10 Questions from Isolation… with Huma Kabakci

This week’s guest is Huma Kabakci, independent Curator and Founding Director of Open Space. Kabakci completed an MA in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art, as well as a curatorial fellowship at the 2018 Liverpool Biennial, supported by the International Curators Forum. As well as running Open Space, she manages the Huma Kabakci Collection, a private art collection comprising over 900 works of Turkish, Central Asian and European contemporary art bequeathed to her by her late father Nahit Kabakci. Kabakci’s curatorial interests lie in subjects such as diaspora, cultural identity, memory and cross-cultural discourse. With Open Space, she has secured collaborations with institutions such as Block Universe Performance Festival, Delfina Foundation, IKSV (Istanbul Biennial Foundation), SAHA Foundation and SALT.


Huma Kabakci at the Open Space Launch at Swiss Church London organised by Open Space. Photo credit: Ben Peter Catchpole. 

10 Questions from Isolation

1. Art organisations and individuals are creating a plethora of online initiatives to stay creative despite financial difficulties. Can you talk more about the Digital Programme launched by Open Space? I know you took it to heart to pay everyone involved in the project –  how important is it for Open Space to still compensate their collaborators?
When the Covid-19 pandemic was announced, like everyone, I initially felt anxiety and despair; then I realised we can only do what we can, and exercise patience in the current climate as creatives. In response to the new circumstances, we have currently put our physical projects on hold until we receive further information on the situation regarding social gatherings. Until then, Open Space remains dedicated to providing a platform to support emerging creatives. Although we are all isolated in our temporary or permanent homes, it seems essential to find new ways or spaces (perhaps the virtual in this context), in which to come together and collaborate.

In mid-March we introduced three new initiatives on our website and social media channels. Taking inspiration from Giovanni Boccaccio’s “Il Decamerone”, where ten young Florentines sought refuge from the Black Death of 1349, Open Space invites artists, curators and writers to contribute short stories, poems, thoughts and memories to create a contemporary After Decameron together. Our second project, Kitchen Takeover offers a platform for creatives invited to take over Open Space’s Instagram for a weekend, sharing their kitchen secrets with our community, from recipes to drawings, musings or performances. The #OpenSpaceChallenge is an open call on Instagram, where our followers answer five questions to give insight into their daily routine, posting a photo of their current living environment. Treating the two website projects After Decameron and Kitchen Takeover as new commissions, working within limited means, we still pay the artists and creatives we are collaborating with to motivate and acknowledge the value of their work. That’s why we’ve been applying and looking for grants and opportunities, it is definitely a challenging time for all of us.


Huma Kabakci ‘Kitchen Takeover’. Photo courtesy of Huma Kabakci

2. You were the first participator in the Kitchen Takeover, can you talk about what you have done for the project?
To maintain momentum, I decided to start the Instagram takeover and later on came up with a personal text titled “Sharing in Isolation” as an outcome. I really struggled to concentrate and tap into my creativity. I also find Instagram live very bizarre, I still somehow couldn’t get used to talking to the screen. During my Kitchen takeover I tried to highlight the sharing aspect of my past and future collaborations, giving references to the FOOD project (1971-1974) run by artist Gordon Matta Clark, Carol Godden and Tina Girouad, along with Micheal Rakowitz’s Enemy Kitchen and Rirkrit Tiravanija’s wider community projects.

3. Do you think this crisis will change us, and the art world permanently? Or will we go back to our hectic lives as soon as we are allowed to?
I think the pandemic will definitely have an impact on the art world for the foreseeable future and things won’t go back to normal immediately, perhaps a new normal will be born. Many art institutions, galleries and creatives will have to find new ways of working and collaborating with each other. Even when the vaccine becomes available for a wider public, the collective trauma will continue and I think this will have an effect on everyone’s future travel schedule encouraging people to prioritise what is most important to them.


‘The Gallerist’ by Caz Egelie Forum: Bread and Games curated by Natalija Paunic, organised by Open Space. Photo © Samuel Nightingale, Courtesy of Open Space. 

