Ulay is the key figure of performance art in the 70s. His early works will be on view at Şekerbank Açıkekran through 10 October. We talked about the striking effect of art with this brave and short-tempered man who changed a period of performance art.
You are one of those artists who change the space their works are displayed in. How did your early work in Istanbul transform the exhibition space?
I did my best in order to make a change. I tried exhibiting my works at various environments. I also tried different media such as photography or performance art. I made this change through the most radical ways. Because when we look back at 60s and 70s, we were in a quest for revolution in the era of flower children. We had a goal of making a political revolution. There was a need for democracy. However, we had a desire to make a revolution instead of working through democratic and political needs. We were reflecting on world issues.
When they look at your works, the desperate young people of today see love and possibility of pushing the limits of the body infinitely. Well, what kind of an inspiration do you provide for the youth in your opinion?
I think the best inspiration for the youth is what they feel. It’s important what they understand in social, economic and cultural senses when they see a work. If you attempt at showing a work benefiting from all the words of your mind, then you reveal some important details. Like inspiring them for creating similar things… From an egoistic point of view, I feel happy for that I’ve been able to pass my artistic attitude to them. Young audiences have great admiration for the works I’ve created so far. Because they somehow realize that they can do the same thing today.
When you look at your early works, do you consider them reminiscences of past or powerful works of art?
Neither. They are a major part of my existence. They are also an indicator of the following fact: You can change your existence if you want to.
I don’t think your works of art belong to a particular community or an identity. You took many courageous steps in the 70s. When look at young people today, we see that the dis-identification they experience is different from the one in that earlier period… As an artist, what do you think is the reason behind this difference?
You know, the identity has not much to do with the body. One way or another, we do have social bodies. The final question in my monologue is: “Who am I?” However, the final response isn’t something I can express in three words. I wouldn’t claim that young people have a problem of dis-identification. They may be covering up their identities via social media. I regard the smart phones as devices invented for belonging to the women’s world. Besides, young people want to fulfil their sense of belonging through social media.
When you look back at the past, how do you consider the current status of performance art today?
There are two approaches regarding performance art and both of them are feminine. When you look at the intellectual starting point of performance art, two approaches shine through. The first theoretical article on performance art was written in New York. It started to rise in the 50s. Carolee Schneemann and Joseph Beuys made a difference. Jackson Pollock combines performance art and painting. Pollock would drip the paint while dancing and create a painting out of it. Today we’re experiencing the most contemporary atmosphere. The second contemporary expansion is photography. For it is real-time… Performance art has also been recognized as a concept of art in the last 40 years. Since it started to revive, many museums put performance art on their agenda. It was very expected. Because all the traditional fields of art such as classical music, theatre, dance are based on simulation. It is about staging the work again. Performance art on the other hand, brought innovation and started to embrace the traditional and cultural agenda.
Have you ever painted?
I’ve never painted in my life. When you compare it with photography, painting is quite a more technical subject. Having a history with Germany, I would have been lost in techniques if I had ever attempted at painting. A photograph is revealed thanks to the light whereas you have to paint this when you make a painting. There’s a major difference between the two.
What did the dynamics of Istanbul make you feel when you looked out of your window upon waking up in the morning?
Here we’re talking about a whole world. What do you think “the world” means, do you know anything about the world? What on earth can we know about the world… World is an inaccessible word. We have our blinders on whenever we want to look at the world. They are such subjective issues. Nobody knows what we’re talking about when we say “the world”. No one can understand the world with based on a single thought. The world is a tremendous word. When I woke up here in the morning, I saw a new and small world.