorway, though, hung a small black speaker, the vehicle through which the offering of music was being made to passers-by. I continued down the street with just a little bit more spring in my step than before.