You’ve joined Delfina Foundation as a resident artist but your background was in engineering, what are the issues you’re working with?
Basically my artistic practice is a research project somewhere between engineering, ecology and visual art. I started studying engineering in Istanbul but all the time I was doing photography. At the beginning it was mostly documentary work, but over the past four years my practice has transformed using different languages and different approaches.
The issues I’m working on cannot be detached from the political and social movements which are happening in Turkey and globally. Four or five years ago, I started to become more interested in the urban transformation issues, these are very important, especially in a country like Turkey which at the moment is having a period of fast economic growth and experiencing lots of migration because of this.
Istanbul, as a city, already has 14 million people living in it and the economic progress and migration bring lots of social, ecological and environmental consequences. What are those; little care for the ecological impact of construction, and little care for public space and the social infrastructure of the city, and those things also affect the quality of life and the accessibility of nature.
So around 2011, I started to make a photography project about the political, sociological and ecological consequences of this transformation happening around the periphery of Istanbul, this took me about two years of field research. Around the time I finished this research, the Gezi movement happened, this was all about engagement and having your right to the city protected, so I turned from photography to a more bodily experience.
So the transition from photography to bodily experience formed the basis of Between Two Seas?
Yes, I found that there was a new construction project announced called Kanal İstanbul, a 60km long shipping passage connecting the Black Sea and Marmara. I looked at the possible line for the canal, I found that it might go through places that I thought would be interesting for people to have a tangible experience in/through. The gesture was very easy, I transformed the proposed route of the canal into a waymarked walking route before the canal was made.
It was shown in the Istanbul Biennial, because of that it gained wide attention, and so since 2013 it’s been a living project, it’s now its own entity, people walk along it and it has become more like a research excursion for institutions who also want to learn about Istanbul urban politics.
This was also the first project in which I implemented my engineering skills and tools, like mapping and waymarking and surveying. It was very interesting for me, I didn’t think I would be using this knowledge again once I started doing art. But I found this approach very efficient.
Between the Two Seas links to what you’re researching at the moment at Delfina Foundation which is this idea of the hydrolab. Could you explain what this hydrolab concept is?
The hydrolab is a continuation of the same approach. What I discovered was that putting engineering forms, tools and knowledge and notions into art practice was very useful, and so at the moment I call myself a maker-facilitator.
This hydrolab project is looking not just at Istanbul, but at the issues faced by any cities that are rapidly growing, this could be Beijing, Cairo, Sao Paulo or Mexico City. In this work again, I am combining engineering and art and will use the lab-form as a base or platform for different researchers from different fields to meet, it will give them the opportunity to be in this multi-disciplinary structure to investigate global water issues. These different people would be engineers, urban planners, architects, social researchers even zoologists and biologists, and of course artists. So there’s the mental landscape, but also a physical landscape. It will be a real lab, and at the same time it will gather artistic research and science research. From that, after two or three years of research together we will hold a series of exhibitions.
Your artistic work and practice has a distinct interdisciplinary character, you’ve described yourself as a ‘facilitator’, how have ?
Yes, I started in urban planning, and then moved to engineering, and I did architecture photography for many years, so it’s a combination of those areas. But doing art for the past fifteen years, it brings you into a critical discourse and a political approach that engineers don’t have. I don’t want to generalise though.
So, I use the same knowledge as engineers, but instead of building a dam, I look from a critical perspective. So to make the Between the Two Seasmap, I used my knowledge of how to design railroads to design a walking trail, which are two totally opposite ideas, one is about speed and progress, but on the other hand by walking you emphasise slowing down. This is the approach I want to use in the hydrolab, not to research about how to improve productivity, but to criticise construction.