Seçil Alkış: You are known for your works relating to city and urban sociology. Can you tell us a bit about these works?
Neriman Polat: Since the beginning of 2000s, I’ve been working about the subjects of city, street, district. The Excavation (hafriyat) group that I used to be a member of (but not anymore) and have worked together for years, must have played a part in directing me to these subjects. In my 2005 video, İki Keklik (Two Partridges), two very modernly dressed girls eat and have a conversation in a restaurant decorated with plastic flowers and an artificial stream, while a Turkish folk song plays in the background. There’s an ironic connection between the lyrics of the folk song and the scene; it causes the viewer to smile. Here we see both the aesthetics of the migration from village to city, and a plastic version of the longing for nature.
The contrasts, conflicts, hybridism, people who lost their land, and also demolition in the last few years. These are a part of my life as well… A few fundamental subjects for me are; the codes of patriarchy, social sex and discrimination. I had a solo show in 2007 titled Babaevi apt. The exhibition began with a glass mosaic wall; I made a copy of a wall that I saw in the street. It’s just like the “Mülkiyet Allah’ındır” (Property of God) text in a previous exhibition in Hafriyat Karaköy. Glass wall mosaics that are normally used on the exteriors of buildings has become the material of choice for this work. I like the idea of transforming sometimes exteriors into interiors, and sometimes interiors into exteriors. Changing the context with very little intervention plays with our notion of reality. My work titled “Ev” (Home) begins with bricks that form a house; continues with a house the bricks of which have no mortar applied, but it has a window made of beautiful iron bars; and ends with the bricks forming a 1 square meter space, and a photo into the boundaries of which I barely fit. Our struggle for a most fundamental right, the right to housing, people losing their grounds, social injustice. My works about TOKIs (buildings built by the Housing Development Administration of Turkey) can be analyzed in this context. The things done in the name of urban transformation concerns us all, it should concern us all. My work “Özdönüşüm Emlak” (Transformation Real Estate) comprises of a fake real estate agency. For this work, I used actual information as the starting point. I wanted to point out the problems the people living in TOKI buildings have, in order to make the victims of urban transformation visible. I’m not the kind of person who makes art in an atelier, therefore my activist side takes over in my works.
S.A: What do you think about the production and the presentation of art in urban public spaces; semi-public places like museums, galleries; and private spaces (homes, art storerooms, collector properties) with regard to your own work?
N.P: Institutionalization has increased in the last years, causing a very problematic situation. It is problematic because these institutions belong to private equity and banks. Thus they can manipulate things as they wish, even the galleries depend on them. For example when you compare the list of artists of a gallery with that of an institution; you see that they’re almost the same. I’m not an artist who can have good relations with institutions; for example the Istanbul Modern protests… I believe that the artists need to be independent. In last March, Arzu Yayıntaş and I have made a work titled “Acı Kahve” (Bitter Coffee/Café). We have written the names of the women and children killed by men during the last year on the windows of a man-only café in Tophane. These names were kept on the windows for a while, the frequenters of the café had to live with these names, and afterwards we made an open call to women, inviting them for a coffee. Thus we invaded the café, however briefly. If we were to realize this work on a gallery window, I don’t think it would have any meaning. One can not always work this way, of course, but we should be able to work in public spaces as well. Therefore I don’t want to limit my work only to the rescued spaces of art.
S.A: What do you think about the media utilized more frequently by contemporary art, such as space-based works and installations, as ways of expression? In which direction can contemporary art proceed from this point on?
N.P: I usually create space-based works. But I see that these kind of works are becoming rare; artists began to prefer works that can be hung on a wall, that can be sold –or they’ve been directed to do so. Concerning this matter, galleries aren’t innocent either. Sometimes it’s hard just to paint a gallery wall a different color, let alone doing installations. The question of how contemporary art can proceed is a hard one, as it has lost its opponent attitude and surrendered to the art market.
S.A: What are your thoughts especially on the architectural production in Turkey? As an artist making critical works, what would you say about the large-scale building complexes with their own security crew that combine residencies+shopping+social life?
N.P: I don’t have the knowledge to evaluate the architectural production in Turkey, I wouldn’t want to come to conclusions about it. But we’re surrounded by malls. The ruling government doesn’t care about a thing, Istanbul is marketed as a source of income. They keep marketing secured building complexes, in which you can even choose your neighbors. The district culture has vanished, and they intend to take over the last remaining places. What will be left behind; a terrible place. Maybe an unlivable place. Those who buy an apartment in these luxury complexes can live happily in their homes.
S.A: As a result, the art production in the whole world is limited to visual merchandise. Is it the depth of the relationship between art and market that causes this?
N.P: Beyond all, the twisted relationship between art and market prevents the artists from creating good work. I think this is the worst of all.