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The most expensive key I’ve ever owned opens the doors to a world of trash (not that I’m complaining)

Posted at 13:43 June 12, 2012 in Arts & Culture

It’s around 23:30. We’ve just finished wining and dining at the Istanbul Culinary Institute in Tepebaşı. I tell my date I’m taking him somewhere. I intend to surprise him.

We stroll towards the Mısır Apartmanı, one of Beyoğlu’s most beautiful historic buildings, which is presently home to mostly offices and art galleries.  As we climb its stairs, we’re both full of anticipation; me, mischievously; him, curiously.

- What’re we doing here, he asks, isn’t everything closed by now?

- Hopefully, I say, and grin.

We reach the fifth floor, where Gallery Non resides. Its door is locked shut, naturally. I take out a key from my purse, and much to his surprise, unlock the door. The place is ours for however long we want it.

Only, that’s not what happens. The doors are already open and my “see, I have the keys to the gallery!” surprise is completely ruined. Apparently two women and a man with small loudspeakers and a very questionable music taste have beaten us to it.

So what is all this?

The latest exhibition at Non is not really an exhibition, but lack thereof. Brainchild of the Kosovan artist Sislej Xhafa, the (un)exhibition called  NON Unplugged 2012 has a very simple premise. A key maker sits at the gallery during its open hours and reproduces copies of the key to the gallery door, which can be purchased for 20 TL. You can then use your key to enter the gallery afterhours.  The gallery offers its walls, its floor and its ceiling as a canvas to its visitors: you can do whatever you want.

This is the exhibition.

Let’s face it, ever since the Dada movement flipped everything we know about art around its head at the beginning of the last century, nothing’s been the same on the art front. Remember Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, his infamous installation dated 1917, which is basically a porcelain urinal turned upside down? Or Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII dated 1966, a rectangular configuration of 120 bricks denounced by the revered Burlington Magazine as “something that could have occurred to any brick layer”? How about Damien Hirst’s coloured polka dots? Or Piero Manzoni’s tin-canned poop labelled ‘Artist’s Shit, contents 30gr net freshly preserved, produced and tinned in May 1961′? The examples which challenge, subvert and outright ridicule who decides what art is, what art should be, what role the artist plays in the creation of art and where art belongs are endless.

In our case, the artist’s exploration is around the themes of trust and security of the controlled, planned organization of an exhibition space versus the transparency and freedom offered to the visitor via a key to the gallery. Often creating works where he provokes the viewer to engage with his art, Sislej Xhafa would like to know: our experience with art is almost exclusively mediated through an institution’s conventions, what happens when that’s taken away?

Graffiti happens. Lots and lots of graffiti.

We walk past the two apparently drunk women and man, part bellydancing to some arabesk tunes and part trying to maintain their upright position. The walls (and the floor) have filled up considerably since the first time I’ve come here to purchase the key 3 days ago. There’s a small desk with a couple of beer cans on it in one corner; I’m pretty sure that wasn’t here the last time either. And there’s trash. Lots and lots of trash.

Still a little disappointed for not having been able to use my key (yes, it crosses my mind for one brief second, ‘We could lock these people up and leave you know’), annoyed by the music, but still enjoying having been part of something so quirky, I scribble the words sic transit gloria mundi on the wall. It only seems fair. Elif Ince.

Last 4 days to visit NON Unplugged 2012, the exhibition ends on June 15.

Gallery Non, Mısır Apartmanı, Beyoğlu.

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