More About (a short interview)
OUT OF A NEED
A short interview: Oda Projesi & Naomi Lev
Q (Naomi Lev): I am curious to know more about how your group formed: What motivated the creation of the group, and what guides you in creating work?
A (Oda Projesi): Oda Projesi is based on friendship and on a need to be in a collective place. We formed the group in 1997, when we, the founders, were in the university: Seçil was at the art academy doing her PhD, and Güneş and Özge were studying painting. After we met, we looked for a place to rent and use as a studio, and that's how the first three years of our friendship based on sharing shaped us. During these first three years, Oda Projesi was not named and therefore was not yet formed. We were friends in art production with parallel needs. During that time we learned more about the Galata Şahkulu neighbourhood, where our studios were located. We had no clue that we would end up spending eight years there, strolling around and meeting with the community and with the neighbourhood association.
We were in touch and part of the Istanbul art scene at the time, which was mostly based on private galleries, galleries owned by banks, non-contemporary art museums, and some small gatherings. Everything was driven by the division of art / artists / audience -- a distant relationship between culture and people. As artists, we were all practicing our individual art productions and our solo careers at the time. When we moved from our first studio space to the fifth floor of the same building, we then had three rooms and faced a courtyard. We all agreed: “Why are we the only ones using these three rooms? Let's empty one and invite others!” And that's how Oda Projesi was formed -- out of a room, and out of the dynamics of the neighbourhood and Istanbul.
We were inspired to produce within the boundaries of daily-life and art-life, and we wanted to create a space with the strong potentials of the city and its citizens. So we invited people from many different backgrounds. As Cem İleri states in his essay Laws of Hospitality: “The project of the city and Oda Projesi are one and the same: modes of relations that cannot be captured, cannot be reduced to one context, that do not propose a single model: producing games, spaces, narratives. Void instead of system, oddity instead of meaning, rumor instead of information, possibility instead of truth. Renewing, trespassing, transforming the Rules of Hospitality. Concern, expectation, temporality underlying the appearance of an organic relationship spread in time. The disrupting language of seeking a common language. Oda Projesi does not ooze into space, does not slide the context, does not work from within, does what it does blatantly. It settles somewhere, adopts the existing rules, imitates a system whose workings it does not know much about; puts in parentheses the room, the courtyard, the street, the neighborhood, the area, the region, the city, the country, the language, the art, the geography.”
Q: What place does Oda Projesi take in the Turkish environment?
A: In the 2000s, when Oda Projesi first emerged, there weren't other women-only collectives in İstanbul in which artists were working together on a regular basis. In fact, it was a period when collective work was just beginning to sprout. The collective named itself Oda Projesi, “Room Project” in english, since this art initiative started in the middle room of an apartment. The people we invited to this space produced joint projects with Oda Projesi alongside the neighborhood's residents. For the neighbourhood community we were “strange neighbours,” and for the art scene we were a bit of a mystery and created some confusion.
There was a lot happening during those years in terms of public art and non-traditional art institutions. Curator, writer and educator Vasıf Kortun, for example, opened up his office in Tünel where he created a center for young artists to meet regularly and benefit from its library (İstanbul Contemporary Art Project). Later, Kortun established a miniature museum for contemporary art in that space, and Serkan Özkaya created the museum’s first exhibition. Simultaneously, artist Canan (Şenol) used a signboard in Kadıköy as a public exhibition space. It was a very lively period in which public spaces were being used actively and many joint works were being carried out. Projects developed by supporting each other, while still maintaining each individual’s or group’s independent practice.
From 2000 to 2005 our space in Galata Şahkulu street hosted many artists, scholars, and writers, and then in 2005 the venue was sold during the gentrification process of the Galata district, and Oda Projesi turned into a mobile project. Since then Oda Projesi has continued to work by inventing new alternative spaces for itself such as: creating radio shows at Açık Radyo, a local radio channel; printing Annex, a newspaper that has already published six issues; publishing books, and participating in local international exhibitions.
Some more venues formed later on. Vasıf Kortun's small office transformed into Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center, and then into the Turkish contemporary art institution named Salt in 2011. Similarly, Tütün Deposu functioned as an exhibition space since the 9th Istanbul Biennial in 2005, and opened its doors to the contemporary art scene in 2009 with the name Depo (an art venue founded by Anadolu Kültür) -- Oda Projesi carried out many projects in collaboration with these institutions.
In 2013 many public art events took place at Gezi Park as part of the protests that emerged in opposition to the park’s upcoming development plans. Unfortunately, Istanbul gradually started to lose many of its public spaces, and to this day these lost spaces have not been recovered.
Q: What does it mean to be a creator of, and a part of an all-women art collective in Turkey (these days and earlier)?
A: Earlier we were not too conscious of our power as we are today. Thanks to the women's movement and different groups organizing the actions against inequality and violence along with the digital platforms and other media, it is clearer now. Our togetherness had to do with sisterhood and this gave us more freedom of action in the neighbourhood where our space was, and where daily life was, mostly shaped by women and children. Gender can be very determinant in the social relationship of the conservative societies. And although we were not so much in relation with the men in the neighbourhood, we could establish a strong relationship with our women neighbours and their children.
We did not refer to ourselve as a feminist art collective at the beginning, but we were definitely inspired by the solidarity between our female neighbours. The acts we were doing as a women’s group could be an inspiration for the feminist movement as well: looking at the way we self-organize, and most importantly at how women from different backgrounds can come together and develop tools to unite. Considering the fact that the women’s movement in Turkey is often criticised for being run by “white” educated women, we wonder if Oda Projesi’s method can be a model for creating an alternative space for women from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds?
Q: What led you to the creation of the project "Tongue", and how did Nadin Reschke get involved?
A: We were invited by Ballhaus Naunynstrasse in Kreuzberg to join the Festival “Beyond Belonging” in 2009. We have previously worked with Nadin Reschke, and we have also been actively learning each other’s languages. So, when we first talked about ideas for the project we immediately came up with the concept of creating a language course -- a space where we would think, learn, and practice with each other our daily languages.
The focal space of the project was Kreuzberg, an area that we defined as a"speech bubble". This "bubble" can be regarded as a meeting point for a range of languages. Instead of taking the"Tower of Babel" as a banal starting point -- a place where all languages exists, only separately, TONGUE goes beyond this and asks: How can one try to create a new language by taking the daily language of individuals rather than the language of groups? The neighborhood, Kreuzberg, where this project took place at the time, is a mixture of different cultures, it is a place created by its inhabitants. It can be a bricolage or also a possible spatial bubble in the middle of the city. We wondered: can we find an equivalent to Kreuzberg in the field of language?
William S. Burroughs said that "language is a virus from outer space,” and in 1986, Laurie Anderson added, "That's why I'd rather hear your name than see your face." Imitating a language course and all the items it contains; it became easy and practical and critical to gather people around the topic of “language” or “tongue.”