From Novel to Reality: Istanbul’s Museum of Innocence Unlocks Layers of Love and City Life

  When I read Pamuk’s novel “The Museum of Innocence” in 2010, I felt a surprising joy. The narrative of the work is dense, bright and sad. It not only talks about love, but also talks about what an ideal person looks like. I wrote a review about this at that time, called “When Will Great Writers Start Talking About Love”. In 2012, I learned that Pamuk had actually built a “Museum of Innocence”, which I found very interesting. He had materialized literature, and Istanbul became a place I clearly wanted to visit.
  In short, I came to visit the Museum of Innocence with mixed emotions as I had a good impression of literary works and admiration for Pamuk, but also had doubts about the tourist destination. This is why I traveled half of Türkiye to get here.
  A small window sells tickets, and the ticket price is 30 lire. The conductor opened the door after selling the tickets. The door is not big, like an ordinary residential house. But the Museum of Innocence holds something different.
  The most eye-catching thing on the first floor is the cigarette butts on one wall. The crooked cigarette butts are neatly arranged one by one. Lipstick marks are still vaguely visible on each cigarette butt, and instructions are written in small letters below. The plot of the novel “The Museum of Innocence” suddenly appeared before my eyes.
  Pamuk devoted a whole chapter to talking about cigarette butts in the novel, and the title is “4213 Cigarette Butts”. The hero of the novel loves the heroine silently and collects all related items. One of the collections is the 4213 cigarette butts left by the heroine, which he spent eight years collecting. Every cigarette butt carries an emotion. Playing with every cigarette butt, from the way it is twisted, to the stained lip prints, to the saliva soaked in it, the hero can go back to the moment he spent with the heroine.
  This part of the novel left a very strong impression on me. I thought at the time that writing like this was both amazing and clearly showed that the author was proudly showing off his skills: even a cigarette butt could be used to write a whole chapter.
  Now, in the Museum of Innocence, the first thing I encounter is this work. I know without counting that the cigarette butts arranged here must correspond to the novel, there are 4213. When these inconspicuous small items are arranged in large numbers and neatly together, the audience feels the extension of time and the surge of emotion.
  This method of combining small pieces into large pieces is common in contemporary installation art. It not only means “one world in one sand, one paradise in one flower”, but also uses the psychology of trypophobia to create a strong visual impact.
  Go up from the spiral staircase in the middle to the second floor, and you will be surrounded by a large number of installation works.
  Yes, these are installation works rather than exhibitions. Various objects are carefully arranged and placed on the surrounding walls and even on the railings of the stairs. There is a clear distinction between one group of works and another.
  The novel is divided into 83 chapters, and there are also 83 works here.
  If you pay attention, you can find the mirroring relationship between this group of works and the novel.
  Some works can be judged at a glance. For example, one group of works consists of many puppy dolls. It is said in the novel that the hero still has a long-term unrequited love for the heroine after she marries someone else. He stays at the heroine’s home and watches TV there. He often brings puppy dolls and places them in front of the TV. He often secretly takes these puppies back and collects them, and then replaces them with new dolls.
  Some works are more like secret connections. For example, these elements are used in many works: Turkey’s special pastry “Miche”, the unique Turkish thin-waisted tea cup, the hairpin brooch with clear characteristics of the era, etc. These specific Turkish elements are combined quite cleverly.
  Some of the backgrounds are hand-painted watercolor paintings by Pamuk, some are old photos and posters of Istanbul, and some are short films. Some are even installation works that incorporate sound, light and electronic elements to become quite poetic and dynamic works. The rising moon shines brightly through the blinds. At the seaside window, the gauze curtains are blown by the sea breeze. If you listen quietly, you can also hear the rise and fall of the tide.
  The whole small building is a big work.
  Pamuk studied painting as a boy and architecture as a youth. Now this museum allows him to give full play to all his talents. This museum, more accurately called the Art Museum, is a complete and avant-garde comprehensive art body. There will certainly be help from other architects or artists in the final presentation of these works, but the main force in basic conception and design should be Pamuk himself. In the second half of the exhibition, a wall is dedicated to Pamuk’s design manuscripts.
  The Museum of Innocence is an elegant and beautiful small building that blends in with the buildings on this old street and yet stands out. The small building was built in 1897 and Pamuk bought it in the summer of 1999. By then, the small building was already quite dilapidated. He began to implement his idea to build a small museum and write a novel of the same name, telling the story of life in Istanbul during these decades.
  I think this kind of comprehensive art body is the only one in the world. Because even if there are outstanding artists who can complete such a large-scale work, it is difficult to have the ability to echo the work with a novel at the same time and form an intertextual relationship.
  From these exhibits, you can associate every detail of the novel; from the details of the novel, you can also extend scenes that can be experienced personally.
  Pamuk once said that he first had some collections and then began to conceive of the novel. After the novel was completed, he continued the construction of the museum.
  Most of these collections are ordinary daily necessities of Istanbul people in the past few decades. They do not have much cultural relic value, but they condense the time and memories of a city for decades.
  From this, I thought of several other works of Pamuk – the autobiography “Istanbul: Memory of a City”, the novel “Strange Things in My Head”, etc. The writer also uses these works to tell about Istanbul in his mind and the changes in the city over the past few decades. So much so that the exhibits in front of us not only echo “The Museum of Innocence”, but also echo several of his other works.
  I also think of some clues that are secretly related to these works. For example, in “Istanbul”, he once told that when he was a teenager, he found an old house with debris piled alone, and had a tryst with his lover there. The same goes for the hero in “The Museum of Innocence.”
  When love was blocked, the young Pamuk once imagined eloping with his lover, and the hero in “The Strange Thing in My Head” implemented this plan.
  With these associations, the exhibits I saw in the Museum of Innocence far exceeded the novel of the same name itself. Pamuk was using his museum and his literature to tell the story of the same era. One object – Istanbul.
  When Pamuk talked about “The Museum of Innocence”, he said: “This is my most tender novel, one that shows the greatest respect and patience for all living beings.” From this sentence, You can know that on the surface he is talking about love, but behind it is the writer’s gaze on a city and all living beings, the life and death of love here, and even the changes of the times and the replacement of concepts.

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