Subjunctivities, Twice.

Merve Ünsal in conversation with Salwa Aleryani

1 | Entry point | In the film Woman in the Dunes [1], a man visiting a small village to collect insects misses the last bus back to the city. The villagers, in an apparent act of hospitality, lead him to a house in the sand dunes where a woman lives by herself. The ladder that he descends on disappears—he is tricked by the villagers who want him to help the woman digging sand for sale. This sand is then processed into concrete, which is also an act to protect the house from being buried in the advancing dune. The system works only when sand is transported out to the outside world and transformed into a construction material.

Perhaps the immobility of the things around us is imposed on them by our certainty that they are themselves and not others, by the immobility of our mind confronting them.Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, The Way by Swann’s, 1928.

| Material | is stubborn in a way in that it resists impulse— at the same time it’s forgiving. It appears to have a life of its own before, throughout, and aft􏰀er the process of making, but it also seems to await clear instructions. I rarely have clear instructions, and so it’s more of a negotiation, a conversation that goes back and forth. It relies on language while eluding it. It’s a relief when and if you’re able to break free from the angst of the irreversibility of an act, of a process that has unintended consequences, and instead acknowledge the agency the material has beyond your imposition.

Dwelling, leading, misleading. From transportation, to container, to being contained. Source and resource. The huddling of bodies in an intimate act, and in an act, at an event, with a crowd, in inauguration. Collectively intimate but also violent, comical. Coercion and rhetoric.

2 | The making, unmaking, destroying, accepting, slightly shift􏰀ing, casting, freezing, waiting, letting happen. Hierarchized and organized within the boundaries of the exhibition.

The bits and pieces that the process yields are the ingredients of something else. Something larger either to be combined or meant as means towards another end. A􏰀fter or before that the sequence is irrelevant, but there’s always the notion of discipline when you start to think about and through form. This is the moment where the material appears to escape you; form escapes you; form and material you can escape from. It is about slippages and gestured surfaces, and a transition, longed for.

Salwa Aleryani, Accidents posing as intentions, 2016.

3 | The act of casting a coin in a well or a fountain to make a wish is a removal. The coin that is being thrown into the body of water represents the removal of the wish from the body of the caster—the coin is charged with carrying, holding on to the things that the person is wishing for, and these wishes can only be realized if they are not embodied within the physical body. A wish cannot exist within the body if it is to become real.

| Casting | a stone, a brick or a coin is throwing it far away from you. Putting it at a distance, watching it land or being deposited somewhere, with the idea that it arrives, settles, and offers something back. The gesture is located somewhere between an expectation and a deliberate understanding (or misunderstanding) of the process of growth, like planting a seed.

Returning to gravity, the weight of things, the physical exertion of throwing a coin (if there is one) or of lift􏰀ing a brick. Tossing a coin highlights this disembodiment, shedding and pushing something away from yourself, an act of emptying, especially if you think of it coming from the space of a pocket. When a coin lands, sinks, hits rock bottom, swims, if it does, if it can, creates ripples, what it sets in motion literally and physically.

Could the cast coin wish be edited, or recalled for correction? Could it follow a change of mind, of state or of circumstance?

4 | Tevekkül | an extension of determinism, fatalism, tevekkül corresponds to the idea of doing everything in your human power and then leaving the rest to God. Tevekkül expresses a combination of free will and faith/fate. When the Van earthquake struck Eastern Turkey in 2011, a lot of faults [2] were identified. Some of the survivors, when asked why they did not move to a better house or why they did not take precautions in an earthquake zone, responded by saying that to take action to prevent damage would be almost blasphemous, an act of resistance. This interpretation of tevekkül bears a striking resemblance to edited inscriptions on cornerstones with shi􏰀fting dates of construction.

| Niyya | refers to intention, aim, or purpose. It motivates an action, an action is a by-intention, and the idea is that God judges your actions not by the action itself, but by what you intended.

Oddly enough this idea has o􏰀ften made me think of art making.

I can’t say that when forms resist the maker, they resist the action or the intention. What I would say is that there is a correlation between the resistance to the intention and the form appearing to be in a state between what has happened and what is yet to happen.

Salwa Aleryani, Becoming Reacquainted, 2015.

