For its first major exhibition of 2016, “TILL IT’S GONE: An Exhibition on Nature and Sustainability”, Istanbul Modern brings together artists who address nature and ecology with a particular emphasis on the notion of sustainability. Cosponsored by Eczacıbaşı Group and Şekerbank and with the contributions of TAV Airports Holding, the exhibition is on view January 13 – June 5, 2016, and features works by twenty artists and art collectives from different corners of the world proposing different perspectives on our perception of nature and new kinds of awareness vis-à-vis our relationship with the ecosystem. The press conference for the exhibition was attended by the Chair of the Board of Istanbul Modern, Oya Eczacıbaşı; the CEO of Eczacıbaşı Group, Dr. Erdal Karamercan; the General Manager of Şekerbank, Halit Yıldız; the exhibition curators, Çelenk Bafra and Paolo Colombo; the artists Alper Aydın, Bingyi, Jasmin Blasco, Elmas Deniz, Lars Jan and Annie Saunders, Maro Michalakakos, Camila Rocha, and Canan Tolon; and representatives of ikonoTV’s “Art Speaks Out” program.

Curated by Çelenk Bafra and Paolo Colombo, the exhibition features paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, photographs, and moving images by Roger Ackling, Bas Jan Ader, Alper Aydın, Bingyi, Jasmin Blasco and Pico Studio, Charles A. A. Dellschau, Elmas Deniz, Mark Dion, Hamish Fulton, Rodney Graham, ikonoTV “Art Speaks Out”, Lars Jan, Mario Merz, Maro Michalakakos, Joni Mitchell, Yoko Ono, Camila Rocha, Canan Tolon, Francesco Garnier Valletti, and Pae White.

Bafra and Colombo describe “TILL IT’S GONE” as “the manifestation of a yearning for nature, a livable world, and a desire for sustainable ecological balance”. The exhibition aims to reinforce humankind’s relationship with nature and the ecosystem and introduce fresh perspectives by looking at the concept of sustainability through the lens of art.

Ranging from diverse periods from the nineteenth century to the present, the works in the exhibition reflect their artists’ perception of nature and relationship with the concept of sustainability, offering interpretations of and inventive proposals for interactions between human beings and the ecosystem, and plants and animals in particular. Some of the works suggest the impossibility of solving major ecological issues, while others make proposals for safeguarding the ecosystem and the survival of humankind in harmony with it. A considerable number of the artists use nature itself as the medium for their production.

The exhibition takes its title from the refrain of the 1970 song “Big Yellow Taxi” by the Canadian singer-songwriter and artist Joni Mitchell:

You don’t know what you’ve got Till it’s gone

The song emphasizes how we do not understand the value of nature “till it’s gone”; the exhibition likewise emphasizes nature’s indispensability for human life and what can be done before it is too late. We continue to hear different versions of this popular song, which, at the time it was released, became an environmental anthem of a generation whose awareness of the radical changes affecting the world was rapidly increasing. The curators believe that special attention should be given to artists who have brought the issue to a cultural and social turning point through the subtle interpretations they offer; therefore they dedicate “TILL IT’S GONE” to the generation of 1968 –which includes Joni Mitchell– who contributed to the development of environmental awareness, and to all artists who bring new perspectives to bear on environmental problems.

Oya Eczacıbaşı: “Nature and environmental issues are a priority for art institutions.”

Welcoming the new year with “TILL IT’S GONE: An Exhibition on Nature and Sustainability”, Chair of the Board of Istanbul Modern Oya Eczacıbaşı stresses that nature and environmental issues have become a priority for art institutions: “Art institutions frequently conceive publications and projects on these topics. In 2011 Istanbul Modern presented “Paradise Lost”, featuring artists working with video and digital media to reflect nostalgia for a lost nature as well as the conflicts between nature and technology. The opening of our photography exhibition “Habitat”, which offers different perspectives on the constantly redefined concept of the spaces we live in, coincides with the preliminary program of “TILL IT’S GONE”. Furthermore, the last edition of the VitrA Contemporary Architecture Series, which focuses on housing architecture, is held in the pop-up exhibition area during the run of “TILL IT’S GONE”. We hope that our exhibition program elicit awareness through art and inspire audiences to think about environmental preservation and a sustainable future.”

