Geniş Açı Project Office

Geniş Açı Project Office

While this issue mainly includes independent initiatives, corporate organizations that also take initiatives need to be examined, too. By corporate organizations, we mean the organizations that have the legal personality and sustain themselves by generating an income through the sale of a service or product. The first question is common for all organizations, so we wanted to ask you, too: When we say independent art organizations, one of the main concepts is, of course, "independence". What does independence mean to you? As an art formation, what do you feel like you are dependent on, and what do you think you need to look out? 

Refik Akyüz: The ideal definition of independence -I think everyone would agree on this- is determining your own policy and continuing without being controlled by anyone. But this is quite not possible, of course. No matter how independent we describe ourselves, we are not people who come from wealthy families or have no economic problems. And we look for alternative methods. However, while still looking for this, we try to find mutual solutions and do things without compromising our style. Independence is a bit like that. Maybe we were even more independent while publishing the magazine because, at that time, only two things supported us: Readers and advertisements depending on the readers. The support of those readers was the main element that provided independence. We can compare this to crowdfunding today. Since we have started to continue based on projects, even though we still do things in our own way, we have to negotiate with the institutions that economically support that project.  

Serdar Darendeliler: We more dependent on what we want to do. We do not depend on a big agendum. We have a dependency on what we want to do, what we are interested in at that time, which is not a dependency but a commitment. There is not much compromise. We need to modify something rather than concession. If we cooperate with other institutions, we try to find a happy medium. If a situation requires a huge compromise, we probably will not do it. 

R: Actually, we have not encountered a situation where we would need to make a huge compromise so far. For example, at the time of the magazine, we were people who swam against the current. At that time, the sector expected texts on photography techniques to take out an advertisement. Or as the internet was less widespread at that time, we focused on projects from abroad. Some readers are not dissatisfied with this, but we were determining this policy. Since then, there has been a field we feel independent, and we have tried to protect it. 


While working on this issue, we often had a chance to think about the titles such as initiative, collective, and corporate structure. Independent initiative is generally perceived as a structure where artists come together. Initiatives taken by a single person, publications, and associations are excluded from this definition. A corporate institution can be easily labelled as a business enterprise. You probably encounter similar perceptions. How do you define yourself, where do you position yourself?

R: Geniş Açı started its publication life at the university. However, we have also considered publishing it professionally from the very beginning. Because we guessed that if we do not spare time for it professionally, we would not be able to do it after a while. 

What was significant to us during the magazine period and afterwards was to do our job in proper. Earning an income from this has always been secondary. Most of the time, we did not have an instinct to make money. For example, I think of Torun, where we are now, if Batur (Cemil Batur Gökçeer) did not have the energy, perhaps it would not be re-open after its first close down. Although this is an artist initiative, one person is more committed. These things are always changing.

Although some initiative prefers to maintain itself as non-profit structures, people have to work in another job in those structures. When their workloads rise in their job, the time that they spare to the initiative becomes limited. In the long run, these kinds of things can be experienced. It is probably something you have experienced too.

We do this as a business. For example, we thought that it was necessary to rent an office from the very beginning. Because at that time, many people wrote in the magazine other than us. We needed a place where they could visit, where we could hold a meeting. When we turned the magazine into a project office, the venue became somewhere that we organized the workshops. We were expecting more visitors, but it has decreased especially since we moved to our current place. But all those depend on personal stories and support. For example, in our case, renting an office brought the necessity to give up separate houses. We both live with our parents. 

S: I think we approach like a collective, but we are a collective that does not grow up. 

There is not enough work capacity to expand the team of two. Especially after the magazine. For example, we had trainees at that time, and after a while, they started writing in the magazine or doing other things. We had a routine. Now we do not have such a day-to-day business. For instance, sometimes we do not do anything for six months. Also, after working together for 20 years, I think it is hard to include other people in this structure. 

R: And the new generation does not know Geniş Açı very much. There is an audience who have never read the magazine but are still interested in photography. That is very normal by the way, the infants who were born when we started publishing the magazine are now graduating from their universities. Moreover, the field of photography gets narrower. Although it may seem like it is expanding with all this digital technology, there is a decreasing in the audience that is more interested in photography. So, there is a disengagement. But of course, this is not valid just for us. For example, the Photography Foundation was one of the more public places that could not sustain itself in the long term. It was an institution with many ideals, and everyone was thrilled about it. Due to the conditions that occurred after the Brish Consul bombings, it had to close down. There is also not enough institutional support for photography in Turkey that affects the whole environment. Only except for the Pamuk Bank era. 


The general perception that institutionalization requires much hardship and bureaucratic effort cause independent initiatives to avoid being a legal entity. How did you make this decision?

R: At the time we made this decision, that is the magazine era, our economic conditions were better. The magazine has gotten way more ads, sold more, earned more. At that time, besides the general distributor, we also had a distributor for just bookstores. When we gave up from that distributor and kept the commission for ourselves, we could afford an office. But at those times, the sales were totally different, and it was a crucial factor. The issue of cinema which we released just before establishing the company sold around 4000. That was high circulation for an independent magazine. But right after that, the 2001 Crisis broke out, and all the conditions were changed. 

We did not think of this and did not assume that the economic conditions when we established the company could change drastically. We looked for different solutions, but we never compromised on content and quality. We continued to work with the same printing house where prints the Aperture now. Of course, they did their best to decrease prices for us, but still, it was more expensive than working with an ordinary printing house. We did not compromise on this quality.

S: We had to make this decision, by the way. We had to make out invoices. When we were students, the university invoiced them, but after our graduation, we had to take over this. We could come under an existing company, but that would make us feel like a constant burden. So we went ahead on this business, assuming that we could afford the costs of establishing the company. Also, as Refik said, the magazine had a wide circulation at that time, and we thought it might cover our expenses. It was very costly to become a company and or association. Even if you do not do anything, you have to pay an amount every month. If we knew then what we know now, we would not establish the company, I guess. 


