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When I came across Melling’s engraving Harem years ago, I could sense that something baleful was about to happen. There was something averting me to regard it as a picture. The whole composition was depicted with incredible precision and there was no room left for any gap.

Harem, which was actually forbidden to men, was recreated with Melling’s imagination.  The images of women in this picture, shaped through discourses and rumors on Harem, looked like trapped within their own representations. Melling created the harem scene in an architectural cross-section employing the one-point perspective principle in the most precise manner. The figures shaped within the Orientalist fantasies of the age became part of a distinctly scientific description… I guess this is why I was drawn into this hex; I wanted to tear this scene apart and get into it…

The unknown knowns, the things that we actually know but not aware of... All this exactly points to the Freudian subconscious. In spite of the crystal clear operation of ideology, we cannot get rid of the beliefs, values and assumptions stuck upon us yet we are unaware of. Can we find a way to confront all these? Can art set the stage for these encounters? By performing concepts and norms, the artist reveals the uncanny within them, and the space, formerly embodied as the given ideology, turns into a functioning space… and reveals itself in this practice. The intention is not to describe, interpret or define the world… Designing stages to give a chance to the unknown knowns and to recall the suppressed… The stage allows art and artists to act within and beyond the given norms and concepts. It enables exchange and replacement between the world of art and the world of non-art.

I consider staging as different than performance; it is, in fact, the working space of the performative. Since we are talking about the unknown knowledge and the knowledge that is not aware of itself in a Lacanian sense, through my practice I should manifest my doubts about the processes of interpretation and signification.

First, I try to deal with Harem by drawing; this will help me to discover what’s going on in my brain and the ghosts haunting my mind. I seek the traces of my obsessions through the images embodied in the fluidity of ink. Drawing is like a vehicle carrying me to the other side… I think it will directly reflect my sincerity; however at the moment images appear on paper, the process starts falsifying me: the impossibility of expression… Then, I have to set traps to catch myself off guard while at work. To reveal the hidden in the presence, I have to push the limits of drawing… I am in need of different techniques…

And I keep facing Melling’s Harem on and on...

The women wandering around in Harem, these frozen figures are thrown out of time... They look like walking in a dream. The contour lines have squeezed them so hard that they spend an enormous effort not to exhale. I force them to act and to reveal whatever they suppress.

In Turkey, people experience politics as part of their daily life. So we continuously try to fill the gaps between incidents and concepts. In view of the incredible pace, obscenity and harshness of events, the antagonistic tension between different viewpoints are neutralized and consequently disappear within the multiplicity of viewpoints.  The indifferent attitude born out of a global tolerance makes it impossible to give a sensible response to any sort of contradiction. Everything is clear but at the same time deeply mysterious.   Belief systems primarily nourish this mystery; democracy, women’s rights and personal freedom lose their sharp edges in this atmosphere such that, leftist arguments are continuously reshaped according to the needs and demands of the self-victimizing parties. Under these circumstances, all forms of expression the victims would use to express their victimhood are neutralized. Democracy inevitably turns into a ghost within the daily discourse of the political party in power.

What sort of a game is this?  It not only takes us in and lets us speak, but also throws us out and leaves in desperation… Transforming this mechanism into a stage and performing it with fictitious, unstable identities and loosening the given norms through repetition...

As a field of knowledge production, art has to find itself another status among all these.  At this point, the representational politics nourished by leftist views, offset by irony, are annulled.  The artist struggling with this ambiguity has to develop new strategies.

If we follow a Foucaultian discourse and consider power as the transforming instrument of the subject, condition of its existence and the trajectory of its desire, then power will be something not only we resist to, but also, we strongly depend on for our being and also something we shelter and keep within our existence.

I deal with every figure separately on the stage of Harem;
For that, I have to get into Harem and assign a role to each figure.  I have to draw the women of Harem in to this game. Each scene is shot in the studio. I meet the girls in the atelier before shooting. I ask them to forget whatever they learnt about dance. “How so?” they ask. It will be tough work; dance has been pervaded in their hands, waists and feet.  It is needed to vehemently force the aesthetic memory of the body. There is a creature inside; we have to let it out. To allow these creatures to realize themselves, I prepare a second skin for them from striped, elastic fabric; a body within the body… The bodies of the girls create their own spaces within the gap in these pyjamas; in this way, our action field expands. During the shootings, we seduce each other in such a way that my identity is erased in this mess…

