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A Conversation with Mimiko Türkkan

Calling herself a ‘visual narrator’, ‘intimate outsider’, and ‘subjective documentarist’, Mimiko Türkkan comes on the show to talk about her visual video project on water, in relation to fear, her creative process and social identity.

season 3 episode 14
Dec 3 2021

Speakers: Mauren Brodbeck, Mimiko Türkkan, and Barabra Polla

Mauren  00:01

This is the Raw and Radical Woman in the Arts podcast, and I am your host, Mauren Brodbeck. In each episode we explore the mechanisms of identity, vulnerability, authenticity, empowerment and social change through conversations with inspiring woman who are making history and challenging the status quo in both the art world and in society. We talk about their real-life challenges and celebrate cis and transgender women so that you can be inspired, empowered to take action and further your critical understanding about what it means to be a woman in the arts. Today we are welcoming Mimiko Türkkan. She calls herself a visual narrator, intimate outsider, subjective documentarist. She creates artwork such as photography series, artists books and videos, focusing on gender roles and socially constructed identities. She investigates desires and fears, stereotypes, social roles, and power relations. She got a bachelor in fine art from the Istanbul Bilgi University in the photography and video department in 2004, and she got her master's degree in Fine Art at the University of the Arts in London, the Central St Martins College of Art and Design in 2010. Traveling is an important part of her artistic process. I had the chance to meet Mimiko at the gallery Analix Forever here in Geneva, where she was for a few days and where she's showing her video 'Energy Watery Incantations' in a group show called Water Paintings. We discussed the making of the video and how it was so important in her life and process and we also talk about fear, flow and the power of intention. Please welcome Mimiko Türkkan. Hi Mimiko, welcome to the show. We are today at the gallery Analix Forever where you are exhibiting a wonderful video. You are a Turkish video artist and photography artist and you are exhibiting here so please tell us how you got to start photography and video.

Mimiko  02:18

Thank you, first of all, for inviting me. I've been working on photography and video for over 10 years now. I've had photography and video degree and on top of that I I went to London for a year of masters education in fine arts. And since then I've been I've been based in Istanbul where I'm actually from, and I've been exhibiting a bit here and there in Europe mostly and in Turkey. My first point of interests in visual arts was, or my main theme, was socially constructed gender roles, but with a focus on the female identity because that would be how I would define myself. Yeah, so first of all, I think it was kind of a late "teenagey"-anger-based-disgust-discovery coming a bit later in my life, like in my early 20s. And then it evolved into something more, maybe that would communicate to more people, that would mean something to a broader audience than just a self-discovery-thing. And I'm also very interested in doing physical activities, which also have an influence on what I do in my art practice. So, for example, I've been training in Thai boxing, and Muay Thai for, I don't know, for more than 15 years, maybe. And at some point, I was really interested in doing a project, which involved me traveling to Thailand. That was my first ever trip to Asia, to Thailand. And I had this idea to do a project, a photography project, about the sexual services industry over there with a focus on the western customer. But then it became something else because I also went there to train like six times a week, two times a day. And the the project at the end became something different but something that I was really content with. So it's not just about gender, but it's this fluidity between genders in the case of earning money through your buddy within the Thai boxing world, and also with a more traditional way as we are more accustomed to like, the sexual services. But now here I am, like for the last three years working on water mainly, I still feel it's a bit difficult to explain what was the link, exactly. I'm still working on explaining it in a more tangible way. But I can feel, I mean, even at that time, I felt the connection on how I kind of felt it was the end of me working on human gender roles and then that work developing into something else. Yeah, I still don't have the, maybe, exact words for it. But I think it's why I was more focused on video which is the main theme of the video I'm showing right now here in Geneva, in an exhibition where you have work as well. So, at first I had this feeling that, okay, we're all talking about the climate emergency, what we're doing to nature, the environment, the waters, .. And I felt this similarity between how we would be telling a fairytale like the princess, the beautiful princess, is now a victim of I don't know, whatever but like, the female identity is a victim and she needs to be saved. And it felt like we were talking about it in the mainstream media and in our mainstream parts of our brains, it was like, okay, nature is our victim and now we have to save her, like... And it also connects with all these traditions and rituals, where we see Mother Earth, Mother ocean, or the soil is like fertility also refers to the female identity so it felt like there was something wrong with it, because I don't think, as women, we are victims. I mean, there are obviously lots of situations where there is real violence, or crimes committed against women, but I don't think we should see ourselves as just victims, because that puts us in a toxic, you know, way of...

