In April I was fortunate enough to be invited to the I:O Arts residency in Bahçecik, Turkey. I'd never been to Turkey before so this was great chance to experience the country, I found accommodation through Couchsurfing and set about exploring Istanbul. Turkish hospitality is amazing, and my host Eray was no exception he took me for a motorcycle ride around the city (a hair-raising experience!) showed me some of his favourite sights.
While in Istanbul I also met up with some of the other artists that would also take part in the Bahçecik residency. Alexander and Alexandra Krolikowski from Ukraine and Herbert Rometsch from Germany. We took a look at some local art galleries, drank coffee (check out Brew Dog if you have the chance) and generally explored the city. The three artists even unveiled their own conceptual artwork during our time in the city, Black Moghul, by commandeering a local derelict building.
Later, after meeting another artist, Maria from Lebanon, we made our way out to Kocaeli, where we would spend the following weeks. The theme of the I:O residency was migration, something which held a deep significance many of those present; The residency was initially held in Koktebel on the Crimea Peninsula, however, with Russia annexing the territory in 2014 the organisation had to move across the Black Sea to Turkey. Many of the artists there were from Russia or Ukraine, or had some connection with those countries, and so as the situation around Donestk was worsening it was humbling to see people working together to make something positive. Talking to Alexander and Alexandra about the nomadic life they were living at the time was especially eye-opening; Being from Crimea they could no longer live at home, and much of their work was in Donetsk with their parents, and so they had resorted to moving from place to place, making as much of a living as possible from their art as they could.
The location itself at Helikon Art Centre was beautiful, a place up in the mountains, an hours walk from the nearest village, and about an hour on the bus to Izmit the nearest major city. The center had been founded by Orhan Özçalık, a charismatic mountain-man-come-artist who had lived in the area for decades mountaineering and sculpting. Orhan was assisted in the administration of the residency by Dmytro Goncharenko, a Berlin-based artist from Ukraine. We also had our wonderful chef Mesut (which means happiness in Turkish) cooking fantastic food for us every day, so we never went hungry. For some reason coming from London I had the idea that Turkey would be quite warm during the spring. Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong! Up in the mountains it was often below zero degrees celsius overnight, and particularly low temperatures and rain in the first week had me and my roommates piling up the blankets at night to stay warm. It's also worth mentioning that one of the windows in our room was not so much a window as a piece of cloth covering up a hole in that wall. None of this phased Orhan of course, who was made of harder stuff and would happily sleep outside. Luckily the main cabin did have an oven with a fire that was constantly burning, so this was a good place to keep warm and also to catch up on the other artist's activities. There was also a constant supply of hot Turkish tea, made with fresh water flowing down from the mountain. In any case the weather cleared and temperatures rose for the second week, meaning we could work outside and enjoy or our surroundings more.
The rage of work being created at the residency was vast, including photography, painting, sculpture and installation, as well as multi-media and sound-art. My own project was a multi-media concert that used recorded video to mix Turkish instruments with Taonga Puoro (traditional Maori instruments from New Zealand). The project involved several phases. Firstly, I had sent some recordings of my own pieces back to my friend Ricky Prebble, he then performed an improvisation on Taonga Puoro while listening to my pieces on headphones. His performance was filmed, and then sent back to me without my original piece present. The next step was to find some Turkish players, and have them play with Ricky's video to create a new piece for the concert. This was an idea which I had already tried out with players in London, and was keen to see how it would work in a completely different context.
I had made some preliminary inquires in the months leading up to the residency, but arrived in Turkey without a clear idea of how the project was going to come together hoping explore the area and to go from there. Luckily I had been in touch with Hakan Bagci head of Music at Kocaeli University in nearby Izmit, and he had said that he was interested in helping me. What I witnessed going down to the university for the first time was something in a masterclass in Turkish hospitality; Hakan and his colleague Didem, were both willing to give whatever they could to help in spite of their having their own hectic schedules to deal with. I should probably mention that April is close to exam season in Turkey so things were very busy. Nonetheless, the tea was ordered (of course) and we spent the afternoon calmly discussing the project so that the wheels began to move in motion. One by one, students were invited up to introduce themselves and their instruments so that by the end of the afternoon we had four players: Uğur and Ilker on bağlama, Metin doubling on ney and mey, and Ramazan on Turkish clarinet. I should also mention that there were only a few people at the university with a high level of English, and my Turkish was non-existant, so I am extremely grateful to Hamraz Lotfi for her help in translating (as well as many, many other things).
This was a concept which was difficult to explain to people in English when I was in London, so when Hamraz wasn't available rehearsals largely consisted of throwing around various words in our respective languages, a lot of body language, and google translate. Piece by piece however, the concert began to take shape.
With things on the musical side coming together, I asked Harmaz if she knew anyone that may be able to document the concert. So she introduced me to Eray Kasarcı and his team. Again I was truly humbled by the local spirit of enthusiasm and willingness to help when they not only arranged an entire crew to film the concert from multiple angles, but also a photo shoot to promote the project.
With the concert coming together I finally had the chance to look at some of the other artist's works. We also had the chance to meet with people from the local community, participate in workshops, and learn about the history of the area. There was a lot to see, too much to list in this blog alone, but if you're interested there are some links to work by the other participants here :http://ioartresidence.tumblr.com/participants. Eray also made this great video covering the opening so you can see the sort of stuff that went on. (just never mind the dorky guy at the end of the video....)
I called the concert 'Papaki Tai | Göc', as a reference to my concert in London 'Papaki Tai | Migrations', which was based on the same concept. The phrase Papaki Tai was suggested to me by my friend in Auckland, Valance Smith. 'Papaki Tai' in Te Reo refers to the sound of the waves lapping against the sea shore. However, Valance explained that it can also be used as a metaphor for traveling to distant places. The idea being that, conceptually at least, the waves in New Zealand are the same as those in Turkey and that it is the ocean with these waves radiating through it that connects us. This idea fitted well with the project since the whole thing had come to together by passing sounds from one side of the world to the other, and with the residency's focus on the idea of migration I feel like it was a nice way to open the exhibition.
After the concert there were plenty of celebrations around the fire, music, and dancing, a good chance to reflect on all that had passed and to spend time the wonderful friends we had made along the way. A couple of days later I returned to the university to give a talk about the project, as well as the history of meaning of taonga puoro. I talked about where the instruments had come from, how the tradition was almost completely lost in the face on colonisation, and how they had been revived in recent years. I gave a composition masterclass to some of the students there, as well as a lecture in musical analysis.
The following day, my friend Sebastian Lowe arrived, an anthropologist, filmmaker, and violist from New Zealand arrived. But that's the subject of my next adventure.
Giving an analysis lecture at Kocaeli University.