SİMGE BURHANOĞLU in conversation with ATA DOĞRUEL

Simge Burhanoğlu and Ata Doğruel – two young artists who put performing arts where life and art meet on a thin, sometimes invisible line, at the heart of their lives. With her project “Performistanbul” in late 2015, Simge gathered performance artists from all around Turkey under one roof, and helped this discipline become widespread in the country by offering assistance in finding sponsors and venues for various projects. Experiencing the boundaries of both mind and body, especially with the concept of endurance in mind, Ata is Simge’s latest performance at Kabak Cove. He says, “If my performance can resonate with someone who has never heard of it before, or push him/her to behave in some other way, then I consider that performance mature.” Here’s a pleasant conversation about new schools of performing arts, mind, body, and the future.

Simge: How was Kabak Cove?

Ata: I had the chance to tell people I never met before what I really do.

Simge: What were you doing before that?

Ata: I didn’t want to dwell on it so I told them I was a student, was studying law, or that was recently graduated and looking for a job. In short, I had to explain that I was interested in performing arts. By the way, I did put on a performance in Kabak Cove.

Simge: How? How could you without telling me? (laughs)

Ata: I wanted to repeat a previous performance, it was kind of spontaneous. I installed a tall mirror at the entrance of the camp and started looking at myself. I looked myself in the eye for six hours straight.
I was on an inner journey and was facing myself while there were all these people coming and going in between. It was the same as in real life; people were interfering as I tried to get closer to myself. That’s why I chose the entrance.

Simge: Sounds great! How did you measure time?

Ata: I told the guard that I was beginning at 10 p.m. and wanted him to inform me when it was 4 a.m. He was the only one who had no idea what I was doing. He did something to my ear as well.

Simge: Did what?

Ata: Like pinched it or something.

Simge: Weird!

Ata: I didn’t pay attention so that he’d leave. Then other people came
and asked the guy what he was doing and told him that he was being disrespectful. About 30 people started to discuss this until the end of the performance. One said I wasn’t bothered because otherwise I wouldn’t be positioning myself by the entrance. The other disagrees and asks if they’d ever seen a performance before.

Simge: What did you do after you finished?

Ata: I went for a few drinks. Never talked to them. I was tired so I went straight to bed. But the next day people came towards me to ask about it. Simge: Sounds nice. So, you performed there as well. I enjoy watching and doing performances in places like this because there’s this unexpected clash. People are not invited to the performance and they see it suddenly. Therefore, it’s a part of daily life; maybe it even receives more realistic reactions than it usually does. However, when you put it in a museum, people aren’t that relaxed. They may want to start the same discussion or to bother you there as well but they cannot, they abstain. In short, my goal is to offer this sense of freedom similar to that of Kabak Cove.


Ata: I definitely agree because if the goal of the performance is to create this energy and to receive some sort of echo from the others, then it should definitely be natural. If my performance can resonate with someone who has never heard of it before, or push him/her to behave in some other way, then I consider that performance mature. For instance, a drunk guy walked up to me to give me some water. He bought some from the bar and was determined to have me drink water because it was hot. He filled the bottle cap with some water and tried to get it in my mouth.

Simge: Did you drink it?

Ata: I didn’t stop him from trying but didn’t part my lips either. The water flowed down on both sides of my lips.

Simge: Why? Weren’t you thirsty?

Ata: Not really. Apparently, he was affected by my helplessness so I didn’t want to stop him but I didn’t want to drink either. He was really drunk so I doubt he saw that the water flowed down my face. So, we were both satisfied. I wonder what we’ll see because I feel that we’ll be having a lot more adventures like this.

Simge: Definitely. I don’t know how to tell it but I wouldn’t continue if it became something monotonous. This is pure adventure! It needs to be natural and organic without any of the parties losing their enthusiasm or passion. Your reflection on me, mine on yours, yours on other people’s, and other people’s on you.

