"Exploring presence through absence": Rehan Miskci tackles displacement, identity and loss
25 oct 2016 by Brooke Eastman
art:i:curate artist Rehan Miskci is a New York-based photographer and video artist from Istanbul, Turkey. Her recent photographic project 'Void' explores her Armenian roots as a minority and depicts her struggle with this issue by visualising notions of the displacement and the loss of identity.
B.E. What are you currently working on?
R.M. I’m working on a few different projects, but my focus is on a fictional photo studio called Foto Yeraz*. It’s an extension of my quest for new meanings in the tradition of studio photography and its connection to the Armenian identity. Since the invention of photography made its entrance to the Ottoman Empire, Armenians were the first and most important community to be dominant at this profession. As a member of this community, my focus in this work will be the backdrops that were set behind each figure to abstract them from their surroundings. Mostly depicting pastoral landscapes or aristocrat interiors, these backgrounds become imaginary places for ‘experiments with modernity’ and mediate an act of performance to the everyday subject. I will be creating and installing new backdrops for my fictional photo studio, Foto Yeraz. This will also be my topic in an upcoming residency in Beirut, Lebanon.
Recently I finished a two-channel video installation, Indifferent,that examines the minority experience through language and the personal photographic archive and underlines the anxious analogies between photographs from my own family archive and the ArmenianTurkish language dilemma that I grew up in.
*Yeraz means ‘dream’ in Western Armenian.
B.E. Where do you find inspiration for your work?
R.M. I think it’s a broad spectrum. On one end researching and exploring new artistic references inspires me and on the other end a very mundane and everyday subject matter could be very inspirational at a certain time depending on my interaction with it. But the constant part is the excitement of finding a personal connection to my surroundings and the will to transform that experience into a refined visual presentation that is capable of addressing a bigger audience. It almost feels like confessing a deep secret.
Archives and historical photographs form my main area of interest. It’s a habit that I picked up from childhood. My father used to take a lot of photographs with his medium format Rolleiflex camera and organized them very neatly. Looking at those photographs gave me a feeling of exploring a strange timezone that I wasn’t a part of. It’s a delicate topic since it’s very easy to fall into clichés and as I spend more and more time with it, I’m starting make work in a more critical manner. All in all I look for contemporary meanings in existing images and aim to transform them into foreign but yet familiar scenes.
Rehan Miskci, Threshold IV, archival pigment print, 2012, image courtest of artist.
B.E. Could you tell me a bit about your artistic process?
R.M. I started my practice with collage and my approach to photography and video still carries similar aesthetic concerns. Visually, I’m very interested in unexpected juxtapositions and unintended encounters. Therefore my process oscillates between intuitive and researchbased methods. My subject matter accordingly deals with the fragmented nature of my identity as a member of the Armenian minority in Istanbul. For example, in the series Void, I used projections of figures taken from the archive of an Armenian studio photographer (Maryam Sahinyan) and photographed them as they were breaking up into pieces in their new settings.
When I start a project, I set certain parameters but the final outcome is a little bit of mystery, even to me. I make many decisions on the way and honestly I enjoy the adventurous and variable nature of it.
B.E. Do you have a preference of photography versus video art?
R.M. Not really. I think the material that I’m working with gives me the clue about which one to go with. Sometimes both mediums support each other, it’s not always an either/or situation.
B.E. How do you address notions of displacement and loss of identity through your work?
R.M. The series 'Void' explores the struggle with this issue by visualizing notions of the displacement, the loss of identity and the absence or disappearance of the culture through images that emphasize these notions through the evocation and depiction of studio space. My main inspiration here is the archive of Maryam Sahinyan, an Armenian studio photographer, a woman who worked for almost 50 years (1937 – 1985) in the heart of Istanbul. I focus on her studio space and think of it as a recorder of personal memories, as well as of social and political events. In my work I select images from the archive and remove the figures in them. All that remains is the setting that the people were photographed in. Sahinyan’s studio, as a physical entity, functioning as an ambiguous area between public and private, becomes a hidden stage, where anyone might perform their identity for the camera. While I remove Sahinyan’s subjects from the original photographs they are transported back and fragmented into my abstract reinterpretations of those studio settings. In these works the abstracted studio space becomes a dramatic vehicle for exploring presence through absence. In both parts of this project, I aim to visualize the idea of loss and disruption, which defines the Armenian experience in Turkey.
Rehan Miskci, Gaze, archival inkjet print, 2014, image courtesy of artist.
B.E. You will be participating in an artist residency in Beirut, Lebanon this November and December. What will be your focus for this residency?
R.M. In November and December at Beirut Art Residency, I will be working on Foto Yeraz which is an extension of the above mentioned series, Void. Foto Yeraz will consist of several large scale studio backdrops installed across a room, without any figures posing in front of them or any cameras standing across them. Visually, they will convey contemporary reinterpretations of backdrops used in Armenian photographers’ studios, such as, Abdullah Frères, Giragossian and Sarrafian. The imagery will consist of possible juxtapositions of found imagery, my own photographs and projections that are constituted from various spatial impressions in Beirut’s Armenian surroundings. As an empty and uncanny studio, Foto Yeraz will refer to the dispersion of the Armenian community and with its collagelike visual aesthetics, and will signify a hope for a new kind of wholeness in the contemporary Armenian identity.
B.E. What are you hoping to gain from this experience?
R.M. Visiting Beirut was one of my long term goals, so I’m very excited about this change in location even if it’s for only 6 weeks. Coming from Istanbul and living in New York for the past 5 years, a big part of me enjoys these vibrant yet chaotic cities. Following this, Beirut, as one of the most important hubs in terms of studio photography, will play an essential role for my ongoing exploration in this field. This will be my first residency, so I’m hoping it will be a very intense 6 weeks in terms of concentrating, producing new work, meeting new artists and exchanging feedback. Also, planning a visit to the Arab Image Foundation is one of my primary goals.
B.E. What’s next for you?
R.M. I will be doing an intense research before the residency. Aside from the residency, there are many projects that I started and would like to finish soon. Such as a series where I will be including my background as an interior architect while playing with the idea of scale and photography in terms of spatial representation.