Nil Yalter: Off the Record
Nil Yalter
Off the Record

Curator: Eda Berkmen

14 October 2016–15 January 2017
Eda Berkmen in conversation with Nil Yalter on "Off the Record"
La Roquette, Women's Prison, 1974
(with Judy Blum and Nicole Croiset)
Installation with photographs, drawings and video
Photo: Aras Selim Bankoğlu
Pixelismus, 1996
24 paintings on canvas
Interactive CD-ROM (with David Apikian and Nicole Croiset)
Photo: Aras Selim Bankoğlu
Immigrants, 1976-2016
Installation with 10 videos
C-print, variable dimensions
Photo: Aras Selim Bankoğlu
Professions of the Sea [Les Métiers de la Mer], 1982
(with Nicole Croiset)
Two-channel video and neon installation
Photo: Aras Selim Bankoğlu
Arter presents "Off the Record" by Nil Yalter between 14 October 2016 and 15 January 2017. Curated by Eda Berkmen, the exhibition is a thematic overview of Yalter's hybrid installations that combine painting, photography, writing, collage, performance, and video. Yalter's work explores individual's strategies for survival in the face of society's control mechanisms and norms, focusing on omitted facts, invisible people, enclosed places and repressed emotions. The exhibition title refers to these subjects that are denied a place in official histories.
With an acute awareness of the way space, body and knowledge are manipulated by authorities to maintain control over the masses, Yalter looks to the margins. She documents the struggles and dwellings of the unseen members of society: the labourers, women and immigrants. In her research, Yalter brings together diverse disciplines such as folk tradition, literature, ethnology, natural sciences and philosophy. She creates a unique visual language that fuses fact and fiction, as well as documentary, poetry and performance. Just as a shaman inhabits other realms and bodies during trance, Yalter leaves the confines of identity to deal with personal and collective trauma.

As a Marxist-feminist and an immigrant herself, Yalter focuses extensively on the subject of immigration. She documents the struggles of migrant workers, through objects, visuals and video interviews that she collected using ethnographic methods. "Off the Record" brings together a selection of works from the artist's  "Temporary Dwellings" (1974-1977), "Immigrants" (1976-2016) and "Exile is a Hard Job" (1983) series that are chosen for the context of Istanbul and the specificities of the exhibition space. Beyond their significance as historical documents, these works are also flexible, permeable, and multilingual fictional spaces that allow the audience to observe different points of view.

The installation titled "Rahime, Kurdish Woman from Turkey" (1979) brings together in a single anecdote the recurring themes of womanhood, immigration, labour and imprisonment through symbolic imagery and re-enactment. It gives voice to a person who has been reduced to a casualty, or a statistic for industrial efficiency. Yalter points to the individuality of her subject while calling to mind that she is just one among countless other women, who share the same struggle.

Yalter's first work to directly address a political subject, "Deniz Gezmiş" (1972) is about the execution of three young revolutionaries during the time of martial law in Turkey in 1972. Described by Yalter as an "act of presence", this work was first realised in a room in Istanbul, then in Paris by creating the same setup. "Deniz Gezmiş" embodies the moral reflex of an artist compelled to respond to the urgencies of her time. The work meets with audiences for the first time in this exhibition.

Also among the works in the exhibition are "La Roquette, Women's Prison" (1974), recounting the story of Mimi, an inmate in the prison located in the 11th arrondissement of Paris; "Le Chevalier d'Éon" (1978), the portrait of a middle-aged person who shifts between two genders throughout his life; and "Harem" (1979-80), which focuses on the sexually charged relationship between two concubines amidst the splendour of Topkapı Palace. In these works that subvert traditional subject-object relationships and ingrained gender categories, desire manifests as the power of repudiating oppression in disciplinary systems.

Many of Yalter's installations bear traces of the journeys that the artist has taken, both literally and figuratively. "Orient Express" (1976) is an account of the artist's journey from Paris to Istanbul on one of the last Direct Orient Express trains. The video totem entitled "Professions of the Sea" (1982) is inspired by a Finnish epic about journeys across the seas. These works illustrate possibilities of existence amidst dichotomies such as nature-human, human-machine, past-future, East-West, as well as illustrating to the possibility of an alternate way of cognition that is beyond the bounds of ordinary, literal language.

The exhibition is accompanied by a bilingual publication with texts by cultural theorist Başak Ertür, curator Fatoş Üstek, cultural anthropologist Bernard Dupaigne, historian Philippe Artières, alongside an essay by Eda Berkmen elaborating on the conceptual framework of the exhibition.