Cultural Agencies office established itself in the Istanbul neighbourhood of Gülsuyu / Gülensu. This choice was made after extensive site visits, interviews with local actors and background research which took place between October 2008 and March 2009. Compared to other neighbourhoods, Gülsuyu and Gülensu stood out as both, most challenging and welcoming to the Cultural Agencies initiative.

The two neighbourhoods are located to the north of the E-5 highway within Istanbul’s eastern Maltepe district. The neighbourhoods were established informally when immigrant groups from eastern Anatolia (Erzincan, Sivas, Tunceli) arrived in the early 1960s. Soon gecekondus in the area proliferated, forming a dense tapestry, which covers the entire hillside and gradually acquired urban complexity and distinct local identity. Since the 1970s, local activism and solidarity networks formed a unique social tissue, which still endures. This also includes a rich spectrum of collective practices, which provides an insight into the inventiveness, creativity and collective determination of Istanbulites to construct alternative cultural infrastructures based on improvisation and minimum means. Current planning intentions of the municipality seek to exploit the prime real estate value of the neighbourhood, located within an earthquake safe zone and offering unique panoramic views across the Marmara Sea and Princes' Islands. If plans are realized, both neighbourhoods will be replaced with new upmarket housing and most of its inhabitants will be displaced.

The March 2009 municipal elections have led to a change of local government and the promise to replace the radical vision of urban transformation with one more socially inclusive and organic. Numerous, partially heated and controversial discussions are ongoing in the neighbourhood as local residents are in the process of re-defining their relationship to the local municipality: from radical opposition and protest to the attempt to lead a community-driven, alternative planning process. As a first step, the neighbourhood is now in the process to elect local street representatives to form a broad, democratically endorsed representative body that can lead the planning process.

Plug-in interventions

Workshop “Inventory”

The first on-site intervention in Gülsuyu and Gülensu was an international workshop realized between 2nd and 9th of May 2009 with students and recent graduates of Staedelschule – Hochschule für Bildende Künste (Frankfurt am Main), Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University (Istanbul) and local actors from the neighborhood.

Over the course of 8 days, mixed groups investigated existing forms of “agency” in the neighbourhood. Six groups were formed, each focusing on one generic programme of a formal “cultural institution”. In the neighbourhood, these six themes became investigative frames to detect visible and invisible, formal and informal, stable and instable models of “agency”:

(1) Events (2) Collection (3) Archive (4) Communication (5) Library (6) Office

From July, the project team developed six concepts for “plug-in” interventions in the existing cultural infrastructure neighbourhood.

Each of the “agency tools” corresponded to the six generic themes - (1) Events, (2) Collection, (3) Archive, (4) Communication, (5) Library, (6) Office - and designed to insert doubt, trigger debates and stimulate a more strategic discussion on the future role and form of cultural production in Gülsuyu and Gülensu. Partnerships with selected cultural institutions and agency practices in the neighbourhood were formed during the research, design and implementation process.

Gülsuyu - Gülensu Dükkânı

Following the Workshop Inventory a temporary project base was set up: A former shop was hired. After initial renovation works were completed in July - all works were carried out by the project team in collaboration with students from Frankfurt and Istanbul, craftsmen from the neighbourhood as well as local volunteers - the “Gülsuyu - Gülensu Dükkânı“ (English: “Store”) has already become a key tool and platform for interaction with the community, research and the testing of pilot interventions.
Located in the centre of the neighbourhood, the Dükkân became the most essential tool to provide visibility of the project in the neighbourhood, and build trust with the local community. The space was officially opened on the 24th July 2009 with an invited group of puppeteers (“Kurmalı Salyangoz / Clockwork Snail”).

Gülsuyu-Gülensu Dükkânı, will function as a space for collecting the memory of Gülsuyu-Gülensu through meeting with the local people either passing by or arranging meetings. This archive will create one possible narrative of the neighborhood with the photos and documentation from periods of 50’-80’-90’, we ask from people concerning the past of the site. 

The conducting of an inclusive alternative planning process will led to broad community mobilisation which require logistical planning, the setting up of venues for meetings and discussions, etc. What could a spatial, social and organisational scenario for this process look like? Cultural Agencies investigates and critically apply the role of the Dükkân in this, both as a location and generating content.
Gülsuyu-Gülensu Dükkânı is serving as a venue for numerous, partly ad hoc organized discussions, presentations and events. The Dükkân has begun to serve as a catalyst and “landing pad” for visiting artists seeking to learn about the locality and engage with its residents. At the same time, local residents have positively responded to the opportunity to meet and debate with “outsiders”. 

The short story of Ayla str. no. 90
The shop, which Mrs. Sabire and her husband Haydar Sezgin, both 70 years of age today, constructed brick by brick 40-45 years ago, was first used as a car park then a confectionary shop. When they first came from Sivas to Uskudar, then to Gulensu, they built a shanty house onto the soil from briquettes, followed by the construction of the car park. After a while, they demolished the house and started constructing the multistory building in the back. The builders, for lack of expertise, built the foundation of the shop incorrectly. Later on, when they tried to rent out the space as a bar, the tenant said; “the tables don’t stand on the ground”.  Concerned about the issue, Mrs. Sabire hired a constructor and paved the ground with cement.