Interview with self-service art founders Ayça Ceylan ve Pınar Derin Gençer

In order to discover self-service art that we first met in May through “To Remember/To Forget Performance days”, we discussed with performance artist/curator Ayça Ceylan and artist/curator/medical doctor Pınar Derin Gençer who are the founders of the project.

Neriman Arslan: Neriman Arslan: As self-service art’s both founders and curators, let’s start with you, who are you? What kind of people are you? What are you?

Pınar Derin Gençer:: I am an artist, curator and medical doctor based on Istanbul and Stockholm. I mainly work on performance art, visual arts, installation, writing and objects. In my artwork, I examine the relationships of physical, psychological and historical arena of the nature, the life and the city with the human being. I do research in the fields of power, emptiness and ideology especially on human mind, body and soul. I am the founder of Istanbul Performance Art and the founder/curator of 24 Hours Art. I embrace minimalism both in life and art. I have to mention that Sweden has been a huge influence on my interest in minimalism. I wouldn’t know the exact reason, it might be my current state of mind or being in my thirties but I could just say that I am in a period of integration with the state of being a ‘woman’ Proust made a statement that I admire and that gives me a sense of belonging: “Je n’étais qu’un coeur qui battait”. Yes, I was just a beating heart.
​Ayça Ceylan: I cannot answer your question of ‘who are you?” with one specific definition of myself. However, if we wonder around my identities, the common issue of them all, is how they perceive the human kind. As such It seems like I am talking about a majority growing big but I hope that my next sentences are going to explain my fetish of minor My problem originates from a very personal place. I try to focus on issues related to my daily life as much as possible. As I try to define my identities, it feels good to get interested in psychology, literature, dancing and physics. Combining dance, psychology, and particle physics, I examine and experience our exchange of identities via performances and workshops through the way that the body and the space interpret and structure each other. All these workshops and performances can also be described as my family that helps my self-healing. As we heal ourselves, our interaction with everything else also starts to be healed, maybe the truth is hidden in what is defined as ‘minor’…


NA: As we move on from your definitions of self or your undefined characteristics, the next stop is Self-Service Art that you have founded and have been curating together. Well, what is this ‘Self-Service Art’?

PDG:We define self-service art as an Istanbul-based space of experience transfer. Stemming from the states of interaction between the viewer and the viewed, our aim is that any kind of art discipline can find a place for itself. We want to spread this state of experience transfer that is nowadays mostly limited to the interaction between the work of the artist and the viewer, to all forms of interaction (artist-viewer, viewer-viewer, artist-artist, curator-assistant etc…) both in our structure and in all of our events. We are trying to turn it into something more vibrant.

NA:We have found out where Self-Service Art comes from. Well, where is it going to? How does it work? It doesn’t look like a project that appeals only to the artists, what are the tangible differences?

PDG: We have four sections consisting of self-service exhibition, self-service performance, self-service talk and self-service workshop. We set two different themes dealing with contrasting concepts; one in spring-summer term and the other in autumn-winter term. The season that we started with the theme ‘To Remember/To Forget’, will be followed by ‘The Good/the Bad’ in autumn-winter term and then by ‘The Beautiful/The Ugly’. We want people to question these concepts that are actually familiar to them and are very often used in their daily lives, once more, this time from our perspective. The venue of the event varies according to the content of the event. We are cooperating with various venues.
NA: Why it isn’t a project that focuses solely on performance art but it also involves talks, workshops and exhibitions?

AC: We thought that contrasting concepts could not define themselves well enough without 4 sections which we set as exhibition, performance, speech and workshop. Each theme must have a correspondence in all of the four fields. Self-service art may be considered as a new home to diversity and dialog among fields. This new home is a space that is connected to its past, cares about listening and wants to interact with its surroundings as much as possible, wherever that might be happening.


NA: You have themes for each season and four sections built on those. For instance, if we consider the last ‘performance days’, how did you proceed after setting up the theme?

PDG: We proceeded with the artists that we chose through the open call or the ones that we invited. We believe that open call is an effective method in reaching out to the artists who we haven’t met yet or haven’t ran into their works.

AC: While forming the content of the open call text, we paid close attention to these; as the text tells its own story, should also leave space to the reader, shouldn’t take a closed structure and shouldn’t make people feel restricted…

NA: You had made an open call for the performance. Do you also intend to make open calls for all four main sections?  

AC: For now, we are considering open calls for performances and exhibitions. We reach out to the people that we have appointed.


