Plato Art Space has an important place in the Turkish contemporary art scene. We had a pleasant conversation with the institution’s Artistic Director Ayşegül Yazıcı, receiving public acclaim with the exhibitions prepared with the curator Marcus Graf.
Why was Plato Art Space established? In which disciplines does the school offer educational programs? How did the idea of organizing exhibitions at Plato emerge? Plato Art Space has a mission that is different from commercial galleries. Can you explain this mission?
At a school offering professional training, our point of departure was to have Plato Art space situated in the most strategic point of the campus, at its core. Students passing through it at least once every day while going to their classes, was going to transform our gallery into a ‘compulsory classroom’. I can say that while founding Plato we aimed at turning artistic encounters into one of the main components of education and ‘installing it into the subconscious’. Today, as Plato College of Higher Education we offer education programs in Media, Design and Communication to around 4000 students. This is not a low number and even this fact alone illustrates the importance of Plato Art’s location within the campus. Another objective of ours in creating Plato’s exhibition program was to surpass the mediocre level of exhibitions we encounter at educational institutions, to offer ‘cult’ exhibitions to our audience. And I believe we were successful in doing so. The reactions we received during the installation phases of the exhibitions and in its aftermath as well as the variety of these reactions are particularly pleasant for me, because seeing that our work reaches an audience and receives a reaction proves that the gallery is alive. As years passed, we observed students that became curious in time and then wanted to create art after a while, who had initially expressed prejudice towards the artworks. As we install more exhibitions the frequency of such cases increases. It is an amazing feeling for me to come across some former students at the exhibition openings who had never been involved with an artistic activity during their high school years!
Your first exhibition?
Our first exhibition at Plato Art Space was Postcapital Archive 1989-2001 by the Catalan artist Daniel Garcia Andujar under the curatorship of Başak Şenova. The exhibition consisted of a digital archive composed of over 250,000 documents including texts, audio files and videos the artist collected from the Internet throughout the past decade and designed as a multimedia installation and open source database. Postcapital examined the social, political, economic and cultural transformations of the last twenty years around two crucial events, namely the 1989 Collapse of the Berlin Wall and 2001 September 11 attacks. The exhibition’s spatial design was also extremely daring. It was a successful opening.
How does it feel to work with Marcus Graf? How does your exhibition planning process work? The near future projects you want to realize at Plato?
We started to work with Marcus Graf in 2011 after our first two exhibitions. Working with Marcus is a very pacifying feeling, both as a dedicated colleague and a friend. For Marcus is not only a great specialist but is also a curator well adapted to Turkey’s conditions and realities, to a surprising extent for a foreigner. We went through many crises together due to the difficulties of being in Balat and our campus structure; there have been many interventions to our gallery space throughout the years; we expanded, we shrank, we sometimes had to prepare exhibitions under the smell of the food at the school’s cafeteria but he resisted all these with me, with his all-time cold-blooded and disciplined attitude. We managed to keep Plato Art space alive. I will always be thankful to him. It is also very enjoyable to talk with him about life, our collections and our children. Sometimes I feel like working in the fashion sector when working on our exhibitions. While we finalize one exhibition we already know at least two of the upcoming projects. Like having the winter collection ready while looking at the summer collection! We have 4 annual exhibitions; we organize artist talks and exhibition tours in between exhibition openings. Our three exhibitions that start in May and consecutively continue until end of the year were designed in a conceptually linked series format. As Plato we love the idea of exhibition series; we also practiced it in our Knowledge Series and Portfolio Series. Towards the end of the year we will focus on our International Artist Residency program which we organize once every few years. We will also have another surprise project in October.
Which sources do you draw inspiration from as a collector? Which publications do you follow? Which biennials and art fairs do you visit?
Believe me, it would take pages for me to answer this question! But as an outline I can say the following; I am very curious in general, also with the impact of my graphic design background; that is why I have an incredibly wide array of sources for inspiration. But from a schematic point of view, the sources that bring me from one to another proceed as: graphic design-design-contemporary art-architecture-literature. As I start from one edge I come out from another, diving into a competely different corridor and this cycle does not change easily. Every month I buy 3 books around these topics and I maintain this discipline even when I’m on the road. I never miss the local art fairs, both as a visitor and an exhibitior, and I try to visit at least 2 international art fairs every year.
Your late father Behruz Çinici is one of the most important Turkish architects. How did your close relationship to architecture affect your artistic viewpoint?
It is very valuable that you ask me this question; thank you very much for your sensitivity. My late father was an outstanding physical evidence for me; I lived and learnt how life and art were intertwined thanks to him. During my childhood our office was downstairs from our home and we were like a big family with all the architects and designers working at the Çinici Architects office. The intense work going on until 8 pm always ended with music (often with my father’s tanbur performances) and it resumed at 2 am in discipline until the early morning after my mother’s soups. My father also had close relations with the statesmen of that period thanks to the projects he realized around the country; I personally witnessed how they came to our house and to our invitations, establishing close and friendly relations with the artists. After such a childhood I notice that I love organizing big gatherings as well and I try to know better the artists that I work with. The feeling of spatiality, on the other hand, follows me with intensity everywhere I go; it is so intense that it can also become a torture, because badly designed buildings, bad urbanization, lack of scale, walking in terrible city squares hardly looking like one because of the fly-like statues installed in them, affect me very negatively. Unfortunately, in saying all this I also described the city we live in. Even in my simplest vacations I occasionally left a location I disliked as a physical space, annoying my company. In my own work this is probably the aspect through which I make our team suffer the most; the installation of the artworks in the gallery space and how they complement each other with the space are the most sensitive points for me.
What are your most important criteria in deciding your collection acquisitions? Did you delineate limits for your collection with a specific technique, theme or chronological framework?
I enjoy looking more closely at the artist as a person, spending time together with him or her and visiting his or her studio. The importance of this increased for me over the years. My collection basically has two subsections; the classic family heritage (that I try to support with new acquisitions) and the young, contemporary artists that I have been collecting more intensely in the last 8 years. Acquisitions were proceeding at a similar pace but these days, due to my work the emphasis shifted towards the young, local and contemporary artists. In terms of technique and style I look for the greatest variety possible.
In your opinion, what is the must of a good collection? What would be your advice to the newly beginning collectors?
Lately I have been reading an amazing book: “Collecting For Love, Money and More” (E. Wagner/ T. W. Wagner). Our curatorial assistant Melike Bayık’s gift… Departing from the title of this book and omitting ‘Money’ from the list of ingredients I can say the following: I cannot keep investment at the core of my collectorship. For me, passion, love at first sight and being in love with the work are the top priorities, which is very personal. As the investment axis changes like stock exchange and I am extremely skeptical about it, I believe my collection will become static if I select my acquisitions in accordance with this aspect. Once you really begin to collect -like an addict- your hands begin to shake in front of the artworks that trigger you; at least this is what happens to me… My advice to the beginners comes from my heart: begin by discovering the young talents of our own soil! Try to learn the international art scene more slowly, digesting it. We have incredible talents that deserve a support.
How did you learn about Art50.net?
A few years ago thanks to Marcus Graf, and started following it. As one of the tens of students of Marcus started working with us as well as Art50.net I naturally became more familiar with it. But I had already been carefully following the exhibitions they organized at Casa dell’Arte as a Bodrum summer dweller.