The Edepsiz-Indecency project (2016-17) - Rooftop Theatre, ArtRooms and artists - An Instance of Queer-ing

This short piece will make a brief analysis of the way a specific artistic process emerged as an act of Queer-ing. The term here is used as a verb, and it implies a broader process of other-ing, as that is related to conservative social values beyond heterosexism and heteronormativity. The queer-ing attempted here was centered on the idea of (in)decency, it was form-specific, active and purposeful. It was an intervention that happened contextually, and emerged from a desire to engage with the environment. This desire was manifested first in the ‘Edepsiz / Indecency’ initiative of Oya Akin and Oya Silberry, and resulted in two exhibitions/ performance art interventions through the collaboration between Rooftop Theatre, ArtRooms and a group of artists.

Artists work based on stimuli, as that emerges from their personal and social space, as they relate to their individual or collective existence. Fine artists and performing artists carry out processes in different ways, since they posses (according to the artistic norms) different tools: fine artists have (among others) their paints, brushes, clay, photographic lenses, while the performing artists work predominantly with their bodies. Narratives and stories are thus told in very different ways.

The artistic decision towards a creative mélange using both fine arts and performing arts is a methodological approach, which emerged in the 1950s through what was later termed ‘performance art’. Performance artists started using means from fine arts, or fine artists used their bodies to tell their stories. One could say that the means of expression broadened, multiplied and acquired new possibilities.

Cyprus has a short but rich history of this approach, with artist interventions in museum spaces (e.g. Pascal Caron’s Excavation Movements as part of the exhibition “The Body: lived experiences in ancient Cyprus” in the Cyprus Museum, 2014), in relation to established public artworks (e.g. Lia Haraki’s The Record Replay React Show, in Nimac’s “Treasure island”, 2015) and the work of performance artists (e.g. Andreas Pashias, Christina Georgiou). There is an annual international Cyprus International Performance Art Festival (CIPAF), and the Cyprus International Performance Art Society (CIPAS), both initiatives of Christina Georgiou, as well as the Fringe Performing Arts Festival, organized by the Home for Cooperation. There are, of course, other individuals and groups engaging with hybrid praxis, but this short article does not attempt a mapping. The examples mentioned above are a random sample of works and individuals, and is only meant to give an idea of the breadth of the practice.

Rooftop Theatre, from it’s own vantage point as a grassroots organizations dealing with the arts in relation to community, has also become involved in this type of work. After the initiative of Rooftop member Oya Akin, a partnership was created with the Edepsiz/Indecency collective of fine artists (Turkish Cypriots and Turks) and with the ArtRooms Gallery, based in Kyrenia. The raison d’etre of the Edepsiz/Indecency collective, was to explore the nature of indecency as a social currency through art work. Indicative questions were: what makes someone or something indecent? What are the conversations we are individually or collectively not having about these issues? Are nudity, religion, sex, sexual preference (and others) related to indecency and how? How do we relate indecency to our communities? This is not an exhaustive list, as you can imagine.

After two series of workshops, two performances were created in 2016 and 2017, based on the artworks submitted to the Edepsiz / Indecency initiative. The general title was Edepsiz / Indecency Project I and II. The performances were held in non theatre spaces, with Edepsiz / Indecency Project I in a house across from Agia Sofia/ Selimiye in Nicosia over Araf bar, in a guided promenade performance from the entrance and through the rooms, and with Edepsiz / Indecency Project II in the ArtRooms space in Kyrenia, as a self-guided promenade through the spaces of the gallery. The general coordination for both belonged to Oya Akin and Oya Silberry, while the dramaturgy and direction in part I belonged to Ellada Evangelou and in part II to Maria Varnakkidou. The dramaturges/directors and the coordinators collectively carried out the curation of the exhibitions. The group of fine artists exhibited was predominantly consisting of Turkish Cypriots and Turks, and the group of actors was predominantly consisting of Greek Cypriots.

The aim of the project was not to recreate, imitate or sequel the art pieces, but to creatively reflect on what was being said by the fine artists, through the use of the human body, voice and expression. In addition to the initial guiding questions, the dramaturgy of the performance was heavily influenced by the materiality of the works themselves, as well as their relation to the performance space and the social context. In relation to the materiality, Edepsiz / Indecency I demonstrated a preoccupation with the use of plastic in the work of photographer Çiğdem Emir, instigated a conversation on limitations and boundaries. That discussion generated an interactive piece, the final one of the performance, in which the performers asked the spectators to choose an artwork from those hanging on the walls (among those, Emir’s work) and then whether they would allow the performers to re-shape their bodies in relation to what they were seeing. The process superimposed a set of binary emotions that the audience also was asked to pick (from two parts of binaries).

It is, however, the association to the social context that creates the strongest connection with the queer-ing of the social space and art scene. The act of inserting the intentions, aesthetic choices and (ultimately) bodies of a group of artists who identify themselves only as such, and refuse to be defined by their passport, or any other feature other than their artwork and its quality of indecency, this reframing of individuality and collectiveness, is what constitutes, at the most basic level, a queer-ing of the space.

The group was preoccupied with presenting Edepsiz / Indecency I in Araf, a space across from the historic religious monument, and then in Edepsiz / Indecency II in the middle of Kyrenia, a town marked by its neo-conservatism in relation to its changing demographic, served as a reality check and revealed the nature of the work and its possible impact. Original thoughts to project images from the window of Araf onto Agia Sofia/Selimiye were scratched, the daring opening performance in ArtRooms which included a live nude body roaming around in a primitive (re)birth in the garden, was introduced by a disclaimer and request to delete any pictures taken.

Queer-ing as an action also lies in the creation of conditions for open dialogue and (potentially) critique by the viewers. These interventions embedded within them the process of dialogue and interaction, they created the conditions to talk about what people experienced. The inherent fear that lies with being hidden, obscure and ‘in the closet’ was dealt with unapologetically by the Edepsiz / Indecency project, although it did not always succeed to overcome it.

The ask, though, is not to overcome, but to continue in a process of queer-ing, until there are enough public conversations around what is considered ambivalent, obscure, even dangerous. These are the kinds of defenses that healthy societies develop, against their own fear of change.