The Blockage

Deniz Kırkalı

I learned how to swim at the age of two when I fell into the pool without my water wings. While I was struggling in the water, my mom was counting the time by the poolside. Apparently, she believed that I would learn some things only by struggling. Catching the right moment between the moment of learning and the moment of drowning cost my mom a few hard seconds.

I grew up side by side with the sea. When I was a kid, on winter nights the sprinkles of the waves lashed the windows of the house we lived in. In the morning, we woke up to salty and muddy windows. For years, the first thing I did in the morning was to check those windows. It was important to know what had happened while I was sleeping. It was as if I could appraise the value of sleep by what I missed for its sake. Ever since I can remember, I have not liked to sleep.

My relationship with water deepened in different ways during my adolescence. Perhaps because the only place I could retreat to at home (and not be noticed) was the bathroom. And it was during these escapes that I discovered the healing nature of water. I still take a shower when something is on my mind and I can't put it to rest.

I have been thinking about the bodies of water I live alongside, immersed in, which still scares me from time to time with its power, but which I also find to be the most secure place in the world, through my body, which is ultimately a body of water itself. Two years ago, I wrote a text for Ayşe İdil İdil's solo exhibition in poşe. Recently, I revisited it. Since then, there has been something that makes me feel uncomfortable about the phrase "body of water" in English, which implies that water needs a body.

My father is a urologist. He has been telling me to drink water since I was a little kid. When I am in pain, when something makes my stomach turn, when I get angry, when I am scared, when I sweat, when I cry, when I get on a plane, when I get hungry, when summer comes... I now realize that this is the advice I take most seriously in my life. In fact, I have noticed that I sparked reactions from people around me because I act like the solution to everything is water. I drink at least 3 liters of water every day. One of my biggest techno-fantasies is to put a chip on my wrist under my skin that shows the percentage of water in my body. For now, I need to be content with a urine test based on the rule of thumb. The clearer, the more hydrated, is my golden rule.

If you would like, at this point we can make a few mediocre jokes about the fact that my name is Deniz (sea in Turkish) and I am obsessed with water.

I have been wondering for a while why thinking with water/thinking about water is so instinctive and fruitful for me. It is a bit about building a relationship with the other; something that is a piece of you, that involves you, that you take in, that comes out of you and flows out of you at the same time. Thinking of water helps me think of the point where sameness and difference intersect. The fluidity of water, its formlessness, its mediatedness, ambiguity, and variability are, on the other hand, as the materialized form of many things I believe. If that is the case, you can perhaps imagine how uncomfortable I am with the word blockage. Still waters is a somewhat tragic image for me. In contrast, the moment the blockage opens and the swirl created by the movement of the water brings me immense satisfaction.

Sometimes I feel like I do not appreciate still waters enough. But I have learned a great deal from being a body of water. So perhaps I am acquainted with still waters more intimately than I expect to. In fact, I know it so well that this stillness turns into an existential crisis.

We are all made from the same "water." And all bodies of water are carried from this primal water to other bodies of water through another body of water. It moves from a body to another body. We act, at the same time, as a container, a tunnel, and a fountain.     

In 1995, there was a big flood of water in the district where I lived in İzmir. My father and a few of his friends put on their swimsuits and jumped into the deluge to open the main manhole cover, while I watched in amazement and my mother in horror as our car slowly went down from the bottom to the top of the rear windows. The floodwaters quickly receded from the front steps of our house and the blockage was stopped. Those that could be rescued were so saved. This heroic story, which I realize now was a dangerous and unnecessary reaction, caused me to have dreams in which our entire district was under a huge body of water and I could only swim to school in my swimsuit. I'm still not sure how much of that was real and how much of it was my imagination. 

While we were in a phase of thinking a lot about the things that belong to all of us, I started thinking more about/on water. It is a big question mark about whether water belongs to all of us or how fairly it is distributed. Yet, just by being a body of water, we are given a partial meeting ground. In times of great uncertainties and thus possibilities, I usually think through and with water.