torna conversations #2
between Merve Kaptan and İrem Günaydın

See 'Hatırlatıcı' exhibition here.



İREM GÜNAYDIN: Here I go Merve, though you mostly know what I’m about to say.

I have my notebook in front of me, the notebook I’ve been keeping since July, to which I solely dedicated this piece of work. I turned the cover over to figure out how I should start, and the first thing that came up was: “Cardiac- Related to Heart/ Kalp Cor Kalb Kardia"

During a family visit to my grandfather’s house, I encountered a notebook that he kept. He was keeping this in order to remind himself when to take his medication after his heart surgery, half a pill one day and a whole the next. The more I visited there, the more I was familiarised with my grandfather’s approach to his journal. Walking from the couch to the drawer, taking the journal out, asking people what day it is, highlighting it, and putting the journal back to where it belonged when he was done. This routine was repeated 8-10 times a day. This wasn’t because he had to take his medication 8-10 times a day, but because this became some sort of an obsession for him. I decided to borrow a couple of pages from his journal. Later on, after I finished university, moved back to Istanbul and started sharing a studio with Leyla (Gediz), I decided to start a new work with these borrowed papers.

Coming back to your work, where does it derive from?

MERVE KAPTAN: It was something I witnessed one day. A guy had fallen onto one of the pavements in my neighbourhood. He'd jumped out of a terrace there: half of his body had crushed into the car and the other half onto the pavement. It is a strange thing. Someone kills themselves there and then, and you walk to your studio with all sorts of other things in your head; then you forget the man laying on the ground, smashed into pieces.

In my work, I try to find ways to say something important - personal or not - without romanticising it or adding extra emotional information on top. For example, how would a child explain such an accident? Her vocabulary and the intellectual understanding of what and how certain things happen would be limited. Who are the men in white coats, why would someone jump out of a window like this. I choose the words carefully. It is important for me. When you take a big event like this and reduce it to such simple sentences, it hits the reader intentionally, without much prior notice. Well at least that is what I am trying to do.

You use words too, and one of my favourite things: repetition. Shall we talk about repetition?

İG: I improvised with the scale of the pages; enlarging them and printing them out on multiple different surfaces. These repetitions were related to form. This try-and-see period lasted quite a while. The “half”s and “whole”s on my grandfather’s papers were replaced with my “once again”s. I realized a while later that along with the papers, I also borrowed mygrandfather’s obsession with them. I think I internalized the situation. I can say that as well as reprinting and thus repeating the papers, I also mimicked my grandfather’s approach, in an obsessive way.

MK: After all these trials, you ended up with a limited number of posters. You turned the obsession into order. We see this obsession in your sound work. We can't know when the recording starts and when it stops, it becomes a continuous loop, which turns into an uncomfortable - though I use this term in the most interesting way! - listening experience. Like you said, you take over your granddad's obsession. I like that. It is as though you as granddaughter and grandfather, are both on a strange ritual.

İG: I don’t think the spectator should experience this work like I did, neither do they have to, nor is it quite possible. The audio piece serves as a translation for me. It is about how the language and written rhythm on these papers can be translated into audial and hearable rythms. The text in the audio piece is from Alain Robbe-Grillet’s “In the Labrynth”. This text serves two important purposes in my work. The first is that, when it achieves audial sound, it creates a room in my mind and how this room, already existent, can create invisible spaces within itself. The second purpose is how the room in the text can actually be used as a guide for an elderly or a visually impaired person.

MK: The text you used by Robbe-Grillet is below: From the chest of drawers to the table is six steps: three to the fireplace and three more after that. It is five steps from the table to the corner of the bed; four steps from the bed to the chest of drawers. The path from the chest of drawers to the table is not quite straight; it curves gently to pass the nearer the fireplace. Above the mantelpiece there is a mirror, a large, rectangular mirror, hang in on the wall. The foot of the bed is exactly opposite.

