It seems as if some people are in search of their minds, their repressed emotions and gestures, their unfinished stories scattered
among the layers of this stage split in half, thinking that only by collecting these they will shape themselves as a subject. As
all this happens, I try to both include and exclude myself from these events in order to bear witness. The responsibility of being
a witness requires the questioning of being us.
İnci Eviner, 2019
We, Elsewhere is an investigation into the spaces that we create and that are created for us as a result of collective displacement. The exhibition reflects on how subjects who find themselves in these spaces react and interact with one another and with their memories. Various sound elements, reconfigured objects and material characters crafted by İnci Eviner evoke the sense of a search for the missing, the erased and that which is elsewhere. A certain aggression and abruptness comes out in the characters’ everyday behaviour informing their identities as in transition. The space itself, in which visitors are invited to walk along ramps, courtyards and edges, displays permeability, allowing views through cuts and cracks in the walls. Punctuated by the objects, the paths suggest the way in which memory eases conflict. Together, the characters, the space and the paths tell a story akin to Hannah Arendt’s narrative of struggle in We Refugees.
Eviner’s practice, which spans various media to focus on questions of subjectivity, investigates how the individual’s corporeality shapes their psyche and behavior. She sets up the architectural component in We, Elsewhere like a stage, which acts as a mediator between herself, the viewer and the characters she crafts. In this way, the characters – whose subjectivities are continuously shifting as they attempt to reinvent themselves – are projected onto the viewer. The use of repurposed elements and sections from spaces of confinement, as well as the employment of moving images tracing the outlines of characters in suspense, evokes a sense of transition. When passing through the space, viewers are confronted with their own conditioning and subject position, thereby gaining access to psyches of loss.
Eviner’s drawings are the starting point for her process; they function as mental tools that interweave the various media she uses with the concepts she explores. The stage that she constructs in We, Elsewhere has a precedent in the work Co-action Device: A Study (2013), where the structure operated as ongoing performative research into forms of ‘political oppression and restrictions in many aspects of life’. In a similar vein, We, Elsewhere outlines a space in which subjects hear their own voices in a moment of transition and re-formation somewhere between the unrevisability of their histories and the fragility of the unknown, between optimism and despair.
The stage in We, Elsewhere houses subjects who are reminiscing about the past, feeling both their proximity to and distance from those with whom they cohabit, and projecting their anticipations onto the future. These characters are searching for the proper means and spaces to store their memories. In the meantime, they are also figuring out how to build their new lives, and to navigate new literal, visual and psychological languages with which they find themselves surrounded.
Since we began collaborating on the Pavilion of Turkey for the Venice Biennale, you have created numerous drawings as part of your work developing an experimental and performative structure. Your drawings are characterised by your practice and could be described as a starting point for the multi-layered exhibition which visitors will experience in Venice. You have been drawing since you were six years of age and even when you work with different materials, drawing – a medium through which you have always expressed yourself and which characterises the way you create – has allowed you to establish a very natural relationship with art. How has drawing guided you through this process?
For me, drawing has always been a way of creating ideas, and a fundamental practice which enables me to develop these ideas by transforming them into different media and languages. It’s like a familiar habitus, into which I have safely settled myself. By drawing, I am able to develop my relationship with art in a more natural, more comfortable way, and I am able to sustain it. At the same time, this confidence takes me to corners of my mind that are completely unknown to me. I have been looking at the world through drawing, and transforming it in this way, since I was a child. It’s a way of thinking using pen and paper, simple materials that can be found anywhere, where daily life, the mind, dreams and sensations can interconnect and flow into different materials and forms of expression.
When I was beginning to work on We, Elsewhere, I went back to my old notebooks while the ideas were still raw. I began to trace the behind-the-scenes photographs from the last video I completed, Re-enactment of Heaven. In this work, the women’s bodies – caught between their own sex and a vision of heaven which has not been promised to them – flicker continuously and try to give meaning to what is happening. The video is split into two scenes, and while life continues to flow in the top half of the screen, the women are constantly trying to create a realm of existence for themselves underground.