In fact, we can consider the limits of the body as the hegemonic limits of the social. This mutual process of dependence and construction generates fantasies oscillating between presence and absence.  How could bodily acts generate strategies to deal with these norms and fictions haunting the body? If an original model is absent, do not our acts as a figure, I mean as a figure of a figure, carry us to a playground?  In this way, the identity fictions of the power, assumed to be regulating, turn into a production space composed of imitations without an origin - to act as if…  and all these agencies looping within themselves put identity into a fluid state and the performativity of the body gives room for the re-creation of signification and context.  At this point, there is not a definite subject, but other factors that shatter the subject...  Now, I’m speaking, acting out... Although I have long lost my faith in the directness of expression, I keep on. That’s why, I have to stage myself and act in a fluid form. I act out by carrying the signs of discourses; I have to construct stages where I can work on countless signifiers of culture and the hegemon imprinted on my face and my body. For me, the stage is a given public and historical reference, and I invite gender acts with their cultural, imaginary and symbolic load to the game taking place on this stage.

Judith Butler;
In which senses, then, gender is an act? As in other ritualistic social dramas, acting gender requires a repeated performance. This repetition is at once a reenactment and reexperiencing of a set of meanings already socially built; besides it is the mundane and ritualized form of their legitimation.  

I have no affiliation with performance art. (I make a distinction between performance and performative here.) In my memory, I carry the traces of an adolescent body tearing out of my child body, and I have to discover where and how these body parts were joined to one another. I have to expose the ghosts haunting me in the depths of my memory… I force them to uncover whatever they hide.

In continuous repetition, there is something that protects me from all the simple interpretations… We spend an extraordinary effort to catch something alive among so many corpses. We meet at the studio for fragments. Patterns guide us.

Abu Ghraib,
Put over paper bags on their heads, detached from sight ... Their bodies have a single space: flesh and blood. This is how violence tears the soul apart; the body left alone with the voice of the torturer and physical pain… The body with obstructed sight… This is where the words run out, psychoanalysis fails, knowledge, conscious all collapse.

Women performing namaz,
It is obvious that Melling had fantasized this scene; this is not how women actually stand while they pray.
I transform them into doer, activist women. I thrust images instead of words into to girls hands.  Bones to one of them, intestines and a monkey with a girl’s head to the other...  these are pieces of the artists vocabulary. As they get ready to protest, one of them gets sleepy. The moment they are about to act, these images nail them down. The girl keeps yawning; the sound comes from this body…

In Melling’s Harem, there is a woman in the Western attire of the period; I imagine her as Lady Montagu. She wants to observe Ottoman women and make it a part of her memories, and in this way, these women will be sited soon as a paragraph in the letters of a Western emissary woman.  Image of an image and the image of that image… a chain of imagery looping within itself, they are looping in a space where the original does not exist.

I leave the floor to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. She is writing her observations of the Ottoman Palace in a letter, Adrianople, 1 April 1717:

 ‘Tis very easy to see they have more liberty than we have, no woman, of what rank so ever being permitted to go in the streets without two muslins, one that covers her face all but her eyes and another that hides the whole dress of her head, and hangs half way down her back and their shapes are so wholly concealed by a thing they call a ferace which no woman of any sort appears without. This has straight sleeves that reach to their fingers ends and it laps all round them, not unlike a riding hood. In winter ‘tis of cloth and in summer plain stuff or silk. You may guess then how effectually this disguises them, that there is no distinguishing the great lady from her slave and ‘tis impossible for the most jealous husband to know his wife when he meets her, and no man dare either touch or follow a woman in the street.

I start from Velasquez’s Las Meninas, and I reach Lacan.
In Melling, a woman with a bundle in her hand walks; I gave her a mirror; she carries the image of the artist; the scream comes from there. I have locked myself in Lacan’s mirror; I mean, I trapped myself in an image…

In the picture, one of the male figures is at the forefront and center, the woman and this man are glancing each other; it can be a bargain between the eunuch and the woman. The eunuch is responsible for the women in Harem and he is castrated, therefore he is the representative of an impotent power. He wears bear costume and an Andy Warhol design disco ball ties them to each other. Synthetic animal furs have been part of my vocabulary since 2000.

Another inevitable figure for me is the girl who studies art history. She faces the entire hall and holds Dictionary of Art Terms in her hand; narrating the article “sculpture” through a musical composition… This whimsical group needs guidance.

