This visit to Istanbul coincided with the Istanbul Bienal and was funded through the European Commission project, Rhyzom, with partners Agency (UK), aaa (France), Public Works (UK), PS2 (Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland). The field trip was to visit our Turkish partners, the Cultural Agencies project, curated by Nikolaus Hirsch, Philip Misselwitz and Oda Projesi:
The project fosters an intensive exchange between international students, artists, curators, architects, and Istanbul’s cultural institutions as well as local communities in order to mutually develop initiatives for the future of these peripheries.
An interdisciplinary project by artists, architects, and students on the topics of city planning and public space in Istanbul’s peripheries. An initiative of the Allianz Cultural Foundation in cooperation with the Platform Garanti & Garanti Gallery (Istanbul), the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts (Istanbul), and the Städelschule (Frankfurt).

In the year 2010, Istanbul will be the Europpean Capital of Culture. While the focus of the celebration’s accompanying program is primarily concerned with the historic city centre, the interdisciplinary program “New Cultural Agencies” designs models for the development of a cultural infrastructure for Istanbul’s peripheries and outskirts, the former so-called Gecekondu [literally ‘built overnight] areas. Over the years, the informal,improvised structures to appear in these peripheries were created with protagonists (“agencies”) which try to compensate in part for missing public institutions.


An extensive tour of the Cultural Agencies project, located around an hour from the ‘centre’ of Istanbul in a neighbourhood on the Asian side of the city, was a challenging and thought-provoking introduction to the layered social and cultural complexity of Istanbul’s urban makeup. In this ideologically-charged neighbourhood, the ‘neighbourhood beautification association’ is always at risk of being hijacked by varying radical political interests. There is also outright antagonism in relation to the Bienal (privately funded) and the audacity of its – more accurately, the curators’ – appropriation of the Brechtian question, What Keeps Mankind Alive?
(all photos September 2009, copyright Sarah Browne)