On Her Works with Sinem Dişli

Sinem Dişli
Mert Zafer Kara
Şener Soysal
About Other Essays
İpek Çınar
About Other Essays

On Her Production Practice


İpek: First of all, we would like to start with a general question. For almost all of your works, we can say that photographs comply with the energy of the physical field and perhaps even submits to its energy. Therefore, the first step should be trying to find out what is the position of you in your photography. Although the question is a little bit cliché, is it possible to tell your perception of photography? Where does the photography end and where does the physical space/installation begin?

S: We had an artist talk during the Rutubet exhibition with Merve, and a keyword came out which was very good at expressing it: Strife! Having a strife with photography. The conversant with photography while studying plastic arts become the reason that I got into interdisciplinary transitions. When I was a student, I always thought that I was going to paint and make sculptures. Especially in the high school years, my sculpture master who introduced us to Giacometti impressed me incredibly. The closer we go, the less we will get closer to the figures… I've always imagined myself as a sculpture in my undergraduate education, but darkroom and photography have come into my life. —I started my life as a migrant, and I guess being able to be active while photographing was very directive for me— My housemate had a camera in college and I found myself in a photography club with her pushing to figure out how the camera works. That is how I have started photography. I found myself as the president of the club next year. But the club swarmed with engineers who were interested in "Photojournalism", so there was a tendency to take photographs by traveling, such as Koudelka. I had also the same tendencies for a period, but somehow I did not satisfied with it. I did not know what I wanted to do, but I was doing experiments, I was seeking. Sometimes I thought: "Why does my mind work like this?". It is not something that I can completely solve, understand, and analyze. I don't know. But, yeah, I always think of a relationship with the physical space. I was reading Kierkegaard at that time which impressed me a lot. So, my work, "Kaygı" emerged. I had migrated from Urfa to İzmir and there was a questioning of my identity as an individual and a woman. Kaygı turned into a work at home, with a camera on one hand, and a light bulb on the other hand. Perhaps this is a kind of searching, questioning sense that turned into a discovery of the inside of a place. I guess photography has always been an instrument for entering and leaving an area, bringing outside to the inside, extraction of inside to the outside. Yeah, I produce installations specific to space. This is a transformation, the next step. My first work, on the other hand, says a lot as I created a void and space there again; I whitewashing a corner of the house including the figures and my close friends. Because my place was between a studio and a home. I started by thinking about that place, including that place. Dealing with distance and space by photography and place. Going out of visible, beyond a measurable one…


Sand in a whirlwind / Burgaç, 2015, 130 x 180 cm, Arşivsel Pigment Print

Dams over the Euphrates have led to inequality in water distribution among Syria, Iraq, and Turkey, and the senseless use of water and soil in Urfa caused desertification in the regions beyond the southern border of Turkey. The sudden and extreme enrichment that came with the dam at the side of Urfa, the changes that are characterized as economic development are transforming the over-irrigated and overcultivated plains with sandstorms that now and then comes from the desertified regions of the Middle East that are condemned to drought, and remind us that nature is a whole without borders.


Mert: Then, Is the position of photography in your current production practices as same as that time? How did this improve?

S: It is not. My relationship with photography is always in a transformation. For example, during the early periods of my production, I was very impressed by the Dada Movement. The Dada Movement represented very well that the photography had unsettled the art world. In painting class, we were making collages first, and then we were painting based on those collages. My relationship with photography also improved with those transitiveness and intransitiveness between different mediums. Moreover, the points of contact between the people from different art mediums are very limited and they seem to be separate from each other.

Photography, at one hand, creates the transformation of the concept of image and collective memory, the analysis of the eye and vision, the measurability of the subject, the emergence of mass culture, development of reproduction systems, institutionalization such as the transformation of the concept of the museum. On the other hand, we are talking about an effect that has existed since it was invented as it is the resource of the development of avant-garde art practices against the same systems.


Ş: This is definitely a problem. We are hanging out in a community saying "We are photographers"; the painters are in a separate position, authors and illustrators are in separate positions, and none of them are taking care of each other, so a productive contemporary art is not formed. Everyone is retiring into his/her own shell although we seem very crowded. It will certainly be helpful to break this chain and strengthen bonds.  