Girls who are trying to cope with their own jouissance have been scattered around.  The ones trying to break free from their own bodies, the girl struggling to hang herself from her hair etc…

The upper floor could be the girls’ dormitory or a wedding night. In the bed Melling designed, a girl gives birth to dead bodies while others are carrying dead bodies; actually, they’re trying to place dead bodies in another body for resurrection.

Melling’s lesbian women are the inevitable fantasy of Harem. I transform them to girls who are trying to discover each other’s fallus.

…I force the girl hopelessly digging the ground with a pickaxe to replace with Mellings female figure about to leave the room. Could this place be the dormitory of a boarding school or a prison? Can one find a way to get away from this place? Can I get rid of the weight of all these meanings loaded on my body?

To the shadow peeping through the door ajar, I assign the role of Melling.;

Melling was only 20 years old when he first visited Istanbul. He starts to earn his living by giving painting courses to the children of ambassadors as a designer who had been trained partly as an architect and a sculptor. He contributes to the Westernization process of the Ottoman with his neo-classical style gardens, waterside mansion facades, elegant furniture designs and watercolor landscapes of Istanbul. In the meantime, he produces a series of watercolors to be published later in Paris: the album was titled as Voyage Pittoresque de Constantinple et des Rives du Bosphore (1763-1831) also included Harem.  Later on, he dedicates himself to the service of Hatice Sultan, sister of Selim the Third. He then moves to the palace of Hatice Sultan and gains a privileged status there. As Master Melling, he designs embroidery, quilted turbans, pearl robes and elegant dresses for the sultan.  Exchange of letters between them starts with daily orders and directives written with Latin Alphabet Hatice Sultan learned from Melling, these exchanges soon turn into Mellings expressions of begging for mercy.  Nobody knows the whole story... Their correspondence continue until he is fired...  

His last letter to Hatice Sultan:

I recall the moments when milady called upon her servant: Those times, I obeyed her orders immediately at daylight and night, on each and every rainy, snowy, windy and sunny day. Now, I don’t know why you ignore your servant when he is in trouble. Winter is coming. I must go to Beyoðlu, but how? Im penniless. My landlord wants the rent, I need coal and firewood, what’s more, my daughter caught smallpox, these are my troubles, but I do not have a single penny. I pray you to give me 1000 kuruþ for not deserting me in this situation; otherwise I cannot find a way out. I’ve lost my mind. May Her Royal Highness pardon me, I have written this letter since Im troubled.

What is the Sum of Recurrently? This is a book by Jalal Toufic realizing a new creative process based on the Harem video… I leave the floor to Jalal Toufic: 

What is the sum of a night of jouissance, which is tantamount to a thousand nights of desire, and a night of desire? It is: a thousand and one nights. Yes, one way of reading A Thousand and One Nights's title is to reckon that it refers to both the night of jouissance that the king espied in the garden of his palace, a night tantamount to a thousand nights of desire, and the messianic Night of storytelling by Shahrazad, a night in which she told myriad stories –

Who wrote or narrated the frame story of A Thousand and One Nights, more specifically the scene of the orgy in the garden? Who is describing it? Is that description an adequate one? Is that how King Shahrayar perceived it, if not hallucinated it? Is that how he reviewed it in his nightmares?

Was  Shahrazad able to reconstruct the events of that day from the reactions of the king to what he saw in the secluded garden of his palace as well as to the myriad stories that she told him during their messianically inordinate Night? Whatever the answer, a “night” is missing from A Thousand and One Nights, the one Shahrazad should have spent narrating to  Shahrayar the events of the frame story, in particular what he witnessed in the garden of his palace on the night he discovered the betrayal of his wife – in the process narrating to him the occasion for her subsequent narration. Since the book we presently have does not include such a narration by Shahrazad, one of the outstanding tasks in relation to A Thousand and One Nights has been not so much to do an audiovisual adaptation of various episodes of the work (as, for example, Pasolini did in his Arabian Nights, 1974), but to provide a fitting rendition if not of the entirety of the frame story then of the episode in the secluded garden that Shahrayar apprehended. I consider that Eviner's Harem is an artistic adaptation of the missing narration by Shahrazad in  A Thousand and One Nights.

And I leave the floor to Harem; 2009, 3’’ loop, video installation.

Ýnci Eviner

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