Istanbul and ISEA2011 – physical and virtual access
One of the biggest challenges we have experienced in Istanbul is actually working out where we are on the map. It is relatively easy to identity significant sites like the Hagia Sofia, The Blue Mosque and Taksim Square, but to try and find small galleries, restaurants and hotels off the main streets is somewhat difficult. We have four different tourist maps of the Sultanahmet and Taksim areas of the city and none of them are the same. That said, we have now been here nearly a week and have worked out how to get to most places that we want to go to.
We have also experienced other issues with access, primarily around accessing the Internet. At our hotel the WiFi connection changes with the wind, despite a wireless transmitter being on every floor. At the moment we are sitting on the rooftop terrace and the wind seems to be holding thankfully. Besides, there could be a lot worse places to sit and wait to the WiFi to blow in.
Navigating the ISEA2011 festival is also somewhat challenging, both physically and virtually as there is so much happening at many locations around the city.
Nicholas Knouf made these incisive comments about accessing the main ISEA2011 venue on the -empyre- list:
This requires being checked off of a list and then traveling through a metal detector with your belongings x-rayed. You find yourself in front of two gleaming towers of uncountable numbers of floors that reflect the blue sky. You realize that this is not the university, but rather the headquarters for Sabanci Holding (https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Sabanci_Group), which appears to be the largest industrial and financial conglomerate in Turkey, while also the organization behind the founding of Sabanci University. Once you make your way through men and women in perfectly tailored business suits and executives being escorted into Mercedes to be driven to power lunches, you find yourself in front of another metal detector and x-ray machine which may or may not be used (I didn’t have to go through it when I entered). Inside is bland corporate decor not unlike anything else in the globalized world. Hacker or DIY space this certainly is not, and the internet seems to block anything that doesn’t travel on ports 80 or 443 (meaning any local e-mail clients on computers or smartphones won’t work; Blackberries won’t work; and seemingly only web traffic will go through).
Language is also proving a challenge at times. Many people do not understand English and when we have attempted to speak Turkish quite often we just get shrugged shoulders. What we have found effective however, especially in cafes and on the tram is to use French. This is quite hilarious as our French is very rudimentary, though expressions like ‘Pardon?’ and ‘Bon chance’ seem to be working well.
As we finish writing this blog, we now are at the Karakoy campus of the Sabanci University, because there is no WiFi access at our hotel. Apparently (according to the hotel manager), the entire area of Sultanahmet is without Wifi. Hmmm, I don’t think so.
Despite the challenges in access and language, we are still enjoying Istanbul and ISEA2011. We have seen some wonderful exhibitions as part of ISEA2011 and the Istanbul Biennial, which we will report on later.
This post has also been published in Mediakult.