Interview with Elio Montanari by Tuğba Kibar/ Experience of Living Together in Istanbul / October 2010
Elio Montanari is an Italian architect and a photographer with a focus on buildings and physical structures and therefore the city itself in general. Living in Istanbul since 2002, Elio was married here for the first time of his life and plans to stay in Istanbul from now on.
When one is posed the question related to the coexistence of various religious groups, family ties and neighbourhood relations are almost the only subject matter that is discussed. During my conversation with Elio, I came to realize that physicality of space in and of itself can be the foundation of coexistence.
There is no shock for me because I don’t have any problems of identity in the sense that I was always used to, to meet diversity. I mean the problem of identity is being solved with meeting different people. So, I believe in what we may say, cannibalism. Intellectual and spiritual cannibalism which means that I see you, you are different from me. So I cannot have any shocks about Istanbul and the people in Istanbul. But I find myself. Yes, I always find myself through diversity, through meeting diversity.
Even though Elio describes himself as being constituted through relations, his reason for being here in Balat –Istanbul is the physicality of space. In his own words; “I fit quite well in here because of the physical rather than the social.” Within this direction, his coexistence encompassing both the physical and social is rooted in this belief of his. A more specific point, the notion of ” abandonment” reflects his attraction to Balat and illuminated his understanding of the social through the physical:
The forgotten. Which fits very well the idea of last look on things. Because it is very close to that. Because all what we see, all what falls into the visual perception is something that has to die. Let’s go straight to the point… that is why I am attracted to abandoned things.
For Elio being driven towards abandonment is the main core of looking at physical existence. He mentions that when he looks at something it is not with the first look of a kid but as if it is the last look to physical reality. As he answers the question of whether he has an urge to fill the space with his own memories as he conceptualizes it through the last look or not, he mentions that he feels cold passion:
No, nothing like that. I just intellectually avoid all these aspects of reality. Exotism. A kind of sweet honey feeling toward memory. If I would be aware of something like that I would want to erase it, destroy it. No nostalgia at all. It is more understandable if I say that there is a scientific look. It is more detached, I try to be detached. I prefer to feel cold passion.
Throughout of his narrative, Elio emphasizes the physical rather than the social. He experiences coexistence in Istanbul by the positioning of physical structures as he exemplifies by Mimar Sinan becoming what he is vis-a-vis Ayasofya. For Elio regarding coexistence in and through the situatedness of physical structures constitutes the fundamental aspect of coexistence.
A lucky city. For ever since ever. Before the Byzantine period. The Constantine. And then the great Ottoman conqueror Fatih. And then go and and now. The essence of Istanbul is lucky. Lucky because God gave the beauty of geography. Look, just look how it is made! Marmara Sea. Narrow thing; Bosphorus. The greatest aesthetic. The greatest artist of the world of all time is God. The real artist is God. So it is a lucky city from a geographic point of view and from an artistic point of view. The artificial. Natural and artificial. Geography and geometry.
As an architect and photographer, Elio sees the city differently from many other people I have encountered. The difference stems from his ability to regard entities in a manner that is not taken for granted but by looking at the essence lying underneath. When I asked him that what kind of geometry Istanbul have he replied;
As natural. Fractal numbers. Not Euclidean, it is fractal. Architectonic speech, language we may say is fundamental geometry of physical space. Because here you have Hagia Sophia. All the work by Sinan wouldn’t have been what it is without Hagia Sophia. It is really fundamental.
I thank Elio for this inspirational and very enriching chat.