Creating an Artist Books Library in Istanbul: Aslı Özdoyuran on BAS
By Insun Woo
Published on July 9, 2022
Founded by artist Banu Cennetoğlu in 2006 and currently run by Aslı Özdoyuran and Marina Papazyan, BAS is a non profit space dedicated to the collection, exhibition, production, and distribution of artists’ publications and printed matter. Today, its collection stands at over 1,500 artists’ books, periodicals, and other printed publications by artists and artist collectives.
Located rather inconspicuously on the Necati Bey street in the vibrant neighborhood of Karaköy, BAS offers a moment of respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Several shelves, filled with all kinds of printed matter, are arranged neatly in a cozy, naturally-lit space that consists of a brilliant magenta floor and white walls covered with large tapestries, more bookshelves, and (formerly) various posters. From Solidarity Unlimited newspapers and Hans Eijkelboom’s brochure, 10-Euro Outfits, to Eko Nugroho’s Fight Me! and BAS’ own publication, ha’lar by Ege Berensel, BAS’ collection is truly diverse, and it is easy to lose track of time as one digs through the shelves, perusing one gem at a time.
First via email and then in person at the small sitting area in the back corner of the space that is jokingly referred to as the “BAS residency,” I had the opportunity to hear from Aslı about BAS’ collection, acquisition and display practices, as well as its past and upcoming projects.
Insun Woo: How would you articulate what an artist’s book is, and why does this medium speak to you personally?
Aslı Özdoyuran: Artists’ books are products of thought that can take various forms: books, postcards, stickers, posters, or more. They can be handmade in limited edition or printed in thousands of copies and distributed freely. Due to ignorance or neglect, the term “artists’ book” continues to create the image of a hand-painted book, a book-object, or perhaps even a collector’s piece, but certainly not a banal offset-printed edition of five hundred to a thousand. To me, BAS collection is about the neighboring of these different mediums, ways of production and distribution.
BAS collection is about the neighboring of these different mediums, ways of production and distribution.
I.W.: What shapes BAS' practice of collecting? Would you like to highlight any publications from BAS' collection?
A.Ö.: BAS has an open-acquisition policy when buying, accepting, and bartering artists’ books, meaning that we do not select or curate books for display. When collecting, Banu has chosen to favor diversity over personal taste, and the collection has eventually grown through acquaintances and coincidences with and around artists, curators, and publishers she met over time. The collection is accessible to the public.
Some artists from the BAS library include Claude Closky, Céline Duval, Hans-Peter Feldmann, as well as Temporary Services, Picpus Press, İpek Duben, and ha za vu zu. I find it particularly valuable to witness the documentation of artistic production from the early 2000s and to see those sitting next to publications from recent times.
One publication in particular reflects the sensibilities of BAS; Anita Di Bianco’s Corrections and Clarifications is an ongoing newspaper project produced in various locations, languages, and formats since 2001. Each iteration of the work is an edited compilation of corrections of typographical or factual mistakes, as well as statements intended to clear up misunderstandings published in daily newspapers. Corrections and Clarifications takes the familiar format of the daily newspaper, its content referring back to what was published the day, week, or month before. The work is distributed gratis, reflecting the overarching sensibility of the BAS collection that focuses on artists’ books and printed matter as accessible materials, resisting the object-based precariousness common to the art world. In 2014, an edition of Corrections and Clarifications in Turkish was published in collaboration with BAS and collectorspace. A further reading on the work and BAS is “collectorspace presents: BAS collection,” a booklet with texts by Özge Ersoy, Duygu Demir, Yasemin Nur, Philippine Hoegen, and Banu Cennetoğlu.
BAS collection focuses on artists’ books and printed matter as accessible materials, resisting the object-based precariousness common to the art world.
I.W.: Is there an organizing logic behind the display of books at BAS?
A.Ö.: At BAS, we try to avoid categorizing books. The only clear categorization we make is with reference books that belong to fıelds like art theory, philosophy or literature, or artists’ monographs which are assigned a separate shelf space. The goal is not to bring an absolute definition to what an artist’s book is, but rather to deal with the difficulty of defining it. Once we start questioning whether something is an artist’s book or not, it goes on the shelves, unless it belongs to one of the fields mentioned above. I like the playfulness here. The books are kept together because collectively they represent a possibility, a form of thinking, and a manner of making.
As for the display—Banu displays certain books together, but they are not immovable. Anyone can put the books back in different places, and to me, this reflects the impossibility of categorizing them. Each new neighboring creates new relationships within the body of books. The metal display structures consist of clear plexiglass shelves and can be pulled out like drawers. The books lay flat on the shelves, making their faces visible rather than their spines. Designed by Banu, these structures allow not only to see the books next to each other but also in a vertical relationship where the see-through shelf shows the books on the lower shelf. I think this is a poetic way of arranging books.
The books are kept together because collectively they represent a possibility, a form of thinking, and a manner of making.
