KartonKitap (KK)


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? 

Umut Altıntaş: Independence is probably the most crucial concept of KartonKitap (KK), founded by two people who grew as only children. The fact that we immediately gave up the idea of "Let's make books for our photos" that we decided in the first seconds of our organization is a sign that we do not want to be dependent on even ourselves. 

We can say that we are fully dependent on the artists we invite or receive invitations to make a book. Beginning with the aim of producing another original artwork, that is the book, derived from the works of an artist, we happen to say at the beginning that "You give us the materials, do not interfere with the rest." For us, the fact that KK starts to rethink about itself after every book it produces is freedom brought by independence, and this freedom enables us to keep our minds fresh. It provides us not to produce anything if we want to until we find "such a good idea".

N. Toros Mutlu: It is such an appropriate definition that we do not want to be dependent on even ourselves! Usually, after we finish a book and release it for circulation, we do not look back at it again. When we come across it somewhere, we can say "Well, it is not bad" or "It seems we overestimated our passion on this book." That, on the one hand, keeps us constantly eager to produce new things, but on the other hand, unfortunately, prevents some works from having a sustainable future. I see KK as a lifetime project. Seriously, we can quit making books tomorrow and start making music with Umut. What matters is the process of looking for new forms for our ideas together. That is our only matter. Sometimes we have a bunch of projects that we do not complete, just like one of the caricatures of Umut Sarıkaya saying that "If Avatar came to my mind, I would not have written it, why bother?" Also, I believe that not being in İstanbul is an advantage for us that we appreciate its value after years. I could say more bold things about what independence means to me and us, but I do not want anyone to take offence and be broken to us.  


Besides the economic factors, the changes in the general dynamics of the art environment and intentions of the people may lead organizations to tend to a new field instead of ending. That leads us to think more about some concepts such as routine, order, and transformation. What is your opinion on these concepts?

U: Like our opinion on the independence concept. The most asked question we had in the early days of establishing KK was "How are we going to print this book?" Then we cut down asking this because worrying about the money that much means putting away thinking about what we do. KK neither sought support to publish a book nor worried about earning money by selling the book it published. This "incompetence" provides us to be economically independent. 

KK, also Toros and I, are indifferent to the expectations and excitements of the art and design environment we are in. Maybe for that reason, the concepts of order, routine and transformation do not lie at the core of KK either. Whenever we start talking with Toros about KK, it begins to transform. We always go after the new. Therefore, the concept of "transforming" transforms again and again. Not with the dynamics of the economy or art environments, but how our minds work and our enthusiasm for discovering and inventing at that moment. KK is very fond of its comfort. 

T: Umut could not explain it better. As I said in the first question, tomorrow we can seriously quit book-making and start making music, and I can assure you that we would do it together. The economic factors affect and determine many things, but we are not people to say "End of the story". All in all, although you cannot afford the financial part today, you still have tomorrow, and the crucial thing is not to stop thinking. I think that the general situation and understanding of people that we have a similar position is like us. I participated in an initiative meeting in recent months, and until my turn came, most of the initiatives emphasized that they are "non-profit" organizations. When I held the floor, I said with all my good intentions that "There is already no profit at all, so what are we talking about?" To be frank, if I make a living with our KK productions, I do not work in any other jobs. I guess this is quite obvious for everybody. 


How was the transition process for you when you decided to shift the field you were interested in? Were there any severe decisions such as terminating the organization or having a break for a while? 

U: Our perspective on the field has changed, not our interests. In the beginning, we had only wanted to make photobooks, but the second book we started was an illustration book (not yet published.) At this point, we noticed that we were not working with a specific material. Instead, we were working with a way of thinking, with a method. So we could work with any material. Then, we have become not afraid to question even that working method we developed and to give it up because we noticed that what makes us thrilled is actually inventing those methods. 

T: There was a period that we alienated from the photobook hype. Thank God, we are much more calm and neutral now. Of course, our enthusiasm for photobook, and the book itself as a body of work remains. Indeed, some books still give us a taste of euphoria. There is only one transformation story comes to my mind: A long time ago, I suggested Umut we should change the name, KartonKitap, with something like Altıntaş & Toros. He told me that "We are okay bro, people got used to us with this name." Anyway, Altıntaş & Umut sounds like a law firm. Fortunately, we did not change it. 


What kind of alterations came together with the shifting your field of interest? 

U: With the book Kumpanya, we temporarily put aside the idea of collaborating with artists because we discovered something about ourselves there. Toros explains this better. The book that we made together with Metehan Özcan, Illustrated Information -Appendix, won the border_less artist book fund award (which is the work I am most proud of in my career). It was a nice closure for KK's "co-author" period with its idea behind, and adventure lasted 3-4 years. During that period, we made two personal books of Toros, and now the third one is on the way. We are full of new ideas that will keep us busy for a lifetime, and they are all different from each other. Putting together a music band, as Toros mentioned, is one of them. KK has a production method that is hard to express in words, and we are not very keen to do it. That is why it seems to us that no matter what we do, the essence of KK will never change. 

