Karl-Heinz Klopf


9th International Istanbul Biennial


The Biennial, curated by Charles Esche and Vasiv Kortun, took as its theme the city of Istanbul itself. For his contribution, Karl-Heinz Klopf chose six different step formations in the steeply inclined streets between the various exhibition venues of the Biennial. At night, these steps were illuminated with spotlights, setting them clearly apart from their dark surroundings.

During the opening days of the Istanbul Biennial, the artist initiated performances with various musicians and a break-dance group from Istanbul on the step formations, which were lit up like a stage. The events formed an intensive performative space where visitors to the Biennial met spontaneously with the people from the neighbourhood who rushed to the scene.

(Mind the Steps, 2005; stage spotlight, diameter ca. 300 cm; 9th International Istanbul Biennial)


Karl-Heinz Klopf has made nothing for the Biennial, but he is a regular in Istanbul and over the past years has harboured a fascination for the randomly formed, and often impractical, steps and staircases that stagger one's journey from the hill of Pera down to the Golden Horn. These step formations are not orderly, of equal depths and heights, or regulated in any way. Many have been built in series, one set intercepting another, neither doing a job, while together they create a sculptural space. Their presence is the result of a constant negotiation between the ad hoc character of the city pavements and personal interventions by the people who use and domesticate them.
In six locations in the neighbourhood of the Biennial, Klopf's obsession with such steps are highlighted by theatrical projector spotlights, which transform the quirky compositions into stage sets. Klopf's spots are everyday, anonymous and temporary monuments that do not function separately, but as one work, to be discovered between the Biennial venues. These subtle indicators are contexts for things waiting to happen. Invisible to oblivious passers-by during the day, these carefully selected moments become visible, like the stars, only at night.
(Vasif Kortun)


Pelin Tan on »Mind the Steps«,—a work by Karl-Heinz Klopf at the 9th International Istanbul Biennial, 2005

The city of Istanbul has a complex and disorganised urban texture that provides many opportunities to experience space. As the complexity stems from the heterogeneity of cultural communities and as the organisation of space mostly exists in informal urban practices, inhabitants have several options on how to use the public space. A familiarity with life in the street and everyday existence in this city leads to an intense interaction with it, one that also influences the personal lives of its citizens. Compared to West and North European cities, where the cities and public spaces are over-regulated; Istanbul somehow represents an »open city«, where negotiation between space and people is continuously required both at a formal and an informal level.

The theme of the 9th International Istanbul Biennial (2005), curated by Vasif Kortun and Charles Esche, was »Istanbul«. The exhibition focused on the potentialities of the city. Several artists were asked to produce site-specific works: »We sought to address the environments in which the work will be shown and to place art in dialogue with different aspects and observations of the city itself.«. The work »Mind the Steps« by Karl-Heinz Klopf consisted of site-specific works in several streets. They connected the uniqueness of the spaces to local knowledge, using performances as a form of interaction and communication model between both performers and inhabitants. The artist has been working for years on the relationship between cultural structures and the notion of space (urbanism/architecture); he focuses on the intersection and the potential of spaces. The production of cultural practices by various communities intervenes in a public space that, in metropolises like Istanbul, is shared by a cross-cultural society based on several different ethnic, religious and regional roots. Kopf’s “»relational art form« is able to show another aspect of this practice. This temporary art form succeeds in creating a form of cross-communication that plays with the social structure of the community. During several visits to Istanbul, Klopf worked on the complexity of the urban texture and its relation to the heterogeneous culture in Istanbul. He analysed the potentialities of the space in relation to its ambiguous organization and the various ways it is used by the inhabitants. For »Mind the Steps« he chose six streets in the district of Beyoglu-Galata, where he selected six pavements/sets of steps. The steps, which are disorderly and have ambiguous structures, are real obstacles when walking the streets of Istanbul. Klopf transformed the daily habits of walking in the streets into a playful performance. During the Biennial, he not only used spotlights to highlight these chaotic steps like stages, but also organized shows by several different local musicians and performers on every evening during the first week of the show. At the first event, which was on a set of steps in front of a cash dispenser in Haci Ali Street, two Turkish artists performed by creating rhythms using their hands and bodies. Another day, the steps in Yeni Çarsi Street hosted local break and rap dancers. Gypsy musicians and dancers were invited to the steps in Türkgücü Street and a local electronic music group was invited to Horoz Street on another evening.

The urban intervention of the artist focused on a vital element in every day life in Istanbul: life in the streets. We as citizens walk in these places every day and yet even we have trouble climbing those chaotic, erratic steps. However, with his simple interventions Klopf highlighted significant features of the steps, reactivating them temporarily in a different local context, and creating an awareness of them that is not present in our daily life. The collaboration with local musicians and performers from different cultural communities not only created interactive street interventions in the public space that involved both the audience and local people, but also produced a kind of trans-local experience and knowledge among the inhabitants. Here, the work of art does not exist anymore in its relation to the »site«, but as a temporary social involvement and an encounter between several different local groups, in which the »relational art form« as seen in Klopf’s work functions as a »site-local« practice, making the term »site-specific« no longer relevant.

This text has been published in springerin, winter 2006

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