In We, Elsewhere, these fantastical characters come out of the earth and spread to their surroundings. They seek out their memories, diminished by oppression and cruelty, half-finished and mutilated, in the margins, in secret corners and rooms.
I think perhaps that drawing constantly pushes me to look at the body and see its desires and its limits because what I’m looking for is hidden behind clothes and identities; that’s why I want to bring it out into the open. Drawing works with the subconscious, reshaping the visible world. I think this effort continues until the characters have broken away from me and won their freedom, and they create their own worlds with sorrow, suspicion and resignation by hustling, fighting and making love. I think drawing allows me to connect ideas and dreams to one another.
You have created a new architectural structure for We, Elsewhere, just as you did in 2013 for the exhibition we worked on together, Co-Action Device: A Study, for the 13th Istanbul Biennial in 2013. I think we could say that you began ‘creating spaces’ with your 2009 work Harem. You shared your first example of this pursuit by taking an image of a space from an etching by Melling called Harem, made in Istanbul towards the end of the 18th century, and bringing it to life with unusual female figures. What would you like to say about the architectural structure and the cross-sections that you created in your work We, Elsewhere, designed to be both a stage and a habitus?
The harem was a secret place and that is precisely why it has become the subject of many orientalist fantasies and desires. Melling shows Harem within the prevailing expressive pictorial constraints of the time. This is, of course, realised within an architectural cross-section and invites us to observe the anatomy and, at the same time, the intimacy of the space. We bear witness to this almost involuntarily, unwillingly and without knowing.
The women of Harem are not aware that we are watching them. They have been caught in our gaze, unprepared, as they go about their daily business. This is how I began investigating Harem and the politics of spectacle in the space. I wanted to bring to life the women who are caught between the historical realities of the time with a pictorial, architectural and performative approach. And in this way, Melling’s Harem is transformed into a complicated scene with a number of running plots.
This is how I began problematising architectural representations in my video works. Later, in Co-Action Device I arranged architectural representations in a space to create complex, interweaving scenes and studio cabins. In a way, this paved the way for ideas to create a space and these spaces they created allowed for the evolution of other ideas and collaborations. At the same time, these spaces were arranged so that an audience could experience them at eye-level while walking between them and with a double-view which they could perceive as a bird’s eye view of the gallery from above. These cross-sections of spaces also reveal the body’s capacity for a different kind of movement; in this way, sensations, feelings and the secret intentions of architecture, and all these ideas which flow into each other, begin to work and create new shapes.
I thought about designing We, Elsewhere as this kind of operative space, one which is open for interaction. These videos, which are elements of the architectural installation, will interrupt the flow of life, working to suspend it for a moment. This device’s imaginary elements come from underground, looking for the missing part of their memories. I place them in a space that is cracked open in the middle. The space is interwoven with a labyrinth made of iron railings and, just like an incomplete memory, the objects here are also missing something; a residential area equipped half chairs and urinals; perhaps a prison, a camp or a halfway house. The iron railings and flag stuck in this space, route maps buried in niches, the library comprised of books divided in two, the masks hidden in the roof… they all create different views from different angles.
In this strange structure, the audience’s physical experience is accompanied by imaginary characters in the videos and the viewer is uprooted, becoming part of a mad community whose memory has been wiped. I’m aiming for the visitor to be both outside and inside at the same time, experiencing the frustrations of being both ‘I’ and ‘We’.
As well as your drawings and videos, your architectural structures – which add a whole other dimension to your artistic research – make the world visible in all its violence, showing, in your words, those ‘caught in the middle’. Imaginary characters, which are almost somewhere between fantasy and reality, roam the space. How did these figures, which we are able to imagine living in an existential space between the world underground and the surface of the earth, between conscious and unconscious, come to be?
