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ARTS > Borough of Waltham Forest in London displays Can Altay's work

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An art event ‘Frieze Projects East’ has opened in London, bringing a cultural touch to the boroughs that have just hosted the Olympic Games. The participating artists include Turkey’s Can Altay

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Can Altay’s work ‘Distributed’ is an artwork composed of a set of identical sculptural elements, which are silently installed in 12 key buildings in the borough of Waltham Forest in London.

Can Altay’s work ‘Distributed’ is an artwork composed of a set of identical sculptural elements, which are silently installed in 12 key buildings in the borough of Waltham Forest in London.

Hatice Utkan Hatice Utkan hatice.utkan@hdn.com.tr

Turkish artist Can Altay’s work is on display at the Frieze Projects East art event in London, part of the cultural activities taking place in the east London boroughs where 2012 Olympics were held.

Altay’s artwork can be found distributed across key buildings in Waltham Forest. Over 20 large, mirror-ball like sculptures have been placed on doors, and the works are intended to be touched, used and handled by the local communities that live and work in Waltham Forest.

“‘Distributed’ is an artwork composed of a set of identical sculptural elements, which are silently installed in 12 key buildings in the borough of Waltham Forest in London. These objects are like giant mirror doorknobs, and a total of 18 of them have been installed up to now,” Altay said.

The sculptures form a network among themselves and suggest a different way of thinking about public sculpture, Altay said. While they reflect their immediate surroundings, many people who work, live or pass by these places on a day-to-day basis also constantly touch and use them through their function as door-pulls.

“The buildings include a wide range of sites that have to do with different understandings of public space, and are places that many different people occupy on the basis of everyday survival, refuge or enthusiasm,” Altay said. “These are things like the town hall, the local college, the shopping mall, local libraries, housing, as well as a theater-pub and the William Morris Gallery, which is a museum dedicated to the life and work of the influential artist-designer.”

There are total of six projects within Frieze Projects East, and all these projects have certain “relations” with each other.

The six projects are located in the Olympic Boroughs of London, which Altay said was the common ground. One artist produces a public work of art located in each of the boroughs, and Altay selected the forest in the borough of Waltham.

“I have chosen to develop the artwork ‘Distributed’ in Waltham Forest, after finding out that the late 19th century artist, designer and social thinker William Morris lived in the area and that there is a museum dedicated to him there,” Altay said. “Even though the work is completely distributed, I wanted to give a central role to the museum and the ideas of William Morris to a certain extent. He was someone who thought that art should enter the everyday lives of people as functional objects and useful things. Through very different visual and conceptual means, my work also touches on this issue of ‘function’ and ‘value’ of the sculptural objects in the public space.”

 Altay’s project at Frieze East once again indicates his overall focus on public spaces and architecture.
“Public space is one of those phrases that everyone has a different understanding of. For some it concerns the state, for some it means openly accessible sites. I am one of those who see it as a place of exchange, discussion, even conflict, where we not only define but produce ourselves, especially in cities.”
 
An architect in the art scene

Generally, Altay’s work straddles the fields of architecture, art, design and social commentary. “I kind of departed from the professional context, and went on to studying and making art. I see it almost as a kind of philosophy-making through visual, material and social processes,” he said.

Altay said the freedom to be able to reflect on urban existence and the orders and systems we are born into, and most importantly to be able to ask questions openly about such issues, led him to become an artist.

Altay’s relationship with architecture and design still continues but more on academic grounds. “Istanbul Bilgi University Faculty of Architecture, where I am currently teaching, and where I have been recently appointed as head of the Industrial Design Department, offers an exciting combination of architecture, interior design and industrial design. We are investing a lot in defining the roles of these professions, and rethinking the education program. I also teach and lecture locally and internationally in contexts of art, design and architecture,” he said.

Ten years ago Altay developed a project around the local scene called “minibars,” which looked at the practice of youths gathering and socializing in undefined spots, essentially reconfiguring the existing architecture and the meaning of the environment without building anything, without any establishment.

“This was a project that lasted several years and was a very formative experience in the ways I think about public space, as a site of both conflict and possibility, and the ways that I make art. It was very much about where I lived and how I lived, as well as being a common ground for many other people,” Altay said.
 
Understanding public art

What one understands from art is very much dependent on the extent to which one is open to different ways of thinking and doing, according to Altay, and the traditions of art in public have almost exclusively been manifestations of power.

“The monument was an important way of writing histories and deciding on who is important. Artistic excellence went hand in hand with power and prestige all around the world, but the last century has seen the rise and fall of many different monuments,” he said. However, he also appreciates that there have also been many public works of art that have touched people’s lives in some way, or created a collective meaning for groups of people. “I am interested in this dynamic between what I call the ‘presence of power’ and the ‘power of presence.’ In the latter, the artwork creates its own power, or speaks to its public in a way that creates something other than the usual showing off.”

Asked if public art was more communicative than private art, Altay said: “I think the meaning of art is not necessarily only in what it shows, or what it does, but in ‘how.’ In this way, a direct communication may not always be the case, but an encounter with a work of art brings up feelings, questions and thoughts.”

Returning to the project “Distributed,” while the doorknobs are touched by many on a daily basis, and offer a very material relation to their audience, they don’t really tell them much other than an awareness of their immediate surroundings, said Altay. In the way they form a network in the borough, and especially through the discussions that take place in the accompanying pamphlets, they offer a platform for the voices of the public, and make room for the communication of their own understanding and appreciation of the place.

In addition to Altay, works are on display by Sarnath Banerjee; the partnership of Anthea Hamilton and Nicholas Byrne; Gary Webb; Klaus Weber; and Ruth Ewan, the recipient of the CREATE art award. The projects are taking place in the six east London “Host Boroughs” for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games: Barking and Dagenham, Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.

Frieze Projects East was commissioned by CREATE and the London 2012 Festival, as part of their commitment to bringing the best artists to east London in 2012. The series has received significant funding support from the National Lottery through the Olympic Lottery Distributor and Arts Council England.

August/28/2012

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