Nina Katchadourian, “Gold Popcorn Kernel” (2001) (via (click to enlarge)

This November, a new exhibition that hopes to explore the artistic boundaries and terrain of the Ottoman Empire will open at Pratt Manhattan Gallery. Titled Blind Dates, the show is the brainchild of curators Defne Ayas and Neery Melkonian, and their goals are certainly lofty as they set out to trace:

… ‘what remains’ of the peoples, places and cultures that once constituted the diverse geography of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922).

I was invited to join the group last year — I am a grandchild of the Ottoman Empire — and while I was impressed with their ambition I was tied up with too many commitments to be very useful so I watched from the sidelines as things developed. Their focus from what I could see was initially on Armenian and Turkish collaborations but the project has since morphed into a more encompassing project that places the Ottoman Empire at the center of various artistic explorations.

The resulting partnerships have explored the boundaries of identity. Artists Nina Katchadourian and Ahmet Ögüt concocted the “AH-HA” project, which involves them exchanging two letters in our names that already overlap (“h” and “a”). Through a legal transaction, the two artists will “trade” the letters. The duo explained to Ara Merjian of Artforum that, “ … embedded in our names would be these ‘foreign,’ and ultimately assimilated, letters. We become guardians of one of each other’s letters now but also promise to step up to this task in the future. We set this piece into motion in the present, but moving forward — by having exchanged one of the letters and then needing to wait for the other letter — the past and future will also always be ‘present.’”

Michael Blum and Damir Niksic, “Oriental Dream” (set photograph) (2010) (via (click to enlarge)

Other collaborators are artists Linda Ganjian and Elif Uras, who are working together on tile designs that blend traditional Ottoman tile manufacturing and designs with contemporary narratives, and (in what may be the most curious grouping) Aram Jibilian and Arshile Gorky’s Ghost — I’m told it involves a series of photographs at Gorky’s former home in Connecticut.

In preparation for the Blind Dates exhibition, limited edition works are being offered by the Blind Dates artists in order to support their production needs and realize the culminating exhibition at Pratt Manhattan. The works are all related to the artists’ respective Blind Dates projects, or their process. 80% of the proceeds from the sales will go directly to the artist projects. You can peruse the online directory of art works by established and emerging names, including Nina Katchadourian, Hrayr Eulmessekian, Ahmet Ögüt, xurban_collective, Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Karine Matsakyan, Silva Ajemian/Aslihan Demirtas, Karen Andreassian, Elif Uras/Linda Ganjian, Aram Jibilian, Michael Blum/Damir Niksic, and Jean Marie Casbarian.

Blind Dates is also hosting a fundraising event tonight at Mixed Greens Gallery (531 W 26 Street), and tickets are $60 in advance and $80 at the door.

Home page image: Aram Jibilian, “Gorky and the son he never had” (2010)

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.