S: Our purpose of making "Tekrar ∞ Döngü" was the same, too. On the other hand, there were topics such as the cycle of life, the concept of repetition, and etc. When I was chewing over the cycle of nature, I thought "If I organize talks about it, I could go deeper and make contacts with people from different fields." The idea first appeared like this. An author could come up and say, "I have never listened a sound performance", or a scientist had to listen to another person from a different field having a speech about the stars and the loop. So, there was a collaboration. Of course, I do not say "I should combine all the mediums" as a mission, but my mind works a bit like that. For example, last night while researching for my new project, I found myself to be absorbed in the articles about Newton's physics and said, "How did I get here?"


On Her Projects

M: During your interview with Merve after Rutubet, there was a question about the shootings in Urfa. Since you are familiar with Urfa, you have called the shooting "re-looking". Unlike regular traveling, it gives you a new perspective.

S: Yes, in fact, this makes me turn back the first question you ask. The photography brings you the opportunity to discover when you are shooting. The photography has a characteristic which is able to direct all of my projects. I traveled with a camera to look at "What is the feeling that I get from going to Urfa?" After that, some feelings arouse and I realize what I should do. If the first idea is too limited with photography, I can decide to shoot a video. I think photography is more like a guide.


M: In Rutubet, you approached to subject with photography, but later it turned into an installation. Your beginning point was the photography, actually.

Ş: It's a guide, as far as I can understand. It is a gathering of mediums that grow, develop and diversify. You are also open in that matter.

S: Actually, the word "guide" puts the photography in the center again. Sometimes I can start by reading about my subject, but this is a direction of thinking processes rather than searching a way. Photography is not very central, but something I have worked for a long time. It is not easy to go somewhere and say "Here I am!". But when I go with a camera with my hand, people say "Oh, she has come to take pictures". Therefore, it turns into a tool that makes connections. As a result, I can say that the camera is a useful instrument that I sometimes use to understand, explore or look at a subject better, deeper.


M: It can be both the photographs of the process and the before/after pictures of the installation such as stop-motion videos of the process of Rutubet or process-driven in Sürgün. This has a different meaning for you from archiving. The archiving become the work's itself. Where do these limits start and end?

S: Actually, this is a matter of temporality. The photography can show what we cannot perceive. It makes it something that we can perceive. What interests me is this form of visible and showing invisible which creates tension. As I mentioned earlier, with the foundation of the museums in the 19th century, photography turned upside-down the history of art. Think about this, it is a medium that brings together the events we have never seen together in a chronological order! It is something never happened. What excites me here is the fact that photography reproduces the time. It reproduces the history. In this connection, it reproduces the microorganisms that we cannot see in Rutubet. For this reason, it is not the documentation feature that attracted me but the tension that I create. Moreover, the camera is recreating the sense of time. There is a state of strife beyond the character of the document. In particular, Sürgün and Rutubet were the projects that were directed by photography.


"RUTUBET", is composed of Sinem Dişli's photographs and site-specific work, in which she examines micro-scale organisms formed by conditions such as heat and humidity inherent to TOZ's basement. Approaching this urban building as a breathing and living structure, Dişli investigates, by experimental means, whether creating an alternative habitat is possible through observation and intervention to the ratio of substances such as water trapped in a division where airflow is limited. 


M: I think it distinguishes in Sürgün. Someone who does not know that Rutubet is an installation cannot fully imagine the boundaries of your work when s/he sees only the book. But for you, they both seem to be of the same position.