Çelenk Bafra: “We need artists to turn upside down our relationship with nature and the superficial and insincere views on its preservation.”

Istanbul Modern Curator Çelenk Bafra points out that no other species or natural force could do what we have done to our planet for the sake of progress and an ambition for power: “It seems that neither global political initiatives such as climate conferences nor personal decisions that embrace a return to nature can remedy the impasse into which we have driven ourselves. Consequently, now more than ever we need artists to reverse our relationship with nature and the superficial statements and insincere solutions on its preservation. I believe we can benefit art’s unsettling yet healing power.”

Paolo Colombo: “The urgency of a deep reflection on sustainability is evident.”

Istanbul Modern’s International Art Advisor Paolo Colombo says: “The urgency of a deep reflection on sustainability and finding a new way to address our interaction with nature is, unfortunately, evident given the ubiquitous news of pollution in various megalopolises and other climate-related catastrophes around the world. In the exhibition, through their work, artists engage in a stimulating dialogue with us and one another about these issues. The theme is wide and layered. Our exhibition is but a drop in the ocean of a new awareness that is gradually expanding and that hopefully will become the behavioral norm in years to come.”

Erdal Karamercan: “The exhibition is the point where social sustainability meets nature, which itself is a fundamental part of sustainability.”

The CEO of Eczacıbaşı Group, Erdal Karamercan, states that sustainability has always been a priority for the Eczacıbaşı Group: “As founding sponsor, we have been with Istanbul Modern for eleven years. Following the Climate Conference held in Paris in December 2015, Istanbul Modern welcomes 2016 with a contemporary art exhibition that honors nature and focuses on environmental awareness. The exhibition ‘TILL IT’S GONE’ is the point where social sustainability meets nature, which itself is a fundamental part of sustainability. The exhibition thus demonstrates, once more, the Eczacıbaşı Group’s approach to the issue. Within this context, it gives us great pleasure to present the exhibition ‘TILL IT’S GONE’, in which international artists who look at nature from the standpoint of sustainability display their common attitude toward the world we live in and toward ecological issues.”

Halit Yıldız: “We support sustainable development at both the environmental and social levels.”

The General Manager of Şekerbank Halit Yıldız expressed that with the exhibition “TILL IT’S GONE” Istanbul Modern had produced a universal work and that they were delighted to support this exhibition. Emphasizing that the expansion of financial access, support of local production, and preservation of cultural heritage are important for achieving socially-inclusive growth, Halit Yıldız stated: “While developing our activities in line with our mindful approach to banking, not only do we support economic production, but artistic production as well. We took our best step toward this approach five years ago by making contemporary art available to the local public in our branches through our “Açıkekran” platform for new media arts, launched with the aim of bringing contemporary art to wider audiences.”Noting that throughout the course of the exhibition, workshops related to sustainability would be held within the scope of the project ‘The Color I Touch’, which they have been carrying out with Istanbul Modern for four years, Yıldız added: “We hope to continue our long-term work with Istanbul Modern and to contribute to artistic and cultural life through our collaborations in the future as well.”

The Exhibition Catalogue

  • Published bilingually in Turkish and English, the exhibition catalogue includes photographs of the works in “TILL IT’S GONE” as well as three new articles. A text coauthored by the curators, Çelenk Bafra and Paolo Colombo, presents the conceptual framework of the exhibition. An article by Richard Heinberg, an educator and environmentalist known for his work at the Post Carbon Institute, seeks an answer to the question of “why sustainability?” And the art historian Dr. Roger Cook’s article “Good Air My Friend: Art for the Anthropocene” interprets art’s relationship with nature in the context of the works in the exhibition.