18 Ekim 2015 Pazar

"Tayfun Serttaş reimagines the Ottoman Natural History Museum" / Kaya Genç - DAILY SABAH


Tayfun Serttaş reimagines the Ottoman Natural History Museum

In his Studio-X Istanbul exhibition ‘Le Musee d'Histoire Naturelle de Constantinople,' Turkish artist Tayfun Serttaş explores the history of Istanbul's first natural history museum.

Kaya Genç

In 1871, the Austrian scientist Karl Eduard Hammerschmidt founded the Ottoman Empire's first natural history museum. Born in Vienna in 1800, Hammerschmidt had taken shelter in Istanbul in 1848, following the uprising of the masses against Austrian troops in Vienna. In his new life here Hammerschmidt came to be known as Dr. Abdullah Bey and founded a museum, established as part of the Tıbbiye-i Askeriye-i Şahane (The Royal Military Medical School located in Marmara University's Haydarpaşa Campus). This historic space fulfilling the scientific desire to classify all natural creatures is the starting point of Turkish artist Tayfun Serttaş's new exhibition "Le Musee d'Histoire Naturelle de Constantinople, " which is on display in Studio-X Istanbul until Nov. 1

"Because of my background in anthropology, I have a thorough interest in natural history. Before the invention of photography, the first generation of naturalists and artists had to collaborate. Some natural history collections are also magnificent collections of art. I have always been interested in the shared history of artists and naturalists," Serttaş said.

Located on Istanbul's Meclis-i Mebusan street and run by Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Studio-X Istanbul's gallery space is a perfect fit for this ambitious, witty and oftentimes hilarious exhibition. On display here are meticulously produced lifelike models of numerous animals that Serttaş has transformed into uncanny objects of contemporary art. In an interview with Daily Sabah last week, Serttaş described his preparations for this exhibition. "I have travelled to New York, London and Paris to visit all the leading natural history museums of Europe," he said. "Because of my background in anthropology, I have a thorough interest in natural history. Before the invention of photography, the first generation of naturalists and artists had to collaborate. Some natural history collections are also magnificent collections of art. I have always been interested in the shared history of artists and naturalists."

Serttaş first came across Dr. Abdullah Bey's name whilst visiting the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris. "In his lifetime Dr. Abdullah Bey sent 400 fossils from Anatolia to Paris," he said. "Some of those fossils are still on display in Paris. Once I was certain about the existence of Istanbul's Natural History Museum, I continued with my research in Istanbul."

The scientific mentality displayed in those museums fascinated Serttaş. "The pioneers of the French Enlightenment and the first encyclopedists had an unshakable belief in the classifiable nature of all things." Serttaş described the role of natural history museums as crucial in turning people into subjects and pointed to parallels between the rise of those museums and the era of colonialism in Europe.

"What if there was a natural history museum in Turkey today? What kind of a collection would it have?" Serttaş had these questions in mind while preparing for this show which, he said, provides an ironic answer. "The collection of the actual museum was burned during the Vefa Fire in 1918. Today the remains of that fire, all the official correspondence of the museum that serve as the sole proof of its existence, are stored in the Ottoman Archives of the prime minister's office. My previous exhibitions have focused on different archives. But with "Le Musee d'Histoire Naturelle de Constantinople" I used a new approach; I conceived a narrative using official correspondence. The archival data created the ground for the production of new works."

More than 40 works are on display here, many of them produced in completely different media. The works include video installations, sculptures, drawings, taxidermies, paintings and Ottoman era prints about natural history. "My collection can be viewed as a metaphoric waypoint amidst historical and contemporary debates about museums," Serttaş said. "The museum archives include a two-headed baby from Kayseri who died immediately after birth. They have tried to preserve the baby's body. A goat with seven legs was born in Cyprus and there are letters about its transfer to the Istanbul Natural History Museum. I have used such correspondence while recreating the museum from scratch. There are also works about contemporary issues such as the Anatolian Leopard that was seen after 64 years in Turkey before it was shot dead."

Among the most curious works in the museum are cabinets of curiosities, which the artist describes as "the first free spaces of curation thanks to which the idea of creating private collections in the pre-Enlightenment era came into being."

