Places water holds together

An earlier version of this article was published in ICE’s September 2012 issue. 

I came to know Hera Büyüktaşçıyan in a m-est event where she re-worked the medium of artist talk by doing a lecture on an artist duo whose practice focuses on islands. I wanted Hera to describe her work Changeables & Transformables (2010) in relation to her new site-specific work commissioned by Galeri Mana, It takes a few more buckets of water to turn the mill. This installation reactivates a water source, interrupting both the site and the urban texture it belongs to. The below text describes a work that did not exist at the time, exploring the drive behind the attempt to relate the artwork to the urban texture that it is in.—Merve Ünsal

On Space
For me, space is often an area of transition where I can form a dialogue over the dialectics between the inner and the outer world. During my childhood, the space under the table used to be transformed into a submarine, while the chairs propped up against it would figure as the windows of the submarine—all of a sudden the surrounding living room would be the sea. The invisible would thus form the newly designed reality of that time and space. This approach also affected the development of the installations I have been working on to a great extent. The element I care about the most in the spaces I choose is for the space to imbue the object shown within with the space’s own formal, architectural, sociological, and political meaning, and become a major element of the narration in question. Consequently, the space and the object within can form an integrated narrational language without attaining an autonomous, separated existence.

Another commonality observable in my works is establishing gaps that would permit the participation of the visitor, thus leaving open doors for the visitor to get into the work and have a personal experience, rather than keeping her at the outer boundaries of the work. In this context, the experience of the visitor is the only layer integrating the object and the surrounding space—and this also gives rise to novel mental spaces designed through different subjective experiences, beyond the surrounding physical space. These spaces, designed autonomously in every individual’s mind, are in a sense also a reflection of the created and physical installation in another dimension. The installation, instead of staying fixed, takes on a performative role.

From Changeables & Transformables (2010)
Changeables & Transformables was a project I realized with Remo Salvadori in the first part of the exhibition series Lives and works in Istanbul, dated 2010. Throughout the process that focused on how the city could be interpreted with the five elements, I started to concentrate on the city’s relation to water. Water plays a transformative and changing role, as a factor  that connects the mainlands, cultures, and languages, and separates them at the same time. In this respect, Istanbul’s identity has been closely related to water throughout history. As a source of life, water sustains many different ethnic identities, languages, and cultures in this country, as it does in many other lands. Beyond these, water has as much potential to alienate and desolate two points as it has to connect them. Using these as my points of departure, I decided to proceed by focusing on cisterns—longstanding “sources” that have the potential to foreground the water-related identity of the city. I was particularly in search of an unknown cistern, in order to attract the visitors to an invisible point in the city, and convey a different perception of space in each one. In this setting, water acts as the connector.

During my research on cisterns that exist since Byzantine times, I discovered a cistern that has dried out except for one corner of it, located under a carpet shop. The cistern’s undiscovered and dried out state led me to work on a new representation of water in this space. I created a fifteen meter long carpet with the word “breath” written in twelve different languages on it, together with its negative, acting as its reflection on water. A carpet, in addition to resembling water in its form, is also a protective layer between us and the cold reality of the earth’s surface, just like water. Making visible the past, reaching our day, mirrors the concept of “breathing” as things remain under the ground and sustain life; the word “breath” is different in each language yet the essence of “breathing” is the same everywhere, all the time. In short, the carpet forms a new field as long as a breath and exhibiting the properties of  a waterway.

Places water holds together, another installation I realized at the same cistern, took place in the only corner of the cistern where the water remained, functioning as a wishing fountain.

The only corner in which water—the only vital and perennial element—remains thus acted as a center of attraction invisibly connecting many different people. For the installation, I composed the following sentence by using various monetary units gathered in this space that acted as a wishing fountain: “Places water holds together,” referring to the connecting aspects of water.


My project in the exhibition Reflecting Reflections, curated by Abaseh Mirvali and focusing on the concept of reflection, isan installation that relates directly to the space and its geographical location. My focus for this project was a consequence of learning about the existence of a water source under Galeri Mana, assumed to be connected to a cistern or a holy spring. The location of the gallery adds another layer of meaning to the work. Although we are sure of its existence under the gallery, we cannot name the water source, yet we know it is at the same time surrounded by many other water sources. When we remember that the gallery is located between the Tophane fountain, the nearby church’s holy spring, the mosque yard right across, and the seashore, in the middle of a perennial commercial district, we can see that it is located inside a water network. At this juncture, in a temporal continuity, one can witness the concept of the eternity of water—both in invisible form under the ground and visibly above the ground. In my project, my aim is to establish a perception of space that enables the invisible to become visible, while providing a performative means to interpret the district and the space—the gallery—in a temporal continuity through a single element.

In this respect, water figures as the reflector and the conveyor of a space that is both historical and contemporary.
—Hera Büyüktaşçıyan