Bahar Yürükoğlu

Let introduce you in few words as subjective as it can be.

Basically I’m a multidisciplinary artist living in Istanbul for a year now. I work with video and photography, installation and performance, mostly dealing with the landscape but also working within the space of galeries to talk about experiences, perception, playing with color and light, form, and the way we experience and see things.


You were born and you grew up in Washington, you came as you said to Istanbul one year ago now, how does it feel to live here and and why Istanbul ?

I had always wanted to live here. We use to come every year when I was growing up, and I came on this residency in 2015 as testing the water to see if I could live here, how it was like in the artworld. And then I felt pretty inspired being here. The energy of the city is a lot in a good way and in a bad way too. I decided when I went back after the residency that I would move. I was living in Boston at the time. A lot of people say « what are you doing here » but I also say that there is also an history that I am looking for. So in addition to feel inspired by the city, also exploring the connection to the past that I never knew and as far as living here, a lot has happened. People are maybe expecting at some point but it makes things a little more challenging. I feel like I’m happy to be here with my family and my friends to experience this with them I guess. Trying to find a positive spin here.


You did an artist residency in Arctic what is the importance of doing it ?

I love artist residency for a few reasons. One is that it takes me to a landscape where I want to work in like Iceland or the Arctic, I really enjoy this extreme landscapes. So finding a base, going there for few days to see if it really works is not enough, you have to spend time to see if you’re gonna make work in that place. Artist residency allows me to do that and also it gives me space and time just to make art, it takes you away from everything that you are working on daily. And you meet people from all over the world which is a great way to start a dialogue about all sort of topics and that dialogue usually keeps going after the residency. I like this really cold dehydrated, I mean there is like just white and blue, much less color and also dehydrated from the sounds and things that we see when you live in an urban environment all the time. So I can focus on what I bring to the space and make a work about that.


What was the aim through this last residency and your work which was on display few months ago in Istanbul at Arter ?

Basically I wanted to make work based on the experience of being there. I can’t make a judgement about a place. I can just say how I experienced it. I worked in a couple different ways, I made work when I was there, made photographs, intervention in the landscape and also straight landscape photographs. Also this video performance piece that was something I wanted to do before to see like what happen if I’m the last person in the world. Coming back to the space, since I work with installation a lot, working site-specific and how I can transform my experience into this gallery, so I build the floor with a terrain and I made the air conditioner to be cold. Being up there, a lot of what I experienced was this changing light because the sun is up twenty-four hours in summer and back to the winter it’s down. You don’t see the sun at all. Taking that and working with the plexiglas and building an installation in there, thinking about what would it be from inside an iceberg. So I created this sort of abstracted that I call ‘plexiberg’. People would come in and experience, suddenly think about the shift in light that was happening to the video projectors and also think about what is real here, what is not like this projection made by the color of the plexi, is it the plexi itself or is that a projection or etc.

And there was sound, it was so subtle but up throughout the space. Like in the ‘plexiberg’ there was the sound of an iceberg melting. I recorded when I was there and then as you would walk into the floor installation with the sound of my footstep in the snow and then you would go through that and still here that and then at the end there was this surreal sound that I recorded in the scientific base up there, which was the sound of these birds called arctic terns which they travel the longest everywhere, they go to from the south pole to the north pole every year and they are really protective of their environment so they make these really scary noises so that mixed with this disco coming from somebody’s car up there. It was just like this experience of being in a completely strange, surreal landscape. You know you have nature and also these reminders of society.


I read that you see the world as geometrical forms, could you tell us more about this ?

A lot about the way that I see , I mean for everybody the way that we see comes from how we are raised, what we are used to. So for me you know I come from a certain socio economic time and place, being like the suburbs of Washington DC in the 80’s and still even now living in a urban environment, structures take on these shapes and I take that way of seeing. Well a brick is a rectangle, then a mountain becomes a triangle or a pyramid, everything becomes related somehow in that geometric sense.


Also the use of colour through plexiglas material reminds me to this 80’s aesthetics. Do you have any influence from the light and space movement or from any other ?

I would say both probably because I’ve been raised in a certain time, like that color palette is really familiar to me and some people who are like older or younger might not have the same experience. For me it is a part of what sort of color the world for me, looking at commercials and looking tv and going to the mall, plus I’m just really attracted to them maybe again because I’m used to it. And then of course, when I found out much later about the light and space movement and really feeling a connection to that, about how colour and light can change the way we experienced the space, and using that to alternate the perceptual faculties of the viewer in the space.

I wouldn’t say like movements influenced my work but my background is photography so just like a lot of photographers have influenced me, the german school of photography that I have always felt connected to cause of their use of space within two dimensional frame of an image. And then I really love brutalist architecture and how they use shape and form and might change the way we might move to space. Also the performance artists that I’m into, it really goes like everywhere.


You seem to create a universe with no real bounds by mixing nature with man-made materials, is it the same in your practice as you use all kind of different mediums or also working outer space and inside a studio ?

Basically I come up with a concept first, and then think about ways I can best execute it. Maybe for something like the video comes up I say « I want to make a video », this is what I want to do and then certain things just have to be photographs because you try to release other sort of experience. And then the installation become for the viewer, it’s about participation. And for sound, it’s like an another medium playing with other senses. It’s a sense that I obviously have but that I don’t use in my work so much so it’s kind of exciting for me to incorporate that to everything now and really build like a full world.


How about the viewer and how he or she get included to your own universe?