This paragraph directly connects with what György Lukács talks about on description-narration in literature. Robbe-Grillet describes the scene so well with so much detail that the room/the text turn into a concrete sculpture in front of the reader. I want to do this with my own work as well. Usually most of my text works end up being sound installations. The text on paper turns to sound. I like that. I like how sound turns into a 2-dimensional something. I am interested in the relationship spoken word creates with the listener in a sound format. But this time, I wanted the text to just appear in front of people, as if someone is repeating the same thing over and over again, trying to explain something but without any sound. You need to read it to hear it.

İG: Since you already brought up “description-narration”, I want to add that Robbe-Grillet almost exclusively replaces objects with subjects in his works and describes them in an utmost detailed manner. But with this text, it seems that things just got to a whole new level. This text just appears in the middle of “In the Labrynth”, out of context, not narratively related to what comes before or after it. Just like a piece of random prose, it doesn’t belong anywhere... Even though the whole book is a bit ambiguous, we do know two or three certain characters. When I was reading the pages, I bumped into this room, this room where the author just sneaked a peek and left. It felt like my grandfather’s heart operation, papers, translation, language, sound, halves/wholes were all gathered under the roof of that very room.

Talking of sound and language, Freud’s Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, 1905, states that “Words are a plastic material with which one can do all kind of things." Freud asserts that the joke presents a side that can only be “seen’’ or taken in all at once, rather than being followed in a linear form. Since the first time I saw your work, it has been reminding me of “sound-image”. When someone tells a joke, we just laugh, our bodies release libidinal energy. Because we don’t comprehend, we forget it immediately. But it leaves a trace behind in us.... I think the same feeling applies to your text, it was like a sound when I first saw it. When I moved away, the image of it left behind in my head was pretty blurry.

MK: Yes, great. That is what I was talking about above; sound having the ability to turn into something else, a two dimensional object when read (either out loud or silently) or a blurred memory.

İG: I know you prefer not to translate your work, however, if you did, how would you translate this piece?

MK: The best translation I can do is (for the non-Turkish speakers’ convenience): Something happened today. A man died. A man jumped out of a window. Fell onto the ground. They put a white coat on top of the man. Men in white coats walked towards the cars.

It rhymes in Turkish, which I like. But if I use the words I want to use, I can't rhyme it in English. When translated, it becomes a different work. It is not that work anymore. Perhaps even the translation I just did above is wrong of me. I should never create another 'version' of these texts. I feel bad now!

İG: The paradox of translating the untranslatable :) I will jump from your text to our exhibition title 'Hatirlatici' We decided to call our show Hatırlatıcı (meaning ‘reminder’ in English). Hatırlatıcı is an interesting word. It covers the notions of written text, sound, language and translation. Even though it is a Turkish word, it sounds foreign even in its native language. That is also why we chose not to translate it in English.

MK: Yes, I still think it is quite a cold word, perhaps for the same reasons you said.. Though i think this distance it creates from its coldness, makes the works stand on their own feet.

İG: Shall we talk about why we chose to show two works simultaneously at two separate locations?

MK: You needed a larger space and I needed a space accessible to public. I wanted the words to just appear in front of people on the street. Though not in such an obvious and hostile way, but more modest, a little more shy perhaps. I chose torna because even though it is a closed off space - not fully open to public domain, it is still not a conventional exhibition space. That's why it is quite similar to the room you are using too.

There are many people who pass the arcade and hardly anyone has any knowledge of the art we make here. But everyone can read and write Turkish, so they can have a relationship with words. That’s quite enough for me. What about you? You are in a working arcade too, but it is very different to the one torna is in. To some people, it may look quite weird that we are showing work in different locations. But I like that. They are quite separate to each other, but also have the connections we've been talking about above. I think they are better off when left on their own.

İG: When I first found this room, my mind was made up to display my work right here. It had a long enough wall which would fit the prints, as well as large, high windows that reminded me of old hospitals.