Plurivocality: Visual Arts and Music in Turkey

Plurivocality: Visual Arts and Music in Turkey

Istanbul Modern presents the first ever group exhibition exploring the interaction between visual arts and music in Turkey

On its10th anniversary, Istanbul Modern is pleased to present “Plurivocality”, an exhibition that explores the many bonds between visual and auditory arts in Turkey.

Curated by the museum director Levent Çalıkoğlu and curator Çelenk Bafra, the exhibition examines the relationship between visual arts, music and sound in Turkey from the late Ottoman period to the present, and a selection of contemporary artworks in this area. “Plurivocality” is open to view between June 27- November 27, 2014 in Istanbul Modern’s Temporary Exhibition Hall and features works by Nevin Aladağ, Fikret Atay, Semiha Berksoy, Hussein Chalayan, Ergin Çavuşoğlu, Burhan Doğançay, Cevdet Erek, Borga Kantürk, Servet Koçyiğit, Füsun Onur, Ferhat Özgür, Sarkis, Erinç Seymen, Merve Şendil, Hale Tenger, Vahit Tuna, and :mentalKLINIK.

The “Plurivocality” exhibition is sponsored by Garanti Bankası, Istanbul Modern’s Education Sponsor, and Turkcell, its Communication and Technology Sponsor. The exhibition’s Audio Systems Sponsor is Modern Elektronik, the distributor in Turkey of Bose audio systems.

The exhibition explores the close relationship and interactions between the visual arts and sound/music from past to present, conveys the special interest of artists in music both on personal and social levels and brings the artistic accumulation together based on common ground.

The exhibition also includes a research area providing a comprehensive intertemporal and interdisciplinary study of the social and cultural evolutionary processes in Turkey and the effects these processes had on the visual arts and music: “Repertoire”. Put together by Birnur Temel and Yasemin Ülgen Saray from Istanbul Modern, under the advisorship of Alper Maral, and with contributions from experts in the field, the “Repertoire” conveys the visual and musical work created in Turkey over a period of 300 years. Located at the entrance to the exhibition hall where “Plurivocality” is hosted, the “Repertoire” section is a product of research on processes which developed in the first stages of the Westernization of the Ottoman Empire through the early Republican period. The research ranges fromthe musical tones of the abstract art of the 1950s to the popularized content of the 1980s. By revealing the reverberations of these processes in today’s artistic productions, both through breaks and continuities, “Repertoire” also provides the historical backdrop to the contemporary artworks in the exhibition.

In the main exhibition area, “Plurivocality” presents a selection of current paintings, sculptures, videos and installations by artists of diverse generations, exploring the relationship between the visual arts and music/sound in Turkey. The exhibition features artists that combine audio and visual elements and enrich their artistic practice by drawing on both disciplines. The exhibition is comprised of contemporary artworks that use sound and music as themes or as metaphors, or treat them as sources of inspiration for forms or concepts.

Press Conference

The press conference for the exhibition was attended by the Chair of the Board of Istanbul Modern Oya Eczacıbaşı, exhibition curators Levent Çalıkoğlu and Çelenk Bafra, and artists featured in the exhibition. The Chair of the Board of Istanbul Modern, Oya Eczacıbaşı, pointed out that the exhibition “Plurivocality” furthers Istanbul Modern’s goal of organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions highlighting the evolutionary dynamics of modern and contemporary art in Turkey: “In recent years, many of the world’s most influential contemporary art museums have focused their exhibitions on the relationship between music and visual arts. Istanbul Modern, however, is the first to study the interaction and evolving relationship between these disciplines in Turkey, which means that “Plurivocality”, the first exhibition anywhere to examine this fertile intersection, breaks new ground.”

Oya Eczacıbaşı went on to say that “Repertoire” reveals the processes which started during the early stages of Westernization, evolved after the founding of the Republic, and took on a variety of forms that have become a permanent part of Turkey’s contemporary art production today. She added that the exhibition “Plurivocality” “features 17 artists from diverse generations and artistic styles who employ or embed sounds and music in their work to provide viewers with a plurivocal, interactive stage that makes reference to Turkey’s social, political and cultural present and past.”

Eczacıbaşı also noted that throughout the course of the exhibition, Istanbul Modern will be organizing a program of events addressing a wide range of music genres and including concerts, performances, panel discussions and talks with exhibition artists and music experts, as well as workshops prepared by the education department based on the artwork in the exhibition. She added that the Istanbul Modern Store will also be offering sound- and music-related technology products, CDs of music in the exhibition and other music related products.

Stressing that the relationship between the visual arts and music has not yet been adequately explored and illuminated, Director of Istanbul Modern Levent Çalıkoğlu noted that through the historical research it presents, the exhibition aims to discuss these issues. “The research area called “Repertoire” at the entrance to the exhibition hall constitutes a comprehensive biography of the intersections of music and the visual arts in Turkey and of their past collaborations. “Repertoire” is an attempt to explore Turkey’s socio-cultural history from the late Ottoman period to the 1980s through the ways in which it was reflected in music and in the visual arts. It will serve as a roadmap for future researchers.”

