For the opening of the 2015 calendar we have two exhibitions from/about Turkey. Sarah Pannell’s project explores Turkey via the Euphrates River and subtlety hints at the recently heightened tensions embedded in the region.
Your project is about migration and growing up as a Turkish woman in Australia and especially Mildura. To understand your video works I think some inside information about your family is required. Tell us about your parents and what they have achieved in Australia.
I’ve always loved hearing about my parents’ journey to Australia and their achievements. Living in farmhouses in their village to share houses in Brunswick not knowing a word of English. They worked in hard labour by learning through body language – trial and error. Like many other immigrants my parents initial plan was to work in factories for a few years, earn money and return to Turkey. Life became easier and they began to build a life here, they started living the “Australian dream”. They were supporting their families in Turkey, providing for our family, paying mortgage and visiting their families in Turkey whenever they had the chance. Now that they have retired, their ultimate happiness is spending time with their grandkids. For them, this is an achievement.
For your Honours project at La Trobe University you held your assessment exhibition during Mildura Palimpsest #9 in your parents Kebab shop (which I miss). Can you tell us a little about this work?
During my Honours year, my research was based on Nicholas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics. An art movement which emerged in Europe and America in the 1990s. It generally observes artists who produce work about social interactivity that relates to a particular space. In this case, holding a participatory event during the Mildura Palimpsest added to the success of cross-cultural interactions in the kebab shop where my family was also present. This work explored the notions of cross-cultural interaction that mainly took place in the store by setting up security cameras and recording the act of intervening with the guests and customers alike. The participants were asked to meet at the back lane behind the shop and welcomed in to interact with one another and eat food that was made by my family.
A part of the work also explored independence and ephemerality. The use of a neon sign that read in Turkish text istiklal meaning independence was a representation of mine and my parent’s identity in Australia. The de-contextualised elements in my photos and installations acted as a metaphor for lived experience- decomposition, deterioration and the remnant becoming a symbol of my parents’ life in Australia.
How were these videos made? Was it a casual approach or did you have to bribe your parents and family?
HAHA! No, I didn’t have to bribe anyone. It was a very casual approach. My parents were more than excited; as long as they can be helpful, they were up for anything. I always had my crappy little camera in my hand, if I knew my dad was going to trim the garden, I was there ready to record. Prayer time meant that mum would be wearing her hand-knitted booties, a hijab and she –as always – would be facing towards the direction of Mecca, and I was there ready to record. Where as the video of myself is not as detailed as my parent’s videos, but a reflection of myself as an individual rooted in my Turkish family and our traditions.
And, importantly, did they act and interact differently when the camera was on?
No, they were themselves throughout the recordings. Only a few times they suggested to tidy or clean the table or change into other clothes but I always insisted everything is natural and as it is. At times when they wanted to do something while I was recording, they would look at me first and just nod because they didn’t know if they should do it or not, which made me laugh. It took a while for them to understand that things don’t have to be proper or pretty to be recorded. Only natural and everyday life that best conveys my ideas.
How do you and your parents feel about showing such intimate moments in the public realm? Is it embarrassing? Or are you perhaps proud? Or is it just all in the name of ‘art’ (or some such thing)?
The name of the work is Hoshgeldenez, which means welcome in Turkish and explains my ideas well. When I told my mum about the title, she was impressed and she warmly said “it’s like we’re opening our doors and home to everyone”. No, there isn’t a reason to feel embarrassed at all. It’s all in the name of ‘art’ because I am proud of my parents and our family. My parents always support my ideas and enjoy being a part of my works.
Unfortunately, recent terrorist activity and the heartless and utterly embarrassing “Islamic State” (which I refuse to refer to them as) makes the work more complex than I originally intended. I want to take any opportunity to create something that can make a difference and influence people’s thoughts. The media is mostly biased, misleading, and controlled. If I can make the slightest change with my video work, I will try to show people the opposite of what they have been exposed to. My parents everyday goings on represent this well – I think.
How does this work relate to performance art? And, also, documentation of such work that has become so important since the 1970s and conceptual art? In many ways this work could be considered research – but it is the work!
Performance art takes the form of live – often prescribed – action, whereas in my videos I am documenting routine, lifestyle, no scripts, no acting. Just raw life.
Performance art usually consists of 4 elements: time, space, the performers body, and a relationship between audience and performer. I am the documenter, my parents and I are the performers, or the whole three videos are a portrait of myself and a reflection of our home. These elements make it too hard to distinguish between performances and documentation.
Yes, I agree, it could also be considered research. As I record more videos, I see things my naked eye couldn’t see and ideas start stemming out of these videos. I’ve began to pay a lot of attention to decorative elements on my parents clothing. For example, the colourful crochets around the edges of my mum’s hijab. An also, the transformation of the backyard is evidence that my dads retirement has caused a lot of boredom – it is evolving and constantly engages me.
You have worked with installation, performance, neon, food (BTW I still haven’t drank the Grappa you gave me), found objects, etc. And you are now doing your Masters – what’s next? What are you making or planning to work on and does it once again research family and your Turkish roots?
I am still planning to work with my Turkish roots. Right now I am in the process of recording language barriers, so I will be exploring the use of language, text and cross-cultural activities through my art and research.
What artists are inspiring you to make new work?
Adel Abidin has always been the most inspiring artist. His practice consist of installations, video and photography with themes usually revolving around war, terror and cultural identity. Abidin’s concept may not be relevant to my entire production, but the most striking aspect in his documentation of domesticity and raw life within his parents natural surroundings is very inspirational.
As with all Wallflowerian interviews, I wonder what is the soundtrack for this project (beyond the great ambient sound in the work) that you would suggest may enhance the experience for viewers (not Metallica)?
The videos have a combination of sounds, from cars speeding past our home, Dad’s 30-year-old records, Mum’s cooking, the air-conditioning and Mojo’s (pet Pug) panting and snorting. The sounds all overlap each other to represent the busyness at home so this could be a chance for the viewers to use their selective hearing skills. Don’t worry, there is a minimal amount of Metallica!