Art and philosophy come together in Taswir ProjectsProf. A. Shulamit Bruckstein Çoruh, is a thinker, curator, art critic, and a theory artist. She is the founder of Taswir Project (Berlin); a collaborative agency for artistic research and diasporic thinking. Formerly a professor for philosophy, image theory, and Jewish medieval literature at various universities in Jerusalem, Berlin, Basel and Frankfurt.
She moved to Berlin after residing 20 years in Jerusalem and currently she is living in Istanbul. The first time I met her was in an art conference in Istanbul. I was impressed with her fluent and vivid presentation. It really did attract my attention when I saw the visual of the three Talmudic Scholars in her art presentation and I wanted to know more about her and understand how she related this visual with her art studies and projects.
Would you tell us about yourself? Would you introduce yourself for the Shalom newspaper readers?
Thank you dear Mirey for coming out all the way to Tarabya, this beautiful place, right next to the German ambassador’s summer house. I am a writer, thinker, curator, and art critic, maybe something like a theory artist. Formerly a professor for philosophy, image theory, and Jewish medieval literature at various universities in Jerusalem, Berlin, Basel, Frankfurt, I am working as an independent curator, art critic, and writer for more than a decade now, connecting theory and art, contemporary and ancient objects, Jewish cosmopolitan traditions with the fields of contemporary art. The last ten years I have had the privilege of creating exhibitions with outstanding international artists mainly from the Middle East, including Turkey, exhibitions that are also chapters of artistic and philosophical research. What interests me in my writing and research is the structure and dynamic of what I call “diasporic thinking”: a way of thinking – and of artistic creativity - that works itself from the margin to the center, from “outside-in”, looking at the manifold margins of society, and of artistic creativity, and looking for ways in which these margins may mingle, mix-up, renew, or subvert any kind of uniform “center”.
You are the founder of Taswir Project; a collaborative agency for artistic research and Diasporic thinking? Can you tell us more about your project? Why did you name your Project as Tawsir?
I founded Taswir projects together with a group of friends, artists and scholars, in Berlin in 2001 when I came to Berlin from Jerusalem where I had lived for more than twenty years. Together we felt the urgent need of a revival and renaissance of cosmopolitan traditions, especially those of non-European provenances, that were developed in pre-modern Jewish, Islamic, Eastern Orthodox, Persian, Armenian, Ottoman contexts, cosmopolitan traditions that have been “left out” by the European Enlightenment and that never made it into the Western European canon, traditions which have been first forgotten and then sorted out by the West as “Oriental,” “Eastern,” and have thus been considered until way into the 20th century irrelevant to the project of modernity. We were interested in the transformation of this request for a revival of cosmopolitanism into an artistic research project. Why? Because we felt that, anything connected to “tradition” that is dealt within the literary field is in danger to be occupied by politics. It is very difficult to defend cosmopolitan, non-nationalist agendas outside the field of political instrumentalization. When you move into the field of contemporary art, the retrieval of traditions buried under the grip of political interests becomes a truly inspiring challenge: contemporary art can transform, transpose, re-create, and reposition long-lost cosmopolitan agendas.
In the beginning, 2001, Taswir projects was still called “ha’atelier” - “The Studio” - in Hebrew. Since 2010, ha’atelier took on the name of Taswir. It became ‘Taswir projects’, or ‘House of Taswir’, named after the large TASWIR exhibition I curated for the Martin-Gropius-Bau in 2009, an exhibition with 65 contemporary artists from more than 20 countries. The artists invited to re-contextualize objects of classical “Islamic art” – we collaborated with more than 20 international collections of Islamic art, from the Hermitage to the Louvre to the British Museum. The Taswir exhibition became an important reference point for all our exhibitions thereafter. Our exhibitions are contemporary, ancient, poetic and associative in method, non-linear in their narrative form, performative in their settings, open for public discourse. We always include a kind of bet midrash or madrasa for artistic research in our exhibitions. Artists, scholars, thinkers, art lovers, and flaneurs mingle.
Actually, you live in Berlin but you have been in Istanbul for a while. From September 2018 to April 2019, you have spent eight months in the Tarabya Culture Academy; what brought you to Istanbul what was the scholarship about?