Mauren  07:35

So you think we can we can really feel empowered to actually take our power  simply and  stand for ourselves .

Mimiko  07:43

Yeah, yeah, definitely. So that's mainly how I came to work with about...

Mauren  07:53

I think it's really interesting, this idea of looking at this whole environmental issue as this fairytale because, in a way, it's very abstract. We know the planet is in danger, we know what's happening, but it's so abstract, in a way, for us at least, because we don't live it every day. So it feels like far, far, far away. And yeah, it's about saving her, Mother Nature. Yeah. So tell us about the video you're showing here. Because it's a very beautiful video with multiple images in the same time, you divided the screen in three parts.

Mimiko  08:33

Thank you, I had actually taken a lot of video images right before, up until the point that the global pandemic was announced. So I was kind of, I felt I was lucky to have all this material. Even though I, if I were able to travel, like at the beginning of 2020, I would have gone some other places as well. But still, I had a lot and maybe even too much images to like, hours and hours and hours of footage. That was a good thing, like for the beginning of the lockdown where I was, you know, I had my hard disks full of footage and I had this project I wanted to work on. But I had a faint idea of what I actually wanted to do so... because usually I have more or less a narrative in mind when I'm starting a project but then I just let it flow. Like I don't really think about it while I'm filming or while I'm taking the images. But then, after a while, when I'm done with filming, then I try to think about what's actually the narrative, what's the real thing I'd like to explain or share. So, then, at the beginning of the confinement, I didn't really know what I was going to do with all these. Even though I had this feeling, it took me a lot of time finding out. So at first I started with just two-screen, two-channel video idea and I, the first bit of the video I actually put together was a part of what I would call like drowning. So again, with this link with the physical activities I like to do, which also flows into my work. I've been trying to learn to how to wave surf for a while, for a long while now. And my learning curve was just about like probably everybody else’s, up until some point where, I think, I really got scared. And you know, like, nothing extraordinary happened. It's just, I got scared at some point, like being on the water. And I kept on trying to surf. But what I mean, with "kept on" is like, I don't know, like two weeks a year, because it's not just, you know, right where I live. I have to travel, I have to take holidays, whatever. But then I tried to dig into that fear, because I really like to do that, I like to see the fear, or look at it in the face. And I think that's also what drove me to work on water. It's like, okay, there's something flowing and if you just let it flow, then you would be less harmed or, I think, it's just maybe like the fear, you shouldn't even just hang on to your fears. You should just, maybe, leave them be or flow to where...

Mauren  11:33

So it's accepting the fear, and actually kind of diving into the fear. And your intuition also to understand that strong link we have with water, at the end of the day. Because for your work with body, you explore the space of the body in life, right?

Mimiko  11:53

Yeah. And I think it has a lot to do with fear as well. Like, we have a stereotyped image of the body as it should be but it also, obviously, it depends on the context. Like if you're an athlete it's something else, if you're whatever, but in general, we have this... there's a pressure on how the body should look, or how the body should perform, etc. So I think it's just like this fear of not fitting into that... there could be a fear about not fitting into that stereotype, or it could also be accepting yourself as it is. I think it's... there's a part of fear in that situation, as well. It's like, okay, I see what I am, I will see how I look. And also with ageing, it's like, okay, I see how my body cannot perform as it used to. So I think we have to have kind of a practice of looking into ourselves and getting in touch with that fear. I mean, obviously, water is, among other things, and among many other beautiful things, it's also something scary in a way or destructive. So it's, I think we have to have, we have to find a flow, maybe our flow or something that connects with flow in general, if that's something that exists. I'm not certain, of course, but maybe, yeah,

Mauren  13:27

Yeah, that's true. So in this video, you went to film different spaces. Can you talk about why you choose those different areas to film.

