Syndrome of the Present Seminar #2

Day One 05.07.2018 | Izmir, Turkey

The seminar began with an introductory talk by Erden Kosova at the ruins of the Kadifekale fort, providing an apt vantage point to examine Izmir’s urban topography. From this view, it is possible to see how the areas located closer to the Aegean Sea, an area where refugees risk fatality by attempting to cross into EU territory, has received ample financial investment so as to greaten its touristic and commercial appeal; in contrast, the outskirts of the city — where the majority of the 150,000 refugees living in Izmir reside — were visibly dilapidated. This area has a long-standing history of being inhabited by newcomers to the city.


Following the introduction, the participants received a presentation at the Izmir branch of WAHA (Women’s and Health Alliance), located in the nearby Basmane neighbourhood. The branch was initiated and continues to be run by former Syrian refugees living in Izmir. The presentation of Mohammed Saleh, the director of the association, included discussions on the vocabulary used by juridical systems to address the refugee crisis and how such vocabulary and its implication of legal status (or lack thereof) both influences the local societal attitudes towards the refugee presence and further poses a hindrance to the refugee’s access to welfare infrastructure.

Visit at WAHA, Izmir

During the afternoon the seminar was based at the French Cultural Centre, where a series of presentations by Dr. Mehmet Penpecioğlu (Political-Economic Background of Izmir’s Urban Development and Planning Within the Historical Context), artist Metehan Özcan (Living and producing in Izmir: Authors of the City), human rights lawyer Ayşegül Karpuz (representing the refugee advocacy group Halkların Köprüsü — The Bridging Peoples Association), and historian Erkan Serçe further unfolded the themes of urban topology, the role of neoliberalism in city planning, and how social memory functions as an active component in the inscription and narration of history.


The first day concluded with a tour of the Culture Park led by Erkan Serçe, whose presentation provided a historical survey of the Culture Park’s development, its original inspiration from the Soviet model for public spaces and it’s contemporary significance.

Day Two 06.07.2018 | Izmir, Turkey

The second day commenced with an excursion to the archaeological excavation site located in the Konak region of the city. The site includes the house believed to be the birthplace of Sabbatai Zevi, now extensively remodelled. Although still in development, the house shall eventually serve as a public feature in the archaeological site, a project that is supported by the local municipality. Explicit mention of the house’s connection to Zevi is absent from the site’s promotional narrative — one could speculate that this absence, despite the site being commonly mythologised as pertaining to Zevi (even to the extent that Google Maps refers to the site as ‘Sabatay Sevi evi’ — literally, Sabbatai Zevi’s House), serves to avoid formally acknowledging the site as possessing religious/ideological significance.


Adjacent to the house is the former Jewish district, a dense web of largely concealed synagogues within the labyrinth that is the Kemeralti bazaar. Led by Nesim Bencoya, the participants retraced the path of Zevi in a visit to the former Portuguese Synagogue. The synagogue was a frequent backdrop to many of the events associated Zevi, including the proclamation of his messiahship. The synagogue is now owned by a collective of entrepreneurs, where it is typically used to present talks on subjects such as trade and economic ventures

The participants also visited the Señora Synagogue. Built in the 17th Century, local tradition purports that the synagogue was established by Donna Garcia, the daughter of a prominent merchant of Sephardic origin — a remarkable (although highly unlikely) tale, in light of the absence of women within the context of religious institutional histories.


After the excursion, further presentations were given by the participants. Raşel Meseri and Aylin Kuryel presented their recent publication Being Jewish in Turkey: A Dictionary of Experiences — a book that deconstructs common vocabulary and linguistic expressions amongst the Jewish-Turkish community, thereby excavating the political and social etymology of such language. Artist Artur Żmijewski discussed several of his films, commenting on the negotiation of political ideologies both within his work and around its production.

Day Three 07.07.2018 | Istanbul, Turkey

The Bülbülderesi Cemetery sprawls across a steeply sloped hillside, creating multiple vertically stacked platforms of closely allotted stone tombs, upon and between which greenery and silence flourish amidst the urban Üsküdar neighbourhood on the Asian coast of the city. An early morning excursion in the cemetery was accompanied by artist C.M. Kösemen, author of the award-winning book Osman Hasan and the Tombstone Photographs of the Dönmes — an extensive research into deciphering the motifs distinctive of Dönme tombs, of which many can be located in the cemetery. Despite the ostracisation of the Dönme, rejected by both Jewish and Muslim communities, the tombs of Dönme families are not restricted to a specific area within the cemetery but are instead dispersed throughout — often characterised by lavish motifs, in sharp contrast to the sobriety of surrounding tombs. Further inspection, as C.M. Kösemen described, reveals an array of distinct semiotics — including hand-tinted photograph portraits, elaborate stone carvings, and modernist fonts.