I.W.: Have you considered digitizing parts of your collections?
A.Ö.: We are currently putting together an inventory. The majority of the current inventory was done by Nihan Somay, whose labor means a lot to BAS. We took Nihan’s list as a base and then started renumbering every publication to have a full list of our current collection in alphabetical order. This list will be available online on our website.
I.W.: Could you share more about Ünal Bostancı's exhibition La Isla Bonita and the publication, Ha’lar by Ege Berensel?
A.Ö.: Ünal Bostancı’s exhibition La Isla Bonita consists of abstract paper-maché sculptures, which are in dialogue with the printed matter at BAS. Bostancı imagines the sculptures to evoke the feeling of an isolated habitat, which the remote space of BAS accommodates. The exhibition took place between December 10, 2021 - February 12, 2022.
ha’lar is an anthology of process poems by Ege Berensel published in 2021. 60 process poems, written in the period from 1990 to 2000, all but a few of which were typed on Oliver Courier and Remington Rand typewriters, which constantly reference the tradition of concrete poetry and are made up of variations of processed poems by pioneering poets like Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, Claus Bremer, Yüksel Pazarkaya and Ernst Jandl.
In Turkish, “ha-” is an interjection that has multiple meanings and may express astonishment, warning, endeavour, affirmation or inquiry. Then, there is also the ‘ha’ in the word ‘hayır’ [editor’s note: “no” in Turkish]… Hayır, in fact, stems from the Arabic word xayr (hay’r), meaning goodness, or better. Hayır was used in 17th century Ottoman along with the negatory word yok [absent] as a euphemism, a rhetorical device, in the form, ‘yok hayır‘ or ‘yo hayır’ to mean, ‘my answer is negative, may the best come of this.’ In time, ‘yo,’ or ‘yok’ were dropped and ‘hayır’ remained… ha’yır also means ‘ha poetry’… ‘yır’ meaning poetry or eloquent expression in old Turkish. ha’lar is the first publication from BAS since Corrections & Clarifications in 2014.
I.W.: What gap is BAS filling in Istanbul's (or Turkey's) art scene?
A.Ö.: I don’t think BAS has the goal of filling a gap in Istanbul’s art scene—a lot has changed since BAS was founded in 2005 and the needs and necessities of the cultural world fluctuate in response to the larger climate. That being said, as an artist-run space, BAS witnessed Istanbul’s transformations —starting from its neighborhood—and holds them in its memory.
I.W.: Who usually stops by BAS?
A.Ö.: Our space doesn’t have a storefront, so it’s difficult for someone to just walk in unless they aim for it. Visitors are most likely acquaintances, people from the fields of publishing or the arts, cultural workers, or curious wanderers who came across BAS’ Instagram page or website. Sometimes, student groups stop by. I like to see students spend time with the books here, especially if they are working on projects related to printed matter and find materials that serve as inspiration. Occasionally, people who are drawn to the programs or exhibitions visit and make the habit of frequenting. It is always nice to see people visiting BAS for different reasons.
As an artist-run space, BAS witnessed Istanbul’s transformations and holds them in its memory.
We try to be conscious of, or avoid, the tendency in the art world toward an excess of information or visibility.
I.W.: It seems like BAS isn’t going out of its way to make its collection known to a wider audience. Is there a reason for taking a less active approach to publicizing BAS?
A.Ö.: We do make announcements on our website and social media accounts regarding events taking place at BAS. We want people to come and spend time with the collection; that is why we are open to the public two days a week— like a library. However, we try to be conscious of, or avoid, the tendency in the art world toward an excess of information or visibility.
I.W.: Are there any upcoming projects that you would like to highlight?
A.Ö.: Currently, BAS operates as an archive open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays. Our short-term goal is to finish digitizing the archive, which consists of +1,500 artists’ books, periodicals, and other printed matter by artists and artist collectives, and keeps growing. We look forward to the freedom of using interior spaces for physical gatherings, like reading circles, artist talks, or performance-lectures.
BAS is a non-profit space in Istanbul dedicated to the collection, exhibition, production and distribution of artists’ publications and printed matter.
Necati Bey Caddesi No:32/2
Karaköy Istanbul Turkey
Open to visitors on Fridays and Saturdays between 1-6 pm, or by appointment.
Schedule your visit to BAS.
Aslı Özdoyuran is an artist and researcher living in Istanbul. She holds a BFA in Sculpture and a BA in Visual and Critical Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Attended residencies include Onassis AiR (2021), NAVE Proyecto (2020) and Summer Forum (2017).
Insun Woo is a student at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) where she is pursuing a BA in Art & Art History and a minor in Arabic. Her interest lies in contemporary art curation, arts education, and youth empowerment. Her current and past experience includes writing for Global Art Daily and Canvas Magazine, participating in the Summer College Workshop 2021 at the Guggenheim Museum, and interning at for- and non-profit organizations for the empowerment of youth.