Author:   S. Altvater  
Posted: 13.04.2004; 19:27:10
Topic: İpek Duben | e
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İpek Duben:
What is a Turk, 2003

part of the group project In name/voice of the Other... (City of Signs)
with Gérard Mermoz, 2003
six x five postcards in Concertino-format, digital print
each 16 x 60 cm, installation 60 x 192 cm
İpek Duben


Ipek Duben, Gérard Mermoz:
In name/voice of the Other…, 2003, Dyptich/polylogue

In April 2003, we undertook a project which aimed to test some propositions about the role of the artist as researcher. This project, which was called Reading the City of Signs: Istanbul: revealed or mystified? was guided by some propositions set forth by Italo Calvino in his book Invisible Cities.[a href=#footerone>1]
Taking Calvino as our starting point, we redefined Art as Research and the artist as 'reader', extending our conceptual tools and methodologies with borrowings from History, Travel Writing, Semiotics, Sociology, Architecture, Music, Sound Art and Literature. However seductive, for us, form has to work on two levels:

1. As a conceptual tool for analysis: to identify and raise issues.
2. As a communication platform: to stimulate thought and engage viewers critically.

In this context, formal ambiguity is not at the service of a Formalist ideology, nor the symptom of hedonistic self-expression, but is a strategic choice, designed to engage viewers in a dialogue with themselves and with the realities and issues evoked by the work. We define our practice as fieldwork and our actions as interventions, as they involve going into a field and interacting with material in the contexts in which it is encountered.

In name/voice of the Other… raises issues about identity and stereotypes, by confronting us with the signs through which the Other manifests her/himself, is apprehended, and establishes her/his significance on the basis of values and expectations. Between the perverse stereotype (What is a Turk?) and the incontrovertible acousmatic presence (Laughter), the Other manifests her/himself both as object and subject of interpretation.

[1] ^

İpek Duben:
What is a Turk?, 2003

By asking the question »What is a Turk?« bluntly, infiltrating the popular medium of the postcard, Ipek Duben confronts us with the blatant persistence of racial and cultural stereotypes, quoted from a selection of texts by Western authors: from Rudyard Kipling, Edmondo de Amicis (Costantinople, 1896), W.S. Monnroe (Turkey and the Turks, 1907), Joe E. Pierce (Life in a Turkish Village, 1964), David Hotham (The Turks, 1972), Robert Kaplan (The Coming Anarchy On Our Planet, 1994) to a more recent newspaper article published in the New Statesman and Society (2nd February 1996).

The images consist of group photographic portraits (some taken from the artist’s own family albums). As the correlation between image and text is not explicit, one is left to wonder whether their pairing follows a particular rationale or whether it is generic. Whatever the artist’s position, however, the juxtapositions between abstract stereotypes and concrete visual representations of individuals, families, friends and groups - and, in two instances, a crowd - highlights the arbitrariness and perversity of these stereotypes. Seen on their own, the photographs have the power to generate their own associations whilst confronting us with the Other in his and her own identity in difference (past and present).

By showing us a collection of anonymous faces (old and new) which confront the blatant prejudice expressed in/by the texts, printed on the back, the photographs provide us with a tangible ground for addressing and resisting these stereotypes on the same subjective grounds upon which they grew and spread.

Gérard Mermoz:
Laughter (Kahkaha), 2003-2004
From the Sonic postcards from Istanbul series
Unedited minidisk recording, one take Recorded at The Yerebatan Cistern, on Sunday 8th April 2003.

A child of six explores the inflections and echoes of her voice, running in the margins of language, attentive to ambient sounds and music around her. Her monologue unfolds for two minutes, until the Turkish word kahkaha (laughter) irrupts, bringing her back into language.

Laughter began as a one-off improvisation, performed by Gülnar Mimaroglu, aged six, in the Yerebatan Cistern, Istanbul; a spectacular underground construction of the Byzantine era, which rivals the nearby Aya Sofya as an 'espace de recueillement'.

Laughter involved simultaneously improvising and setting — in the typographic sense — a 'text', in an acoustic-architectural space chosen for its rich acoustic properties, for its architectural qualities — grandeur, simplicity, spirituality — and for its historic and cultural significance.

In the margins of language, a wordless monologue unfolds, along a seemingly ‘narrative’ line — more a pretext than a theme, as its purpose was not to inform the content of the piece but to provoke and sustain the phonic actions of the performer.
The recording was made in one single take; as we swiftly moved under the vaults, picking up playfully both Günar’s voice and additional ambient sounds, in an improvised collage manner: water dripping; birds flying; classical music played at low levels… No further editing was involved, except for the addition of a fade in and out. The piece falls somewhere between music, sound art and performance writing: typophonics.

Away from the most obvious Eastern clichés and stereotypes (call to prayer, sounds of the bazaar, cry of street-sellers, fog horns, etc.), and more than any of my other recordings, Laughter crystallizes my experience of Istanbul. The vulnerable and hesitant expression of a child—oscillating between joy, curiosity, puzzlement, anxiety…—set in a vast underground architectural space of great beauty and simplicity, highlights the capacity of sound to mediate between self and self; self and others; people and places. In the now quasi-empty Cistern, stone, water, color and darkness combine to create a haven in the 'belly' of the City.

During a broadcast on National Turkish Radio, a journalist remarked, off air, that she could not see any connection between Laughter and the ‘sounds of the city’ she knows. I pointed out that my intention was not to reproduce existing sounds - as a sound archive would, but to present a synthesis of my experience, and, in so doing, enable new sounds of the city to be heard. From this perspective, Laughter redefines itself as ‘adding a sound to the soundscape of the City'; or, to express it another way, making the gift of a (new) sound to the City, by giving back to the city what she already owned…

Laughter exists as a sound track available on CD [2] and as a photo-sound installation, incorporating the original recording of the performance, with either one, three, five or six photographs, according to the version. The version presented here is the most compact, and truer to the postcard genre - small, portable, low resolution, unassuming, expendable - in which the visual and sonic evidence provided do not attempt to contend with the original performance, but rather to conjure up the memory of a singular event, in absentia.

[2]: Published in: Earshot, no. 4, the Journal of the UK and Ireland Soundscape Community.