February 2016 / Oda Projesi, TR
ART, RESEARCH, THEORY: In the February column we are pleased to feature Oda Projesi, an artist collective from Istanbul, founded by Özge Açıkkol, Güneş Savaş and Seçil Yersel, who turned their collaboration with each other into an art project in 2000. From January 2000 on Oda Projesi had an art space in Galata, İstanbul that functioned as an independent non-profit art space hosting projects, gatherings and acts up until March 16th, 2005, when they were evicted from their space due to the process of gentrification. Since then Oda Projesi has remained mobile. Although the collective isn’t based in Galata anymore, it still continues to raise questions about space and place through the creation of “relationship models”. They do this through the use of different mediums such as radio stations, books, postcards and newspapers, as well as by giving form to different meeting points in the city; always depending on and respecting the creativity of Istanbul and its citizens. Besides investigating relations between space, everyday life and survival tactics, Oda Projesi is interested in relations between artistic production and precariousness in various ways. For the m/other voices column, Oda Projesi’s Özge Açıkkol and Güneş Savaş posed questions to each other, which they then have attempted to answer. What follows is their conversation with each other.
IF I ASK YOU A QUESTION AND THEN YOU ASK A QUESTION FROM ME
How do you set up your mental space after becoming a mother? What kind of a space is it? Can you describe it?
Actually my mental space is not one that I can easily describe; it changes all the time depending on many factors. To be a mother certainly triggers this process and stimulates it even more. I keep wondering on the tiny islands of my mind while thinking about motherly things that I need to do and planning the day. I would actually like all these distinct, tiny islands to get together and form one mainland. I am trying to find a place, a space into which I can spatially and mentally flow and accumulate.
I guess before being a mother I used to build up my daily life on the basis of spreading out into branches through which I used to flow and become productive. Now what I seek is to accumulate and settle down, to combine pieces and islands. That is basically how being a mother has affected me. When we began I thought I would not be able to describe my mental space at all, but I guess I’ve managed to do it to some extent.. My mental space is composed of islands but I would rather build up one single mainland.
Since I have become a mother, I have been trying to change and wash all my previous habits away. This is like a revolution for me, and an excellent way to defeat repetition. What is it that I want? Not as my past self, but as the present ‘me’. Who is the present ‘me’ anyway? What are my present needs? What methods could I adopt to become productive in this presence, without needing to get out of home and away from my son? Is this possible? How can I manage to be solely on my own despite my mind when I get out of home to have coffee in a nearby place with my pencils and notebook; trying to learn how to draw, all over again, by looking at trees?
My mental space at the moment is my body.
I’m not very stabilised yet as an artist after the birth of my son. Rona is 3 and ¼ years old now, but I still have the memory of giving birth and giving milk until he was 2 years old. It feels like this mental space, which is my body, is still under re-construction and my mind is still blurry about what kind of a person I am, or am willing to be after ‘my own birth as a mother’. It is a new life and a very flexible life. It is a new life in which my son is re-educating me. Within this education, for now, I must accept that it is a kind of ‘double life’, my life and my son’s life. So my mental space is shared most of the time, as was my body when I was pregnant.
Eight months after Rona was born, the Gezi events, the people’s uprising against the destruction of the Gezi Park started in İstanbul. It was very intensive, because at once there was so much hope, but also several young people died in the protests. I convinced myself that it was just starting now; the buds of freedom... And with the baby I was holding I was very happy. Thinking that my son will live in better times.
Day-by-day Turkey is becoming more and more violent against trees, forests and against women. Since a long while now, the government is fighting in Kurdish towns killing its own people. It is a massacre and during the fights and curfews in southeastern towns, the mothers cannot even bury the dead bodies of their children and instead have to preserve them in their houses, in their fridges. It sounds unreal, doesn’t it? So everyday I am questioning: What it is to be a mother in such a geography? What does raising a child mean? And also what does it mean to produce art?
At the moment I was writing this text, a bombing happened in Ankara. No one is safe. My mental space is widely occupied with this issue these days. How to protect my child, my family, myself, my mind without isolating myself / isolating ourselves, or without making harm to other people? It is a big question. I am extending this question to ask myself: How can one take care of the other children in need too? How can I separate my child from other children? Is it fair? There are lots of refugee children in Istanbul where I live, and children under hard conditions, as in the war in the Kurdish region in Turkey. Then if we extend even more: Not only children, but their families too.. Does being a mother mean only being a mother to your own child? My answer is: “No!”
Can we extend it? Could being a mother be a metaphor for supporting others under danger from violence? Could it be about supporting others in their revolution? Could it be a common resistance to the human violence?
Living in a country where usually most of the male population thinks that they have a right to a woman’s body, and having a government supporting this discourse is a big challenge in its own. Having mental space also helps to resist this fragmentation of brain, body, production.. It is not only a space where I produce, but a space where I can have a total and complete existence. Not only as a woman, or an artist, or a mother, but where I can keep ‘my entirety’, as also was mentioned by Sylvia Plath in her works.
What kind of a ‘layer’ does motherhood open up within the geography of violence and that we are face-to-face with today? In which direction does motherhood’s meaning change within this era of suppression and displacement?
Despite my intense desire of settling down, I think I first need to face my concern about whether some day I will have to run away from where I live.
