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Human Cities Istanbul

It’s Sunday in the dark heart of Europe and the sky has been bleeding for weeks now. Yesterday my umbrella got crushed by the wind like Haye crushed Harrison in Manchester, as I went to check out the opening of Horror 56 from my friend Steven Schepens and the Robert Crumb exhibition in the other room of the Baronian-Francey. After that I had drinks and discussions with the Happy Famous Artists and went to welcome Oskar to the world.

Today I’m catching up. First on my list is an overdue report on the Human Cities Festival in Istanbul where I spoke about Moussism during Istanbul Design Week. The organizers also invited Abner Preis, who gave a small lecture, told his now classic ‘Spots and Stripes’ tale, and visited the city with performances from The Superhero Project.



‘Human Cities’ is a beautiful and loaded name. A ‘city,’ we can define without too much debate and as we began to describe cities, we might also locate valid arguments, qualifications and evidence to add to the far more complicated discussion of what it is to be human or how to adapt social architecture towards sustaining this.

This question of humanity and its role in urban planning is a crucial one that needs to involve the cultural sector in discussions. According to the UNFPA, ‘the world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history.’ Cities provide jobs and revenues while increasing the dating pool. They give you options, but can they give you quality of life? The UNFPA reports that currently more than half the world’s populations live in cities, but that this number will inflate to over 5 billion within the next 15 years with many developing urban spots lacking the resources to respond to the magnitude of change. If we look around, we can smell how deep in the mousse we are already. It is not difficult to imagine some of the many challenges waiting to slap out at us from around the corner.

Human Cities gives space to the humanities in such discussions, connecting policy makers, academics, architects, artists, designers and other members of the so-called Creative Class to give input that covers both the scientific and the spiritual, looking into the art of living and the architecture that supports this process. It is an ongoing project developed through an international collaborative network supported since 2008 by the European Culture Programme 2007-2013 and led by Pro Materia.

For many reasons, I feel that this is a relevant and potent initiative. Some of these reasons popped up in the conversations I had yesterday at the gallery. The gist of the first of these dialogues was something like this:

s: Are you going to go to Miami this year?

h: Yeah, we’re showing the Superhero Project editions from Brussels and Istanbul at the Scope Art Fair.

s: Did you see the quote the fair is promoting themselves with?

h: Uh Huh: ‘The True Artist Makes Useless Shit For Rich People To Buy.’ Its pretty much the same thing Wim Delvoye said about his opening at the Bozar.

s: Makes sense. Art market context. We get the critique. We got it before, we get it now. blablabla. So smart. Blabla. Bite the hand that feeds you hahaha. The bubble burst and nothing changed ….

h: blablablah

s: bla

h: Right. It reminds me of the typical left wing move of not turning up to vote, because you’re not happy with your

credit problem

it-11.html”>who will give me a loan with bad credit

party; a move that seems to betray the beliefs that make you align with that party in the first place as it helps sink the party. But now, when we’re moving back to the political right and art is being called a left wing hobby and we’re seeing all sorts of cultural budgets scraped to the bone, isn’t this sort of attitude dangerous?

s: Dangerous how?

h: Well I can imagine that a policy maker listens to Wim Delvoye or follows major fairs, turns to ‘leaders’ in various fields for knowledge. I can also imagine that his or her colleagues might not read carefully into such a comment, but use it to stamp things out. ‘Look, even Wim Delvoye says art is just a joke on the rich. Why should we give public funds to that?’ It’s a readymade reason to say Fuck Art instead of celebrating art’s Fuck You and this could throw a blow at a lot of relevant initiatives. It keeps the marketplace safe and shrinks the space for publicly funded experimentation.

S: Hey, did that guy just step out of the Crumb drawing?

Two other barely related things I’d like to touch on in this post bring us from Istanbul to Brussels and now Italy where exaggeration is king and not only when you’re watching the theater of the Azzurri. Presenting the most cliche examples of abuse, they may serve as more evidence of the need for some imagination in publicly financed research, development and initiatives. If not, at least they serve for a dark Sunday chuckle made of some really shocking mousse.

This week a town in Italy used EU funds to organize an Elton John concert. Over a million euro was spent to bring Elton John to their city. When first questioned as to the ethics of this use of funds, organizers appeared shocked and explained that Sir Elton had moved the audience to tears, brought them tourists and that they were planning another concert with Paul McCarthy. Awesome. If governments are concert promoters, can concert promoters begin writing legislation? It’s shocking and in a cynical leap, even more shocking is that the EU actually appears to take some action. Bravo, because that is indeed a really really lame allocation of our hard earned cash. Maybe after Paul they’ll hire Lady Gaga or Billy Ray Cyrus’ kid. No offense to Elton, but why should the public stand for this as a viable investment in development?

Of course, it was also a week when it came to light that the Italian Prime Minister got a call from another seventeen year old girl up way after her bedtime. This one was a young Moroccan beauty who’d been arrested. She called ‘daddy’ and ‘daddy’ called the police insisting that she was the daughter of an Egyptian diplomat and had to be released. Low level, small town mafia style politics from a leader of state. Of course, if we look at good old Silvio’s stance on immigration we might not be surprised that he mixes up two North African countries or changes his opinions if the immigrant in question has a killer body and classical beauty of a princess. Especially I guess, if she is also underage. Lead by example indeed, isn’t it great to see leaders who understand the value of trust, respect and sincerity?

One week and two great lessons about human issues and political agendas. Of course, examples are only examples, not ideas we could say about all leaders or even other leaders, but one we could use to insist on letting citizens into the discussion on how to build human cities and there, we can start to explore the social value of art without considering the chapters that one day will be dedicated to it in our libraries.

Meanwhile, Human Cities is gearing up for more actions in 2011 and 2012 and we’ll be introducing you to some of the ideas, innovators and activities in hopes you will want to participate in discussions that effect your life and city.

Stay Tuned or visit Human Cities to find out more about the project, people and exchange of information in this growing network.

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