4. Are you working on something else at the moment? How are you reacting to these particular circumstances? What have you learnt from it?
Other than focusing on Open Space, since all of my other projects are on hold, I have been trying to read more and journal. I write down ideas and inspirations. It is a good time to reflect, slow down and let things sink in, so I am trying to focus my energy on that. Currently as one of the co-curators for Furtherfield Gallery’s Translocal Cooperation (TLC) Exhibition, we are now working towards an online and social media platform to promote the works and practice of the artists who took part in the exhibition since TLC has closed down to the public shortly after the preview on the 12th of March. It is also interesting to observe how other institutions are responding and finding new strategies to continue and develop their programme.

5. How has the current situation impacted how you work – both in the method and ideologically?
As we are a small team we still continue to work remotely online connecting through Zoom or Skype three times a week, but not knowing how long this will continue will also definitely have an impact long term. It is not the same as working all together in our studio productively. Ideologically, with the new focus on the digital, it is definitely making me think of how we can better our online programme.

6. Do you see any silver linings?
Some days more than others, but I definitely  think people in the creative industry will have to find new ways of adapting and find more human collaborations. Although forced, I like to think of this situation of confinement as a kind of residency.

7. Did Open Space have any show / project planned that has been disrupted by Covid?
Yes, our film screening titled If Only It Were A Dream which was supposed to take place at the RCA at the end of April and our I Have Eaten It exhibition that I’m co-curating with Laura Wilson planned to open in mid May are  postponed. I was also working towards a group exhibition focusing on witchcraft and female empowerment with my dear friend Özge for Pilot Gallery in Istanbul this summer which has also been postponed. Despite the fact that we weren’t sure about Open Space’s residency dates, alongside our panel, we pressed on, selecting curator Lika Tarkhan-Mouravi. I think it is still essential to find ways to motivate emerging artists and curators and hold a light despite the uncertain times we live in.


Launch 2: ‘ Dough, Baby’ (2019) by Laura Wilson performed by Adam Moore and  Iris Chan at Swiss Church London organised by Open Space. Photo credit: Ben Peter Catchpole. 

8. What’s on your reading list and which book made the greatest impact on you?
Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic was declared, I started listing the books that I wanted to read or revisit, and by mid March I had already read about 10 books! At first I was quite surprised,  as I never imagined I could focus so much in this time. It has been helping me much more than binge watching Netflix. From what I’ve read so far, I really enjoyed revisiting “The Uses and Abuses of History” by Margret Macmillan and finally got to read Mary Beard’s “Women & Power: A Manifesto”. I’ve also read a few theoretical and historical books by Simone De Beauvoir, Umberto Eco and Slavoj Zizek, and currently am immersed in Rachel Cusk’s “Transit” which is a richly philosophical fiction piece that makes me think.

9. Any new hobbies or recipes to share?
A new hobby I’ve taken up is journaling, which I’ve benefited from immensely – both for healing purposes but also for my creative writing. I have been testing and experimenting with a lot of recipes and  been including them in email recipe challenges, which have been quite inspirational. However, living alone I have been more mindful of waste and the sustainable aspect of food. I would hate for food to go waste now. I’ve been reusing and freezing, in order to find ways to include leftovers and still make them tasty. I’ve also been setting aside time to do a lot more self-practice in yoga, starting the morning with stretches and a fresh lemon and ginger tea really helps get me going.

10. Favourite quarantine Instagram live / podcast / account?
I am generally not a fan of Instagram lives, as I find it nearly impossible to concentrate on an hour long conversation through an IPhone screen and I question some of the content galleries and institutions are creating on their live instagram feeds. However, I’ve  been really enjoying Johan Koenig’s 30 minute, 10 am conversations which he has been conducting from the gallery’s instagram page – I think they have really interesting topics and guests. I’ve been listening to The Art Newspaper and Art Matters podcasts when I have time, or whilst doing something else. My favourite instagram meme pages are Freeze Magazine (@freeze_magazine), Jerry Gagosian (@jerrygagosian), Gary Janetti (@garyjanetti) and @stay_in_bed_with_me run by designer @ameliepichard. I also cannot get enough of David Shrigley’s instagram page, of course.

About Irene Machetti

I am a freelance journalist, who has been collaborating with FAD for over 2 years. I recently founded the column FOOD ART, where I interview artists, and thinkers working around issues related to food. I have a growing interest for contemporary art, especially ceramics, photography, and performance art, in which I specialised at The Courtauld Institute of Art.