27/11/2021 | Writer: Kaos GL
Blank spaces are very important to me in every sphere of life. We sometimes fill in all the blanks around us and leave no room for ourselves to move. Maybe it's because of our fears that we struggle so much not to leave a single blank space.
Furkan Öztekin, Fold, Paper Collage on Transparent Roof Sheet, Various Dimensions, 2021
The artworks of Furkan Öztekin’s, guest artist of Ankara Queer Art Program - Artist Residency, met the audiences on the 13th of November at Siyah Beyaz Art Gallery. The exhibition called “In the Tenderest Spot” which attracted a great deal of attention at the opening, can be visited until 8 December.
We publish İz Öztat’s interview with Furkan Öztekin.
As we will touch upon many relationships and shared experiences throughout our conversation, let's start with how our paths crossed. Our works were brought together in the group exhibitions colony  in 2017 and Positive Space  in 2018, however we had not met in person then. With your participation in the Arter Research Programme 2020-2021, co-directed by me and Merve Ünsal, I had the chance both to meet you and witness your practice more closely. I would like to thank you and Aylime Aslı Demir for inviting me for a conversation on how you continue to produce within the scope of Ankara Queer Art Program, in which you got involved shortly after the program ended in May.
You were the first guest of the artist residency program who managed to be physically present in Ankara between 28.06.21 - 01.09.21. Where and under what conditions did you live and produce before you went to Ankara? Could you tell us about the milieu, context, opportunities and encounters the program offered for you after your arrival in Ankara?
I have been living in Tekirdağ with my family since I graduated from İzmir Dokuz Eylül University Faculty of Fine Arts Painting Department in 2016. I use half of my room at home as a studio, and the other half as a living space. Three years ago, my friends and I rented a studio space to teach drawing and produce but working at home has always been more appealing for me. I guess the materials I work with and the dimensions of the works I produce have been decisive in this.
The apartment chosen by Ankara Queer Art Program to host the artists was in a very central location. Although the house is located on a very busy street, it allows you to withdraw into your shell. As I could not be alone for a long time during the pandemic, it indeed helped me very much. I was plunged into silence with the themes I worked on for about a year during.
Arter Research Program on my mind. First of all, the production budget provided by the program was very valuable to me. It enabled me to easily access the resources I needed for my ongoing research. I could also afford the materials I need, the cost of which keeps increasing. During the program, I had the chance to meet Ka Atölye and Dou Printstudio, which focus on knowledge sharing and production in photography and print works. The workshops to be held by names such as Metehan Özcan, Ege Berensel and Sibel Tekin started first with Tanıl Bora. In short, Ankara Queer Art Program was designed as to encourage production and enable thinking.
Furkan Öztekin, Diary (July – August), 21 x 14,5 cm, 2021
During the residency program, you worked on several themes with a variety of media. We can follow how these simultaneous processes feed into each other on the pages of the Diary included in the exhibition In the Tenderest Spot that will take place at Siyah Beyaz Art Gallery between 13.11. - 08.12.2021. Could you tell us about the works you focused on or completed at that time?
When I arrived at the Residency in Ankara, I decided to devote the first month of the program to research, and the second half to physical production. I focused on the construction of trans identity in autobiographical texts with reference to The Game of Legs (1996) authored by Ceyhan Fırat, with whom I have been collaborating since 2019. Canary Conn's Canary published in 1974 and Rhyannon Styles' The New Girl published in 2017 have guided me all along the way. I tackled the differences in daily practices and experiences of completely different generations. I wrote a detailed biographical text on Ceyhan Fırat for the 10th issue of Kaos Q+ Journal of Queer Studies focused on the theme of Trans Studies.
I also reflected on possible equivalents of "queer opacity", a concept that Nicholas de Villiers, a scholar working on sex, cinema and literature, derived from the not fully out identities of Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes and Andy Warhol. First, I wrote an essay titled Gökyüzüne Uzanmak [Reaching for the Sky] for Argonotlar, where I elaborated on Ayşe Erkmen's sculpture Open Column (1993) in terms of “queer opacity”. In the second month of the program, I produced the series Close Alliances (2021), in which I searched for a visual equivalent of this concept. This series also became the starting point of my exhibition In the Tenderest Spot to take place at Ankara Siyah Beyaz Art Gallery on 13 November. The exhibition will also include fragments from Diary (2021), which I kept during the Ankara Queer Art Program, Untitled (2015), a series I produced during my university years, as well as my ongoing series Fold (2021).
