The Embassy Series – a continuing research in politics, rituals, and curation

Melih Gencboyaci is an artist, curator, and Hatha Yoga teacher. He studied acting at Dokuz Eylul University in Turkey. Later, he studied at the Mime department of Academy of Dance and Theatre in the Netherlands. Since 2008, he has founded two collectives of uncompromising, sweaty, and trustful collaborations: Schwalbe and Copycats. He is finishing his master’s degree at Das Theatre’s Extended Curation program. His curatorial research is focused on creating alternative realities to challenge the existing political structures.

The Embassy of Future Citizenship and The New Embassy of Turkey (the Embassy series) have been developed as the degree project in Extended Curation. During his studies Melih has been drawn to the notion of “embodied resistance” at the intersection of art, politics, and spirituality. He is interested in the relationship between the ritual practices and the political identifications, and experiments with creating contexts for their entanglement. Through his research Melih seeks to address key questions: How can a curatorial practice create agency and engagement in the audience? How can a political understanding of body be instrumental in proposing a new identification? These questions require him to think about the body as a site of everyday resistance, and about the potential of curatorial practice as a testing ground for the new embodiments that emerge.  

 

Tutor - Lara Staal

Dramaturgical Advisor - Eylül F. Akıncı

Advisor - Alessandra Saviotti
Light Installation - Grisha Runge
Sound Installation - Ata Güner
Graphic Design & Website - Nadine Rotem-Stibbe

 


The Political is Personal

Melih Gençboyacı’s artistic background as performance maker deeply informs his approach to curatorial practice. The stylistic physicality of Schwalbe (2008-2016) and Copycats (2012-2015), both of which he was a founding member of, seeps into his desire to activate the bodies of the audience members in his curatorial projects The Embassy of Future Citizenship and The New Embassy of Turkey. Indeed, he prefers the word “participant” instead of “audience:” he leaves intentional gaps to the exhibition structure in a way that can only be completed by the physical, mental, and spiritual presence of the visitors.

The intense repetition of physical gestures or textual rules that defined Melih’s identity as a performer has morphed into several prompts that the audience need to act or reflect on. Streamlining the performances, installations, lectures, and discussions within the curation, these prompts function in opening a space of freedom and collective imagination, which goes one step further than the critique of power Melih once expressed with such works as Access to Anxiety (2010), Holy Holy Holy (2012), or Schwalbe is Looking for Crowd XL (2013). Thus, the demandingness of the Embassy series stems from the necessity of recalibrating the everyday body of the visitor for a performative engagement with politics.

As the titles of the Embassy series reveal, Melih’s curatorial practice aims to rethink the meaning of citizenship, which is inevitably laden with his own diasporic experience. His situatedness between Germany, Turkey, and the Netherlands does not amount to an individual crisis of identity, but rather endows him with an intuitive knowledge of the common patterns of governmentality across two experiences of democracy. In his quest to understand what makes for a community, Melih is cautious to not reproduce an identity politics from a minority standpoint. Instead, he sees the processes of identification and community-making as a corporeal, conscientious belonging that transcends natal or diasporic territory. With this insight, Melih invites other thinkers and artists who have also been grappling with the meaning of borders—the geographic borders as well as disciplinary, ontological, intellectual, affective, and sexual ones.

Although the overwhelming number of his collaborators have ties with Turkey, Melih’s priority is not creating a Turkish enclave. He seeks to deconstruct the makeshift ideology of “New Turkey” and, by occupying the very absurdity of it, to create an outpost for all those who feel incapable of claiming a political representation. His interest lies in turning this very personal sense of precarity, the fatiguing pull of normative politics in the minutiae of one’s daily encounters and psyche, into a collective meeting point and resistance. Thus, he carries a sense of emotional affinity with his collaborators and commissions, rather than a regional one.

Melih’s training and teaching in the yoga tradition motivates his attention to the body’s materiality in the service of cultivating resilience at the micropolitical level. In an early conversation on this point, I introduced him to the conceptual artist and philosopher Adrian Piper (b.1948). Piper’s yoga practice, coupled with regular journaling and fasting, formed the bedrock of her early performance-interventions, a prominent example of which is The Mythic Being from 1972-75. While the feminist dictum “the personal is political” profoundly impacted the performance art of the 1970s, Piper was already reversing its terms as she dissected the particular embodiments coded by and within hegemonic power. Also drawing from the Benedictine tradition of scripture reading called “Lectio Divina,” Melih’s curatorial practice can be considered as a continuous experiment with the generative forms of self-discipline, meditation, and ritual-making, not least because our despots always hide inside.

Eylül Fidan Akıncı