S: First, let me explain how Sürgün emerged. I was accepted into a residency program in New York. They put me in a very isolated place as they thought I could control the light more easily because I took videos and photographs. It was an incredibly beautiful studio, but it had no windows. I felt very claustrophobic there. That's why I started getting plants. I could not produce a work even though it was a very important residency for me; then I said myself, "As an artist, I must be able to achieve this, I must find a way to transform this disadvantage into an advantage." I needed a way to express that feeling rather than thinking "Should I take pictures or apply to take a video?" one night I stayed up late, I said myself that, "OK, I will grow beans in the bed." This idea emerged as the conclusion of the idea of "Can I transfer the cycle of nature into this industrial city system?" I aim to underline the contrast. Beyond plant growth, a domestic element was needed to represent the interior. I assume that the element was the bed for me. At that time, I was also thinking about topics such as cotton fields, the over-consumption of water, the cost of the need for organic production for a healthy life and etc. On the one hand, I was growing beans and on the other hand, I was photographing them every minute. Of course, the installation making process was shaped by considering how to use the possibilities offered by the camera. These two are so in each other, I cannot distinguish them. This bean-cotton project really emerged at the end of a one-month laboratory work. How many holes can you make in those bottles? It is not enough to make one hole for the drip, you should slit the bottle. I have made preparations for two months, but I set them up and photographed in 15 days, and in this process, my studio was open to the public. Everything causes another. We can partially perceive the dynamics of plants with our bodies, our limbs; but the camera makes it visible what kind of energy is circulating around another living creature and the cycle of nature.


Ş: In the daily life, we do not realize much about the growth of plants. It means something different that you pointed out. Also, growing in the cotton, artificiality which seems natural stroke me a lot.
Thanks! Yes, it is a work that I like very much, too. You assume this work as a breaking point, but I think it is Sürgün.  




M: The breaking point is after Hare, I think. The cases that you use different materials were increasing as well as there was a cycle. Moreover, Rutubet, Sürgün, and Hare were turned into a book. We started to see this commonality more after Hare.

Ş: Due to the fact that both cycle situation and use of material and medium is more layered and intertwined.

S: Actually, yes it is. But there is also a reversing process on the other hand. I am going to skip a little, but first I should talk about Cereyan. What I worked on the Euphrates River started to improve. At that point, I knew that I would not just take pictures. In Urfa, the soil was getting salted because of overwatering and salt was necessary both for life and it began to be determined in a corruptive dose. I had a question that whether I could concentrate on salt. At that time, in the orphanage where I was invited for Fotoistanbul, I chose a room having rounded forms on the top floor. One week later, the team called me and asked: "It's raining and the flood ruined the place, can you choose another room?" I started thinking, "Can I make a work that embraces leaky water?" With the running water, I decided to create a transformation in that room. I used photographs, I withered them, but it was not possible to do this only with photographs. Actually, I did not photograph that process either. I did not want to frame and exhibit my photographs in classical form. There is an irony, the team invited me as a photographer, but my practice of producing work is like that and I wanted to show this. I focus on the water and its effects on the cycle of life and the relationship of city structures.  

Of course there is a breaking point here, but on the other hand, there are lots of works that I did not show even they had been exhibited before. In fact, the breaking point that you mentioned was going on in a hidden position. That is why I set up this studio. Recently, I have a desire to know materials and take myself off a place to work on something by touching.


M: On the other hand, Rutubet, Sürgün, and Hare were soon turned into a book. How do these three projects establish a commonality for you?

S: Actually, you also know the process in a close way; we wanted to invite artists to TOZ Art Space and ask them to work on something for two weeks. Even if a production did not come out, it did not matter. We dealt that we participated this, too. So, I directly work on a component that causes a lot of trouble to us into space: Moisture! Everywhere smelled like damp (Rutubet) and I wondered what would happen if I took pictures of it. I could not believe what I photographed with a microscope that day. The building was transformed by fungi. The most basic thing that provides the transformation of nature is fungi. That idea was amazing for me. The formation of this work counseled that I should combine these three works come up with transformation. The issue of production has begun to make me very tired, though. Because it needs huge budgets, spending a long time with space and other professional support. I prefer to retire a little bit instead of pressure myself. It makes me more excited to simplify and produce work through one idea. Thinking about the space, trying to build a structure, learning another material each time, touching the spirit of that material, obviously, tired me. Every piece of material force you to learn it from the beginning. So, I want to work with the same material for a while.


M: Especially after Rutubet, you were very clear on this subject.

S: Yes. Now I am working on a project that makes me so excited, climbs me to the walls. I used to go to Urfa at least two times every year for 7-8 years and taken photographs there. When you do something repeatedly, in a cycle, something else emerges at the end. I am very excited about this; the shootings that I have been done for many years, the projects that I have been produced come together in such a way… There is Göbeklitepe district, remnants of Mesopotamian Civilizations, and etc. When I think about those remnants, history, how we interpret history, how industrialism destroys the nature; there emerges something very exciting which makes me very satisfied. My new work is about this. This simplification will be very good for me.