There are many methodological and contextual continuities between your works. Not only the concepts you encounter in your readings on queer theory and literature, but also the people who you engage with through their works have their influences on your practice. Shall we talk about your interest in and contribution to the history of LGBTI+ activism, and the different contexts where your practice intersects with that of Ceyhan Fırat? Could you tell us how you met Ceyhan, about their presence in your exhibition Four Seasons In May, and also about your recent work Witness produced in 2021, and the essay you wrote recently? Given that this is also an important matter that you try to figure out, I’d like to ask you to dwell on how you navigate through the issue of authorship in your collaborations that shape in dialogue with others.
I was introduced to Ceyhan Fırat and their wonderful book A Game of Legs in 2019 by independent researcher Serdar Soydan. Ceyhan is a newspaper editor, engaged in art and writing poems. They were forced to immigrate to Switzerland because of the exclusion policies pursued by Beyoğlu Police Department and the neighborhood residents against transwomen living on Ülker Street in 1996. When we first met, I was working on my first solo exhibition Four Seasons In May (2019), and I wanted to dedicate a wall in the exhibition to Ceyhan. They accepted to collaborate and became part of the exhibition by reading the poems. They filled in the blanks I made on the papers with her voice. They filled in what I lack. Later, while searching for the house where Ceyhan used to live on Ülker Street via Google Maps, the idea of Witness (2021) came up. The journey I embarked on to find Ceyhan's house turned into postcards marking the vegetation on the street as a silent witness of Ülker Street events. In their book A Game of Legs, Ceyhan compares the color of an early morning on Ülker Street to a tacky pink. Brand New Eyes (2021), where I explored her tacky pink through ink, coal dust and acrylic paint, was born out of this comparison. In Re: [AAP_2020], a publication co-produced by the participants of Arter Research Programme, I wrote fictional texts relating to Ceyhan.
Ceyhan never makes distinctions like you or me when working together. They always talks about and emphasizes being “us”. I never forget that, once in a phone call, they got mad at me very sweetly and said "I don't have an archive, we have an archive!" Although there are thousands of kilometers between us, in fact there is no distance at all. Ceyhan offers me an unlimited surface every time. A surface where we never lose track of each other.
Furkan Öztekin, Untitled, Mixed Media on Paper, 8 Pieces, 31 x 24,5 cm, 2015
Your essay On the Road, Under the Rain: Ceyhan Fırat's A Game of Legs what was the reason for writing it during your residency? While writing the text, did you benefit from the opportunities Ankara Queer Art Program offered to you, such as the KAOS GL archives?
I had that essay in my mind for a long time but could not find the time to work on it. While I was reading on the construction of trans identity in autobiographical texts in the early days of my residency, I felt it was the right time to write. The long phone calls with Ceyhan this summer had also a great effect. Indeed one day they tried for four hours to convey me the atmosphere of Beyoğlu in the 90s. This helped me enrich the layers of the essay. While working at the Ankara Queer Art Program, I had the chance to visit Kaos GL's office and archive for the first time. I feel very lucky for having touched the first printed issue of the journal dated 1994! Kaos GL team also gave me access to the digital archive of the magazine. In the GL Library section of the 30th issue, I saw the first review on Ceyhan Fırat's book, A Game of Legs (1996). Besides, Ceyhan was frequently covered in the issues published in the early 2000s. Having a part in Kutluğ Ataman's movie Never My Soul! (2001) they became highly visible in LGBTI+ circles. I would like to thank Kaos GL team here again for facilitating my research.
In Diary, you quote both from your conversation with Niyazi Zorlu -“Recently, Niyazi Zorlu spoke of 'settling in one place and losing the sense of everywhere'. Does it really happen so? Are we losing the places where we are not physically present?" – and from Niyazi Zorlu's character Adem - "There is no end to the threats our loves pose. It's getting deeper. I want to hide my anxieties.” Like Ceyhan Fırat, Niyazi Zorlu is an author whose writings you follow and with whom you become friends. Can we say that you develop various methods to make possible intergenerational transmission of language and experience as well as collaboration between these different generations through identifying yourself with the authors you read and their fictional characters, quoting them or including them in your work?
Since I’m used to think through images, diving into the world of writers opens a space for me to breathe. It’s like the desire to jump into cool waters when it gets too hot. It is in the spaces between the letters of Niyazi Zorlu and Ceyhan Fırat’s texts that I find a place for myself, and sometimes I really enjoy being stuck in these spaces. Touching each other's lives is so precious. I find it very important to learn from each other what we lack. As Ceyhan always repeats, you must go on with people with whom you can be "us". Niyazi Zorlu once said that being in contact with people working in visual arts has been so thought-provoking for him. I think cultural producers from different fields and generations should be in closer contact.
