Traditional Ottoman tile patterns incorporating Nike, Starbucks, Apple and Coca-cola logos (project details here)
P R O J E C T C O N C E P T S A N D I D E A S
Elements common to patterns in Ottoman design and contemporary everyday life
Patterns are defined by repetition and the repetition of patterns is predictable, offering certainty in the face of uncertainty,
even order in the midst of chaos. I first had this thought when I was putting together my project proposal: that in the turmoil of conquering and subjugating civilizations and trying to defend and hold an empire together, the Ottoman rulers lived a precarious existence. So how comforting to surround themselves with motifs that repeated infinitely in predictable sequences. Do I resort to patterned behaviors myself in the face of the uncertainty of navigating a foreign culture? If so, what are they?
1. I go to Iznik Foundation every day
2. I'm drawn to stores where I know the products (I try to resist but sometimes it's a relief to surrender)
3. when I'm uncertain or feeling exposed I head for Starbucks. I know exactly whet to expect there (a branded and therefore predictable experience)
II. The infinite
III. Navigation of time
Time is inherent in patterns. As patterns are defined by repeating motifs,
a. each occurrence of the repeating motif is a visual event; in connecting them, patterns form a timeline.
b. in the repetition of their motifs, patterns have a frequency
c. importantly, Ottoman patterns are infinite. (Does this mean there is no time in them?)
Before the establishment of the secular republic in 1923 there were no clocks in Turkey. Think about what that means – the only way of moving through the day so that you get things done on any kind of schedule is by paying attention to the movements of the sun and the call to prayers. The call becomes a timekeeper, like setting an alarm clock 5 times a day to remind people of the most important responsibility of human existence.
IV. Navigation of space
As they unfold across the 2D plane, patterns provide a path we can "read" and follow – and one that holds no surprises in its predictable repetition. This offers structure and comfort. I'm always trying to locate myself to give myself context in an unfamiliar landscape. This helps me define where I'm going, which allows me to move forward. In Istanbul, most people spend a significant portion of each day performing navigation.
Time and mobility have been the two things I think about most here, and something we are all obsessed with. The traffic is terrible. It can take an hour and a half to travel 5 miles through the city; 3-hour commutes to and from work are not uncommon and in the process you will be on at least 2 forms of transportation. Strategies evolve: travel under ground or by water is best to avoid traffic congestion on the city streets – being on a bus only means you're in the same traffic jam as everyone else on the road.
Maybe some of my projects are about obstacle courses. Or things that show the passage of time in the aggregate. Like I could shave my head and photograph myself everyday to document regrowth – from day to day you don't see much but at the end of a period of time there is change. (Ha ha.) Or it takes how may minutes to smoke a cigarette; how many butts quantify all the minutes in a day?
V. Concealing and Revealing (covering and uncovering)
Ottoman tiles cover surfaces that separate and confine. This struck me profoundly when I visited Top Kapi Palace and realized it was essentially a fortress and designed to wall off the people inside. Some people were probably born, lived and died within the palace walls without ever leaving. The tiles made this confinement a little more palatable. They also probably provided the closest thing to contact with nature that people, particularly the inhabitants of the harem, ever experienced. No wonder paradise is imagined as a garden. Even while they cover, Ottoman patterns reveal the divine, making the invisible visible (the infinite, paradise).
A. Covering in everyday life
1. Dress: headscarves, jihab, etc
I am fascinated by the headscarves. Because despite what is covered, considerable effort is made to suggest vast riches concealed beneath. Hair piled high, suggesting luxuriant tressesdistorting and elongating the shape of the head. I am reminded of that thing about how the body partially clad is more alluring than wholly nude because of the potency of engaging the viewer's imagination. So perhaps the goal is subverted as a whole!
2. Curtained windows
(Turks are obsessed with this: the first week I was here my landlady, who lives upstairs, wrote me a letter asking me to please draw my curtains at night so people could not see into the apartment – I had flung them all open to get some light in the place, but obviously this was not socially acceptable) Note: Erdogan has famously said "A woman without covering is like a house without a curtain"
B. Uncovering in everyday life
a. Exposed pvc piping a feature of all rental apartments; affords ready access for cheap repairs (the responsibility of tenant)
b. Dumpsters on residential street corners for household trash disposal; buildings don't have trash pick-up, so people bring their garbage out to the street each day. Other people pick through to see what they can find.
c. Laundry. From apartment hunting I learned that while all Turkish households have washing machines, none of them have dryers. This is because in Turkey people don't really think machine drying clothing is healthful. And in winter months, when the heat is very dry, they like to have laundry hanging inside where it humidifies the air. But when possible laundry is hung outside to dry. And there is is for all the world to see: socks and underwear, sexy nightgowns, bras. It's a very intimate revelation.Laundry hangsoff balconies for your neighbors' appreciation and even over the street between buildings for passersby to observe. Neighbors will even rig a line between buildings and share it.
VI. Appropriating / Reclaiming Space
Two points regarding Ottoman tiles. First, they extend the space of palaces and mosques into the realm of the infinite and divine, providing a window through which we see a perfect world. Second, the Ottoman Empire was the result of rapid geographic expansion, or the appropriation of space and the subjugation of the peoples who occupied them, peoples with diverse cultures, traditions, values and beliefs. The Ottoman Empire’s perpetuation depended on successfully assimilating its subjugated populations into a cohesive whole and ensuring the orderly transfer of power through uncontested succession. In Ottoman design, pattern evokes these vital goals of state by integrating varied visual motifs into sequences that comprise a unified scheme. These motifs repeat rhythmically across expanses of space, disappearing beyond their frames to suggest infinite continuation. It is delicious to consider the uninterrupted patterns in Ottoman design to represent an idealized empire of diverse cultures united into a harmonious and unending whole.
Reclaiming space in everyday life
1. People walking in the gutters (narrow sidewalks, people don’t move over)
2. cars driving on sidewalks (vehicles in a hurry)
3. balconies as extensions of interior spaces. Balconies often become a junk room, for extra storage – sometimes even enclosed for this purpose. I looked at one apartment where the laundry washer and the microwave were out on the balcony, and it wasn't enclosed at all, but open to the elements.
4. tattoos; in particular, the Ataturk signature: makes use of the body for political message
often political and seen in spaces whose ownership/purposes are in dispute
*From these thoughts general concepts emerge for projects:
recognition; a sense of the familiar
a sense of certainty – knowing what to expect
marking the elapse of time
connections and relationships
COVERING / UNCOVERING or CONCEALING / REVEALING
IDENTITY (this is the big one)
individual and collective; within patterns, individual motifs stand alone but are also part of a greater overarching design;
you can’t see the sum of the parts until you look beyond the individual
inclusion and exclusion
if you repudiate your history and your heritage, who are you?
and if you don't know who you are how do you move forward?