M: Maybe we can talk about Cereyan at this point. It seems to me that we left it a little behind.
S: Yes. In fact, it is the most important project of mine. When I was a kid, there were pomegranate gardens in Urfa. A famous place with its pomegranates. One day during my visit to Urfa, my dad took me somewhere and asked, "Did you remember this place?" I was taking laconic photographs with my Hasselblad. There was nothing but concrete. Then I saw a pomegranate sculpture and realized that all the pomegranate gardens had been destroyed but there is a statue for representing them. How can we destroy the nature to get rid of it, but erect the sculpture of the most concentrated thing that nature has given us? I have started to question what is the cause of this transformation. I realized that the beginning point was the GAP Project. In fact, I started to think about the barrage set up on Euphrates River provides all this economic development and this is related to the war in Syria. This makes me think about the issue of drought. I realized that the cycle of nature is represented by water in my works. Moreover, I found the cassettes of my grandfather. There were poems written in this subject: "Harran Plain will be the sea one day and the lights on Harran will turn into the light of the ships". An incredible dream. We imagine something, set up fantasy, and intervene in nature during this formation… Yes, there is an enrichment; but during this enrichment, what you are emptying, what you are destroying. This is an important issue to look at. I want to be an observer rather than making a didactic reading. Of course, when I started to look at the whole history of Mesopotamia, things started to get mixed up. For now, the place that I focus on at most is the Temple of Sogmatar because it is like an oasis in the middle of the desert. It is a living village without concrete construction, but 2500 years ago, it was one of the centers of pagan culture. For example, people are worshiped to the Moon there while the people of Harran were worshipped to the Sun. I cannot explain it clearly, but this represents something about what I did. The underground water is too congested, but also they had a magical place that they observed the stars. I love this work, where the photography is re-introduced to make long exposures. I want to focus on this for a while. The link between nature, history and civilization.  

On the verge / Sınırın eşiğinde, 2015, 22 x 22 x 25 cm [self-portrait] Sculpture and mixed media

This installation reflects the power of water to give life as much as its menacing aspect. It was created under the influence of the vanishing of many villages and Mesopotamian remains that are submerged under the waters of the Euphrates as a result of its path being modified by humans, and of the recently increasing water-migration relation. The confinement, containment and the halting of the cyclical fluidity of water and its gradual transformation into an artificial lake have increased its surface area and this has caused evaporation and taken away the most natural right of creatures struggling with drought, living at the regions beyond the border even though the river runs there. Water is, in a sense, being released into air. This installation is an expression of our near suffocation, of our despair, and the despair of those who are being displaced for the control of water and oil, the main cause of war in the region. 

On Repetition ∞ Cycle


Ş: When we talked with Mert, he said that: "Sinem has certain routines every year and they are all planned." It seems that this studio will be a part of this routine. I think making this whole production and studio a part of your life is a routine which we cannot define exactly like a routine. Is it the part nurturing you?

S: Actually, what we cannot do is shaping us a bit. What I cannot do is focusing on one subject. My way of thinking is very complicated and I am excitable. All of these makes me tired very easily. I need to settle down this excitement a little bit more and balance this energy. One of them is the need for the ability to focus on one subject. I have recently discovered a book about how artists spend their daily life and how they manage to organize the production process. For instance, it is written that Susan Sontag had never talked with anyone until noon and never answered her phone calls. She had just focused on writing until 1 pm; after that, she had started to get social and develop human relationships. Or Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect of Guggenheim, had worked between 4-6 am. Victor Hugo had got his showers on a terrace in the afternoon with a horsehair glove, then he had started to work. Beethoven had always drunk coffee as if he cannot work without coffee. The book emphasizes that: there is no such thing as "genius" but there is "the routine". And I thought that "In this case, what I cannot do is stick to a routine". After a while, the studio started to look like I am rambling in my own mind, in my soul. This is the part that excites me at most. Every time I come here, I create a new relationship with the same material, because I always change. It becomes so complicated if I spend this transformation with other different hours, days, and materials. It makes me peaceful to come here every day and do something. I always think that: "There are two of myself existed. One of them is me, and the other one handles with me." There is something that we can not figure out. We have hormones, we have characters; we have factors making us, we have an environment. We have the unconsciousness. Sometimes, instead of controlling them, we should create a routine to find a way. It is not possible to solve everything, but at least it gets more clear.


