When we say independent art organizations, one of the main concepts is, of course, "independence". What does independence mean to you? As an art formation, what do you feel like you are dependent on, and what do you think you need to look out? 

Özge Ersoy: Speaking of initiatives, I think that the word "independence" is over-emphasized. We use terms such as independence or alternative to separate those initiatives from museums, institutions, galleries. So, what does this contrast mean? If you ask me, how the initiatives standing on their own feet such as m-est.org produce, and what kind of needs they represent are more significant. None of us is that much independent. We are dependent on many people with whom we are in close contact. Most of those people are initiatives with similar virtues and productions. For example, when m-est.org organized a public program, the first group that opened its place to us was 5533 in IMÇ. When we wanted to plan a talk or performance recently, our host was the poşe in Kadıköy. Moreover, there are interviews and texts on m-est.org on/by those who run other initiatives that we feel close to us or the artists who work with those initiatives. It is more appealing to me to think about sustainability, diversity and different interest/care economies of such solidarities.

Merve Ünsal: As Özge mentioned, when we talk about "independence", we should endeavour to narrate what we are trying to explain more clearly. For instance, when we were working on Yay-Pop together with Onagöre, we preferred to say "small scale" instead of "independent" publishing. Perhaps the scale is not the right term, but we have to make an effort to explain that somehow we are tied to and dependent on many things at the same time. For example, when I think about m-est.org, it received grants from a foundation and an association. We established a relationship with this foundation and association during the grant period, and these relations continue. Besides, me and Özge, who work most actively in the context of m-est.org, are in contact with many different institutions and initiatives. As long as we are tied to those, I think it would not be right to define m-est.org as an independent. For this reason, I believe it is significant to examine the relationship we establish unconsciously between bond, dependency, and commitment. 


What do collectivity and organization mean to you?

M: I have never thought of m-est.org in the context of collectivity and organization. I guess that it was not a primary question for me how a publication or an artist-oriented initiative interested in the publication could work collectively. But in general, my opinion about collectivity in art is that the collectives can maintain if every member can be flexible, prepare to sacrifice from the production, and care about giving a room. When I think about the organization, I believe that we should establish a cooperative as artists (and cultural producers), as soon as possible. We can even form a union, how nice it would be. 

Ö: I prefer to reply to this question through our collaboration and friendship with Merve, rather than collectivity and organization. We have been close friends with Merve for more than ten years. We have sustained m-est.org through the joy of our friendship, thinking, and producing together. Such connections have a significant role in discourse production. The important thing in friendship is not sharing the same ideas (our way of asking questions, thinking and writing are very different from each other) but having the common references and experiences. That enables the most sincere -and sometimes the most ruthless- criticisms and continuous discussions. It provides intensity or depth in creating discourse.

The connection we bring into with artists and authors who contributed to m-est.org is a continuation of our friendship with Merve. We are interested in publishing articles or contributions that can be read as the continuation of our conversations around the dining table. In this sense, we are quite different from other periodical publications in terms of content and momentum. The alternative economy we have established is also a part of this. As Merve mentioned, we have received only two funds since 2011 and transferred almost all of them to the authors and contributing artists. We do not have a financial income when we do not receive a fund, so we cannot pay honoraria to our authors. Instead, we cook for our contributors to our houses and host them. Sharing a meal that you cook is a way of nurturing a friendship or deepening ongoing friendships. In other words, we are based on a different economy of interest/care.  


Why did you choose to establish or take part in an independent organization? 

Ö: Merve's art practice and my curatorial practice continue around or separate from m-est.org. In other words, m-est.org is not an initiative that we spare our full-time. Up to the present, I have tried to improve my practice by growing together with institutions, developing ideas about the potentials and limits of institutions, thinking about the relationships between institutions and audiences, contemplating the point where institutions can/cannot be a party.  

Besides those questions, I needed to create a small-scale field with continuity but not necessarily growing up, that tries to be at peace with the slowness, where urges can be spoken frequently and friendship, companionship can lead a new practice. Moreover, improving it together with Merve.  