To raise a child, to supervise one more human’s start in this world is inherently a serious responsibility. In this part of the world, a parent not only experiences happiness and satisfaction, but at the same time inevitably feels the deep anxiety of the question “What have I done?” I don’t think I am capable of giving a definition of motherhood. When I think of the other mothers in my close vicinity, I realize that everyone experiences motherhood in a different way. As a matter of fact, I guess I cannot detach myself from my motherhood and look upon it objectively. The current situation in which we are living nowadays blurs my mind. The misfortune of refugee mothers, the tragedies of mothers in southeast Turkey and the fact that I am incapable of doing anything about this, all create an intense feeling of empathy and desperation inside me. Yet none of the things I have written so far is an answer to what you have asked, they just manifest the impacts of the ‘present’ on me, and as a matter of fact I am not capable of telling more.
After the birth of Rona, what happened to your ways of producing, your production and the space where you produce? In what way did they change? Could you think of the production as an entirety, without fragmenting it into the daily life, housework, what you share with your son, your artistic- and intellectual production and what you do to earn money? Is it possible to create a common sense out of all these?
As an artist and a freelance editor/translator, I was already acting within precarious working conditions. I always worked from home, but a little before and after Rona’s birth I rejected even to have a working desk. I was using different places in the house, or I was going to a café to be able to work. I wanted to not feel guilty for the work I’m not able to do. I guess that’s why I did not want to have a desk. Later with my son growing I started to be more in need of ‘a room of my own’.
Then my husband, Burak, needed an office and moved his working space there and we were also lucky to have a room both for myself and for Oda Projesi. But until that time I was having different fantasies about finding a working place where you neither need to consume something all day long in order to be able to work like in a café, or sitting in a library where you have many restrictions. I was dreaming of a place with no precise function, a place where you can be more flexible and besides working, you can meditate, read something or sometimes do craftwork. Not an office, not a library, not home, not café.. I was thinking that this could also be my mental space.. A space that you can load up with ideas, artworks: different kinds of production. And that this flexibility could also allow for my child to be with me sometimes while I’m working. But I do need to also be alone because my publishing jobs don’t allow me to integrate my child into doing them. That work needs isolation most of the time.
With Oda Projesi, and especially with our last ANA project in which we questioned the mother/artist relation, we experimented on how we can do both at the same time; mothering and producing. I still need to build up my own ‘entirety’ and then I think it will be possible for me to integrate my motherhood, my production, my jobs into each other. Sometimes I also don’t find this ideal very coherent with the reality. The reality is that I need my own time and space most of the time, and the work that I do is also about building this time and space through work.
Is it possible to live and work without any kind of ‘program’ with kids?
This really changes, but most of the time, I think we need to find a common ‘program’ in which both my child and me can be happy. We talk about two human beings, which means two willpowers… Sometimes I need programming and Rona too, but sometimes we are happier when we let it go, we drift by the time of the day.
If you should have to leave your country together with your child and could only bring a few items with you, what would you take?
My list of items would be:
A smart phone: The last years in Turkey we have needed social media a lot because of reaching the true news has been very restricted. There has been no other way to be able to get the news. The smart phone becomes vital. Notebooks and pencils: The minimal material to be able to continue my artistic production, which helps me to survive..
A novel that I like to read the most: Especially fiction could help me to challenge my reality with imagination.
I would have the same things for my child (besides a little food and clothes of course) since he likes to draw and read. And if possible:
A camera (photo or video), to be able to record any tragedy to help with historiography.
When you look from your position as a woman and a mother, what kind of a path have you taken in your production? (both in the production of your everyday and artistic production) Could you think of an imagination of the future?
Since my son was born I have been thinking about possibilities of integrating my artistic production more with daily life. I need to move away from my previous production model that I had before being a mother. Although Oda Projesi is still a great source, which backs me up and inspires me, it is very demanding as a model and requires devotion and sacrificing many other things. I would rather move forward based on this previous experience, not to return back to it. What I need is to adapt my ways of artistic production to my present resources, possibilities and requirements.
My concept of time has changed a lot. I have recently started drawing again. As we go often to parks with my son, I have started looking at trees, learning about them and drawing them. I have started to follow their seeds, sprouts and cones. A recent means of being productive for me is to work close with the soil in open fields and pursue what nature offers us. I now spend considerably less time with my son in museums or in the city than in fields, forests and parks. The fact that I am more passionate about trees is maybe not only because I now spend more time with my son in nature, but also closely related to Gezi Park manifestations. In this part of the world where I live, there is intense oppression not only against people but also against nature. I think that I have to learn the methods of recovering what we are losing in this respect and teach them to my son as well. What interests me more now is soil, seeds and trees.
I guess ‘art’ is a methodology for me, which facilitates my understanding and endurance of the reality in which I live. When I lean on an old and wise tree, or when I see, listen to and contemplate on an artistic work, or when I myself make one, I feel like I am not alone. I don’t believe it is actually possible to imagine the future. The mind makes a fiction but reality flows usually in a different direction. I guess I am truly Eastern in this regard. It is far more easier for me to differentiate between types of cedar trees by looking at their cones, or to differentiate the seed of a long pepper from that of a tomato, rather than to imagine the future and envisage different ways of artistic production.
 At ANA AIR (Astrid Noack’s Atelier residency, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2013) Oda Projesi worked on the issue of “motherhood” and everyday life production with their project ANA, claiming that there were strategies and tactics to be learned from each other. The first inspiration for the ANA project came from the very practical need of Oda Projesi –being artist mothers- to participate in this residency with their children.