Turkish Artist Can Altay Addresses Fight for Public Space in Lower East Side Park Installation

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Turkish artist Can Altay’s “Inner Space Station” (pictured), a circular six-foot concrete bench, was installed at the entrance of Seward Park on New York’s Lower East Side in early May as part of an initiative by Protocinema, a nonprofit arts organization that organizes pop-up exhibitions in New York and Istanbul. Creative Time director of global initiatives Laura Raicovich told ARTINFO: “It is an invitation or a proposal. It is both introverted, and extroverted, inviting both contemplation and exchange.” For some downtown observers, the piece has been eerily prescient of the current international spotlight on Turkey and the civil unrest that has roiled the country in recent weeks.

The incident that helped fan the flames of public anger there was a public protest over the government’s plans to raze Gezi Park in Taksim Square and replace it with a shopping mall. Seated in Seward Park last month, before the eruptions in Turkey, the Ankara-born, Istanbul-based artist engaged in conversation with Raicovich as visitors nearby lounged on his public artwork.

“I’ve been working a lot in relationship to my questions around public space,” Altay said. “How public space is formed and regulated… and also the boundaries within public space, especially within urban context, how those boundaries are created and transgressed sometimes, but also maintained.”

Speaking about the issues raised by “Inner Space Station,” Raicovich said: “These notions are perhaps all the more urgent, powerful and poignant in light of the defense of that space, both literal and figurative, being waged in Gezi Park in Can’s native Turkey.” She added: The piece is ALWAYS being used… folks playing cards, kids using it as a fort, as a meeting spot, or a place to make a call or read a book. It is being used in sundry, wonderful ways.”

Back in 2010, Altay curated “PARK: a Possibility,” in Istanbul’s Cumhurriyet Park about a mile north of Taksim Square, questioning the potential role of green spaces in the complex urban ecosystem. “Inner Space Station” will be on view in Seward Park through June 30.

— Eileen Kinsella

(Image courtesy the artist, Protocinema.)