Accepted Paper:

Launching the 'spectacle' in Istanbul: physical restructuring, symbolic economy and art festivals  


Sibel Yardımcı (Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University)

Paper short abstract:

Istanbul’s transformation into spectacle starts in the late 1980s. Festivals turn city spaces into stages and forge international imageries. A symbolic economy emerges as culture industries and entrepreneurial capital merge. This paper develops a critical perspective by investigating art festivals.

Paper long abstract:

Istanbul's transformation into a 'spectacle' starts in the post-1980 period. Backed by the centre-right government of the period, the municipality undertakes many projects aimed at the reorganisation of Istanbul as a world city, which could anchor Turkey to global flows. These projects involve first and foremost the physical restructuring of the cityspace. Inner city neighbourhoods are cleared, large roads are constructed, business districts emerge. But the changes are not limited to these: At the same time, a deep change is felt in the everyday life due to economic liberalisation. Multinational companies and hotels, shopping malls and global brands take their part in this new world.

In the sphere of culture, a new symbolic economy takes shape at the intersection of culture industries and entrepreneurial capital. The number of international artistic activities, exhibitions and festivals increases suddenly, and institutions ready to organise and sponsor them diversify. While the city itself become a commodity to be consumed, cultural activities turn into means of promoting and selling it.

Although Istanbul festivals start in 1973, they reach a larger scale, and an expanded coverage in the two decades that follow the 1980s. The spectacle(s) of Istanbul festivals add a new twist to the spectacular appearance of the city, first by transforming cityspaces (streets, squares, palaces) into stages, and secondly by drawing an imagery for Istanbul in the international arena. Festivals do not only provide room for international cultural exchange, but also ascribe to it a cultural capital/world city status. Nevertheless the instrumentalization of culture in city promotion is not an innocent project. This paper aims to develop a critical perspective which considers the implications of such attempts in Istanbul, through the case of international art festivals. The case study draws upon fieldwork conducted since 2001.

Panel W037
Investigating the city spectacle in a globalising world