5 |

Strange and mysterious things, though, aren’t they— earthquakes? We take it for granted that the earth beneath our feet is solid and stationary. We even talk about people being ‘down to earth’ or having their feet firmly planted on the ground. But suddenly one day we see that it isn’t true. The earth, the boulders, that are supposed to be solid, all of a sudden turn as mushy as liquid.Haruki Murakami, Thailand from Aft􏰀er the Quake, 2003.

Could something fragile today stand for something solid in the future? If flimsy cornerstones and pinned paper plaques can lay claim to massive structures, bridges, and roads,then could one say this is a moment where power and weakness (a contradiction?) is celebrated? There’s something to be appreciated about that, like standing on one leg.

We oft􏰀en use metaphors, such as standing on one leg, being down to earth, feeling grounded. In a way, language is crucial to the process of how I think through and with materials, their physical characteristics, appearance, and function. Different meanings collide when words swing from one context to another. In George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By (2003), in a chapter titled “Challenges to Metaphorical Coherence”, a paragraph reads:

Is that the foundation for your theory? The theory needs more support. The argument is shaky. We need some more facts or the argument will fall apart. We need to construct strong argument for that…

And I wrote down: “She was fragile but had a concrete thought.”

In his work, William Kentridge speaks of different layers of sinking and unearthing. The surface sinks, but also what lies underneath and above it. What Kentridge says includes an understanding of infrastructure that is non-geological, seen from a geological perspective, indicating the instability of an invisible ground.

The idea of rationality also comes into play here. We might disagree on what that means, but in this attempt of untangling emotions involved in wishful thinking, projecting into the future, superstition, irrationality also come up.

6 | Housing as a verb. Housing names, describes, and also determines the state of being housed. The housing that we live in is what hosts us—both holding and delineating the space of living.

| Hope | comes from “grounds of believing that something ‘good’ may happen.” Notice: grounds.

Let’s consider ceremonies of transition—the tools, items, and objects that are used in this process of making, or makebelieving, the precision, symbolism, and technicality of some and the simplicity of others. Put together I read them as a hybrid form of architecture, monument, and sculpture, with a performative tension and fragility.

I would like to refer you to this video I came across, in which we see four blocks of stone [3]. The attendees point at them, declare what the foundation will be (the future location of a branch of an association), shake hands, clap, clap. There’s something absurd, something humorous maybe, and for me at least a curiosity to know what leads to this performative gesture in general, but even more so in the absence of a larger crowd and publicity. The crowd is relatively small and seems to consist of members of the same association. There’s an absence of new members, of the newly convinced. Then again in this context, a landscape that perhaps won’t recognize this subtle, and almost imperceptible demarcation among other things.

We want to really exercise fate with extremely normal things such as our mind.Lisa Robertson, Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft􏰀 Architecture, 2011

7 | The sand pieces are shaped by clean geometric forms. They have been compressed by a pressure that is still visible, becoming the forms that we see. I can imagine this process of becoming, I see the imprint and feel the exertion applied to the surface of the sand.

Sand evokes a strong physical sensation of motion as it shi􏰀fts and moves with landscapes. Salwa’s sculptural works freeze this mobility, which is still palpitating in the material.

Sand is also the main ingredient of architectural cement structures that are built to last for many years. Salwa debunks the steps of the process that we take for granted— even the pavement that we walk on in Berlin or elsewhere, with its materiality and the stuff occasionally impressed into it, becomes strangely overt. Trowels appear malleable, marble soft􏰀ened, cement fluid.

I try to play out the shift􏰀ing value of a form once it performs another role, its weight, gravity, and withdrawal, what’s embedded and embodied. The impression your body creates when you press it against the ground. Movement in time, its temporality.

———-{Solid becoming broken

———-{Broken becoming water

8 | Love | is a period of time that has a beginning and o􏰀ften an end. The temporality between the two bookends records, performs, and fulfils its own goal. This frailty of ends extends into Salwa’s display of things which reveal the processual character of the entire exhibition space. It is a platform of things that could have been and things that were, drawing on the power of casting inherent in objects. They hold on to things that mattered, recording and soaking up the temporality of the work. In the realm that Salwa sets up, everything happens not just once.

Things should be allowed to die. Holding on to something, maintaining, altering a material, in the hope of, with a wish for, its survival, is unconvincing.

