Eroded Air Jordan, A Crumbling Super Mario And The Istanbul Art Exhibition You Have To See
A huge statue of Bugs Bunny looms out of the window at Istanbul’s Akkavak Street No.16, and it’s proving quite a head-turner. The opening salvo to Daniel Arsham’s Self Structure exhibition, it guards the flagship store of Turkish streetwear brand, Les Benjamins, and swiftly elicits a uniformed response: walk by, double take, walk back, selfie by the bunny.
Once inside, the familiar rails packed with Les Benjamins and other streetwear brands are gone (fear not, you can still shop the latest collections upstairs), replaced by a series of icons from the life of the artist. An exhibition in partnership with the Mosaic Art Foundation, Arsham’s memories come by way of crystalised Air Jordan 3 and decaying backpacks with NASA patches and Ninja Turtle motifs. A Snoopy phone silently crumbles while a statue of Super Mario commands the corner of the room, a fist raised in triumph.
“The backpacks, sneakers and other things all played a pivotal role in my youth,” says design polymath Arsham, a collaborator with the like of Adidas, KITH, Pharrell Williams, Usher, Nas, Maherasha ali, Juliette Lewis and most recently Dior.
“This is from a series of works that use the physical transformation from cloth – or in the case of the sneakers: rubber – into a geological material like volcanic ash and crystal which projects into a hypothetical archaeological future.” Successfully ‘dug up’, Sony Walkmans and ghetto blasters lie behind a glass case, each with its own future excavation date – the object displaced in time and open to interpretation.
For Les Benjamins founder, Bünyamin Aydın, the collaboration felt entirely organic. “I was already a follower of Daniel’s work when Sinan [Uzan, one of the founders of Mosaic Art Foundation] told me his idea of bringing it to Istanbul... and to my shop. I couldn’t believe it – but I’m a person who has always had big dreams, so that astonishment quickly disappeared and was replaced by hard work.
“I love the minimal point of view in Daniel’s work – If I didn’t like it there wouldn’t be such a good collaboration, right? We don’t see too much of this work in Turkey, but he has a vision and so do I… these two ideas are intertwined.”
While Turkey may be in its infancy when it comes to an installation such as Self Structure, the environment seems well suited. By the end of the opening night, more than 80 percent of the exhibition had been sold to collectors who had flown in especially for the event, desperate to own a decaying memory from Arsham’s past. A past that also morphs into the future.
“I could have taken one item and painted it to look old and distressed,” explains Arsham. “But something about the physical transformation from one material to another and also to a material that we associate with a geological timeframe was appealing. There was also something quite nice about works that appear to be old but are made with a substance we associate with growth. It begs the question, are they falling apart or are they growing?”
For Aydin, Self Structure offers a time displacement of sorts, too. The iconic streetwear that inspired the brand to his part in the exhibition’s imprint on the cultural soul of Istanbul. All part of the plan, you suspect, and if the Bugs Bunny in the window is anything to go by, where Les Benjamins is concerned you should expect the unexpected.
Check out Self Structure by Daniel Arsham at Les Benjamins, Akkavak Sokak. No: 16 Teşvikiye, 34365 Şişli/İstanbul until October 12