Gian Maria Tosatti “My Heart is a Void, the Void is a Mirror”
Italian artist Gian Maria Tosatti focused on the transformation Istanbul has undergone in the last 20 years with his installation exhibition titled “My Heart is a Void, the Void is a Mirror”, which he installed inside a large Art Nouveau building in Tarlabaşı.
Your installation titled My Heart is a Void, the Void is a Mirror, which displays inside a large Art Nouveau building in Tarlabaşı, meets art lovers in Istanbul. First of all, can you tell us about the story of this installation work?
I started studying Istanbul 6 years ago, when I was invited for the Biennale. Then I didn’t agree with the proposals of the curator and I did not participated into that exhibition. I started to be interested very much in this city at that time, so I decided to produce by myself the work that I wanted to make. I came back to Istanbul every year. And now I finished my work and I shared with the people who inspired it to me.
Following the Catania, Riga, Cape Town and Odessa sections of My Heart is a Void, the Void is a Mirror, what parallels and differences does the Istanbul section show with your other works?
The differences are well known. Each country, each city has it is own identity. What is very important in this work are the connections. Before starting it I couldn’t imagine that the similarities among these territories would have been much more than the differences. It means that we live in many places, but we are only one people, one civilization.
My Heart is a Void, the Void is a Mirror is a special work that focuses on the change in Istanbul in the last 20 years. So what does this transformation mean for you? How do you interpret a city’s centuries-old identity that has changed so much in 20 years?
Unfortunately I must say that for Istanbul the growth (urban and economical) not always happened in the interest of people. Some people gained money, other people lost everything. And when I say everything I don’t mean only their houses, but even the immaterial things that are very important for us. Some streets have disappeared with all the memories that we had. Many historical building have been replaced with new constructions. Tarlabasi is going to disappear. At his place will be built a rich neighborhood in which the streets will be made of marble. Tarlabasi is not a perfect place, but it is real. There are few places in the West so real like Tarlabasi. When you go there, you can understand the way our blood is made. When it will be lost we will lose something very important for all of us. Even for the many who have never been there.
You describe your installation work, which resurrects Tarlabaşı’s dying spirit, as “an experience rather than an exhibition”. What kind of experience is this?
Well, it is not only something that you can watch. It is a real journey. A journey into yourself and a journey into that neighborhood, which is mostly the same thing.
In many articles about the exhibition, it is stated that one of the most important aspects of this special work is that it actually includes all of your current artistic research in different fields and creates a strong identity. So, what are your current artistic research and practices, and what are your interests in your artistic productions?
Currently I’m working on what I define five dimensional art. I just wrote a book about this concept that connects the most interesting art made in these two decades of the XXI Century. It is about the fact that what happens in an artwork is something which is not separated from the reality in which it happens. And our experience of an artwork like that it is not different from an experience that we have in what we call “the real world”. This is because art is not a fun, art is truth.
The focus of your research is a kind of crisis of democracy and the disappearance of Western Civilization, which was born in Athens under Pericles. How did this situation, which is even more meaningful considering the conditions we are currently in, reflected on your production?
If we are losing a place like Tarlabasi, if we are erasing from the face of the earth one a place that is the heart of our identity, it means that we are losing who we are. We will vanish with Tarlabasi. We are cutting our roots to look like models that somebody gave to us, but which are not us. Istanbul is going to look like New York. But we, the Europeans are not the young Americans. We don’t need New York. We should care of our old imperial cities, with their long history of mistakes and the wisdom we got from them.
Dream, prophecy, and reality are intertwined to a large extent in your installation works, which can also be considered as a visualized text/book. What drives you to push the boundaries of dream, prophecy, and reality?
Being a prophet has always been the work of the artist. Tiresias was the first one, then Leonardo, then Rimbaud, then T.S. Eliot or Pasolini. When you speak about the truth of today you always bring the reality of tomorrow. There is an ancient Sicilian way of saying: If you want to know your thoughts of yesterday look at your body today. If you want to know how you will look like tomorrow, observe your thoughts of today.
Your work also contains a great visual story within itself. You highlight a different room/section on each floor of the building. At this point, it is obvious that the objects in question are in a close relationship with the space they are in. So how did you create this story that spans the entire building?
I just collected many suggestions that I got from the people of Tarlabasi. Sometimes that were words and discourses. Other times they were silences. I put all these things inside the building that I chose and that has an intelligence of its own. And everything started to find its place.
What value do the objects you include in My Heart is a Void, the Void is a Mirror carry? How did you choose these objects after a design thought and combine them with other elements?
The objects and the buildings are the elements in which this work is articulated. They are important, but they have deep meanings behind them. Each object comes from a very long path that brought it to me. They are symbols. They don’t mean anything. They only refer to the abyss of depth that is behind them.
As a final question, do you plan to continue your relationship with Istanbul and include this rapidly growing city in your future works?
My project has already a lot of episodes already planned for the future. I will go to Russia, Estonia, Israel, France, Italy, to continue my portrait of the present. If I will have the chance to come back to Istanbul, it will be in a future present. Maybe it will be the right moment for a new project.
*Gian Maria Tosatti, Kalbim Ayna Gibi Boş – İstanbul Bölümü, 2021, ambient installation, site specific, supported by the Italian Council (2019).