M: m-est.org was a need for me, too. Perhaps it was a luxury, but it was a need. Thinking together through a publication based in Turkey, trying to form a transparent frame for productions by paying attention to publication and text makes me feel very well. I believe that something good for myself can provide the same for others. The archive potential of the online publication was also crucial to me and still has that importance. Even if we have changed, everything we have done continues to exist there, and we continue to add more without stopping. 


How many people does your team consist of, and how are the division of labour and job definitions? 

M: We are two people. Although we have honorary members with whom we are constantly in dialogue, at the end of the day, we think together with Özge about m-est.org. I believe there is a distribution of duties. I am more like an executive, and I believe Özge is the conscience of m-est.org most of the time. I ask Özge the questions that I do not want to hear the answers. 


The organizations arise from the individual desires and needs as well as the needs of the art environment. Therefore, the wishes and opinions of individuals become a significant factor in the structure of an organization. How much did your organization depend on the individuals part in and how did you balance between these two?

Ö: m-est.org is the product of our personal needs and curiosities. Since the content is based on intellectual friendships, it develops according to the articles that we read, the works that we look at, and the people we meet. As we share the ideas, the questions we ask improve, get deeper and turn into content. As an example of this, the series "Vasiyetimdir" arose from a conversation between Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Merve and me. In this series hosted by m-est.org, we asked artists what should remain of the artistic works after their passing. We started by thinking that the answers will give significant clues about their productions, practices, and emergencies today. Esen Karol's one-line "There shall be no typos in my death notice." request/demand; Erdem Taşdelen's montage that he collected the "let go" phrases from popular songs; a screenshot that shows the folder containing Ayşe Ermen's entire digital archive; the statement of Bager Akbay that declared all the artworks he produced and all the codes, documents, and dialogues used in the production process belong to the public domain ("To create, my mind has to set me free."); an artist who prefers to remain anonymous, sharing the copyright page of their book distributing with a license of royalty-free culture are the first examples come to my mind. 

Recently, we have tried to ask the question of how the needs of art producers in Istanbul are changing beyond our needs. With this question, we made it a priority to discuss how artists, curators, and writers can come together and how to form intellectual and artistic discourses rather than online content. As a response to this question, we invited four people -artist Morgan Wong, curator Aslı Seven, author Orit Gat, and artist Srajana Kaikini and author Ben Eastham- who predominantly use writing in their works, to our one-year "temporary residency program". 

M: I am not sure if there is a balance! About requirements, although it seems selfish, I think that if I need something, others also need that. But I guess it is necessary to think over and over again that m-est.org is nine years old and in this period, both mine and Özge's practice have evolved. How independent of m-est.org's practice could be from us or how evolved it, I question this. I think we have to question this.  


Do you have close contact with other independent organizations? What kind of collaborations do you have? 

(We mentioned them above.)


What kind of collaborations do you think the independent organizations can have and do? 

M: Shared resource! It would be great to gather resources such as a venue, invoices, servers, and so on in a pool that we can share or transfer.


How do you provide your economic sustainability? 

M: We do not have economic sustainability. By trying to maintain our own sustainability and practices, we support m-est.org. In an ideal world, all the effort that is made in m-est.org has a financial return, and it has a system that sustains itself. I have no idea how we can achieve this except grants. 

We are curious about your opinion on the future of independent initiatives. What do you think about this subject, and do you have any concerns? 

Ö: As long as friendships, common concerns and urges last, initiatives would last, too. BAS, founded by Banu Cennetoğlu, is an initiative I learned a lot from. BAS is an initiative that makes exhibitions and produces artist books when there is an urgency. Besides, it goes into hibernation whenever it is necessary, and it sometimes turns into a studio for three different artists while also having monthly meetings and discussions. And at the same time, it always thinks about transformation. While thinking about the future of m-est.org and other initiatives, I am thinking of flexibility and the ability to transform according to emergencies we learned from BAS.  

M: The emphasis on independence worries me.