A Poetic Condensation of Entangled Histories
The 1990s were an exhilarating time for Turkey’s emerging independent dance, theater, and performance art initiatives and collectives. Among these endeavors, the Assos International Performing Arts Festival, conceived and directed by the late Hüseyin Katırcıoğlu, was remarkable. It was organized for site-specific works produced over three weeks in Assos’s spectacular archeological and natural environments, the ancient Greek city on the Aegean coast in the Ayvacık district of Çanakkale province.
In September 1996, at the closing party of the festival’s fourth edition in a beach hotel in Kadırga Koyu, I remember dancing with a tall, sympathetic Japanese guy with shiny long black hair.
For the 2010 edition of the iDANS International Festival for Contemporary Dance and Performance Festival, which I co-organized and curated in Istanbul between 2006 and 2014, I invited Michikazu Matsune, whose work I had been following for some time, for a public-space performance titled Yes and No! It was a demonstration on the busiest and most famous pedestrian street in Istanbul and was realized by some 30 local performers after a workshop led by Michikazu. It was inspired by protest cultures such as rallies and sit-ins where each participant carried placards with slogans such as “yes to Yıldız Tilbe”, a controversial singer-songwriter of Kurdish origin, or statements like “no to being stared at”. The group had gathered in front of Galatasaray Lisesi, the gathering place of many influential protests in Turkey, such as “Saturday Mothers”, and marched to Taksim Square. It was a time when our phones were not that “smart” and social media platforms were not so ubiquitous. So, the only footage we have of the “protest” and the news about it is buried somewhere in our Dropbox archives. I wonder if such a demonstration is conceivable today, after the crackdown on public gatherings since the Gezi protests of 2013, the most significant wave of demonstrations in the history of modern Turkey, but that’s another point.
I found out in a conversation with Michikazu, probably around the time of preparing for the performance at iDANS, that it was him whom I danced with at that closing party of the Assos International Performing Arts Festival in 1996.
On March 2, 2006, I saw Martine Pisani’s work for the first time as part of FUSED, the French-US Exchange in Dance program. Danspace Project and Joyce Theater had joined forces to present the 55-minute piece sans (“without”) created in 2000 at the intimate venue Joyce SoHo in New York City. It was performed by Laurent Pichaud, Theo Kooijman and Olivier Schram. I was in the first row, somewhere in the middle, with my friend, the now well-known dance scholar and curator Noémie Solomon. We struggled to contain our chuckles at the performers’ total, child-like absorption in what seemed like a serious play marked by falls, rebounds, withdrawals, hesitations and faux pas. Mikhail Baryshnikov was among the audience that evening, smiling at us giggly girls on the brink of losing it.
When Michikazu asked me if I would be interested in writing a text on his collaboration with Martine Pisani, he had no idea that she had been one of the first artists I invited to the iDANS Festival in Istanbul. The intention of our program in 2006 was to stand against essentializing cultural and national identities, to emphasize cultural cross-pollination and hybridity, and question artificial bordering processes.
In this context, Martine presented Hors Sujet, performed by Christophe Ives, Théo Kooijman, and Eduard Mont de Palol. It was a twenty-minute excerpt of Hors Sujet ou le bel ici. The piece involved elements that had come up in developing previous shows but had not fit into their framework: planned but not realized situations, things done and then given up.
The second time I invited Martine to iDANS was in October 2009, when the festival was organized around the subjects of “Laughing and Crying”. Theo Kooijman, Laurent Pichaud, and Olivier Schram performed sans as part of our investigation into humor and playfulness in movement. As Theo Kooijman, Martine Pisani’s partner and performer, explains in Kono atari no dokoka – somewhere around here, they created sans “without capital letters, without scenography, without music, without special effects, without psychology, without commentary… but with shoes”.
One can experience Kono atari no dokoka as an oasis or a Zen garden of sorts. It is minimalistic without the ideology of minimalism. It is a reflective space of “less is more”, a humane and unpretentious attitude that I appreciate in both Martine and Michikazu’s approach to their art over the years. It is a refuge, a solace from the atrocities unfolding in the wider world, and a breathing field away from the noise and clutter of what has become much of the art world, where nuance, subtlety, and aesthetics seem to have vanished. Several thinkers such as Byung Chul-Han, Timothy Morton and Dave Hickey have pointed out the current disenchantment in the arts. Not only because the logic of cultural capitalism anesthetizes the aesthetic but also because art is increasingly becoming discursive, informative, and didactic, becoming yet another “data dump” where meaningfulness disappears as it is being reduced to one single meaning. Much of the institutional framing around art today centers on social justice issues and identity politics. This is not a negative development per se, but often turns off the viewer’s spontaneous engagement with art and engineers the responses to it by telling us what we are looking at and what meaning we should extrapolate from that. The aesthetic dimension in Kono atari no dokoka is not about rational argument or persuasion but about being in solidarity with what is given.
Martine Pisani and Michikazu Matsune had crossed paths several times between the mid-2000s and 2009. Their chance encounter in Paris in 2018, after not having seen each other for almost ten years, became the starting point of the project. They embarked on the journey of a poetic condensation of the archives of Martine’s early works, personal memories, anecdotes and imagination, interwoven with those of Michikazu.
Their collaboration is a prime example of intellectual, artistic and cultural humility. It also manifests a deep, genuine curiosity where one artist does not approach the other as a “subject” to extract information but as a true partner in the meaning and sense-making process of their art, their history, and how it is all intertwined with the broader history of that which we call contemporary dance. The result is uncluttered and witty, cutting sharp like the haikus they quote from Kobayashi Issa and Masaoka Shiki throughout the piece.
Self-celebratory autobiographical narratives of “survival” and “therapy speak” have recently become pervasive in politics and the arts. The artists here present their trajectory in terms of how it relates to the broader history of contemporary dance, maintaining a well-crafted distinction between the public and the private, avoiding any self-indulgent trauma narrative even when they talk about significant ruptures in their lives, such as the earthquake that demolished the entire city of Kobe, Michikazu’s hometown, and Martine’s illness that restricted her movements. These ruptures point towards the instability of the ground and that things do not always go as planned, as foreshadowed by the precarious, unstable moves Martine Pisani had explored in her early works in the 1980s and 1990s.
More often than not, things in life do not go as planned. Yet everything makes sense when looking retroactively at the moments, chance encounters that have brought us to where we are. And, the road is not always made by walking; it is paved by stumbling, falling, beginning all over again, or dropping that which no longer works, finding a thread long forgotten and tracking it anew. And, one’s life story is never one’s alone: it is always profoundly touched by others, entangled by the books we read, people we meet, places we work, and the events that transform us and our perceptions of time and place. Kono atari no dokoka is a testimony to this fact.
Gurur Ertem is the director of programming and research at Bimeras Berlin and Istanbul. She is a sociologist, somatic movement/dance educator and curator whose research integrates social and political theory with the arts.
The creation of this text was made possible through a collaboration with Bimeras Berlin gGmBH.
 When the IETM International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts requested a program featuring local artists for its plenary meeting in Istanbul in 2006, we, as the newly founded organization Bimeras, responded by organizing an international marathon program titled “IstanbulREConnects”.