Can Altay

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Architecture (general)
Visual Arts (installation art)
Middle East
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December 4, 2006
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Spatial appropriations, social encounters and forms of human improvisation within urban structures

Can Altay was born in 1975 and lives and works in Ankara, Turkey. He describes his practice as, ‘established within the realms of architecture, art, design and theory. It deals with the spatial appropriations, social encounters and forms of human improvisation within urban structures.’
The urban structures that have provided the predominant models for Altay’s research based projects are his home city of Ankara and Istanbul.
He uses multidisciplinary methods to investigate and record the daily life of urban dwellers. More specifically focussing on ways in which seemingly ordinary routines and social trends subvert and reinvent the confines of official architectural spaces and their designated uses. He acts as a social cartographer inviting the viewer to question the way in which they navigate their urban environments.
Altay creates multi-media installations from collections of projected images, photos, sound and text. He does little to direct the viewer through his archives preferring to leave us to discover a route for ourselves. These interactive works ask you to spend time, to watch, listen and forage, to dwell within them.
In the Minibar(2001) projects, shown in Istanbul 8th Biennial, Altay examines a recent yet common phenomenon of groups of young people gathering in outdoor spaces between residential and commercial buildings at night to socialise and drink alcohol. Slide projectors show a sequence of blurry action night shots and sound recordings of the revellers in their unofficial bars and contrasting images of the same spaces in their ‘official’ daylight hours. Detail shots of bottles tops in gutters and other remnants are shown as if collecting evidence of what happens after dark, the traces of the other lives of the spaces.
A later part of this project documented the response to these spontaneous events such as legitimate but casual temporary looking bars opening in some ‘minibar’ locations in an attempt to lure people off the street and therefore back into the arms of the organised and regulated city. Other locations saw the installation of raised security fences and metal bars recalling Altay’s interest in Foucault’s theories on power and non-normativity.
Influenced by Lefebvre’s The Production of Space and Bataille’s ideas on transgression Altay’s research reveals how this popular activity, born out of the wish for diversity and economy, ‘it’s cheaper to drink in the street’ says one minibar goer, exemplifies the constant reconfiguration of seemingly fixed urban structures by their occupants. He describes this as “ utilisation of the physical environment \outside the intent of the builders, designers and residents”. In recent projects Altay examined even more marginal practices that evade the notice and confines of structures of authority.
We’re Papermen, He said, (2003) is an installation of DVD and slide projections, text and photos on used paper of research gathered by Altay on the routines of Ankara’s ‘papermen’. These men are the unofficial recyclers and rubbish men of Ankara and Istanbul eking out a living by sifting through the city’s rubbish for paper and other materials that can be sold on. They are a familiar daily sight on the streets of these Turkish cities and while working outside of the official rubbish disposal services their work also supports them. A self invented profession working within the urban structure while on the outside of legal employment. This is a neglected, remarkable yet not remarked on group.
Altay does not strive to uncover the hidden or unseen; there is no digging deep into the dark under belly of subversions unbeknown to the average city dweller. These familiar microcosms that exist and develop between the gaps of the structures and architecture of our cities reveal the possibility to transgress the formal social constructs of urban living.
Perhaps a good artistic context in which to view Altay’s practice is suggested by his inclusion in Normalization, a three part series of events, exhibitions and discussions held by Platform Guaranti in Istanbul in 2005. Artists who gathered, discussed and responded to this enigmatic notion of normalization were those such as fellow Turkish artist Esra Ersen, Phil Collins and Solmaz Shahbazi.
Turkey’s ongoing internal tensions with minority groups provides a cultural context for Ersen and Altay’s practices which share a particular sensitivity and concern for the issues surrounding marginality. Ersen’s installation If You Could Speak Swedish 2001 highlights the difficulties with language, translation, self expression and therefore integration experienced by immigrants to Sweden.
Shahbazi in her Tehran 1380 series offers up different approaches to her home city photographs and film that record memories and structures that exist within its society. Phil Collin’s photographs and footage of instigated events examine the alternative societal structures that form often as coping mechanisms in areas of conflict. These artists work with alternative forms of the representation of relationships between societies and their environments place and Altay’s work within a wider contemporary discourse. They continue to offer up to us the exceptions to the rule, the transformations and transgressions that occur in the gaps between and within the formal societal, architectural and theoretical structures that appear dominant.
Can Altay has participated in numerous international Biennales including Istanbul 8, Biennale de Havana 2003 and the Busan Biennale in Korea in 2006. He has taken part in group shows such as ‘Day Labor’ 2005 in P.S.1 – MoMA New York, ‘NowHere Europe’ in the National Museum of Contemporary Art (MNAC) in Bucharest and ‘Normalization’ 2005 at Platform Guaranti Contemporary Art Centre in Istanbul. In 2002 Altay founded SASA- School of Applied Spatial Anthropologists, this is an on going project dedicated to the observation and recording of ‘socio-spatial’ events.
Author: Yasmeen Alawadi


Can was born in Ankara in 1975. He gained his B. F. A in 1997 from the Institute of Art and Design, Bilkent University, Department of Interior Architecture and Environmental Design, Ankara and gained his M. F. A from the same institution in 1999. He went on to complete a year long Critical Studies Post-Graduate Program at the Malmö Art Academy, Lund University, Rooseum Centre for Contemporary Art, Sweden and achieved his PhD from the Department of Environmental Design and Architecture at the Institute of Art, Design and Architecture, Bilkent University, Ankara, in 2004.



