NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 41


The Museum of Innocence

Aysegül Izer

Translation: Kerime Arsan

Canadian communication theoretician Marshall McLuhan, who defended that the change in communication technologies plays a major role in changing the lives of human communities, said in 1967, “The city no longer exists except as cultural ghost for tourists.” He defines cities as “global villages”.
Museums are institutions that collect, protect, research, transmit and exhibit the definite evidences of humankind and their environment for education, study and the aesthetic pleasure of humanity. Being non-profit institutions, they are open to the public and serve the development of communities. They cover an expanding scale from objects to buildings, and from buildings to cities for objects to be collected, protected, and exhibited.

Carol Duncan and Alan Wallach define museums in the book The Universal Survey Museum. They state, “museums belong to the same architectural and art-historical institutions such as temples and certain types of palaces. “The wholeness (unity) of the work of art and the architectural from organize the visitors’ experience just like a scenario organizing a performance. While individuals give different reactions according to their education, culture and class, the architecture is a given which insist on the same basic structure for everybody. The visitor follows the architectural scenario and undertakes an activity which can be called a ritual as the best suitable term.”

Umberto Eco, who is known for his important contributions to semiotics, radically opposing the constitution of museums by saying, “museums have been transformed into a place of pilgrimage for curious people who don’t understand what they are seeing; visitors consist of tourist groups behaving almost like marathon runners and plan to visit the many exhibition rooms quickly to be able to see only the famous works of art and stay a few seconds in front of them.”

While concepts like museums, new museology trends, museography, and city museums clash, the novel The Museum of Innocence begins with the sentence, “It was the happiest moment of my life, I didn’t know it, then.” This was written by Orhan Pamuk, and inspired a museum by the same name. Orhan Pamuk both made and wrote the museum; it is the first museum where “time is transformed into place” and “edited starting out from the fictional universe of a novel.”

Since the beginning in the 1990s, Pamuk has thought about the novel and the museum together, and decided to open it in Çukurcuma. The writer, who has visited many museums in Europe and Asia, bought a small three story, three facade 19th century flat based on 60 square meters and transformed into the museum. The restoration of the number 24, Brukner Apartment Building has been constructed by three architects: İhsan Bilgin, Sunder-Plassman Architekten (Gregor and Brigitte Sunder-Plassmann), and Mars Architects (Cem Yücel). The old Brukner Apartment Building was completed in 2003 as a museum building. 

The novel was published in 2008 and the museum was opened in 2012. From the beginning of the novel the writer wants a collection of all the objects Füsun touches throughout the novel, and collected by Kemal to be exhibited in the museum. For the museum planned as a part of the novel, Orhan Pamuk bought a piece of land in Çukurcuma; while writing the novel he researched how daily objects were exhibited in many famous museums in the world. Like the main character, Kemal, after losing his lover at the end of the novel, visits the famous museums of the world and describes the works of art that affect him parallel to the events in the novel.

Pamuk describes the novel as “A love story based on the secret between love, object and being connected to people, the connection between collecting and museum themes and social class situations.” The love story, which takes place between 1974 and the beginning of 2000, tells about the life in Istanbul between 1950 and 2000 along with memories and flashbacks of two families (one being rich and the other middle-class).

The novel was published in the USA on October 20, 2009 by Knopf, and entitled The Museum of Innocence. It was translated into English by Maureen Freely, and made the Best Books of 2009 list in New York. 

The editing of the Museum of Innocence consists of objects that Kemal Basmacı collected on his visits to his love Füsun’s house, and is mentioned as the house where Füsun lives with her family in the novel. The objects used, worn, heard, seen, collected and imagined by the characters in the novel have been exhibited in carefully organized boxes and display cases. For example, Füsun’s yellow shoes, one earring, Füsun’s trash, lottery tickets, a pebble collected from the seaside, a feather, a faded letter about an exam result, a newspaper cut out of a death notice, a watch inherited from a grandfather, a lamp from a grandmother, a baby’s first bootie, the first painting of a nephew, a family photograph on a holiday morning, etc. In the novel Kemal collects these objects during his visits between 1976 and 1984 one by one.

The novel consists of 83 chapters. Therefore, there are 83 display cases in the museum. Each case organized according to the order and chapter headings in the novel has been furnished with the objects mentioned in that chapter The last thing is the room where Kemal watches his life and the museum.  On the Wall is the last sentence of the novel: “Let everyone know, I lived a very happy life”. Apart from those there are Pamuk’s notes, designs, corrections, the first copy of the novel and even the unpublished parts. In the middle of the museum there are photographs that reflect the daily life in Istanbul from the 1950s to 2000s. The sound of the boats, seagulls, movie tickets, advertising videos, telephones, tokens, handkerchiefs, thin tea glasses; in other words any detail you can or can’t think of.

The Museum of Innocence won the European Museum of the Year Award (EMYA) on May 17, 2014. The goal of this award is to praise perfection in regards to museums in Europe, and motivate innovative processes in international museology. The award is given to those who attract masses of people, have a unique atmosphere, a creative interpretation and presentation, and meet visitor educational and social responsibility needs.

In October of 2013, Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence catalog (written in 2012 as The Innocence of Objects) won the Mary Lynn Kotz Award. A first in this area, it was chosen as the best museum and exhibition catalog and the best literary art book. 

Every detail has been thought of in the museum. The logo of the museum is frequently mentioned with regards to Füsun, which is the proof of the beginning of the love. The entrance ticket of the museum is placed in the 83rd chapter on page 574 of the book.

Umberto Eco’s description of the traditional museum as a “graveyard of objects” and the idea of objects as “cultural fetishes” are almost true in this museum. Orhan Pamuk continues describing old Istanbul and his life through objects — from Istanbul taxis to crowded family photographs, from seamstresses going from one house to another, to music halls and cinemas, from Bosphorus and waterside mansion culture to drinking tea and sitting at coffee houses and card playing habits.

On visiting their old family house, Orhan Pamuk’s main character Kemal Basmacı says, “Whenever my older brother and I used to walk into one of these eerie, quiet rooms, we always felt, with a shiver, that the objects were communicating with each other.”

While visiting the museum and listening to the new information about the museum from Pamuks own voice, you can almost hear the objects communicating with each other, reflecting the spirit of the period just like Kemal Basmacı says.

The Museum of Innocence is the first example in history where the “things” mentioned in the novel are on display. There are more than 2,000 objects reflecting old Istanbul.

Photographs copyright: Innocence Foundation and Refik Anadol©

Aysegül Izer

graduated cum laude from the Sarajevo Fine Arts Academy Graphic Design Department in 1985 and received her master’s and doctoral degrees in graphic design from the University of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul. She established her own design studio in 2000. Professor İzer is head of the Graphic Design Department at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University. She co-founded the Emre Senan Design Foundation (ESTV) and is a member of the Turkish Graphic Designers Association (GMK). Her design work and articles have been published in numerous publications, exhibitions, collections and museums.

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