Salwa Aleryani, Before they harden, 2016.

9 | (Sculptural) Erection | monolithic, fluidity, imitation, lying down, becoming one. Form’s absence as becoming a form itself. Permanence, impermanence. Stigmatizing vs. imprinting.

Leaving something behind is aligned with abandonment. Although abandonment involves a disappearance it also leaves a clear mark, not without stigma. I’m fascinated by this notion of disappearance in a material sense, what left􏰀 an impression on what, and how. Molds work in that way.

10 | Moyra Davey has this image of a marble slab with the engravement, The End. The End as something temporal—it is relative. The (relative) permanence of the marble slab is confusing in the way that the sharp shapes on plaster lined up on the column, are. There is a tension here: what the material represents is contradicted by its form.

Filling an engraving. The unfilled, the unfulfilled.

The sides of the marble slabs are grazed. To graze is to touch, to scrape lightly, so it’s safe to say that a circular saw scraped the marble lightly in passing. It can happen at the onset of an encounter or during departure. This is where the beginning and the ending intersect. There’s nothing contradictory about that. I thought about filling the engraving with water that would evaporate.

11 | We become aware of the repetitiveness of the minting process when something goes wrong. The repetition is invisible as long as the process doesn’t fail. A head is decapitated, things are repeated, some are amiss, coins are not circular. Salwa’s objects thrive in these gaps and errors. This is not dissimilar to how plumbing works. We become aware of plumbing only when it fails.

I wonder about the idea of failure and that something is not working. It still works; it just works differently.

12 | Drawing | is a form of tracing—Salwa’s drawings transliterated into fluid objects are reminiscent of cartography. The frozen puddles on the pavement already contain this gesture of making permanent what was fleeting at best.

| Patent | a government authority or license conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention.

Patent illustrations always appear to take on awkward angles. For me, it’s as if they are uncomfortable with their own layout. This could be attributed to their uneasy position somewhere between authority and the breathing space of inventing.

13 | Landscape | scale is relative, it depends on the position of observation. I think of Emmet Gowin’s photographs of nuclear testing sites in Nebraska that document manmade changes in nature in an abstract fashion, evoking alienation from what is to be seen. This alienation via abstraction is something that Salwa’s objects hold. A􏰀fter all, the minimal (with a lower-case m) and at times miniaturized objects hold a lot more than what we can expect from visuality. On the other hand, there is perhaps no other way to elaborate and articulate other than through abstraction. So is it possible to propose that the ambiguity of abstraction is a form shared by artists dealing with realpolitik?

In certain circumstances abstraction can be an escape from reality. In other instances it is a decorated cop-out. Whether these are two sides of the same coin, focusing on the nuances, forms, and fallouts of materials, is beside the point, unless this coin has an error.

14 | [Thirteen is an unlucky number. Should we keep going?]

Salwa Aleryani, Coined notion, 2016.


Jean-Luc Godard’s notion “this is not a just image, this is just an image,” is perhaps best suited to characterize the conversations between Salwa Aleryani and myself. Notions of emergency, form, content, materiality, and inadvertent exposure to images and situations have been at the core of both our works and thinking. Justice, or justness, presents itself as an apt way of thinking about what we try to achieve with this text—it is just a text that emerged as we tried to do justice to the ideas that came up in our conversation.

—Berlin, July 2016


[1] By Hiroshi Teshigahara, Japan 1964.

[2] Fault as in a defect vs. fault as in an extended break in a rock formation. Fault as in responsibility for misfortune.

Salwa Aleryani, Frozen puddle, 2016.

This conversation took place on the occasion of Salwa Aleryani’s exhibition Intending Probability at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin (May 26 – June 19, 2016) as part of a one-year residency, supported by KfW Stiftung. The text first appeared in the eponymous catalogue published in 2017 by Verlag Kettler (Dortmund) and edited by Marie-Hélène Gutberlet and Christoph Tannert.

Salwa Aleryani is an artist based in Berlin, and elsewhere. Her work looks into sites, structures and their infrastructures, and lately into notions of hope and promise in public and political setups. 

Merve Ünsal is a visual artist based in Istanbul. In her works, she employs text and photography, possibly beyond their form. Merve is the founding editor of