We are embarking on a journey with Melisa Tapan on a sunny Istanbul day; daylight filtering through the windows of Gate 27, a light breeze, and a harmonious union of green and blue…everything is perfect.  Melisa summarizes the naive spirit of this atmosphere; “What we’re trying to do at Gate 27 is to bring creative people together, create the foundation for the change they can make, and create added value. We care about learning from each other and collectively taking an action.”  I think that’s exactly what I’ve been wanting to hear lately.  From Istanbul to Ayvalık; with its residency program and sustainable perspective, Gate 27 instills a new way of being in the art community.

What is the meaning of the word “art” for Melisa?

Because I was introduced to art and artworks in my childhood years, I see art as a kind of playground, an important element that triggers my creativity. Of course, it is also a healing power that teaches me a lot, allowing me to breathe and look at life from new perspectives. 

How did growing up in an art-loving household affect your perspective on life?

Growing up in a family that cares not only about art but also about culture, education and philanthropy, these were the values that I adopted at an early age and still care about.  Breathing the same air with the art world and creative people help you transform your perspectives on life and expand your vision.  In my work and in my own journey, I am still guided by these interests and curiosities that I acquired at an early age.  What we’re trying to do at Gate 27 is to bring creative people together, create the foundation for the change they can make, and create added value.  In doing so, we care about learning from each other and collectively taking an action, as well as continuing their individual artistic production.  

How does the “residency program” work in practice and in theory? What led you to consider art from this perspective?

Artist residency programs are basically platforms that support artists in realizing their ideas and provide them with time and space for production, and there are various structures under this title.  The reason why I chose to support art in this aspect was that I felt there was a need to increase production areas and places where artists can meet.  Interestingly, the number of such programs in Turkey is very low, and many artists do not have the opportunity to have a permanent workshop. On the other hand, since many artists work alone, the possible interdisciplinary collaborations and projects die before they can be realized.  Gate 27 aims to deal with these shortfalls.  

With motivated you to create Gate 27?

Although the idea and motivation to offer such a place to people of different abilities was initially shaped in New York when I was studying at the moment, it actually embodies all of my experiences and observations over the last few years.  This idea took an even clearer form with the question of how can I utilize the network resources and the information I have the best. And finally, we created a space that brings together different disciplines, where collaboration can be made between different production areas and models, where different cultures and practices come together, and people who deal with various issues related to creativity can meet and produce. Personally, the thing that feeds me the most is witnessing the production processes of artists. I mean, to witness that journey rather than the achievement or the end product. 

“As Gate 27, we treat sustainability not as a ‘hot topic’ but as a way of being. In this sense, we both feel a responsibility to acquire and develop structurally sustainable habits and share them with the Gate 27 family, as well as inviting researchers who deal with and produce theoretically or practically on this subject, and we care about expanding the communication network of people who create in this field. ”

Can you tell us about Gate 27’s initiatives on ecological sustainability?

As Gate 27, we treat sustainability not as a ‘hot topic’ but as a way of being. In this sense, we both feel a responsibility to acquire and develop structurally sustainable habits and share them with the Gate 27 family, as well as inviting researchers who deal with and produce theoretically or practically on this subject, and we care about expanding the communication network of people who create in this field.  Finally, last year, we brought together field workers with researchers. We held four meetings where growth, downsizing, agriculture and action themes were discussed. We also have a permaculture garden at Gate 27.

What do you think about the impact of sustainability, what do you pay attention to?

Sustainability is not a trend. It’s about time that we changed our lifestyle considering certain values.  I first started to change my behaviour by changing my purchasing habits.  I prefer small and local producers when I need to buy something.  I am constantly trying to learn and share what I have learned with others. During conversations with Nergiz Yeşil, one of our guests at Gate 27, she used the expression “as much as possible” and I find that really important because it is unrealistic to expect radical changes from individuals. So, I try to make sustainable changes step by step and be fair to myself while trying to develop new behaviours. Continuity makes more sense to me in the long run.  

Craftsmanship is another focus of Gate 27. What kind of motivation do you have to keep this cultural heritage alive?

The concept of artisanry was part of the Economic and Political Development topic that we were working on during my master’s.  Later, the project of Bilal Yılmaz and Lydia Chatziiakavou, who is one of the first guests of Gate 27 Ayvalık and have been working on this topic for a long time, motivated us further to work on this issue. Artisanry is part of not only economic and cultural development but also sustainability. For this reason, it will continue to be an important theme of our future programs. As part of the Artist-Artisan Cooperation project developed by Bilal and Lydia, we will invite one artist every year to collaborate with an artisan in Istanbul.       

What is an ordinary day look like at Gate 27?

We don’t really have an “ordinary” day at Gate 27. Because of our program, we are always on the move.  With each new artist, we dive into a new topic. Sometimes we organize subject-oriented studies or meetings, sometimes we go to exhibitions together, and sometimes we welcome visitors. Every day is different from the other. The only thing they have in common is that this is a place where there are always interesting people to know and interesting topics to learn and discuss.  

In Conversation with Duygu Bengi
Photography by Zeynep Özkanca