Being (t)here
An exploration in the transference of an experience

Mapping Meanings: Istanbul's Bosphorus
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Mapping Meanings: Istanbul's Bosphorus

The initial idea for this action research project (2003, Bilgi University Istanbul) was to question the identity of Istanbul and her inhabitants by focusing on the geographic and cultural significance of the Bosphorus.

The Bosphorus is not simply a channel for the transit of goods and people, nor just a picturesque stage for tourist activities, but it is a place that mediates between the notions of East and West, the one place that links and binds the multiple identities at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, a place "in-between" - the locus for social, cultural and natural transformations.

So far, social and political powers have failed to develop an understanding of the complex physical and symbolic status of the Bosphorus, and have yet to acknowledge its true role as an active agent in the organisation of city life and in the construction of the city's identity.

Geographically, historically, politically and cartographically, Istanbul's Bosphorus calls for "readings" other than the standard clichés, which emphasize its picturesque and strategic values, focusing on defence, commerce and tourism.

It is crucial for the future of urban culture that we make sense of the place we live in, and render our geographical, experience intelligible by attaching value to ecology, responding to change and by investing the physical surrounding with symbolic significance.

As citizens of Istanbul, how can we unlock, retrieve and bring to consciousness the repressed meanings of the Bosphorus, in such a way as to make apparent our real relations to others and to our shared urban space?

By transposing direct observations and shared experiences (collected in the form of interviews, photographs and videos) into graphic layouts (playing on the interaction of image and text), I wish to clarify our relationship with the City, in terms of our inner and material needs. Working through the medium of the book, I wish to highlight the symbolic and metaphorical links between our respective uses and experiences of the Bosphorus. This is a way of acknowledging, with Dutch designer and teacher Jan Van Toorn, that "Design ... creates and maintains the symbolic connection between the power structures and our experience of reality". Eye Magazine no.38

Artists' book: Mapping Meanings: Istanbul's Bosphorus

Reading through water.../ Sularin izinden Istanbul...

The idea of the concertina book emerged during this collaborative fieldwork. By unfolding a continuous flow of images and texts, like a wave metamorphosing into a book, the book offers a graphic format which appropriately 'translates' the experiential reality we encountered.

When left wide open, on the floor, the book evokes the strait. Between Calvino's 'the eye does not see things but images of things that mean other things' and Brecht's 'the situation is complicated by the fact that less than ever does the mere reflection of reality reveal anything about reality', the book speaks of an impossibility.

A deep crack between two continents filled with waters from different seas (the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Sea of Marmara)... Transient passage between two continents, where it is not possible to fix one's position... Flow of transitory signs whose materiality and textuality both reveals and eludes the City's ambiguous identity, whilst mirroring our troubled relationship to it...

This unique straight of 35 km (22 miles) links and divides two continents: Europe and Asia. A city that has been significant for both Eastern & Western cultures and Christian and Islamic beliefs. A City in which “being in the middle of everything” seems to be part of everyday life experience/practice.

Interviews with people on the Bosphorus:

R. It was really cold on the water, but it gave you a different sense of the city, a different feeling of the hills of the city.

U. What do you mean by different?

R. You are looking at it from a different height, from the water up Bosphorus definitely gives you a new perspective and you get a great sense of the geography and distances between the different parts of the city and when you are walking the streets of Istanbul, it is like a labyrinth but when you're on the water you get a different view which is slightly disorienting because the places you thought to be are somewhere else so it challenges the view of labyrinth once again.

From the distance the Bosphorus looks dark, still, calm and wide.

On the Bosphorus it is animated, colourful, changeable and bright.

At night the Bosphorus and the silent boats make me melancholic. By day it seems to echo the energy and the rhythm of the city and the light makes it laugh. (I am a romantic)

In some ways I feel more 'in' Istanbul on the Bosphorus than in the streets of the City.

The perpetual motion and geographical perspective capture something of the mystification of Istanbul.

J. A timelessness- a relaxed state of mind.

A refreshing, fluid texture, movement. Oil on the water surface, jelly fish, different hues of blues, greens, greys.

Bosphorus provides a great perspective to see Istanbul in summary. It also gives a sense of space and peace. Does the Bosphorus allow the city to see its own reflection?

Sanat Dünyamız 2004 Mapping Meanings: Istanbul's Bosphorus
This is an extract from the article that talks about the different stages of the action research project: Mapping Meanings: Istanbul's Bosphorus conducted by Gülizar Çepoğlu and was published in Sanat Dünyamız in 2004