“Till It’s Gone”, the first major exhibition of 2016 at Istanbul Modern, presents works by artists who undertake conceptual research on nature and focus on ecological issues in their practices. The artists are from different geographies and generations, and have deep and complex relationships with the concept of sustainability. They offer diverse insights pertaining to humanity’s interactions with the ecosystem.
The exhibition’s title is borrowed from the lyrics of “Big Yellow Taxi,” a song by the singer-songwriter and visual artist Joni Mitchell. The song emphasizes this simple fact about the environment: “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” With its up-tempo, exuberant melody, the song expresses a degree of optimism and enthusiasm that we certainly all need today.
The key visual of the exhibition is a watercolor by the artist Maro Michalakakos, executed in a style that echoes nineteenth-century scientific representations of birds. It shows a flamingo that has knotted its neck around its own leg—a metaphor for the destruction that we humans inflict upon our planet and ourselves.
A special commission for the exhibition has turned the museum’s foyer into an environment for collective experience. Sefatoryum, by the artist Camila Rocha, offers a setting for pleasure (sefa in Turkish) that accommodates participatory programs and serendipitous encounters among various people debating nature and sustainability. Throughout the exhibition period it will host self-organized gatherings, public events, and collaborations with other organizations, such as the “Art Speaks Out” video program by ikonoTV, which features a total of fifty-seven works by artists and filmmakers from all around the world.
The bilingual (Turkish/English) exhibition catalogue includes three new essays reflecting on the premises of the exhibition: the curators Çelenk Bafra and Paolo Colombo present the conceptual framework and the artworks; the author, educator, and environmentalist Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute asks—and answers—the question of “why sustainability?”; and the art historian Dr. Roger Cook explores the relationship between nature and art in the context of the works in the exhibition in his article “Good Air My Friend: Art for the Anthropocene.”
- Maro Michalakakos, Untitled, 2014. Courtesy of Analix Forever Gallery.