Mimiko  13:37

So the first one I actually chose in order to do this project, was Lake Baikal in South Siberia. But it didn't start there, it actually started in a feeling in a winter holiday in the Alps when I went for snowboarding, again, this physical, bodily experience I need. But then, so the trip began in Baikal, I believe. So I had a bit of information from years back, I don't remember even when, but I've always felt a bit of connection with this area, which is just a little bit north of Mongolia. So I'm from Turkey, and I've parents from all over this geographical place. But one part of my family, as we know, they're from Central Asia, I mean, they would be... I don't know how many generations before but you can still see in their like face features. So, and I'd say that part of the family still has some traditions that I would see in shamanic, maybe, things. So I always had this interest for that area. So I knew a bit of things about that. So, but I knew that lake was kind of sacred. It was considered sacred by all of the people or tribes that lived there for, or are living there nowadays. I always have this kind of intuitive thing that whenever I come across something that, maybe, I feel that flow in between that thing and me,  it can be an idea, a place or I don't know... I always follow it and it always leads me to where I need to be. So that was that kind of thing. So, the more I look into it before like booking a ticket, it was like, okay, I have to go there. And I was, I don't know if it's luck or if it's just..  if it was how it meant to be. It was April so it was just when the ice would start melting because it's a huge body of water but it freezes in winter. And then in summertime is just like a seaside place where people go bathing so April was a perfect time for me actually, because I would see the ice but also places where it was, the ice was fractured and melting. So there was liquid water as well. So it was really magical. I still today can feel a physical connection with that place. I don't know... it's maybe a flow in the body, something... That was a personally very important moment for me. Not just because I started the project there maybe but it's just... I'm so glad I was there. Not just doing it for a project but just for my own sake.

Mauren  16:38

Let's listen to an excerpt of the video Energy Watery Incantations

Mimiko  16:43

Thinking with water. Flowing with ancient data. Breath swelling with the undulations. Heart pulsating with the waves. Mind resonating with the tides. The rumbling of the waves. The pulsation in my veins. Where does my body end? Where do our bodies end? And where do you begin? Where do yours begin? Water in the body. Water bodies. Water in my body. Can my body move like the ocean? Can it flow as such? Can I breathe like water, such as the ocean swells with ease, with the rhythm of the flux? The ocean of my consciousness is a drop in the ocean of all there is. All there was. All there ever will be.

Mauren  18:21

I think that's interesting and very important what you mentioned , to follow the intuition. I'm also a big believer in this and also I believe that following your fear or your fears is really key to discovering new ways for your life and your creative process. actually. I think following  your fears is like a big deal. We try to avoid it all the time but jumping right in it I, think it's super important. So the final video, can you talk about it and what you want to say because there's a beautiful text also over it. And I was wondering if you consider yourself a feminist or even an ecofeminist.

Mimiko  19:02

So first of all, the video now became a three-channel three-screen video, because I needed, I think I needed more space and more temporality and so the third channel allowed me to do that so that I can mix all of these different images from different places. So besides Baikal, there is Bali in Indonesia, there's the oceanside in Portugal there are the Alps, usually the Swiss Alps, actually, there's Geneva, Venice, little bit of Istanbul and other parts in Turkey, like Eastern Turkey cars. And so you can see different phases of water or different ways of manifesting of the waters through these three screens combined in different ways. And there's a text which I read. And the text I wrote it in a long time as well. It was like bits of notes that I would take, and then I tried to put them together and they kind of worked in a way that I wanted to include it in the video, which is not something that I had done before. Actually, it finishes with the drowning scene as I would call it. When I see it now, it's not about drowning and it's not about just the fears, but it's just... that part of following the flow doesn't really mean there's going to be the best conditions ever. It's just, that's how it's, I mean, if on the road, you get a bit, you know, taken in by the water and splashed and, you know, it's, that's it, I mean. If I'm a feminist or not. First, I don't think I'm an ecofeminist, maybe, because I find it difficult to navigate in all the different parts of the feminist discourse. But obviously,  I'm all for gender equality for all genders. So anyway, I'm feminists, obviously. I feel like I always have to make detours in all these sometimes conflicting discourses and feminist ideas. So I wouldn't say I believe women are more inclined to have an innate connection with nature and water, for example. I don't really think so. But I'd say we have a huge role to play in how we have to change all these situations that we're into, in terms of the climate emergency.

