Interview with Performistanbul on the Memory Conversion Exhibition

Interview Yonca Keremoğlu

What concepts is Performistanbul’s new exhibition titled “Memory Conversion” built on? What kinds of experiences does it offer to the audience?

When SENKRON invited our platform to “Simultaneous Video Exhibitions”, we focused on how we can convey the memory of the performance to the audience in the most vivid and natural way. We have been working with Simge to document, archive and re-exhibit all the performances we have performed since our establishment to reflect the moment in the best way. The video documentation of the performance, if it is not a performance for camera/video performance, often becomes a recording of the process where editing is minimized, or it is edited in search of the best way to convey the action and process in the performance. Based on this, we focused on how we can convey the experience and feeling of the performance in a three dimentional new space while sharing the documentation, which is the memory of a performance, with the audience. Memory; connects us to the present by bringing the past into the present. However, unless the record and archive is kept, it may tend to change, transform or even disappear. In order to make the memory permanent and collective, it becomes a necessity to record the process and keep an archive in order to be able to share it again. “Memory Conversion” presents a memory belonging to a different time and place to the audience in a new form through its archive and memory. It invites to experience/feel the transformed memory of the performance with the different senses of the body and to reflect on what the artist wants to leave behind.

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2021, Gülhatun Yıldırım, Senin Yarın Su (2020), performance documentation installation, video 58’12”, glass, water, thin and thick nylon covers, Memory Conversion exhibition, Curator: Performistanbul, Senkron, within the scope of “Simultaneous Video Exhibitions”, PCSAA, Istanbul

What concepts on memory were you inspired when creating this exhibition? How does Pierre Nora’s places of memory, the connection of memory with places and space express itself in this exhibition?

Pierre Nora describes the volatility of memory and the archive as being the main remnant of it, can can cause deliberate memory loss as it grows. You can save and archive the entire 5-hour performance, but it may not mean that you should show the whole archive to transfer the memory of that performance. We can’t expect a viewer to watch such an archive from beginning to end. This is exactly why we worked with our artists on multisensory installations that carry the performance from 2nd to 3rd dimension that appeal to different senses, so that the audience can internalize the perfomance in the video better which focuses to transfer the memory and feeling of the performance. Just as fragments of the memory, fragments from the performance meet with the audience in this exhibition.

While constructing the exhibition, we first discussed the time and place we live in. All of the works included in the “Memory Conversion” were carried out during the pandemic period. Coming to the venue, you enter through the old iron cast door of a restored historical building in one of the labyrinthine narrow and dead-end streets of the Galata district, a historical district of Istanbul. Afterwards, to reach the basement where the performance installations and documentation are located, you first have to pass through the art research area which is a memory space where our archives are, and then you have to cross a floor, which is also a memory area, where various remains and documentation from our collection are located.
In performance documentation videos, you watch the performance in a selected frame through a lens – in other words, from a different perspective. You are bringing a moment that existed in a certain place and time to present in a new place. This is where the “Memory Conversion” begins. It becomes completely different how our mind and body percieves the memory of the performance and what its left behind while you are experiencing the performance one-on-one or watching the documentation of it later on for the first time or again.
As in Pierre Nora’s “places of memory”, “Memory Conversion” focuses on the memory of the performance rather than its memory in a moment; by transforming pure memory, it tries to retransmit it in a way based on the experience of both the artist and the audience.

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2021, Mk Yurttaş, , Dark organic soil formed by the decay of plants over a very long time(2020), performance documentation installation, video 1’1”19”, glass plate, petri dish, milk, cocoa, tahini, lemon , cumin, garlic powder, boiled chickpeas, Memory Conversion  exhibition, Curator: Performistanbul, Senkron, within the scope of “Simultaneous Video Exhibitions”, PCSAA, Istanbul

How did the performance documentation and installations of the artists in the exhibition formed? How did the works come together and how do they communicate with each other? Can you explain a little bit?