T: Changing our focus, I guess, is the trademark of KK. And I am stealing this question from you. I will use this expression in other situations. I always say that we are not %50 of KK in each, we are both 100%. We felt this deeply while working on Kumpanya. The idea and attempts of that book are even older than our first book. Once we taste that pleasure and the real independence that we talked about in the first question with Kumpanya, it would not be easy for us to return to collaborations. Yet we are impulsive people, and we can come up with collaborative work in the next project.


Were you able to find new solutions regarding economic problems or organization? And How much of your team members has remained to continue? 

U: Our only economic problem is to find a budget to print books. The object we call as book completes when it is printed in the printing house. The project is finished at that point. As the book is an object that is dependent on the industrial production norms (that is why it is so unique.) As long as you keep taking sample prints instead of handing it over to the printing house, you keep looking at, modify it and want to revise it. That is why you never move on to the next project. Besides, printing books on digital machines is a very troublesome and tiring process, and in the long-term, it is even more expensive than a printing house. Our short-term and compulsory solution is to print with editions and put that work aside for a while. Then printing and finishing that book when the economically right moment comes. Although the financial part of the work is very obligatory for us, it is never a problem that can cause a negative direction or a cancellation. 

T: Economic problems have been both a cause and an effect throughout history. The effect part is pretty obvious. But if we pessimistically obsess the cause part, we would also provoke the possibilities of disappointing results that have not yet occurred. Unfortunately, we can neither control the causes nor the effects. But I believe that the crucial thing is not the situation itself but our perception of it. There is no single solution to any situation, and there is always more than one solution. Sometimes one of them solves all the problems, and sometimes a few of them come together and bring us to the whole with small solutions. Besides, the need for financial resources has never come to an end. Steidl is a worldwide brand, but even it has an economic system that it established to handle the costs and to have sustainability. 


Although it will be a very general question, what were the changes you observed in the art world during this period? 

U: I am not a very good observer on this issue. 

T: Everything has become a worse caricature, and this still goes on. I think the credibility of the art world is decreasing day by day. I want to point out that I specifically chose the word credibility because the situation cannot be explained solely with reliability. It also covers a larger group of concepts, and can even be used to analyze an economic situation. Unfortunately, that unfortunate idiom puts the blocks on great works and great ideas from being taken seriously and having the respect that they deserved. Although I say that everyone is laughing about what is going on, the end is dark. Like photography changed the way of seeing the paintings, I hope that AI will change our way of seeing and presenting photography soon. All my hope is with the machines! 


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?

T: KK is a selfish organization concerned with individual curiosities and needs. In fact, we are very proud of this. Our only goal is to invent new things constantly, and the rest does not concern us that much. Therefore, there is no bilateral state that we have to form a balance. Of course, we try to reach people to introduce the works that we produced, and we are curious about their feedback and thoughts. The reason for all our efforts is to communicate and share with people we think we are like each other in a system that we do not fit in, isn't it? Interestingly, the balance between us has never created a situation that requires us to think about it. If we do not show the same passion and enthusiasm for something, we do not even find it worth doing. Anyway, it seems like our productions are made by a completely different person. 

U: In a presentation we made during the 8th ITU Photography Days, someone asked us an introductory question: "What kind of division of labour do you have? Do Toros choose the photographs and Umut design the book?" When people look at our professional separately, yes, Toros is interested in photography, and I have an interest in books. But there is no such a division in KK. 

Sometimes, Toros comes up with a finished book idea from the beginning to end, with its content and formal decisions. Or sometimes I suggest photography content. Therefore, apart from purely technical issues, there is no specific division of labour between us. Oddly enough, it instantly reveals itself if the ideas come to mind can be included in the KK or not. After all, we both do projects with other people and produce individual works. However, if I go directly to Toros with an idea, I know from the very beginning that it is suitable for the KK, so does Toros. For the works outside of KK, for example, I am the first person to consult when Toros wants to make an individual book. Likewise, I consult Toros when I do a project where photography is dominant. It is both a collaborative and advisory relationship. The British duo Autechre, who I admire very much, has a perfect definition, and I think it fits us very well: "We are three people; me, him, and two of us." 


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?  

T: I have a concern, yes. Please, art producers, let themselves not surrender to the funds and the calendars and obligations imposed by them. Everything happens eventually; I have seen so many art pieces that make me think about that rush. That makes me very upset. We have no habit for infusion, distillation and refinement of anything. Sometimes it seems to me that production is made with the stress of always being visible. Not being forgotten and not being idle. Because of these funds and working systems, people turned into white-collar artists. We have to find a balance and enjoy it. I think that especially those who manage the funds should bring self-criticism about themselves.

U: From my previous experiences, there are lots of initiatives that were established with a claim of being independent and ended for the same reason. However, if an organization wants to sustain itself through getting income should establish its program or definition by regarding it. That is, to know itself well from the beginning. If you are a non-profit organization, you should not complain that you could not make a profit. At first, we had similar thoughts. We had a dream that we could print our new book with the income we earned from the sale of previous ones. But having a profit from the sale of a self-published book and to print the next one with it is literally a "dream". Our other plan was to do commercial business under the name of KK and transfer those earnings to KK, but we decided not to do it right before we started the first commercial job. Because such an effort could also harm KK. I completely agree with Toros' thoughts on funds. Perhaps it is a healthier solution for organizations to seek funds that will not put pressure on themselves or establish their fund system.