Ş: Humankind is constantly looking for something new. But when you look at a place, if the things in this place seem new to you or if you are investigating the details, there is no problem. You can even noodle over a table, you can talk about it. I guess a lot of people are self-limited. If you can overcome it, even the routine becomes a positive thing.

S: Yes, the routine you create and an imposed routine are actually two different things. Anish Kapoor states that artists are looking for something unreachable and get lost in it. But the misery going to the studio to create something new creates a new thing by itself. It is actually a bit of all of us; we hardly figure out where we should start or what we should focus on. Of course, there is the effect of our fragmented/broken lives today, but the routine gives you the power to do something despite that effect. It is also about discovering yourself. For example, my mind is clear at most at the moment after drinking the morning coffee. It sounds a little bit selfish but I want to spare that time to myself. This is the time that I stay by myself, being alone, reading something, do not allow someone to interrupt it.


Ş: On the other hand, you are involved with many collectives and occasions. What do you think, does it fuel you?  

S: Actually, I prefer to produce work individually. But the collective means coming together, being in a dialogue, uniting the disconnection between different mediums through interaction. For example, in New York City, the space that I ran seems like curatorial work, but it was based on the artists' suggestions. Thus, there was a community established. I suggested to someone, that person suggested another one, and as a result of this, there arose a collective spirit. For me, these things do not proceed by saying "Let's make a collective!" The foundation of HER HAL was after the closing of TOZ with the question of "Now, what about all the projects that I planned?" We don't even know what to do now, we don't have a mission/ vision. We are constantly talking about what we will do and this will be shaped by our needs and atmosphere we are in.     


Ş: I think you involved in projects according to your needs, instead of your projects.

S: Community is a keyword, I think it is important. Because again, the routine is connected with this. For example, when we make a book, we talk with the same people. In the end, you become such familiar and feel a distance. When a new person sees that work, I cannot get that distance in terms of the first impression. I have to tell more about my work constantly. Therefore, I think sustainability is very important. Talking about different subjects with the same people, even talking about the same subjects with the same people. We have a reading group in HER HAL. Nowadays, we still want to work on Repetition ∞ Cycle and we are reading a book called Ritimanaliz. I think deeper ideas emerge by talking with the same people.


M: This is the same with the purpose of Repetition ∞ Cycle. The collective also creates a discussion of the same issue with different perspectives. The investigation of over and over again. I think there are similarities in approach to what you do with collectives.

S: Actually, whatever I do, there is an approach for looking holistically. "Everything is interdependent and interrelated to each other." Everything is intertwined and interconnected. Your slightest energy has an effect. That is why I retraced Newton yesterday. You are doing something and it has a cause and effect. This is how it works in nature. Again, in Repetition ∞ Cycle presentations, we talked about the memory and cycle, for example. We talked about the concept of Nietzsche's eternal return. It starts itself. Of course, we wanted to put together a lot of mediums with Raba. It emerged with a desire to make a discovery about the transformative power of repetitions and cycles in life. In the presentations, examining and incorporating of temporal and spatial perception in the repetitive order of all cyclic movements in the universe, has an important place as well as the physical rhythms such as heartbeat, breathing, and sleep. There was also a yoga performance, for example. We didn't limit presentations with art and put its relationship with our body. And one of the most important thing in Repetition ∞ Cycle was how a person is defined, where the definitions put someone and how it works in the public sphere. This was very important because we asked a photographer, for example, to make a music. We had this knowledge but people did not know. It is something good for that person, too.


M: There were some ideas for connecting some people in the presentations. Therefore, not only the audience but also the person performing the presentation/performance was getting a different and new experience.

S: Yes, it has created such a process to bring together people who do not know each other. They also had hard times occasionally which is a good thing. For instance, people who had never get a chance to work with each other make a performance together and now some of them want to write books among themselves. So this combination has other impulses. In that sense, it's pleasing. But I'm planning to take a break to spend more time on my own projects. I hope this series will be an exhibition and a publication in the future. But, after my own exhibition.