Ata: What do you think we’ll be doing? What will the future bring?
Simge: My aim is to create a new language, and not necessarily through the discipline of performing arts. For instance, I’d like to follow the school of Tehching Hsieh or Marina Abramovic (whom we love). Not staying in the ‘60s performing arts but bringing a new perspective and exploration to it. In short, I’d like to create a new school of performing arts with
you and Perform Istanbul. For instance, you can go beyond your long performances.

Ata: But how will we find something new? A performance is either long or short…

Simge: I think time is a flexible concept.

Ata: Hasn’t it all been done before?

Simge: I think we should adopt a broader perspective. If time is an important element in performance (I don’t like talking philosophically) but one can even start with the question “What is time?” Think of a life-long performance, unintentional performances that seep into life, or even
a performance that no one sees. I’m talking about something mental; something that may not be easily seen by people but they can definitely perceive with their minds. Therefore, it wouldn’t last a certain period of time. I really don’t know. I’m just explaining it so as to give an answer
to your question. But I know that what’s expected of us is to create a language and I’m working on it.

Ata: Talking about the new, it’s very important to use current tools as
well. So, it’ll definitely be a new approach to use artificial intelligence in performing arts.

Simge: Sure.

Ata: So, I think the new will be brought into performing arts by those who follow those technologies. One can perform with artificial intelligence or VR.

Simge: Since we’re trying to take people to other places, VR could make this even faster.

Ata: Are you talking about something more interactive?

Simge: No. For instance, when you’re physically present, it resonates differently with everyone. But it could take a whole other direction when you organize what you want them to see, eliminate physical energy, and put an image in their minds. You, as the performer, are human so you’re soft but technology or artificial images are clearer and more dominant. Somehow technology overrules. For instance, when I asked Catherine Wood, Tate’s performance curator, “What is performing arts?” she said she didn’t have a clear definition and left it vague because this is the
right mindset, it’s freeing. People used to say that presence of a body is essential in performing arts but now it’s not defined as such. All I’m saying is that people are working on that so we can make it more intellectual experience. In the future, maybe you’ll sit in your room and manage a performance with your brain waves.

Ata: Is it a performance where the body becomes abstract or non- existent?

Simge: When I ask myself why I drifted away from ballet or dance,
I always give the same answer. They were too organized and perfectionist for our free-minded bodies. Ratios, muscles and bones – all has to be perfect and you need to execute that movement perfectly.
I thought there was freedom in performance but now I see that there’s still some sort of limitation. For instance, we’re looking for a healthy body. But let’s say that a paralyzed person has this perfect mind and wants to perform… I think about these too because, in performance, the body is just a tool; the main source is the mind. Therefore, I’m aiming the sky. For instance, you put on a performance by closing your eyes and ears in Endless Field but you might as well be really blind and deaf. So, I wish to work towards the senses because performing arts is not (or should not) be categorized as part of visual arts. For instance, when you’re designing a performance, you’re not thinking how it looks, you talk about how it feels such as fear. We don’t start thinking “I wonder if the fabric will look good at Pera Museum.”

Ata: Yes.

Simge: But the world is so used to the visual that we also strive for it.
In your performance titled “Ambassador” there’s this tiny hole in your head. The tailor comes and sews it up. We put a cloth on the chair so it looks good. The result is unified, it’s a good work but instead of putting all this effort into what’s visual, maybe we should channel it into the intellectual as well.

Ata: When will we move towards the new?

Simge: I think there’s still time. When we get to know, and prove ourselves. When we’re a bit better understood, and accepted.

Ata: So, 5 years?

Simge: I have no idea because it’s also about opportunities. I believe that we should have to have infrastructure so that we can build on it. We wouldn’t be talking about these issues but now we can see and talk about them. I couldn’t think about these things when I was doing ballet but now I can. So, I believe that we should take it one step at
a time. Not many years have passed since the ‘60s but everything’s moving fast. Though human race seems to adapt face, our primal urges outweigh. So, we should make that transition smooth – a transition that remains human and sensual, and abstains from becoming robotic or mechanical. Maybe it’s not even a transition but a process.

Ata: I think people flinch at the degrees their minds can go.