NA: We have found out that your relationship with “time” progresses twice a year, in two seasons. How does your relationship with “space” evolve?

AC: We prefer to cooperate with various venues. We have the intention to choose the most suitable space that each theme and 4 sections matching that theme can relate to. For this reason, our cooperation with venues are not limited to areas such as galleries and museums.

NA:Derin, you are also the founder of Istanbul Performance Art that is focused on performance art. As you continue to actively work in such a structure, we see you in another structure that contains performance too.

PDG: Istanbul Performance Art is the first international platform aiming to present performances and projects in the fields of associated art branches by embracing the performance art and interdisciplinary approach. The platform set out to produce special projects, sources, and publications for those who read, study, teach, write, archive and perform the performance art; and to create innovations and diversity through the development of the performance art. Therefore, my main focus in this structure is the performance art. On the other hand, in self-service art, performance is one of four existing sections. In our framework, we equally value each field. In this structure, our focus is not only performance.


NA: Speaking of performance, let’s also talk about why you distinguished performance from this exhibition concept and why you privatized it. Though people might think like “As the exhibition is already included in Self-Service Art, why performance does exists separately?” It actually is a very significant issue. How did you decide to proceed with regard to this issue?

AC: In the structure, 4 sections that we have determined as exhibition, performance, talk and workshop may act as each other’s side event but they shall not be primarily positioned as a side event. The same goes specifically for performance art too. Performance should not restricted to being a side event of an exhibition. It is possible but its potential to become a habit is kind of scary. I am going to approach the issue personally, here is how the story goes; I am focusing on the performance art and the problem of institutional archive in my thesis. And in the field of performance art, as in many other fields, the history is sometimes transferred inaccurately. Several structures tend to ignore their predecessors. However, we sometimes forget how valuable the sharing of memory is. Everything is unique and has a value on its own. We are looking at “How can we appreciate it as much as possible?” It is important to appreciate something as much as possible and to discuss and explain if we can give it the value it deserves or not. There is an equilibrium within the structure itself. It can also be thought of as a need of circular integration.


NA:”Balance” is an important choice of word. According to what you have told us, it is also related to you both individually and structurally. Could it be one of the reasons why you chose contrasting concepts?

PDG: The themes that we choose are mainly perceived as simple things yet actually are important concepts that we frequently use, think about and experience during the flow of life. As we process contrasting concepts in our daily lives, we always appreciate one more than the other. We believe that the beautiful is better than the ugly, the right is better than the wrong and remembering is better than forgetting; this is how we make our judgments. We, on the other hand, are on the side where the ugly and the beautiful are equally valuable, just like the wrong and the right; forgetting and remembering.

AC: Focusing on contrasting concepts is a state of need deriving from our daily lives. For example, I and Derin are two people who are alike and at the same time who possess different opinions on many issues. However, we can maintain both our friendship and our production relationship despite all these states that could be described as contrasting. There is a very delicate balance here, listening to and appreciating each other. This need is not just mine, Derin’s or yours; it is everyone’s. For the collective memory to be repaired, diversities shall coexist and status relations among them shall be eliminated as much as possible. Dialogs begin if we also consider our common characteristics despite our oppositions or make those encounter each other somewhere.


NA: You are both individually independent artists and curators. Considering this situation, how does curatorship proceed for the curators who are also artists?

PDG: : Being a simultaneous blend of three different disciplines, causes me to approach everything from a different perspective and sensitivity. The mastery of human mind, soul and body that being a medical doctor gave me, provides diversity and convenience in my interaction patterns as a curator. Having the artist’s sensitivity allows me to act by taking into account the fact that the person with whom we establish a relationship during the exhibition or the performance, is a being who has been through the sensitivity of intensive production process and also has emotions. Especially for the curatorship of the performance art, the sensitivity of the bound you establish becomes much more important because what you curate is not the work of the artist but the artist itself.

AC: When you compare the curatorship of an exhibition to the curatorship of a performance, just like there are some common characteristics, there are also a number of differences in the communication strategy. For both of the disciplines, the organic bond is important but I believe that this bond tends to increase spontaneously if the issue is performance art. It is necessary to meet in person with the artists and witness their preparation process as much as possible or to say “How are you doing? Let’s have a coffee and chat?” In general, to be able to communicate. Otherwise, we immediately realize the negative vibe that the lack of communication creates and the restlessness. As you know, there are many cases like this and we all underline “sincerity” when it comes to that, well it is very important to give the message that you are sincerely present and ready for initiating dialog.