Mauren  21:40

So in an interview, Bill Viola, he said something that I really love and it really reminds me of what you said about being underwater, when you surf and starting to have this fear of being under the surface and really feeling, I'm guessing, how powerful the ocean is, and how powerful water is. And he said that he had this experience of drowning as a six year old boy, and he got saved by his uncle, I think. And he said, this is when he realized, and I'm going to quote him, he said, "The real thing is under the surface". I think that's very beautiful and I think it really relates to your experience, really, because that must have been some kind of a starting point to investigate water actually, yeah?

Mimiko  22:31

Yes, exactly. Like, I mean, I had all these questions like, why, what's that fear related to exactly. Like, is it the fear that I'm not going to be able to resurface after being taken in the wave inside? Or is it a total loss of control? Am I a control freak then? Like, you know, the least interlinked questions. And then, you can read a lot of, you know, surfers explaining how you survive, you know, a big wave crash with crashing on your head. It's like, they say, okay, try not to breathe out, try not to crisp your muscles, try to relax, even though obviously, it's not a situation where you can relax, but, I mean, those are actually tangible suggestions, which I was never able to do. Like, it was wrong. And also like asking myself, like, then, if I can't overcome this fear, why do I keep doing this? Do I, I mean, why do I keep torturing myself? But also, that kept me going into directions where I would say, okay, it's like, if you don't put the right intention, then obviously, it's not gonna happen. And I realized that whenever I was paddling, and seeing a big wave and what I mean by 'big wave' is just one meter, maybe, it's not even that big, it's not even that powerful, but for me, it was. And when I was paddling, I realized I wasn't actually putting the intention of getting up on the board and surfing the wave, I was just putting in the intention of recreating the moment of my fear and it just kept happening. So that was really like a mirror, looking into myself, into my own behavior in terms of how I react in the face of threats or in the face of losing, like, a competition kind of... Do you do the right thing in order to win? Or does your fear take over and then you lose. I don't believe in a competition kind of thing but, what I mean is, like, if we don't put the right intention, nothing happens the way you'd like it to happen. So, I think it's the same with, sometimes with my work. So, I spent all this time working on something, and at the moment I am ready to share it with other people, so the audience, could be an exhibition, could be, I don't know, could be an online screening anything, I felt that I wasn't also putting the right intention. So I was also trying to pull the work back. And then, you know what I mean? So it doesn't really blossom into what it can become. And I don't mean by that, how people will love it, I just mean, how it should be accessible to as much people as possible. And then people decide if they like it, love it, or hate it or dislike it or whatever. It's just, I was pulling myself and the work back each time so it was similar to my way of surfing.

Mauren  25:53

It's interesting, because this is showing us how unintentionally powerful we can be sometimes. Just with our mind, really, with the intention we bring. This is true. This is very important, you mentioned this because our intention does a lot in the way we approach something that's huge.  I spoke with Barbara Polla, the owner of the gallery analytics forever, where Mimiko is showing her video and she tells us more about this video and the story behind it: how they worked together and why it is so important to Mimiko and her work.  Barbara Polla, the gallerist and the creator of the show 'Water Paintings', that is showing the video of Mimiko. I was wondering if you could talk about it.

Barbara  26:44

Yes, of course, and with pleasure, because I had the privilege actually to follow the work on this particular video. And it took Mimiko Türkkan at least three to three and a half years to actually complete this video. This is a very important video for Mimiko because, not only because it took us so long to do it, but it took so long because it was a very difficult subject. She actually tried to find out about her own consciousness of the world through the water. And it started with a lot of fear about the water and then she decided to explore it. But to explore it in depth, she went to Lake Baikal, which is the deepest lake in the world, actually, to film, this lake in particular. And she showed me along the lines, the images, the words she wanted to add. And I was actually quite critical to what she did. And she started again, and we talked about data. And again, she started and at one point, about a few months ago, she came with this final version and I looked at it and listened to it. And I just said, "This is it, this is it, Mimiko. You found out how your own consciousness integrates into the water and through the water into the world. And you're done with this particular piece, you're done with this exploration of your relationship to the world. Now, you can move on to something different, to something else, which is likely going to be the exploration of a more collective consciousness of the world."