When I started this work, I kept asking myself: How and when do simple everyday gestures become political? How do the most humane needs, feelings and desires become so dangerous? How can other people’s existence be so severely under threat while we’re living in our own comfortable worlds?
When working with actors, it was necessary for me to experience in rehearsal what movements might be that would lay bare the violence of what’s happening here and now. Could the bodies that didn’t quite fit into these strange costumes return to the way they were before they became a matter of philosophy and sociology, i.e., the raw state they were in before they acquired names and terms in theory? I tried to find a practice that was rooted in this. And while working with three actors, I tried to find out how they could reflect an individual who drifts between intentionally erasing their identity in order to stay alive and an identity that has been forgotten by force, without imitating or acting. We imagine some of the parts of the body as being missing in these short performative movements, and they begin to move together with these imaginary incomplete bodies. They come from under the ground, accompanied by a little love, sometimes hate; bringing sheep and mountain lions, sadness and joy; and the most important thing is that they seek to create a new form of existence by trying to find a voice in all of this.
They take the shape of oracles, victims, tyrants, oppressors, people committing suicide, demons, duplicity, mischief, love, passion, seduction, melancholy, sorrow, compassion, fate and desire and it is as if they try to create their own violence-filled mythologies. I structured the rehearsals with an awareness of how I would bring together anonymous and individual memory at the same time and in the same body. Video compositing technology made it possible to show the accidental union of the imaginary with what happens in the moment and in the end, by making this architectural installation into a kind of habitus, by carrying shadows inside them from pillar to post as part of some vain effort, they keep rushing about with their mutilated bodies, pulling at their shadows.
We, Elsewhere makes references to Hannah Arendt’s 1943 text, We Refugees. I know you involve a lot of theoretical texts, as well as literature, particularly poetry, in your works. How do you combine all of this reading with your creative process?
Of the many texts that I have read, We Refugees was one that particularly affected me. Also, this text reminded me of a friend of mine who cannot return to his country on political grounds. One paragraph in particular reminded me how fragile human existence is:
Our optimism, indeed, is admirable even if we say so ourselves. The story of our struggle has finally become known. We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings.
The fact that people are losing the spontaneity of their relationship with the world and the simplicity of their gestures, together with the politicisation of everyday human needs, maintains a sense of urgency at a time when we are still experiencing a huge displacement of people. And it’s clear that there is a need for a new definition of humans and other living creatures, and also a different relationality between them. I think the time has come for ‘I’ and ‘We’ to meet somewhere else and, at the same time, for a meeting with the missing and lost things which lie between what is here and memory.
In his essay written later than Arendt’s text, Agamben speaks of the need for new definitions after every historical paradigm shift. So, what is the fundamental human state, which is somehow unaffected and unchanged by these definitions and descriptions, and why is it constantly under threat? Are we in a position to keep asking the same question using different sentences at different times in history?
The effort to understand the world in which I live takes shape within my own individual memory and in social memory of my own country, and all these questions evolve together with poems, texts and my artistic practice. Regardless of concepts and terms, the effort to find common and sustained values which may connect us all has guided me to seek out and investigate a different language of movement. On one side, there are definitions and descriptions, on the other, individual and societal human tragedies; minds and spirits which are somehow unable to meet, unable to complete each other.
While working on the exhibition, you kept a diary through your drawings and you also used fragments to write a text. I think you made these notes for your own purposes, but I would still like to include one of them here. I think it does a great job of explaining the key issue of this work: ‘It’s as if individuals are trying to find scattered minds, repressed feelings and gestures, half-told stories in between the layers of this split scene, as if they think that they will be able to shape themselves, as a kind of subject, when they have gathered all of these things together. While all this is going on, I’m trying to stand both inside and outside these events in order to be able to bear witness to myself. The responsibility of being a witness depends on the ways in which we question ourselves.’ Would you like to say anything about this text and your writing process?