"Those can be seen as the ancestors of modern museums," Serttaş said. There are around 10 works in this exhibition that directly reference those cabinets of curiosity. Each of these modern cabinets feature various reference points concerning popular culture, be it Kafka's most famous protagonist Gregor Samsa or the dreams of the cartoon character Bambi. "They all ask questions about the process of transformation," the artist said. In the video room Serttaş displays a film titled "Eftalia's Atlantis" that features him as its main character. "In that video I am searching for a legend in Istanbul, 40 meters beneath the Sea of Marmara," he explained. Here, dressed as a mermaid, the artist explores the legend of Eftalia Georgiadi, the first female singer to have her voice recorded in Ottoman era. "According to the legend, the girl was so beautiful that her father rowed her on a boat only during night time on the Bosphorus. Locals would come together to the shore to listen Eftalia's voice. The story of this woman who has had a sad end is recreated through this performance video in the form of a lost legend of Istanbul history." On Nov. 13, the last day of the exhibition, Serttaş will launch his new book "Le Musee d'Histoire Naturelle de Constantinople" that features his commentary on the data obtained throughout his research on this once forgotten natural history museum that is now brought back to life.

Kaynak: "Tayfun Serttaş reimagines the Ottoman Natural History Museum
Kaya Genç - DAILY SABAH, 16 Ekim 2015 

3 Ekim 2015 Cumartesi

"Tayfun Serttaş uncovers forgotten İstanbul Natural History Museum" / Rumeysa Kiger - TODAY'S ZAMAN



Known for his ambitious archival projects, artist Tayfun Serttaş is currently showcasing an exhibition at Studio-X Istanbul discussing the first and only Natural History Museum in Turkish history, which was founded in 1871 but destroyed in a fire in 1918.

Rumeysa Kiger

Serttaş, who is fond of visiting natural history museums in the cities he goes to, one day encountered 400 fossils in the Paris Natural History Museum's mineralogy section that were sent by Abdullah Bey in the Ottoman Empire in exchange for 900 other pieces for İstanbul's Natural History Museum at the time. When he came back to Turkey, he looked for information about Abdullah Bey and the museum, but couldn't find anything at first.

In an interview with Today's Zaman, Serttaş explained that in the beginning, he was only able to find a stamp issued with a picture of Abdullah Bey, a symbolic headstone placed by the Turkish Red Crescent because he was its founder and an ugly bust of him in Kızılay in Ankara. Later on, he looked at the formal documents of the museum in the Ottoman archives of the Prime Ministry and learned that Abdullah Bey was an Austria-origin scientist named Karl Eduard Hammerschmidt who took shelter in the Ottoman Empire due to the Vienna uprising in 1848. When he wanted to continue his efforts in the field of zoology in the empire, he was assigned to build the first natural history museum at the Royal Military Medical School, which was located on the Haydarpaşa campus of today's Marmara University.

In 1870, Abdullah Bey -- who converted to Islam and changed his name of his own will -- started to gather a large collection using his worldwide connections. A year later, the first natural history museum of the empire was opened to the public with the name “Le Musée d'Histoire Naturelle d'École Impériale de Médecine de Constantinople.” The collection featured around 50,000 pieces, Serttaş says. They included 11,891 mineralogy and geology pieces, 2,725 plants, around 5,900 insects and around 2,500 other animals, together with 249 rare books Abdullah Bey brought from Vienna. In 1871, the museum was opened to the public and Abdullah Bey was given the title “Numunehane Müdürü” -- which could be translated as “museum director” -- due to his efforts to found such an institution at the same time period as its contemporaries in Europe.

Following the sudden death of Abdullah Bey in 1874, the museum's activities slowed down and the collection was transferred to the newly established İstanbul University's Geology Faculty. Unfortunately, the collection was burned during the notorious Vefa Fire in 1918 and the first and only natural history museum of İstanbul vanished forever.

“While constructing my relationship with this archive for this exhibition, I chose a new method rather than showcasing these archival materials I found. Using my own humble interest in natural history, I started to produce artworks. The museum itself turned entirely into a metaphor here. What I do is to question the current power regimes through the irony of a museum. Where do I stand among these power regimes and what are the scientific or other methodologies I will lean on to are some of the questions I had in mind,” he says. The exhibition, which took five years to prepare, features a large number of works using mounted animals Serttaş bought from taxidermists living abroad since it is illegal to mount animals in Turkey. They include a baby goat that was born with Down's syndrome, antelopes, raccoons, pigs and various insects. “These are all animals that died in zoos and were mounted later on; they were not killed on purpose,” he specifically underlines.

“Le Musée d'Histoire Naturelle de Constantinople” continues until Nov. 13 at Studio-X in the Fındıklı neighbourhood.

Kaynak: "Tayfun Serttaş uncovers forgotten İstanbul Natural History Museum"
Rumeysa Kiger - TODAY'S ZAMAN 30 Eylül 2015