THE ÇINILI HAMAM
Taloi Havini and Renato Leotta | 17th Istanbul Biennial
The Çinili Hamam will open its doors to the public for the 17th Istanbul Biennial, organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), offering a first look at the building following a major 12-year restoration project led by The Marmara Group. As one of the primary venues for the Biennial (17 September - 20 November 2022), the hammam will host two large-scale contemporary art installations, providing a unique opportunity for visitors to see the space for free. Following the Biennial, the hammam will be heated in preparation for its major reopening in 2023. Alongside the baths, the transformed hammam complex will include an event space and an exclusive museum showcasing the role of bathing in Ottoman history and culture, as well as the artifacts from Roman, Byzantium and Ottoman Empires found during the renovation process.
The Çinili Hamam was built by Mimar Sinan, considered the greatest architect of the Ottoman Empire, in 1540’s under the instruction of Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha or ‘Barbarossa’, the Grand Admiral of the Ottoman Navy. Named after its exquisite blue-turquoise tiles (çinili means ‘tiled’ in Turkish), the hammam is a unique piece of Istanbul’s cultural heritage. It is situated in the Zeyrek neighborhood within the Fatih district, above the city’s Byzantine cisterns which used to supply water directly to the hammam. Zeyrek is one of the 4 conservation areas of Istanbul included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Curated by Ute Meta Bauer, Amar Kanwar and David Teh, during the 17th Istanbul Biennial, the Hamam will feature artworks by Taloi Havini and Renato Leotta. Sound is an important component of both installations, which were selected especially to be exhibited in the hamam due to the acoustic properties of its architecture.
Havini’s multi-channel sound installation Answer to the Call (2021) features a composition created in collaboration with Bougainville musician Ben Hakalitz, hydrophone recordings from the research vessel R/V Falkor, onboard which the artist undertook a residency, and ocean travelling chants from her native Buka Island. The piece is designed to encourage a sensual, cyclical understanding of the ocean, space and time.
A descendant of the Nakas clan of the Hakö language group, Havini reflects in her interdisciplinary practice on her personal experiences in the region of Oceania. Exploring the politics of location through the history and culture of her homeland Bougainville, the artist utilises various media – photography, sculpture, film and mixed-media installation.
Meanwhile, Leotta’s Posidonia – Concertino per il mare is inspired by the artist’s long-term pursuit of ‘posidonia oceanica’, an aquatic plant endemic to the Mediterranean. Drawing on a library of leaf samples gathered by the artist in diverse undersea sites, the multi-channel, multi-instrumental installation combines archival elements with musical scores based on transcribed recordings of this living barometer of ecosystemic health. The plant is the lively pretext to reconfigure the image of the sea and his time. A new concert in three acts, developed specially for the Biennial in collaboration with composer Federico Bisozzi and the architect Giuseppe Ricupero is also performed live.
The work of Leotta is informed by his extended observations of place and landscape, particularly of the relationship between the maritime, aerial and terrestrial sceneries of the Mediterranean. Working with a range of media from photography, film, sound, sculpture and painting to archival materials, Leotta evokes poetic connections between real and ideal worlds and natural and built environments, drawing attention to the severe consequences of environmental pollution.
Since 2010, The Çinili Hamam has undergone a major restoration programme, including archaeological excavations to further understand the building’s history, and conservation work to preserve this important example of Ottoman bath architecture. Over the years, the hammam had fallen into disrepair, with the majority of its extraordinary tiles sold and scattered across Europe, ending up in private and museum collections including London’s V&A. Fragments uncovered during the restoration have revealed that more than ten thousand tiles with thirty seven unique designs once decorated the hammam’s inner walls.
When it reopens in 2023, examples of these tiles and other historically significant finds from the Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman periods will be exhibited in a new museum adjacent to the baths, which will also include a special display exploring hammam culture and traditions. A new heating system will return the baths to public use, allowing local people and visitors to enjoy them for decades to come.
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