Furkan Öztekin, Diary (July – August), 21 x 14,5 cm, 2021
Your work displayed in colony in 2017 has been shaped by a reflection on the concept of cruising, which the series is also named after. You continue to work with the concepts produced within queer theory, and during your residency in Ankara as an artist-in-residence , we see that you make your way through Nicholas de Villiers’ concept of "queer opacity". Your interest in this concept which is also connected with “coming out” inevitably reveals your relationship with visibility. In your autobiographical essay Opening Boxes/Terminals, you write: “The idea of being physically visible in the Taksim Square during the Pride Week parades makes me quite uneasy. I feel unsafe among large crowds. Since I’m far away from Istanbul, I find it difficult to make a stand both physically in the square and within the organised resistance. I imagine the possibility of rectifying this shortcoming through my artistic output.” Before moving on to the concept of “queer opacity”, could you share with us how your interest in stories of coming out, your feelings about visibility and your stance in general has evolved over time?
My interest in the concepts fostered by Queer theory and the stories of coming out arose in 2014 when conducting a research on the history of resistance in Ülker Street. Later, I had the opportunity to explore Pride Week exhibitions in my undergraduate thesis titled LGBTI+ Activism after 1990 and its Reflections on Art Practices (2015). All this research process led me to reflect on my own visibility. Indeed, the series Untitled (2015), included in In the Tenderest Spot at the last moment, is like a visual expression of all these concerns. The series is reminiscent of a blurred portrait oscillating between visibility and invisibility. There is someone who is not determined yet trying to break out of their shell. My concerns around visibility date back to my first visits to Istanbul in the early 2010s. I followed Pride Week celebrated with great enthusiasm at that time and made friends from the volunteer team. But I still couldn't manage to get out and stand on my feet. Being a 17-year-old coming from a small city had a great share in this. As I wrote in Opening Boxes/Terminals, I tried to fill in this gap by producing in visual arts. I search for possible equivalents of visibility or invisibility through producing them.
We have been through a period of intense oppression and state violence against the LGBTI+ movement. Curated by Alper Turan as part of the protocinema program in the past months, Göze Parmak [A Finger for an Eye] focused on feeling an investigating “the area beyond the visible and before invisible. ” in our own milieu. And the concept of “queer opacity” is also about strategic positioning around visibility and invisibility. What is this concept that you turn towards under current conditions and what are the possibilities thinking through this concept offer you?
Dear Alper Turan's exhibition, A Finger for an Eye happened to be quite thought-provoking at a time when the attacks on the symbols of visibility was at an extreme. He was looking for a queer possibility freed from color. The concept of “queer opacity” has a similar point of departure. It is an ambiguity like in the sentence from A Finger for an Eye “the area beyond the visible and before invisible ,” that you referred in your question. Nicholas de Villiers suggests “queer opacity” as a form of silent resistance and life practice in today's world where censorship and attack on symbols of visibility keep intensifying oppression on LGBTI+s. Being both inside and outside at the same time. Being both visible and invisible. It is actually a space filled with potentials between all these dualities. Therefore, working with this concept offers a new plane where you are free. It allows you to enjoy walking on slippery grounds. Recently, I imagine “queer opacity” like watching out of a misty window. Lastly, in my essay Gökyüzüne uzanmak: Açık Sütun üzerine bir deneme published in Argonauts, I tried to explain this concept with reference to Ayşe Erkmen's sculpture Open Column (1993). Reflecting on an identity based concept through a sculpture which has been constantly wounded in the public sphere allowed me to open different doors.
Furkan Öztekin, Close Alliances, Mixed Media on Styrofoam, 10 Pieces, 14 x 20 cm, 2021
I ponder on the materiality and form of your works brought together in In the Tenderest Spot with your previous works. You wrote on the production process of Brand New Eyes (2020): "I decide to pursue Ceyhan’s faded pink. Experimenting with mixtures of ink and charcoal dust, I attempt to temper the pigments and find that particular, ramshackle shade of pink. I float sheets of paper in this mixture and lay the wet sheets on the floor to dry overnight. The sheets dry up and wake the morning up in various shades of pink. The ink pushes the charcoal dust outside the limits of the paper, resulting in coincidental splashes where the paper touches the floor. I look at these remnants on the floor, tracing the fault lines that seem to desire one another.” And the following lines from Diary : “Getting rid of clarity can sometimes offer us more room for maneuver. This is exactly what I've been trying to do lately. I try to stretch the boundaries that enclose and restrict me. First on the surface, then on my own body.” The continuity of your research with materials on the surface of the paper with the body, with what is felt in the body...