Although it contradicts the previous question, many funds and sponsorships lay down to be a legal entity as a condition. Sometimes this situation affects the decision of establishing an association/company. What kind of advantages that institutionalization provides you or what kind of disadvantages it causes you? 

R: We receive funds from time to time. We received small sponsorships, too, but it never covered all the expenses. While working on European Borderlines and Middletown projects, we covered the costs with some funds. The advantage of the funds is that when the project you offer is approved, you can do it as you wish.

S: Of course, you should do it by sticking to the project you offer at the beginning. But there are no expectations like in sponsorship agreements. 

R: Of course, an association has a disadvantage of being tied to more state control. When you are a company, you are freer about this, but when you have an association, you are subject to more monitoring. As the government in Turkey is getting more and more authoritarian, being an association will cause several problems. You have to report everything you do at the association, and this makes things more visible. If your content is not compatible with the government policy, you would be monitored easily. 


The organizations arise from the individual desires and needs as well as the needs of the art environment. Therefore, the wishes and opinions of individuals become a significant factor in the structure of an organization. How much did your organization depend on the individuals part in and how did you balance between these two?

S: I think we have been making projects close to our curiosities, interests, and personal tastes since the magazine. I am talking about an objective taste that is not based on friendships or closeness. At the time of the magazine, people criticized us by saying words like "I opened an exhibition, you did not include me." It was necessary to make a selection among current exhibitions, and we published the works according to the quality of the work and the place it took place in general photography production. It is a little bit like this while doing a project. We want to be a part of projects that are close to the issues we are curious about or that are related to government policies such as the BAK Project. 

R: After all, it is necessary to consider these as curatorial projects. There are curatorial decisions behind them. It is essential to create a context. There is no subjective taste but an unnamed standard here.  

S: Apart from that, people offer projects to us by considering our style and our previous works. For example, On Solitude and Water was not a project that we developed. They wanted to gather the works which are in progress and almost finished together. And they offered to curate it to us. They got in contact with us because they knew us, they knew that we would want to work with these photographers and on those subjects. A project which is very contrary to our style or which is about something we have never done is not offered to us anyway. And in the projects that we developed, our curiosity and the subjects which we think they need to examine more come to the foreground. Such as the workshop, Aileyi Fotoğrafla Oluşturmak that we are doing now. Family albums were already attracted to us, and there are artists in the world who are interested in them and produce works on this subject. There was an intersection with SALT through Nur Koçak exhibition, and our interests overlapped. I think that is very normal. 


Sustainability is not only related to economic factors but also the organizational model. How many people does your team consist of, and how are the division of labour and job definitions? 

S: There is no rigid division of labour. That is because of our working style. Beforetime, I have edited, amended, and given feedback to the articles. This situation maintains in the same way as before. When we do projects, we do not have a rigid division of labour, and we have a division determined by the practice of working together. Since we both know what each other is going to do, we do not offer each other a duty. When we are working with someone else, we start to do things that they do not do. Because we are very used to compensate for each other's gaps. Perhaps this is not a correct attitude, but it is a reflex that develops by working together. 

R: But we have been working together for a very long time. Before we started working together, we had a friendship. So, we have been friends for 25-26 years. 


What are the effects of independent organizations in the current economic and social conditions of Turkey?

R: Independent organizations always bring new dynamics. Although there are relatively more institutions in the contemporary art field today, these institutions are very slow. Being a corporation also has such an effect that is not planned from the beginning. All institutions curate a single big exhibition and keep it too long for a while. And they do not focus on smaller activities during this time. Independent initiatives come into the foreground at this point. For example, SALT is making its program, but it also tries to provide more mobility to independent institutions like us. Of course, not all institutions do this, and most institutions only make organizations to implement their policy and are extremely self-enclosed. 

Besides, institutions are dependent on other institutions. Although they have their own structures, there are hierarchical mechanisms. These institutions need to consider others' policies, too. Therefore, initiatives are more flexible and faster. For example, the issue of Diyarbakır comes to my mind. The municipality was very active before the trustees were appointed. They had their own gallery and theatres. Afterwards, when they pulled out of the art activities, several independent initiatives were established. For example, the Spaces of Culture has supported artists and institutions from Diyarbakır, İzmir, and Antep. That provided the independence of those initiatives. Depending on the situation, such models can sometimes emerge. While it did not come to their mind five years ago, now some people are establishing this initiative. These can be more costly initiatives like theatre, and somehow independence sustains.

S: Institutions cannot act as much as initiatives. Initiatives respond faster. While they take a position against a political agenda immediately, the reaction of an institution takes more time, for example. They are more dynamic and can produce efficient projects. Institutions are relatively closed to this. They tend to work with their own staff. I do not want to say that they are totally closed to collaborations, perhaps it should function like this due to its institutional structure. Maybe this makes sense for them. 


We are curious about your opinion on the future of independent initiatives. What do you think about this subject, and do you have any concerns? 

R: The difficulty of the initiative is that it can be a tiresome activity for someone when they worked in it too long. As we have just mentioned, after all, everyone who works for that initiative makes some sacrifices. The personal issues which affect individuals can affect the initiative, too. On the other hand, while some people give up, some others start to take an initiative. 

And obviously, there is more need for initiatives in Turkey. Although Europe needs it too, the arts and culture policies of the states and their supporters are in better condition than in Turkey. 

S: I think the initiatives will always last. Maybe it will change its form, but it will continue. Maybe it lasts for ten years, and then they notice that they have become more engaged in coordinating than producing that makes them exhausted, they would terminate. But it turns into another initiative, and others come out.