biriken, selected by Nil Yalter

2018 Future Greats

By Nil Yalter

Melis Tezkan and Okan Urun (biriken) in This is the end, beautiful friend, 2017, light installation and performance, Sharjah Biennial 13. Photo: I ˙ pek Çınar. Courtesy the artists I shut down my heart until the apocalypse, 2016, theatre play. Photo: Ali Guler. Courtesy the artists Lick But Don’t Swallow! (stills from a production video), 2010–12, theatre play. Courtesy the artists

Nil Yalter is a Turkish artist, based in Paris, who works in a variety of media and is a pioneer of feminist art. She was selected as the winner of the Prix Aware for outstanding merit.

Istanbul- and Paris-based artists Melis Tezkan and Okan Urun have worked together as biriken (which translates, roughly, as ‘accumulated’) since 2006. I met Tezkan in 2008 while she was conducting research into ‘identities’ and the relationship between the ‘intimate and political’ in video and performance, as a part of which she wrote several articles on ‘nomadism’ in my work. During that process we started to collaborate: in 2009, for example, we created and performed Untitled as part of Temps d’Images festival, in Cluj. I’ve also followed biriken’s theatre, performance and video works, as well as its interdisciplinary creations (which also include writing, filmmaking and curatorial projects), which are the product of a subversive political commitment and a unique poetic language.

The first work that I saw live was the theatre piece Lick But Don’t Swallow! (directed by biriken and written by Özen Yula in 2010). The visual power, acting (performative and theatrical at the same time), humour and political aspect of the work impressed me. Biriken’s stage language is both visual and physical. In Lick But Don’t Swallow!, poetic and political engagement is combined with humour – a porn movie-set becomes a space for the denunciation of the world’s economic and political systems. The strength of the show comes from the way its storytelling components are layered through a variety of media – video, music, text, dance. Lick But Don’t Swallow! has also been shown internationally, in contemporary theatre festivals in the United States, the Netherlands and Germany.

During the past year alone, biriken has written and staged two theatre pieces, in Istanbul and in Paris – I shut down my heart until the apocalypse and The west is the best – they have created an installation-performance in Istanbul (This is the end, beautiful friend, commissioned by Sharjah Biennial 13) and they’ve produced (written, directed and edited) the videoclip Sanki Hic Durmadi (As If It Never Stopped) for the Turkish band Kim Ki O.

This is the end, beautiful friend – inspired by The Doors’ song The End (1967) – is a representative example of biriken’s artistic style. It’s an autobiographical installation-performance that combines both personal and collective catastrophes. The work focuses on Tezkan and Urun accompanying one another in a rhythm created through light and sound, centred around the act of breathing and holding one’s breath. The work as a whole suggests two bodies accompanying each other through life, but also of migrants trying to cross a sea or the last minutes of a life or a birth. But its true power comes from its simple uniting of personal and collective images.

Biriken’s fusion of different media and its symbiotic, collaborative way of working are a promising indication for the future of art. In their representations, the complexity and ambiguity of what we know of reality is in the foreground. What makes biriken’s treatment even more original is that this complexity is not just a provocation for self-reflection, but is also present in the emotions, the gender and the attitudes of the subjects they show us. 

biriken was formed in 2006 by Istanbul-based artists Okan Urun and Melis Tezkan. Their most recent projects include the installation-performance This is the end, beautiful friend (2017), commissioned by Sharjah Biennial 13 and performed at Istanbloom and SALT Galata (both 2017); the theatre piece I shut down my heart until the apocalypse was presented at Jerk Off festival in Paris in September 2017. They are currently working on their next performance, THE WEST IS THE BEST.

From the January & February 2018 issue of ArtReview, in association with K11 Art Foundation