You use paper, paraffin, silicone and transparent glue in your series Close Alliances (2021) to be included in In the Tenderest Spot. These works in which you refer to the tenderest spot, seems much more protected than your previous works, for example, A Topography of its Own (2019-2021), with layers of paper pasted on top of each other folding out on the edges and displayed without a frame. The materials you choose cover, seal, mummify the surface. Why do you think things become physically less fragile and more "armored" while investigating the tenderest spot?
The exhibition is named after a verse in American queer poet Tim Dlugos’s poem, Second Anniversary that he wrote for his partner. "Your gaze is a spike in the tenderest spot." A sentence that makes you feel the pleasure and the tension between two trembling bodies in a hotel room. Therefore, I care about the relationship between the physical sensations that the materials I use in my works in the exhibition evoke and the body. The diary in the exhibition makes it visible through a different medium. The tenderest spot also reminds of a private spot on the body that should not be touched. That's why paraffin, silicone and transparent glue in Close Alliances (2021) build a blurry wall between us and the image. Even if we touch it, we can't feel what it is. One of the words we often used in our conservations with dear Aylime Aslı Demir about the exhibition was “ambiguity”. Unclear, ambiguous. Hence things are physically less fragile, more armored. The excerpt from the diary in the question is exactly about that. Perhaps one day we can regain our strength when we get rid of clarity?
Furkan Öztekin, Fold, Paper Collage on Transparent Roof Sheet, Various Dimensions, 2021
In Arter Research Programme, you proposed settling within the spaces in between as a method when talking about your own practice and also in your quest to create collectively. In your effort to contribute to a history being written at the intersection of LGBTI+ activism and art, you search for blank and in between spaces, create them by cutting or find a way to settle in them while working on real estate photos or re-elaborating anonymous hamam narratives. Hence, I was not surprised when I encountered blank spaces in Diary: “In the talk at the exhibition Plastic Power in the end of June, we discussed transforming the past to reclaim it. This sentence keeps echoing in my head lately. I feel producing and living are wandering on these borders. Fill in the blank. Roll in(to) gaps. Appropriate the blank spaces.” And elsewhere you say: “I belong to any place that takes me in.” Since you can find or create blank spaces everywhere to settle in, at least in your practice you can belong anywhere...
Blank spaces are very important to me in every sphere of life. We sometimes fill in all the blanks around us and leave no room for ourselves to move. Maybe it's because of our fears that we struggle so much not to leave a single blank space. However, the fact is that we are in need of blank spaces more than ever. Both for recognizing ourselves better and for seeing what is happening around us better. The blank spaces in my works came into my life while I was collecting real estate photos just before I moved to İzmir. Reflecting on what these photos of empty rooms in the rental apartments were telling, I started to create new blanks in the photos. Since then, blank spaces have always accompanied my works in different ways. Considering the examples you gave; I think the blank spaces are one of my forms of resistance. Safe places where I escape and hide.
In your installation under construction, you create with transparent and curved panels an empty space where you can take shelter, a space where inside and outside are not exactly defined, and an armor that is not so protective. Can you tell us about this work where your interest in surface merges with the third dimension, and how it will relate to the other works in the exhibition?
One of the works lastly added to the exhibition is Fold (2021), where I use as a ground the transparent roof sheets I started to make during Ankara Queer Art Program and finished in Tekirdağ. Sometimes as transparent as they are, sometimes covered with paper, these sheets are spread into the blanks in the exhibition space through minor gestures. It is an important material which has resonances with spaces we take shelter in to protect ourselves from anything. Fold (2021) both revisits the roof and opens up a space to think about opacity.
Questioning the possibility of being inside and outside at the same time, it proposes to settle in this space full of potentials created by in-betweenness. Moving the paper in a (unpredictable) way that goes against its nature or making it imitate the object whose shape it takes feels like a queer intervention. Perhaps rendering an object transparent in itself dysfunctional or disruptive has also the same effect.
 colony, Abud Efendi Mansion, 2017 (Curators: Aylime Aslı Demir, Derya Bayraktaroğlu, Kevser Güler)
 Positive Space, Operation Room, Amerikan Hospital, 2018 (Curator: Alper Turan)
 Furkan Öztekin, “Opening Boxes/Terminals”, Re: [AAP_2020], Edited by: İz Öztat and Merve Ünsal (İstanbul: Arter Publications, 2021), p. 96.
 Alper Turan, Protozine: A Finger for an Eye , https://www.protocinema.org/exhibitions/protozine-a-finger-for-an-eye
Furkan Öztekin, “Opening Boxes/Terminals”, Re: [AAP_2020], Edited by: İz Öztat and Merve Ünsal (İstanbul: Arter Publications, 2021), p. 110.
Tags: arts and culture