Mauren  28:47

A little note about Barbara. Barbara is not only a gallerist, she is also a curator and a feminist author and I recorded a really cool episode with her last season, where she talks about women's rights, feminism, and what it means to live outside the norms.  So you live in Istanbul, how is it for women in the arts in Istanbul?

Mimiko  29:11

I think it's, regardless of being in the arts or in other other parts of the professional world, it's difficult in general. But I think there is, in contrast, there's something still powerful about how usually women are raised in Turkey. It's also difficult to explain but it's some kind of adaptive power, I'd say maybe. You're clear about how patriarchy works. I mean, when I mean you're clear, you're raised while being totally aware of how patriarchy has power on you. But then you also have, usually watching other family members, or maybe being not formally taught, but you can see how to move freely, in a way, among those patriarchal structures. It's a bit difficult to explain, and I think it depends on a lot of other factors. But there's something, I would say women are definitely not helpless, in a way, in Turkey, there's a strong will to have power too but it's difficult, in general. The situation gets worse actually, like recently how the President decided to, I mean, he was the first to sign a convention called Istanbul Convention for violence and crimes committed against women, and he decided he was gonna take back his signature and take back Turkey's involvement in this convention, which was about guaranteeing some sort of set of rules, when, for example, someone would be judged how the women would be protected against them or etc etc... but now it's, how the police would set their rules to explain how the police have to behave in the context of dealing with a woman who's been violated or abused.

Mauren  31:35

So it's like one step forward two steps backwards.

Mimiko  31:38

Yeah, definitely.

Mauren  31:39

And do you think that the younger generation stick more together for that, men and women? Or is there a will from this younger generation to move forward?

Mimiko  31:52

I don't know if they stick together among genders, I'm not really sure about that. But in a way, what's interesting to see is that even in more conservative families, or even for young people from conservative families, I feel that their role models have certain ways of living that are more equal, if I can say equal. For example, the couple takes care of the kid together. It's not just the mom who's always stuck with the kids and pushes the baby cart or is holding on to the kid, they share more responsibility in the family. And so I think it has an impact on them. Even though they're not, I don't think they're totally informed of what's women's rights, how it developed, how it should be put into action in the context of the infrastructures of the power in place, etc. I mean, I don't think they're totally aware of it, but they can clearly see in their role models, in the mainstream, you know, power couples, or even in the conservative ones, you can see clearly that there's a change. And so I don't think they would accept anything, that would be too much of a backlash in their own personal freedoms.

Mauren  33:15

Interesting. Is there anything else you want to talk about, you want to say that's important to you?

Mimiko  33:20

I think what I find most interesting is that, as maybe opposed to the previous generations, I feel there's a lot more support between women. And I'd say that is in the context of the arts entourage as well. So this is really... this makes me really happy to see that happening. And I think we need a lot more of that, in all areas in life.

Mauren  33:50

Support between women yay, that's a good way to end the podcast. I really loved how Mimiko talks about her fears and how she approaches fears and also flow and the concept of flow. I invite you to discover more about her and her work on the story of our website, where you will find all the links such as Mimiko's website, the Galerie Analix Forever's website, and the links to the social media accounts. Thanks for listening. This podcast is supported by Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council, the Republic and Canton of Geneva and the city of Lancy in Switzerland. We are so thankful for their support and commitment to women, culture, and the arts. Thanks for listening to the Raw and Radical Women in the Arts podcast. Learn more about our featured artists and sign up for news and updates by visiting our website rawradical.com. Please consider leaving us a comment and review on your preferred podcast listening platform to help others discover the show and take part in this global dialogue. I am Lauren Brodbeck and until next time keep the dream alive.

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