The afternoon session took place in Cezayir; owned by the currently imprisoned Osman Kavala, co-founder of DEPO (one of Syndrome of the Present’s partner institutions), Cezayir holds a tradition for intensively hosting NGO meetings. During the afternoon, presentations by Asena Günal, director of art space DEPO (one of the partner institutions of our project), and artist Zeyno Pekünlü generated discussion on how artists and institutions can (collaboratively) deploy strategies to both actively resist and combat social and political conditions, particularly (but not limited to) those conditions that heavily moderate the production and presentation of art. Further, Zeyno Pekünlü spoke of how techniques of archiving and collecting existing media — both digital and physical — provide a perspective through which to reflect on tropes of human behaviour, drawing sensitive focus to the evocation and allowance of vulnerability, a typically concealed sentiment yet often entrenched with socially significant charge.

Day Four 08.07.2018 | Istanbul, Turkey

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Following a morning visit to the Museum of Turkish Jews, the seminar held in SALT (another partner institution) concluded with a presentation by Gülsün Karamustafa, one of Turkey’s most outspoken and celebrated artists, whose career spans forty-years. Karamustafa presented a number of her video works and spoke of how the works enunciate an intimate proximity between a personal/collective memory of Istanbul and its shifting political geographies, thereby meditating on subjects such as migration, poverty, government regimes and public protest.


Syndrome of the Present Seminar #1

After two preparatory workshops held in conjunction with Dutch Art Institute and its post-graduate students, the Syndrome of the Present project commenced with the Thessaloniki meeting in January 2018, assembling the scholars and artists who are set to commit to the project’s following stages.

The decision of starting in the city of Thessaloniki was conditioned by a series of historical facts. Firstly, for more than two centuries, the city had been the host of the community who followed one of the inspiring figures of the project, Sabbatai Zevi. From the late 17th century to their exodus to modern Turkey, this community played an active role in the administration, social and economic life of the city. The imposed migration, a succession of different sorts of dispossession, nationalist deletion of cultural marks and the renewed discrimination in the new homeland are troubles that were not inflicted only to the Sabbatean community but all cultural components of the city, which is easily comparable with histories of neighbouring geographies, as well as with the current tragedies we witness along with recent waves of migration towards Fortress Europe.

The Thessaloniki meeting started with the keynote of Savas Michael-Matsas, addressing the main motives of Syndrome of Present and concentrated on the impacts of two historical figures, Zevi and Baruch Spinoza, on the dynamics of modernisation, secularisation and messianic time conception. Savas pointed also at continuities of past political contentions in the present, exemplified by the massive nationalist protestations in relation with the Macedonia issue and consequent aggressions, which coincided with the days of our seminar in the city. The space that hosted the lecture was Yeni Camii, the only mosque that was built by the Sabbatean community, back in 1902.


On the second day of the seminar, Marc David Baer read a passage from his book, The Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks, which explains the cultural history and the stylistic codes of the mosque. The second day of the seminar resumed at the cafe Mama’s Taper with a cluster of academic and artistic presentations focused on the concept of messianism and the impacts of Zevi’s heritage on intellectuals like Walter Benjamin and Gershom Sholem and the political promises of messianism and the impossibility of their fulfilment. Also discussed in this afternoon the psychological connotations of the mediatory role of the Messiah between God and the individual, and the cases in which differences in this communication fall apart. The second and third day’s seminars proceeded with more presentations and screenings of artworks, video pieces or documentaries that touched issues such as eschatological visions, conversion, forced migration and fluid identities. Day three also included a keynote presentation by the Thessalonikian academician Dimitris Stamatopoulos, who gave an historical account of the ways in which religion, in particular Orthodox Christianity and Islam, has been instrumentalised by nationalist and neo-imperialist projects, such as in present-day Russia and Turkey.