It’s really difficult for the imaginary figures wandering about randomly on these walls to position themselves as subjects. First of all, they need to bring together the pieces hiding in the spaces in the walls, in the cracks, under the stairs, in the balustrades. They need to gather together not just body parts but memories and honour, joy and sadness, and dreams; only then will they evolve into another kind of existence. I want the architectural installation that I designed to give the viewer this feeling; as if an object here will soon transform them too...
I want to involve others in this act of witnessing. I think that discussing the tragedy which we have experienced with them will form the basis for a common future. That’s why, in my own practice, I sometimes prefer to bring the ideas of ‘I’ and ‘We’ together, make them clash and discuss them, instead of merely allowing myself to fade into the background and be anonymised. In my own artistic practice, drawing brings out what goes on and is kept secret in the mind and the individual memory, while also ensuring that art stays vibrant as a natural need. On the other hand, the need to define the troubles caught between the world and the surface of the earth is a mental and cognitive process; it is a state of consciousness that we will reach by reading, by knowing and by passing through the politics of this. That’s why art presents us with a free space to create an opportunity to experience sensations and feelings, and the different movements of the mind and consciousness all at once.
Those who are caught in the middle of your videos are constantly seeking out the pieces they are missing, constantly trying to find themselves in a temporary place where they can re-adapt to daily life, as if they have just left a camp or a prison. What would you like to say about these movements which are repeated in a subconscious world?
What do we feel when our freedom is physically restricted, when our bodies are shut inside rooms? What new skills will we develop to adapt in this situation? What is expressed by an open door, by a glass falling to the ground? And when we go out, what kind of change do the sensations we experience undergo; what about our gestures? How is the space between our consciousness and our perception filled? Perhaps I’m searching for answers to all of these questions.
You held countless ground-breaking rehearsals with the actors you worked with for these videos. You were pursuing a new bodily capacity, beyond that of the dance movements learned alongside Canan Yücel, Melih Kıraç and Gülden Arsal. I think you managed to create a new language of movement at the end of all of these trials, encounters and searches. Do you want to say something about the process of working with actors?
My process of production develops in a way that enables different disciplines and modes of expression to intersect. This entire parallel process transforms ideas. This multilayered way of working extends over a long period of time. Ideas employ all of these different techniques while taking shape and draw inspiration from these clashes. Instead of imposing fixed limits at the beginning, I allow them to interact and wait for accidental styles to emerge. For example, when beginning to work with two modern dancers and one theatre actor, I tried to place myself outside of the body language that they are already familiar with. So, pushing each other, acting with costumes and taking inspiration from everday life are all things which are important to me. While some movements develop from explosions from the inside and the individual memory, others develop out of external triggers. My ideas develop alongside them and eventually movements emerge which surprise even us, movements which are unrehearsed and do not appear in any drawing. Every video shoot is a new discovery for me and calls the next into being. I create drawings from rehearsals and behind-the- scenes photographs in order to create a cycle of work for myself. The costumes serve as additions to bodies and they do not only suggest a different movement to the actor, they also try to get to grips with their own symbolic meaning. For example, for many years I have frequently used artificial fur, wool, garish shoes. This time, the actors’ voices came to the fore and I observed how their voices transformed their bodies. This process became an important part of a study on voice.
There’s also a sound element in this architectural structure which brings together all different languages in one place. You created a work together with Tolga Tüzün. You were thinking about recognising and remembering a place through its sounds. Just being constantly exposed to certain sounds and the impossibility of hearing other sounds is one of the most determinative factors that characterises a state of closedness. Can you explain how sound relates to this work?
One of the layers I’ve mentioned is sound. When we began working with Tolga Tüzün, we worked on acousmatic sound, representative sound and their effects within a space. I think that, in the end, sound will accompany the audience, just like video, and will strengthen the emotion of the space. Perhaps sound is what will emerge from the place where the little fragments of feeling that seep into the space’s tissue are hiding. I also think that the isolating power of sound will be an important factor here.