Places / Turkey

Bavaria – Istanbul: An Interview With Turkish Artist Irem Tok

“Urban life makes us forget our real needs” (Irem Tok, *1982)

What a contrast! Bavaria and Istanbul! Leaving the chaotic urban life of Istanbul and spending some peaceful time as an artist-in-residence in Bavarian Feldafing, a small village with a picturesque view over Lake Starnberg (close to Munich), Turkish artist Irem Tok had the chance to think about the relationship between the individual and nature, urban chaos and silence.


She is participating at the current exhibition “Signs Taken In Wonder” at MAK (Museum for Applied Arts) in Vienna. Recently, Tok is back in Istanbul for her second solo exhibition titled “Against the Wind” (Rüzgarın Tersi) at Pilot Gallery. (claim: How possible is it to hear your inner self within the chaos of the city?).

I met her to talk about her exhibition, her view from outside on Istanbul …

As an artist from Istanbul, does this city play a special role in your approach and especially in your exhibition “Against the Wind”?

Tok: “Against the Wind” was mostly formed during my time at the residency in Bavaria. As I was born and raised in Istanbul, 30 years of my life was full of a struggle with the chaos of this place and sometimes surrendering to it. Therefore the Bavarian countryside affected my productivity. This is why the main theme of my first personal exhibition is vulnerability.

How was it for you to look at Istanbul from outside?

Tok: Sometimes you get closer to things while you are distancing yourself from them. I was like Kelvin in the movie Solaris. Your memory accompanies you and makes you think, even if you go to a different planet. On my flight back to Istanbul it was very dark and the clouds were layered. It was as if we were falling into a black hole, going right into the eye of a tornado. Seen from Bavaria, Istanbul seemed like this to me. A nefarious place inside a tornado, where people struggle to survive, drift away, a place which harbors my family and my loved ones despite its insecurity.

In your exhibition “Against the Wind”, there is a state of “acceptance” toward nature and life yet a dominant “resistance” can also be felt. Do you agree with that?

Tok: I live with the feeling that I am a part of nature, and that I am not more valuable than a tree, a star cluster, or a meteor in the universe, and that I am just a companion with them, with my existence and non-existence. My resistance is not more than a tree swaying in the wind. I will resist and surrender with them. Till all ends.

In the exhibition statement there is the question of “how possible is it to hear your inner self within the chaos of the city?”

Tok: When I went to Bavaria, I realized I was in need of this – it is a bit hard to realize that you need something, unless you’ve experienced it. So that sentence is about this issue. Urban life makes us forget our real needs and occupies us with things that depend on consumption and draws us away from our human needs.

What made the travel from East to West with you? 

Tok: If you want to listen to yourself, it is not that important to determine your direction as East or West. Actually, you are where you think you are.

Irem Tok lives and works in Istanbul. Born in 1982 she graduated from Marmara University Fine Arts Faculty, Painting Department in 2007. She participated in a number of artist residency programs: Villa Waldberta, Munich (2012),, Munich (2011), School Gate Project of Incheon Foundation for Art & Culture, South Korea (2010), Litmus Community Space artist-in-residence program, South Korea (2009), Borusan Art Center, Istanbul (2008). Her first solo exhibition “Fade Away” was held at Outlet Gallery, Istanbul in 2011. Select group exhibitions include “Signs Taken in Wonder”, MAK Museum, Vienna (2013), “Blur”, Weltraum, Munich (2012), “If the Nature is Heaven, the City is Hell”, CERMODERN, Ankara (2011), “Etats d’Ames” ENSBA, Paris (2010), “Mind Models: the First Show”, Borusan Music and Art Center, Istanbul (2010), “Be Realist, Demand the Impossible”, Karşı Sanat, Istanbul (2007).

Signs Taken In Wonder” at MAK Vienna is open until April 21, 2013

The exhibition “Against the Wind” at Pilot Gallery in Istanbul is open until April 27, 2013

From the gallery’s website:

Against the Wind



PİLOT will be hosting the second solo exhibition of Irem Tok, “Against the Wind”, between 7 March and 27 April.

The artist, who depicted the vulnerable and fragile individual among the crowds in its first solo exhibition “Fade Away” at Outlet Gallery in 2011, puts an emphasis now on the time travels the individual experiences through its memory, its internal feud and the ephemerea of its existence on realm.

How possible is it to hear your inner self within the chaos of the city? We are suppressing our real ambitions as well as strongest feelings in life and burying the real treasure we’re actually seeking for deep down in the ground of our souls. We are desperately brought on chaos. Cacophony of the metropolitan life turns into a mechanism that makes us forget about ourselves and mutes our inner voices. The burden of responsibilities coming along creates daily life practices which put a distance between our own passions and the reality.

İrem Tok spent the last three months in an artist residency in Munich, away from the city life. “Against the Wind” brings together a group of works created by the artist while taking inspiration from her time away in nature and the silence she experienced.

read more:

Interview with Turkish artist Nazim Unal Yilmaz, lives and works in Vienna

Interview with MAK-Director Christoph Thun-Hohenstein

about the opening of “Signs Taken in Wonder” at the MAK in Vienna

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