An Istanbul Painting

They say “trees die on their feet”. This is sometimes also true for buildings. Mostly it is a fire disaster that took them away from their glamorous life, throw them away from the action into the corner of forgotten. They share their loneliness with the weak creepers embracing them while struggle for survival on the cracked, peeled off walls; with the wild and tiny tree standing on a fistful dry soil carried in by wind; with the cats who live in the shallow corners that indifferently play on the ground. Some of such buildings are luckier; all of a sudden they are rediscovered. It is nice to be recalled!

Without any explanation as to what it was, I was asked to translate a text that was attached to a message appeared on my computer, titled “WONDER – Scaffolding Artist”. The text starts with “Creating a wonder is to astonish. Creating a wonder is being questioned. It is facing questions, to confuse and to startle...” That was fine, but what was this wonder about? This poetic text was about a scaffolding artist who gets a giant canvas, erects his scaffolding, carries his dyes and beyond transmitting his energy to them but also manages to attach humane attributes to his dyes and brushes and the wonder he has created with them. I was convinced that I had to see this “wonder” in order to convey the meaning bloomed from the dream of this “mad” man and how he has translated this dream into his reality, thus complete the translation properly. I have walked into the building which I thought was wreckage, first time with Haydar (Özay) without even knowing that the name of the wonder was “Istanbul”. As I walked down the wide walkway into the massive red brick walled courtyard initially I felt the sorrow of being abandoned. Then on the stage I have seen the huge “wonder”. I was speechless. “Chaos” I whispered. There, “Ýstanbul” was just in front of me, with all her complexity.

Haydar, quickly told me about the amazing shadows cast by the steel framework of the roof on the windshields of cars parked, the greens trying to grow between the red bricks, the strangely shaped iron bars hanging from the ceiling above the stage, the debris on the ground, the pretty kitten born here in San Theatre which he keeps observing growing, the net hung between the walls to avoid the danger created by the concrete pieces falling from the ceiling, his insecure scaffolding, the diary he has kept during his work here, and a number of others that has reflections on the painting. Beyond the experiences of this place he has conveyed what he has observed while commuting in out since July 20th. Our “scaffolding artist” not only telling us his own Ýstanbul but also by describing this magnificent building, a total ruin now, is revitalizing it. In his own words he became the last artist on stage at San Theatre, and was very much proud of this.

Coming here and meeting him, listening to what he has gone through live from him, sharing “his” Ýstanbul with him here excited me so much that, being here did not only enhance the quality of the translation but also gave me the inspiration of writing about him and the place. Now I have understood the meanings of the words in that text better.

When I first walked in before I have looked my left and notice the “wonder” on the stage those huge red brick walls reminded me of Arsenale in Venice for a moment. Abandoned, sharing the loneliness with the weak greens trying to survive among the bricks for centuries, the amazing atmosphere of the Arsenal inspired the Inferno of the Divine Comedy of Dante, where the smoky vapor used to raise from the boiling cauldrons mingling with the crimson reflections of fire, and where the sweat and dust used to rise by the humming movements of the thousands of workers in shifts urging to launch a new vessel. How much resemble the silence of Arsenal to the thrilling silence of San Theatre today. Their destiny could not be like famous La Fenice of Venice; they did not live a lucky life like La Fenice which, as the name implies reborn from its own ashes like the Phoenix.

“This is a wall painting.
The memory of a city...
That wishes to have a place in memories
And to stay as a memory...”

Towards the center of the painting I came across with the noble color of Byzantium, redbud, like a huge stain… And I recalled the sentences of the writer. The green tree that Haydar has dreamed of and actually seen while looking from a window that probably had an arch, from Galata or Cihangir towards Bosphorus, was also here.

Haydar now was telling me the story of these verses with deep admiration. He has told me that he wanted this painting to be not only a different Istanbul painting on sixty square meters but also to be documented on every phase. For this reason his photographer friend Yusuf Aslan worked with him three days a week and photographed what has been lived here with more than two thousand images. These images were partly recorded on a CD and this CD by some strange coincidence arrived at the hands of Italian Professor Lidia Ferrera who was at her 80’s. Mrs. Ferrara has perceived what he has been trying to achieve, his emotions, excitements, his endless energy and a lot of other aspects with her incomparable sensitivity and has written these lines.

“What I know;
Mythological culture is fading away.
I know;
It’s being abstracted from something.
Or from someone...
I know;
The eye sees if knows how to look.
You can only hear if know to hear.
And, you listen to the one who has something new to say.
Soul and body
Moves as if they are one.
Getting prettier...
And loving together.
This is our wonder.
Me and me,
That we are one.”

The deep silence of San Theatre prevailing since February 7th 1987, lasted twenty years will come to an end with the opening of ULISfotoFEST, and on May 11th the cheerful applauses shall be echoed on these red brick walls…. Haydar, the last artist on the stage of San Theatre, will tell us the last work staged here with his own words.... The images of Yusuf Aslan documenting the work that took months, will meet the audience displaying the intersection of the two artists in parallel to the main theme of the festival “Intersections”.

February 7th 2007 Ýstanbul