Selections from conversations among us:
With Serra Özhan, Selda Asal and Ceren Oykut about the project
As the curator of the project, what will you be underlining?
Serra: For my post-graduate studies, I specialized in “Geographies”: borders, maps, but in particular alternative map creating with the aim of softening these “border lines,” of “loosening the constrictions,” and a continuous activity of redefinition. And so it was within this context that the “Reciprocal Visit” project looked very exciting to me, as a way to break borders and definitions that have become cliché, or rather than breaking them, to blur their standard meanings.
The nation, the state, and borders are what we might call “identification zones.” Apart from the physical borders between countries, there is a second kind of border that derives from political conflicts between countries, and that turns those borders into walls: breaching those kinds of walls depends on the nationality inscribed in your passport and they can be difficult to breach even if you do manage to get a visa. Here it is the political wall that does not allow the passage of someone from Turkey to its border nation Armenia, or vice-versa. A similar wall exists also between Armenia and its eastern neighbour Azerbaijan.
The starting point of this project consists of those cultural interactions that invalidate all the stories invented by states concerning borders; in this case, the “reciprocal visit.” In spite of the quarrels between states, we shall embark upon an experimental journey involving a visit and a return visit.
Can you explain a little more just how this project will change definitions?
Selda: When we first started discussing the project with Serra, it was never our primary aim to send a bus of peacemakers to Armenia, for the purpose of conducting studio work. The same can be said about alleviating political quarrels between countries, or experiencing these quarrels. The aim was mostly to set up an encounter on a multi-disciplinary platform, on the basis of a culture of reciprocal visits: different thoughts deriving from a collective activity, different experiences brought about by togetherness and sharing, various narratives born out of different materials… In a way, making borders “borderless”.
Later I was invited to the Gyumri Biennal in 2006 for an art project. When I visited an artist friend of mine in Erivan in their family home, I noticed for the first time how similar our traditions were.
For example, my friend’s mother had baked cookies for us, and then sent a plate full of them to her neighbor. A short while later, the same plate was returned, but not empty—it came back with 2 apples on it, and this led to a conversation about this exchange..
We see that, contrary to Western Europe, the culture of reciprocal visits is alive and well in Armenia, in Iran, in Azerbaijan, and in Georgia, just as it is in many Arab countries and in Turkey. For example, just as is the case in Turkey, a visit by a neighbor is appreciated even if you’re not yet acquainted. In fact, it’s not just appreciated, it is mandatory—a “must.” You take some candy or Turkish delight with you and go to say “hello.”
So this project is called ‘iade-i ziyaret’, because it will consist of our visits to Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia and of the reciprocal visits of two artists from each country: a concept that is familiar to the artists in these countries and to us. A concept that connects.
What about relations amongst the abovementioned countries? Won’t current relations make it a difficult journery?
Yes, we won’t be able to directly cross the physical borders, we know that. Since the Gyumri border post is closed, we won’t be able to go enter Armenia directly from Turkey; instead, we’ll have to go to Iran first and from there to Azerbaijan, and since we shall not be able to cross over to Armenia from Azerbaijan, we will have to go to Georgia, and from there to Armenia. So, yes, we’ll be encountering such difficulties along the way. We might have problems in Iran, too, but I am sure that artists’ initiatives, with which we are in relation, will help us overcome many of those difficulties..
Are you saying that this is an experimental process?
Yes, exactly as we did in the case of Yalanla ilgili herşey, Hersey yolunda olacak (All about lies, ‘Everything’s gonna be alright’). There are no certain coordinates. The only element that is known is the work location. And that is a bus that is in constant movement. The talk in the bus, the sketches drawn, the photographs, the films shot, the preparatory work for animated cartoons; everything will happen within this process. I call this a free fall. It is a risky process, but only as risky as previous exhibitions have been.
How did you select the participating artists?
I have given priority to people who have shown an enthusiastic interest in the project over the years as I’ve talked about it. Since the budget and the work space are limited, we had to limit our number to 15. Ceren, Serra and I thought about and discussed different people who we believed could contribute to the project, and who could provide different perspectives to it.
I distributed the notes that I had scribbled about the reasons for me preparing this project, and then we corresponded about the kinds of things they would like to do should they participate in this project.
The real determining factor was the participants’ desire to take part in this journey, and their ability to imagine the journey and their own contribution to it.
Being together with 15 people with strong egos on a single bus, for 15 days, and for 15-20 hours a day, is an highly significant experience. What kind of a product will come out of the confusion, of the probable confusion arising from people seeing, looking, taking notes with their own languages of expression, their own materials, and creating? What will happen?
The togetherness of different dynamics, and diverse directions, tendencies, and narratives deriving from these dynamics.. creating a visual, and audible language from these narratives.
Can you tell us something more about this different way of practicing art?
The Apartment Project’s aim had been to collectively create and produce different voices in exhibitions based on workshops. Thus, our previous exhibitions have already set a precedent for us. The project includes people who have all formulated their own languages within their own fields. As I see it, this makes the process even more exciting.
Short notes about the project with Ceren Oykut:
Ceren: As usual, my function will be to record on paper a state of observation that is half fantastic and half objective.
I shall try to form short stories in the format of comics; I’ll keep a log book of our togetherness and try to bring together the areas we shall be seeing and the borders we shall be crossing, in order to create a fantasy map.
Since we’ll be all shook up as we travel over the long, winding country roads, I can only guarantee rough sketches in the course of the trip itself.
I shall try to reach conclusions on the basis of details, and try to collect the talk, conversations, reciprocal looks, and togethernesses of single moments.
Geographical, topographical, and even zoological changes may be added. Just as miniaturist Nasuh did when drawing the collection of depictions of Sultan Süleyman’s campaign in Iraq…
This will be a very unique journey, and it will be my pleasure to be the Evliya Çelebi of this trip, keeping my log in the form of drawings.