The question that gave birth to Sinopale was whether if -apart from cultural organizations taking place in centers like the Istanbul Biennial-, a biennial organized with the limited facilities of a small city being able to ensure the participation of international artists, could be successful in Turkey or not. This issue, exactly touching the soft spot of the disconnection between center and periphery, had been discussed for a long time in Turkey; the question up to what extent high culture production could reach the periphery and whether if the biennial itself in this respect would mean anything for the surrounding public or not.
The second striking point regarding the biennial was that this biennial, was organized in the center of historical Sinop State Prison, a place active until recently but deserted and abandoned presently. It is a place as an icon of the considerably painful democracy and human rights history of Turkey. As a result of these two main facts related to the identity structure of Sinop, the biennial was entitled “Thing”. Many people from the local public were probably having the opportunity of experiencing an international art event for the first time in their lives.The first meaning of “Thing” was Sinopale, which would be some “thing” they could interpret, define by themselves. Secondly, the biennialorganized in three venues representing three different periods namely; the historical prison from the Ottoman period, The Pervane Madrasah from the Seljuk period and the Ethnography Museum built in the first years of the Republic, consisted of the works of more than 50 artists producing especially for this biennial, relating to the history of the city. Thereby each artwork was representing a proposal for the effort of unveiling the “thing”s that remained hidden, unnoticed within the memory map of Sinop.
With no doubt, the most intense venue of Sinopale was the prison. Artists carried out video art, installation and performances in cells, wards and backyards, which had walls full of slogans, poems, pictograms engraved by the prisoners. Together with the production process, throughout the preparation process of the artists, the local public posessing no foreign language-, assisted foreign artists by mostly communicating withthe help of their body language. The relationship established between the artists conceiving projects for this venue and the local public, moreover the relationship established between the local public and the prison, integrated the “sharing and interaction process” into the biennial content as well. Besides the prison and other venues, also projects were done on the streets of the city. One of those was a poster exhibition performed by myself and eight graphics designers, accompanied by an action plan involving touristic areas of the city like restaurants, café-bars and the beach (which I can simply call relaxation areas).
The title of the exhibition and action was Local Plant Global Cemetery. In January 2006, the news about a nuclear power plant to be built in Sinop -of, which the consequences could cause a large-scale environmental disaster-, had been reported in the press. The issue of “central determination” of the destiny of every small local region had also arisen in Sinop. With our exhibition and action plan, our aim was to support the public already organized against the nuclear power plant and to let them know that we were on their side as part of the biennial. We also through theartworks wanted to warn those who remained indifferent against the fait accompli developments. Our exhibition took place in the twelfth ward of the second backyard. The attention was satisfactory. The exhibition included the works of Ferhad Fouzoni, Amir Ali Ghasemi from İran, Jürgen Hefele, Kathrin Eberhard from Germany, Buket Uygur, Umut Südüak, Ulaş Eryavuz and Selen Başer from Turkey. There was a reason for me to assign the graphics designers of these three specific countries. Just then, Iran was having a political crisis with the USA and EU regarding the issues of the uranium enrichment project and the increase in nuclear plants. The involved authorities from Iran, had made a statement that they would take advantage of this development completely for the sake of technological progress. Therefore I asked young graphic designers from Iran which I had met earlier, whose works I had been following and with whom I had been already frequently corresponding on exactly this subject, what their opinion was and requested them to design a poster within the context of this theme. It appeared in the newspapers that the majority of the engineering companies to work for the nuclear power plant project that was planned to be built in Sinop were of German origin. I asked two German designer friends of mine what they were thinking about this project that was fait accompli in an underdeveloped country. Also I asked my Turkish designer friends living in Istanbul to make a project proposal for the action plan together with the poster they were going to design on the subject.
The action plan on the other hand, as I have mentioned before, was involving touristic areas and the market place. One of these, was the booklets based on short and essential information and narration on the history of nuclear power plants and nuclear arming all over the world. We distributed the booklets in high numbers to shop owners in downtown and asked them to hand these to their customers. Our aim was, to show that the nuclear power plant to be built in Sinop, did not only intend for an “alternative energy production” as pointed out by the authorities, but that nuclear power plants were being built in many other small areas (like Sinop) in the world simultaneously -based on various justifications-,and that Sinop was only a part of the whole picture that we were able to see for the time being. We reminded by our narration, the facts that; even though they had landed in the middle of a crisis with Iran and Russia on the issue of nuclear energy production, USA and EU, for the sake of dominating the nuclear development of the regional geography and creating a control point, were supporting such a project, completely ignoring, disregarding the risk and environmental contamination factors. Also we reminded them, that Sinop had been used as an American base during the cold war period which brought about sort of an isolated status for the town among all its neighboring cities in those times.
In brief, we reconsidered the present information accepted by the public regarding the nuclear power plant; we reflected those that were not presented to the public onto the booklet by using both the publications done on the subject and the remarkable data obtained by environmentalist institutions. Secondly, we made an intervention by putting toothpick flags on the food that was served in restaurants. The flags were bearing the slogans “For the time being no nuclear energy” and “I don’t want a nuclear power plant in Sinop!” We were intending to irritate the local public or tourists dining with amusement in the restaurants along the coast, to inform them about the process that was going on. Similarly we designed coasters bearing the slogan “I don’t want a nuclear power plant in Sinop!” to be served together with beer in bars. The message of this entire production was that it was not time for relaxing but time for action. We carried out all these actions together, with the involvement and support of local tradesmen and restaurant owners. In this respect, I can say that our action was a success.
Sinopale; organized in the city of Sinop, a city that has been used as the base of USA during the cold war period, a city still carrying the traces of its past and a city with a historical prison where the sanction power of the center can obviously be tracked, has made a contribution to the rehabilitation of the local public who has undergone a sociological and psychological trauma. In this regard, the most important thing I can define, related to the participation of both artists from the international arena and the local public in this event, is that Sinopale took place as a result of the power of a collective spirit. And after all, “living a life under more humanly conditions”, the hope of all the people of developing countries and -the maybe- main issue of art and design “humanizing life itself” meet and intersect at the center of the productions of which each is a communication channel for itself.