An integral part of our project and even the primary reason for visiting different geographies are the city walks, intended to enhance and contextualise the knowledge exchange in the seminars. In the first morning of our Thessaloniki meeting, Iosif Vaena, an autodidact urban historian, guided the group to the historical centre of the city, demonstrating different layers of the city’s rich history, starting from its establishment in the Hellenistic time extending into the Ottoman rule and its Greek annexation. Vaena further detailed the official policies of selective remembering and deletion of the components of cosmopolitan richness — particularly, the dramatic apathy towards the city’s Jewish majority during the Ottoman period. On the second day, after Romm Lewkowicz’s introduction to his research on EU’s techniques of registration of refugees on the island of Chios, we had a bus tour to one of the refugee camps that is located near the city. In the afternoon, the young historian Michalis Daskalis Giontis guided the group to the historical White Tower, the architectural symbol of the city, which was transformed from a military compound to a city museum. We also visited the villa belonging to one of the most prominent families of the Sabbatean community, the Kapandjis. The Villa Kapandji hosts today the exhibitions and activities of the Center of Cultural Foundation of the National Bank of Greece. Yiannis Epaminondas, the curator of the current exhibition, The Dusk of A Old City: Thessaloniki 1870-1917 generously guided our group to the sections devised to different topics (especially the section about the great fire of 1917) and answered our questions in detail.

Until The End Of The World And Back

2018 ~ Sunday January 21: Roaming Assembly#18, Thessaloniki, Greece 

A symposium on eschatology initiated and curated by Galit Eilat and moderated by Nataša Ilić, with contributions by: Savas Michael-Matsas , Ayşe Çavdar, Julian Reid, Köken Ergun  


During the symposium ‘Until the End of the World And Back’, we traced the elements of various forms of eschatology from theology to our contemporary reality and learned to recognize, understand, and if necessary transform the narratives and imaginaries of eschatology, and move from utopia to dystopia and back.

UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD AND BACK: ‘On Eschatology and Syndrome of the Present’ ~ Video Introduction by Galit Eilat

UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD AND BACK: ‘Modernity and the Messianic’ ~ Video Savvas Michael-Matsas

UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD AND BACK: ‘Confronting the Anthropocene: Movement, Eschatology and the Future’ ~ Video Julian Reid

DAI – Factory workshop

16th – 17th of December 2017, Oldebroek, the Netherlands

Factory workshop is leading up to the Planetary Campus activities curated by Galit Eilat on 20, 21 and 22 January 2018 in Thessaloniki, Greece.

In order to encourage and support the active participation and commitment of the students in and to the Roaming Assemblies, always on Sundays ( as part of DAI Weeks), the Factory offers a variety of workshops and seminars, always taking place on Saturday (again, as integral part of DAI Weeks). Occasionally The Factory will also offer autonomous worksessions with guests to further specific skills and knowledges. Team Planetary Campus is dedicated to facilitate preliminary seminars, workshops and other work meetings, led by guests: curators, speakers and performers as well as researchers, at a variety of locations.

The Factory workshop in Oldebroek led by Ayşe ÇavdarMerel Eimers, and Erden Kosova, and was an introduction to the methods, conceptual and historical background of  ‘Syndromes of the Present’ project. Erden Kosova gave an historical context to the contemporary debate on the 17th century Messianic movement of Sabbateans and the movement’s role in the modernisation dynamics in the late Ottoman and early Republican periods in Turkey. There will be comparisons with other heterodoxies in Turkish history and concepts like ‘takiyye’  will be focused on.

Erden Kosova in addition, deliver a seminar on the political discussions around contemporary art in Turkey and current frictions with the authoritarian regime and its Kulturkampf against the intellectual production in the country. There present visual materials of different periods and artistic positions.

“Alchemiafobia: What if I am converted?” – on the practice of Devsirme and the fear for converted Muslims.

Devsirme was a strategy to establish a military and bureaucratic ruling class loyal to the court and liberated from all kinds of social and historical ties. A Devsirme does not have any root in society. He is a complete alien. The Devsirme system had been the answer given by the Ottoman state to the reluctance of the Muslim Turkmen tribes to support the Ottoman Beys and Sultans in their fight for conquering new territories. Besides, the Ottomans often fought against the Turkmen tribes, too. In these occasions, how to be sure of the loyalty of the soldiers if they are Muslim Anatolians. Thus, in this system, Christian children were taken away from their families, relocated in the Muslim Turkmen foster families to learn Muslim customs. Later, they got the highest education in the Empire. The ones skilled in martial arts were becoming soldiers in the Janissary, while the remaining served in the bureaucracy. Enmity between “original Muslims” and “devsirme” was inevitable under these circumstances. Islamists, in the 19th century and today, have seen the “devsirme” practice as the main reason for the collapse of the Empire. There is a very lively political discourse in Islamism against the “converted” Muslims.  Ayşe Çavdar will discuss the psychological aspect of the fear of “devsirme”, which she has named as “alchemyfobia”.