Çalıkoğlu went on to say that the interdisciplinary perspective taken by today’s art transforms all the conditions and circumstances that constitute our world, adding that “Sound and music offer artists limitless context, a natural influence, an interaction that unfolds perfectly and a place of free use at the center of the relationship between production and consumption. One of the principle concepts of the exhibition is to listen again to the sound and music that have left their source and that confront all of life’s dynamics, to dream of them again and to remember that they can reveal their existence as part of new relationships.”

Istanbul Modern Curator Çelenk Bafra noted the content and audiovisual diversity of the works in the exhibition “Plurivocality”, saying: “The exhibition features artists that discuss sound as a concept so as to virtually create ‘soundless music’ out of visual elements as well as artists that conceive the auditory and the visual in their installations with sound to increase the artistic expression and associations of their work. There are also artists that use already existing songs as a starting point in order to create an allegory of the individual and/or society. ‘Plurivocality’ is thus worth visiting not just to see the reverberation of sound and music in the visual arts but also to perceive their impact on theindividuals and society.”

Laying emphasis on plurivocality, Çelenk Bafra noted that thanks to the research and artworks, she hoped that “the exhibition will open to discussion the role of sound and music as a means of sociocultural transmission and a source of memory in Turkey.” Bafra added that “the exhibition has been structured so as to remind the audience of the country’s social and cultural diversity in addition to the different modes in which contemporary artists in Turkey deal with the relationship between visuality and sound/music.” Bafra said that we “would rather not look for a single melody, a holistic perspective, or absolute harmony in the exhibition; because ‘Plurivocality’ insists on being multiple, pluralistic and plurivocal, just like the culture of our geography.”

17 artists from diverse generations and artistic styles

In 2012, Istanbul Modern commissioned a musical composition for “Blue Symphony” featured in the exhibition “Fifty Years of Urban Walls: A Burhan Doğançay Retrospective.” Thus, for the first time in Turkey, a musical piece was created drawing inspiration from a painting. Composed by Kamran İnce and performed by pianist Hüseyin Sermet, the composition premiered at Istanbul Modern. In “Blue Symphony”, Doğançay uses pictorial elements as musical tools. In the exhibition, viewers will be able to experience the painting together with a recording of this performance.

Among works to be exhibited for the first time in Turkey are: Nevin Aladağ’s video installation “Session”, commissioned by the Sharjah Biennial in 2013, in which she looks at the interplay of percussion instruments in and around the city; “Balloons on the Sea”, in which Hale Tenger uses images and sounds composed by musician Serdar Ateşer to emphasize the dilemmas of the individual torn between reality and illusion; the video installation “Quintet Without Borders”, in which Ergin Çavuşoğlu collaborated with the Bulgarian film director Konstantin Bojanov to question notions such as identity, culture and borders through music performed by five Romany musicians under the lead of Selim Sesler, the clarinet virtuoso; the trilogy“Performance for a Poem”, in which Erinç Seymen collaborated with the Slovenian artist duo Son:DA to produce a recording of performances carried out in three different countries, exploring topics such as oppression, censorship, and ultranationalism through the manipulation of sound and images; and :mentalKLINIK’s sculpture “FrenchKiss” in which two French horns are bound to each other, pointing to the processes of communication and interaction between people. Vahit Tuna’s work “Sunshine” draws attention to the use of sound and music as apparatuses of power and repression. In the sound installation “His Master’s Voice”, Borga Kantürk re-produces social history and memory through the song “Unutturamaz Seni Hiçbir Şey” (Nothing Can Make Me Forget You), engraved in our memories via the different versions sung by masters of Turkish art music. Hussein Chalayan explores the concepts of culture and identity in “I am Sad Leyla,” in which Sertab Erener, accompanied by an orchestra, sings a prominent example of classical Turkish music. In his installation with sound, titled “Imminence of Desire”, names given to Istanbul at different eras appear on a signboard accompanied by the sound of seagulls, which are a symbol of this city. Here Chalayan uses sound to place Istanbul within an intercultural, transhistorical context. In “I Can Sing”, Ferhat Özgür uses a song to convey the confrontation of the individual caught between modernization and the traditional way of life.

Fikret Atay’s video “Tinica”, which recently entered the Istanbul Modern collection, emphasizeshow art has the potential and power to change life. Cevdet Erek participates in the exhibition with “Black with White”, also featured for the first time in the exhibition “Neighbours” at Istanbul Modern. This time he uses the interrelations between sound/music and the visual to reinterpret the work for the context and space of “Plurivocality” and expand it by adding his work “Shore Scene Soundtrack(SSS)”.

In pursuit of the rhythm of contemporary music, Merve Şendil carries out a kind of field research into alternative music for Turkey through her open archive project and her installation “Underscene Project” in which she records amateur music groups. Together with the participants she includes in her project, she proposes new possibilities to share and present music.

Semiha Berksoy’s original approach to art and multifaceted personality, which match up so well with the exhibition “Plurivocality”, can be experienced in a room reserved for the artist where viewers can look at scenes from her life, listen to an aria in her own voice and look at her paintings of sound and music.