I really make the work for people to experience. These installations in particular, I don’t require anything from them. Even just a basic response to color and light is enough but then if people can see past those aesthetic surfaces then it can be more interesting for them. Part of the aesthetic plays that I invite them in and then once they get in they can start questioning the way they see things and how they read what they see. I’m pretty open and I remember the first time I made a installation in Istanbul, my family who had never see my work before came they were like « this is really beautiful but we don’t get it » and I was like, you have some sort of reaction to colour and to what you’re seeing, experiencing and I was like : « you don’t have to get it »


Yes true that’s always the experience that matters.

Yes and then I explain a little more and then they were like : « oh ok I see this abstracted landscape now ». It’s about coming for an experience and thinking about it.


You had your own exploration of space as you went to the Arctic twice (once in summer and once in winter), then when your work were on display for your solo show named « Flow through » (Arter, Istanbul), was it an invitation for the viewer to create its own exploration of space ?

Absolutely, yes. Especially for the floor piece that was really an important participatory experience for them and sort of being aware of the ground that they walk on the space, that they move to and how they move to that space. Especially for talking about art gallery where we don’t think about the floor necessarily unless it falls underneath us and then they start to be aware of how they are moving.


It’s kind of challenging the white cube experience ? I mean going inside this white cube is most of the time very religious as you remind silent as you walk slowly towards the works in order to give yourself to contemplation.

It was really interesting watching people walking there, like they would walk in until they realize their foot fell and then they would say « wow, what just happened » and then they would start to look at the ground and there was videos build into the floor.


Also in your video « The Navigator », the character appears dressed in a golden blanket as if this Navigator would come from another galaxy. How would you describe this character ? Does anyone can refers to or is it more like an alter ego ?

For me it was one thing but I leave it open to all kind of interpretations for what it is to other people. So yes it could be seen like a maybe an alter ego, it’s this post apocalyptic thing that I have to live out and in my mind it was what I would be if I was lost in this expanse of landscape. It would be something that’s reflective to keep me warm and also give signals if somebody was to be out there. It’s a vision of the future that I created in my mind and other people can bring their own interpretation, it can be anybody, it could be any of us.


In the work « This Place », can you tell us more about the idea and about the hyper consumer culture in Turkey ?

Same way as I approached the Arctic, like how do I experience a certain place and for me Istanbul sort of have this characteristics of like highly consumer gene and also aspirational towards a certain level of consumerism, capitalism. At the same time I would think to myself how all these people afford these expensive phones and what’s going on here with the credits system. Lower or upper class, there is hardly an in between so what’s happening ? And so I did some research to the bank credit system and I found out how it works with credit cards, I think it was happening a lot around the world, this banking bubble. So people got credit cards and buy things and then eventually the debt of the country is so great, how would they pay back ? I wanted to work on that and wanted to make a space where they would have to come in and would think about what their role is in that.

So I ended up doing it, going to Eminonu market where you buy all kind of cheap stuffs. And then I had this memory when I was a child we came only once for Christmas or new years and never forget the reflective decorations that my grandmother had hung. I was like there is no way that they still make these things but it’s traditional and they still make them so I just bought them and went to these malls, like insanely expensive shops, the architectures are outrageous. They really build these places to entice consumers so I photographed them, thinking about architecture and the lighting and how they using that to manipulate people. And then the space of the installation, like we have these reflective materials that I use for celebrations here that we buy from the cheap market and I saved all things I consumed on these time like water bottles, umbrellas , candy wrappers, put them all in the space and then made a video projection of these malls. Also I had a LED sign made with a fax running about the economic circumstance, the GDP, how people got this credit cards and that’s referencing all the stories.


It reminds me to this feeling you have when you arrive to Istanbul covered with neon lights.

Yes absolutely, it’s strange and it’s something people visually respond to and it’s part of the culture here now. I think people doesn’t realize how, it wasn’t like this ten years ago, much cleaner light like we didn’t have all this visual pollution and I wonder sometimes, does people realize how this affect their mood or their experience. And it’s changing the people inside, they don’t even realize it, light affects people so much that they don’t even think about it so that’s fascinating.


So as we said you had your solo show named « Flow through » last spring at Arter in Istanbul, do you consider the space of the exhibition as a place where hope is still a thing in the Turkish art context ? (According to recent events where exhibitions are deleted or postponed)

I think it’s gonna be harder now, a lot of people will have to be careful with the language that they use with words and visuality. It will be up to the institutions to be careful with the language, what they show and I think there is definitely a way to do it that isn’t obvious. I think really good institutions such as Salt and Arter or the Biennale will be able to navigate this because they are professional and smart. It’s going to change but there is a smart way to do it still.

For the show at arter, there was a bombing a week before, a couple doors down, so that really affected people coming out, people get scared. But it’s was very satisfying seeing people coming, this engagement, like a grandmother would bring children and ask them questions which is great.


Any dream place where you would like to show your work ? (Exhibition space or anywhere else in natural environment)

That’s such a good question. At the top of my head, I would say the Hirshhorn museum in Washington because the space is so challenging. And you open it up to anywhere so I would say, talking about exhibition, I’d love make a huge installation in the desert of West of America like Utah where there is amazing caverns and sand structures, I think that would be very great environment too for a massive installation.


How would you describe the word ART and what does is mean to you ?

Oh I guess I would say art is life and life is art basically. Sometimes I walk around and you know this potatoes salers on Istiklal doing Kumpir with these butter sculptures and I’m like why do I even make anything when these people are making this amazing butter sculptures. I guess art is everything but not in a pretentious way. That’s a tough question it’s everything and nothing. Art is open. Art is whatever we want it to be, that’s really what it is.


Interview by Fiona Vilmer, writer specialized in contemporary art.
Photographs and text courtesy of the artist.