“Memory Conversion” consists of a series of performance documentation and installations of our three artists. Gülhatun Yıldırım’s You Are Half Water, Mk Yurttaş’s Dark organic soil formed by the decay of plants over a very long time, and Leman Sevda Darıcıoğlu’s White Roses, Pink Glitter. The fact that each of these works have been created during the pandemic period and examining the artist’s experiences through the interaction of the materials that they used with their body in the performances was the main guide for the installations.
Working one-on-one with the artists for each performance, we focused on what they felt, what they heard, what they saw and what they experienced during the performance process. We wanted to convey the feeling of the performance on the artist and/or the audience beyond the senses of sight and hearing. Thus, installations accompanying the documentation videos took shape through senses such as touch and smell, which we felt lacking in this period. We wanted to emphasize the return to three-dimensional life and the moment by taking the performances out off the screen.
In Gülhatun Yıldırım’s work, water, which she frequently works with and which is one of the main materials of the performance, was the center of the installation. It is a material that reflects the heat and the movement of the area which it is in. The floor of the space was covered with layered nylons.
The sound of the plastic bag that came out with every move of the artist who was in it during the performance was spread to the venue as well within every movement of the visitor. The thin nylon, which marked the end of the space, moved with the slightest breeze created in the space, made a reference to the wind where the performance took place.
The most striking experience in Mk Yurttaş’s performance was that he left the participants under the influence of strong scent waves in a certain order. In the exhibition, there were ingredients (milk, cocoa, tahini, lemon, cumin, garlic powder, boiled chickpeas) arranged in order of performance on a pedestal placed opposite the video. They were also accompanied by a letter written by the artist, in which he shared his own experience.
In the last of the series, Leman Sevda Darıcıoğlu’s installation, pink glitters, the main material of the performance, overflowed the screen and took over the surface of the space in a liquefied form. The artist uses the surface of the space as the surface of her own body. After the performance is over, the glitters that remained on her body and hair even after she takes a shower, and which she encounters among her house and belongings after days, covered the exhibition area and left the space with the visitors as being a part of them.

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2021, Leman Sevda Darıcıoğlu, White Roses, Pink Glitters  (2020),performance documentation installation, video 20’08”, pink glitters, pink glitter wallpaper, pink light,Memory Conversion exhibition,Curator: Performistanbul, Senkron “Simultaneous Video” Exhibitions”, PCSAA, Istanbul

Does “Memory Conversion” connect with Performistanbul’s exhibition “This Is Not a Performance” held in 2018? In what ways does it connect?

The exhibition “This Is Not a Performance”, hosted by Daire Sanat in 2018, aimed to bring together the remains of the performance with the audience. By turning it focus on process and transformation, it aimed to reveal the “traces” of performance art, which is an intangible discipline, with objects that turn into works at the end of the process. “How can something that is no longer existed would be exhibited? How can the memory of a performance would be transferred?” We continue to explore the ways in which performance art is exhibited again through questions. In this exhibition, besides the remains of the performance, a sound recording was accompanied by a recording of how they felt about the remains of their performance and shared their experiences. In this context, we can say that “Memory Conversion” is a continuation of the “This Is Not a Performance” exhibition and our research in this field that we continue with our artists.

What do you think about the position of performance arts in the times when we are more connected to virtuality with the pandemic and we do not feel human interaction closely enough?

It has been a difficult time for everyone; we have seen all over the world that coming together, having collective experiences, getting close to each other, touching and hugging, breathing the same air are vital needs. The fact that physicality, common time and space sharing, which constitute the basic elements of performance art, is almost indispensable for this discipline, of course, deeply affected this field and the artists. But, like every discipline, this discipline has to evolve, adapt to the conditions it is in and continue the search for a new language. After the first shutdown in Turkey, we published a call titled “Stay LIVE at Home” on March 17, 2020, open to all performance artists. The purpose of this invitation was to continue our support to gather performance artists under one roof, to protect their productions and to bring their projects to life even it is in digital enviroment. At the same time, based on the unifying and healing power of performance art, we wanted to support the artistic production of performance artists from different geographies and practices, to bring them together with new audiences and most importantly to create a community. All the artists who responded to our call supported both the dissemination of the project and the growth of the community by nominating a different artist. Within the scope of the project, which lasted for one year, we performed 107 performances with 75 artists from 20 countries. In this process, although the physically shared space was not the same, artists and audiences met conceptually at home or in a place that we felt as home. Simultaneously, the performances reached the audience, as all the performances were performed live, which was the only criterion. Artists and viewers sharing different time zones in different geographies were able to meet at the same time thanks to the digital space which would not be possible in a physical environment. Of course, we do not argue that the future of performance art is digital. But in this process, we have experienced abundantly that this is also a medium and a field.


The questions were answered by the co-curators of Memory Conversion exhibition, Simge Burhanoğlu and Azra İşmen.

Yonca Keremoğlu, June 2021