The first section of the exhibition hall features entirely silent works. Almost like an association of silent sounds, Sarkis brings together his series inspired by one iconic image of art history, “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. “True Blue (Left)” by :mentalKLINIKis a video which allows us to sense the possibility of sound created by a hand touching a wall.Füsun Onur’s installation “Prelude” is a “soundless” musical piece without a specific form and in which different colors and textures are virtually transformed into sound.

Closing the exhibitionisServet Koçyiğit’s video “To Die For”, which uses the popular song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to emphasize that a universal unity of emotions can be created among different people, cultures and groups through music.


“Repertoire” includes visual productions such as paintings, sketches, prints, photographs, and 8 mm films, as well as documents such as sheet music, periodicals, letters, scripts, record covers and comic strips, and also audio materials such as compositions, poetry readings, and oral narratives. Opening with Ottoman calligrapher Ahmet Karahisari’s calligraphy exercise, “Repertoire” examines cultural change and transformations such as the Naum Theater and Mızıka-ı Hümayun (The Imperial Band) during the westernization process. “Repertoire” also studies the era’s musical practices and performances through a harmonium from the 1870s belonging to one of the first female composers, Leyla (Saz) Hanım. The research goes on to explore the role of music and the visual arts during the late Ottoman era and the Republic’s new sociocultural order through works by names such as Halil Paşa, Hoca Ali Rıza, Osman Hamdi Bey, Abdülmecid Efendi, İbrahim Çallı, Müfide Kadri, İbrahim Safi, Refik Epikman, Hamit Görele and Aliye Berger.

“Repertoire”continues with the effects of the restructuring that occurred in Turkey during the early Republican era in the art and culture scene. Itproceeds with counterparts in the visual arts with the works of Ahmed Adnan Saygun and Cemal Reşit Rey, who exemplify this process of change and transformation in the field of music. “Repertoire” looks at affinities in the thoughts and productions of Cihat Burak, Maide Arel, Mahmut Cüda, Nuri İyem, Cemal Tollu, Cevat Dereli, Burhan Uygur, Fikret Mualla, Abidin Dino, Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu, Eren Eyüboğlu, Avni Arbaş, Nejad Melih Devrim, Erol Akyavaş, Yüksel Arslan, Ara Güler,and Turhan Selçuk, as well asAşık Veysel, Aşık İhsani, and Neyzen Tevfik, and shares their poetry and music while focusing on Yunus Emre, a name often treated in the visual and auditory fields.

Expanding its scope by exploring exhibition projects and collective initiatives during the multi-party era of the 1950s, the research presents examples of projects and initiatives which offered cultural diversity, such as Helikon Derneği (The Helikon Foundation), Maya Sanat Galerisi (Maya Art Gallery), and Çekirdek Sanat Evi (Çekirdek Art House). While including research carried out by Bülent Arel and İlhan Mimaroğlu on electronic music, it explains the use of rhythm and measure in pictorial compositions through the works of Abidin Elderoğlu,Sabri Berkel andZeki Faik İzer. It continues with the similarities between the music of İlhan Usmanbaş and the rhythm- and measure-theme sketches of Adnan Çoker, as wellas the illustrations of Barış Manço. Sketches and photographs of Zeki Müren from his years at the Academy of Fine Arts show an unknown aspect of the artist. The reverberations of the sociopolitical dynamics of the 1980s in the field of art are presented in the works of Gülsün Karamustafa and Mehmet Sönmez, which exemplify urbanization and immigration awareness. Ending with images from Cengiz Çekil’s work dated 1995, “Deaf Scream”, “Repertoire” yields to the main exhibition where the repertoire of an entirely new process begins with “In the Beginning, the Scream” by Sarkis.

Exhibition events

  • Throughout the course of the exhibition “Plurivocality”, music/sound performances, panel discussions, and talks will be held themed around a great variety of music genres and with the participation of exhibition artists and experts in music.
  • Prepared by Istanbul Modern’s Education and Social Projects Department and based on artworks in the exhibition, “Pictures with Sound” will be offered to educational institutions on weekdays while a program of activities consisting of various workshops will be held on weekends for children of different age groups and their families, again in conjunction with the exhibition.
  • Istanbul Modern Library will offer books and catalogues on artists from the “Plurivocality” exhibition. In conjunction with these, the broad time frame covered and collected in the “Repertoire” has been made possible with the publications from the world of music. These publications have served as references for the introductory texts on musicians indicated in the “Repertoire”. Moreover, these publications are now part of the Istanbul Modern Library. As such, the Istanbul Modern Library now encompasses an extensive repertory for music specifically focusing on artists and periods covered in the “Repertoire”.
  • With its updated archive, Istanbul Modern Library is open to all students and visitors who would like to study interactions between visual and audio production, and investigate the creative output in these fields in Turkey. Apart from the catalogue for the exhibition, a selection of designs reflecting the exhibition’s theme is now available at the Istanbul Modern Store. Besides notebooks, bags, and personal accessories from their handmade recycled material by “Ya Da Design”, the selection also includes objects inspired by music, small-sized percussion instruments, as well as fun percussion instruments for children.