Can Altay “Been Waiting For The Rain To Flow” presented by Arcade at Flat Time House, London

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Arcade and Flat Time House are pleased to present a new exhibition with Can Altay. For over two decades, Altay has been addressing how we live together and how we inhabit the built environment and the planet through his investigations into the politics of everyday life, public space, urban ecologies, and artistic action. Altay often produces “settings” that open themselves to common use and act as sites of collective production. A recurring area of exploration is the inhabitation of infrastructural spaces. Recently, he has been working on instruments and speculations around access to water, tapping into visible and not-so-visible flows in the city. This exhibition brings together these recent explorations on water, flow, and circulation, taking its organisational cues from how John Latham structured and defined the various interconnecting spaces of Flat Time House. 

In the first gallery, The Mind, the 4-channel video ensemble Mississippi Steppes (2024), opens the exhibition and marks a preoccupation with “flows” and transitioning states. The videos include various shots of waves, flows, and infrastructure on a river, hinting at a kind of abundance as well a sense of control and extraction. This is also implied by reference to a contrasting eco-region, the “steppe,” within the installation’s title. 

Following on, the corridor leading from The Brain to The Hand hosts a sculpture—tunnel vision pipe dream (2024)—made for viewing through. Akin to a contained river or a sewage pipe, the device suggests a more linear movement and flow of water. Visitors are welcome to handle, look through, and return this device to its wall mount.

This sculpture is also employed in the filming of Teenage Sherbourne (2024), a video made from found YouTube footage shot through the tubular viewing device. In the video we follow the eyes of an urban explorer walking through the river Sherbourne that flows under the city of Coventry. This hidden water system, common in many cities where rivers were culverted and hidden from view, often merging with sewerage and other infrastructure, reveals a scenic underbelly where the guts of a city merges with natural water flows. The video also includes parts from the title sequence of 1990s cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which also takes place in a similar setting: underground sewers where the protagonists dwell and have emerged from.

The Body Event of Flat Time House, where this video is located—sometimes referred to as “Plumbing” by Latham, and as “the guts” by Altay—also holds a working table. Dimly lit by a table lamp, the surface is covered by books of geography and climate fiction that Altay was reading while working through some of the core questions of the exhibition. Rather than giving an authoritative bibliography, these offer a more exploratory approach to resources encountered in the process.

Sharing the surface is Stretching Heron (2024), a video work on a small screen nesting on the table. The snippet shows a heron on a tiny islet on the Mississippi which functions as a rookery for the station of herons along their migratory route. Animals sharing space with humans in an urban setting has been a recurring theme in Altay’s work for many years. The collective nouns for animals—for instance those for heron include “a siege of herons,” “a glean of herons,” or “a station of herons”—suggest the anthropomorphised relationships that occur within this context. This anthropomorphism is also echoed in the people that inhabit Altay’s drawings, often depicted withbeaks or beakish faces; and in the fictional anomaly of teenage turtles caused by toxicity in sewage.

Within the final gallery, The Hand we encounter the 1/1 scale prototype of a rainwater harvesting fountain, Been Waiting for the Rain to Fall (Sebil I) (2023)This work takes its cues from the historical “sebil” drinking fountains in Türkiye that double as public sculptural pieces as well as acting as nodes or sites for gathering; and also from the recent developments in regenerative technologies and the potential use of rainwater harvesting in public spaces. The fountain’s modular assemblage also suggests that what follows this prototype can evolve into emergency relief for access to water in a crisis context and also into a permanent fixture within a city. 

From buried rivers and underground waterways in cities to harvesting rainwater, Altay reflects on the question of water in terms of access and quality. Affordable power and unpolluted waterways are universal public concerns while developments in generating and deploying renewable energy sources, reutilising or harnessing climatic factors such as wind and rain, progress slowly. Recent drawings by Altay, which he scrapes over newsprint, imagine and frequently re-depict the fountain as a critical technology, collecting and re-distributing water. These both push the sculptural proposition into a more speculative realm through scenes and designs, but also anchor it to our current reality through the political perils visible in the daily newspaper.

at Flat Time House, London
until July 7, 2024

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