Locality and Global Discourses: An Exchange Between CCA and Istanbul Bilgi University

From Amber Cox's documentation of San Francisco's Financial District

San Francisco and Istanbul: Both built across seven hills, on peninsulas jutting into major bodies of water, where East meets West dramatically and literally-continentally. Their respective situations along major global shipping routes means that they have always been rich in trade, rich in a cosmopolitan diversity of cultures, and rich in ideas: Just as the Bay Area has been a center of forward thinking, from the 1960s Haight-Ashbury counterculture to contemporary entrepreneurial Silicon Valley culture, Turkey -- and especially Istanbul -- is facing the future culturally and politically in its unique position at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Arab world.

CCA and Istanbul: East Meets West

CCA has been engaging with Istanbul in many cultural exchanges in recent years. In 2011 Jens Hoffmann, director of the CCA Wattis Institute, co-curated the 12th Istanbul Biennial, which featured numerous CCA alumni and faculty. The Vehbi Koç Foundation of Turkey recently announced its pledge to support one full-time Turkish student each year in CCA's Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice. And in spring 2012, Mariella Poli's CCA course Locality and Global Discourses facilitated an exchange between 16 students at CCA and five students at Istanbul Bilgi University.

View the slideshow to learn more about the students' projects »

In Locality and Global Discourses, each student's assignment was to explore the geopolitical and cultural heritage of one particular neighborhood in their home city. They became almost like ethnographers, delving directly into the field to analyze patterns of human behavior in public space. Artists have been co-opting scientific research methods for a very long time, but ethnography has become newly relevant in contemporary artistic practice in our ever-more-interconnected world, where East meets West -- and literally everywhere else -- every day, all the time.


The massive Paris exhibition La Triennale 2012, for instance, took the work of Claude Levi-Strauss and other seminal ethnographers as its conceptual hub. Its title, Intense Proximity, summed up the issues at hand: In a world that has been brought drastically closer together by technology, when the far has become near -- sometimes uncomfortably near -- when every attempt to look and critically analyze immediately devolves into a total-immersion plunge, how is it possible to investigate a place, analyze its history and people, and say something thoughtful about it?

The CCA and Bilgi students used one another as sounding boards to accomplish this. Via blogs and email they exchanged ideas as their research progressed; the CCA students also collaborated closely as teammates with the other students working on the same neighborhood. They allowed the shape of their final projects to be determined as much by their conversations as by their individual interests and media of choice, which ranged from sculpture to photography to fashion design.

The Neighborhoods

The San Francisco neighborhoods they explored were the Financial District, Chinatown, the Tenderloin, and the waterfront. In Istanbul they were Bomonti, Taksim Square, Galata, and Tophane. All are multilayered and historically significant. All have undergone tremendous changes in recent decades.

There is another thing that Istanbul and San Francisco share: a kind melancholy as an essential aspect of the civic character. The Turks call it hüzün. There it is said to evoke a sense of lost empire, whereas in San Francisco the connotations are maybe less grandiose, but the feeling of the past falling away is still ever-present. All of the students offered up profound meditations on memory and nostalgia, attempting to articulate what is slipping through our fingers and give it tangible, physical form.

The Exhibition: October 2-6, 2012

Their work will be on view in an exhibition on CCA's Oakland campus in the College Avenue Galleries October 2-6, 2012, opening Wednesday, October 3, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The participating students are: Anna Maciel, Amber Cox, Eva O’Leary, Maria Fang, Tabitha Taraya, Yixin Yuan, Stephanie Szabo, Steven Soundara, Rhiannon Fleming, Tatiana Pavlova, Tuan G. Tran, Jackilyn Roberts, Max Pollock, Greg Johnson, Victoria Shifflett, and Ava Decapri.

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The Catalogue

Download the full-color catalogue published as the final project of the course.