The Tarabya Cultural Academy resides in the summer residency of the German Embassador in Tarabya. The German Foreign Office extends fellowships to a small number of artists and writers who live in Germany and invites them to develop projects of their choice in Istanbul - writers, visual artists, filmmakers, poets, curators, and theorists. I was lucky to have received one of those Tarabya fellowships during the year 2018-2019. I applied with an artistic research project dedicated to one of the most important female figures in the history of contemporary art in Istanbul and Turkey; the curator, writer, and art critic, Beral Madra. Her archive, the BM Contemporary Art Center in which she is active till today, is an important center for visiting curators, artists, and scholars from all over the globe. Beral Madra was the curator of the first and second International Istanbul Biennial; she curated at least five national Pavilions for Turkey at the International Venice Biennial, and created more than 250 international exhibitions with artists from all over the region. She is still one of the most active and influential curators and art critics of Istanbul. What fascinates me in her work is not only the excellency of the artistic scenes she creates, but also the way she works with artists in regions of conflict, the way in which she creates her own kind of diplomacy in the field of contemporary art. My eight months project, supported by the Goethe Institute Istanbul, is a homage to this eminent female Istanbul curator. With a small research team, we are transforming her archive into an artistic installation, into a digital curatorial cartography in which you may follow the names of artists, artistic themes and agendas, and venues of contemporary art from Beirut to Istanbul to Cairo to Sarajevo and Berlin. This cartography also includes theoretical texts concerned with the paradoxes and problems created by neo-liberal, super-capitalist, or nationalist institutional frameworks for critical contemporary artists. We present a small premiere of this cartographic installation in June 2019 in the Croatian city of Split, and in July here in Tarabya. It will also be presented as a parallel event in the framework of the 16th International Istanbul Biennial in September, 2019, in Berlin in the Hamburger Bahnhof in November, 2019, and in the city of Bern, in Switzerland, in 2020.
You have held various professorships in Philosophy, Image Theory and Jewish Medieval Literature. What is the link between your studies and art projects that you carry?
During my time in Jerusalem, I had the privilege to study rabbinic literature, medieval Jewish Philosophy, and some Talmudic texts with an eminent Talmudic scholar who came to Jerusalem in the 1940s and who had studied in the famous Eastern European Talmud Academy of Mir Yeshiva. He was a widely respected Halakhic authority and his name was Zev W. Gotthold, may His Memory be Blessed. I studied with him for more than fifteen years, on a daily basis, sometimes for hours. When I understood that rabbinic literature, which exhibits a fascinating form of diasporic thinking, can be hijacked and occupied by the State, and by nationalism, I moved to Europe, and now to Istanbul, and slowly started to transform the very format of rabbinic thinking - the format of the Talmudic page, for example, the famous Talmudic page with its living margins, its overflowing texts, its multi-temporal and multi-geographical references – into spatial artistic scenes for contemporary art. In some of my exhibitions I am translating the ancient page into contemporary exhibition formats, in hidden ways, not always obvious to the visitor. Also, I am following certain Halakhic concepts - such as ERUV (the mingling of fields, or courts, or any other kind of territories), or any other of those ancient concepts - and translate them into architectural epistemic principles. I wrote a book about these kind of transformations - it is called House of Taswir (2014). It is almost out of print. I might still have a few copies in Istanbul.
I know that you have extended your stay in Istanbul both for a prestigious art project and because you are amazed with Istanbul. First, what is your next project about and second how do you feel about Istanbul?
Istanbul is a city with an extremely intelligent, alert, brilliant contemporary art scene - much of its creativity is happening backstage - and I am always amazed how many doorways the city has to never-ending artistic spaces that are behind the scenes. Its creativity and artistic energy seem inexhaustible, even in times of hardship. The city has been very welcoming to the House of Taswir - and we have created several exciting exhibition projects for the summer. We will present a first edition of Beral Madra’s archive as artistic installation in the legendary Salon Galić in the Croatian city of Split in June, and then present the BM archive here in Istanbul in Tarabya on July 6, 2019. We managed to create a collaboration between BM Contemporary Art Center, the Goethe Institute and the Cultural Academy Tarabya in putting together a Berlin Istanbul team for the Beral Madra project, including the writer and curator from Istanbul, Sinan Eren Erk. In September, 2019, House of Taswir will present an ambitious exhibition as a parallel event to the 16th International Istanbul Biennial, called “Wednesday Society”. This exhibition will present a feminized, artistic version of Freud’s famous scholars’ association, with participating artists such as Meret Oppenheim, Rebecca Horn, Natela Iankoshvili, Gülçin Aksoy and Tony Chakar. Also, it will present another edition of Beral Madra’s archive, turning it into a future agenda of cosmopolitan revival. “Wednesday Society” is going to take place at the 400 sqm souterrain of ARTAM’s Antic Palace in the Maçka, Nişantaşı neighborhood. We will be happy to see you there!