Published Written,
• 2005 - ´Can Altay´, W. Bradley, ´Frieze´, issue 92 June/July/August 2005. Page 148 • 2005 - ´Cagdas Sanatta Hayatin Sanat Olma Hali´, with Sener Ozmen, text of the speech: ´Cagdas Sanat Konusmalari´, ed. Levent Colakoglu Yapi Kredi Yayinlari: Istanbul. Pages 45 - 87. • 2005 - ´Can Altay, the uncommon place: art, public space and urban aesthetics in Europe´, ed. Bartolomeo Pietromarchi. Actar: Barcelona and Fondazione Andriano Olivetti: Rome. Page 178 - 183. • 2005 - ´Makullestirme, Kaybolma ve Bellek Yitimi´, interview by Ozgur Tek for the magazine ISTANBUL, issue 53 April 2005, Traih Vakfi Yayinlari. Page 80 - 85. • 2004 - ´Spots and Stains: The Unerasable vs. Self-effacing Traces of Malevolance´, Ariane Muller. Text for the exhibition. KunstBank, Berlin.


Exhibition / Installation,
• May 2006 - ´Can Altay: No Bar, Just Bottles´, The Abstract Cabinet at Sala Rekalde, Bilbao, Spain. Curated by Leire Vergara (cat).


Intermedia project,
• 2003 - ´Bunker Research Group´. Research and Ehibition series, initiated by Huseyin Alptekin. • 2002 - founded ´SASA: school of applied spatial anthropologists´, an ongoing project devoted to the observation, interpretation, record and representation of certain social-spatial events and conditions where the urban, social and architectural space is bent, shifted, pushed or subverted, which show possibilities of transgression in the urban social condition. • 2001 - ´ABAP: as big as possible´, a collective project initiated by Serkan Özkaya, involving exhibitions and a book.


Exhibition / Installation,
• November 2006 - ´How to Build a Universe That Doesn´t Fall Apart Two Days Later´, CCA Wattis Institute, San Francisco, USA. Curated by Will Bradley. • September 2006 - ´A Tale of Two Cities: Busan Biennale´, Busan, South Korea. Directed by Manu Park. • November 2005 - ´Day Labor´, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Centre-MoMA, New York, USA. Curated by Amy Smith-Stewart. • October 2005 - ´Istanbul Eindhoven´, Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, Netherlands. Curated by Eva Meyer-Hermann and Charles Esche. • June 2005 - ´Cork Caucus´, Cork, Ireland. Curated by Charles Esche and Annie Fletcher. • June 2005 - ´NowHere Europe´, Polo Museale Veneziano Alla Misericordia, Venice. Curated by Bartolomeo Pietromarchi. Collateral event of the 51. Venice Biennial. • May 2005 - ´Arbeitshaus: Einatmen, Ausatmen (House of Work: Inhale, Exhale)´, KunstHaus Dresden. Curated by Christiane Mennicke and Annette Weiser. • March 2005 - ´Normalization´, Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Centre, Istanbul. • March 2005 - ´How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age´, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Monterrey. Curated by Philippe Vergne (on tour). • January 2005 - ´Art for...´, Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Centre, Istanbul. • November 2004 - ´How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age´, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Internacional Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City. Curated by Philippe Vergne (on tour). • November 2004 - ´How Can You Resist? - L.A. Freewaves 9th Biennial Festival of Film, Video and New Media´, Los Angeles, USA. • October 2004 - ´STARSHIP space debris´, BÜRO DC, Köln. • September 2004 - ´Common Property - Allgemeingut 6th Werkleitz Biennial´, Halle, Germany. • July 2004 - ´How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age´, Houston Contemporary Arts Museum. Curated by Philippe Vergne (on tour). • May 2004 - ´Can Altay, Bauer and Krauss, New Beginnings´, Signal, Malmö. • April 2004 - ´Call me Istanbul´, ZKM, Karlsruhe. Curated by Peter Weibel, Roger Conover, Eda Cufer. (cat). • March 2004 - ´Manyfacture´, Living Art Museum, Reykjavik, Iceland. • November 2003- ´4D: four dimensions, four decades - 8th Havana Biennial´. Curated by RAIN. (cat). • September 2003 - ´Poetic Justice: 8th Istanbul Biennial´. Curated by Dan Cameron. (cat) • July 2003 - ´Making Space´, Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Centre, Istanbul. Curated by November Paynter • June 2003 - ´How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age´, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Torino. Curated by Philippe Vergne (on tour). • February 2003 - ´How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age´, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis. Curated by Philippe Vergne (cat). • September 2001 - ´Becoming a Place - Yerle?mek´, Proje4L Istanbul Contemporary Art Museum. Curated by Vasif Kortun. (cat). • October 2000 - ´Ankara´da Genc Sanat-3´, Cankaya Centre for Contemporary Arts, Ankara. Curated by Vasif Kortun, organised by a+A (Unesco AIAP). (cat). • November 1998 - ´A Special Day´, ICAP, Istanbul. Curated by Vasif Kortun


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

Artist to Artist International Scheme

(12 January 04 - 20 June 07)