IRL Stories: Becoming Whole with Aslı Hatipoğlu
The world has overcome long isolation periods in light of the global pandemic that, to date, has caused more than six million deaths. Cultural venues have indefinitely closed down their stages, dance floors and exhibition spaces leaving an entire creative industry at risk of survival. What impact have these times had on the artist’s connection to their artistic practice and the world?
IRL Stories portrays how performing artists across Europe are adapting to these times of radical change. Given the growing digitalisation of everything around us and the current global crisis of IRL (in real life) experiences, the series reflects on identity and resilience within the creative community through an intimate look into new perspectives. Each story includes an interview and a visual narrative photographed on medium-format by Berlin-based artist Rita Couto.
I am on the phone with Aslı and it’s one of those calls where just listening to each other feels very comforting. She’s rushing into a.pass, a venue for advanced performance and scenography studies where she’s currently a resident artist in Brussels. “I’m going to check my bacterias, maybe they are ready!” she says, while noticing the strong smell of garlic and vinegar in the air. Quickly, Aslı turns her camera on and points it to a huge pool of SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), a cellulose-based biofilm that grows on the surface of kombucha. She brings me closer to its texture, amazed by the microbiome that has formed and tells me what this pool is made of: a four square meter frame with 120 liters of tea and 12 kg of sugar.
All of these terms don’t seem strange to me anymore. Rather they fill me with hope, to be reminded that there’s more to it than the mundanity of our lives in the ever more delusional times we’re moving into.
Aslı Hatipoğlu is an interdisciplinary artist working with textiles and food to investigate interwoven themes of history, hunger, science, politics, ancestral knowledge, spirituality and mental health. Time, intimacy and deep sensory experiences play an important role in her work as they help bring meaning and awareness in the choices of how we live our lives.
I first met Aslı in 2016 at Agora Collective, a former multi-disciplinary space in Berlin where many fellow artists used to gather and spend most of their time. We bonded over a performance by Nowhere Kitchen, where Aslı was brought to improvise a seven-course meal through cooking with leftovers… From then, we grew a close friendship through collaborative opportunities, traveling new places and what became the beginning of this story, when I found myself just listening to Aslı for a long morning in her studio in Maastricht, last summer.
We are at the Jan Van Eyck Academie where she has been a resident for 18 months. I am sitting in what she calls “the crying chair” where some fellow residents often come to share and release emotions, trusting her with their personal struggles. While we talk, Aslı is absorbed in her element by taking care of her experiments. As she puts some moldy food away she asks me: “Did you know fruit flies share 60% of human genes? Crazy, right?”
The room is filled with living species and edible materials carefully collected in jars and containers, as well as leftovers of other sorts for further use or wonder, such as the written note in a tiny piece of paper that reads: «Attention: this studio is filled with spores of the bacterias and molds that live in the air, walls, objects, furniture. They influence each other’s process. By being in this studio, you are also becoming a carrier of the spores through your clothes, your physical touch…»
Aslı’s work is always something in the process of becoming. The depth of her creative process feeds off a radical desire to understand herself better through her relationship with living bacteria, its environment, but also with the people in her life. It’s in that process that she invites her audience to participate, reflect and learn.
What have the current times meant to you and how did you find ways to connect with the world through your work?
The past two years, I believe, were a calling for consciousness in not only how we relate to our environment, but also to ourselves. I had shifted from a fast-paced lifestyle working a day-job as a chef into an extremely caring, focused relationship with the microorganisms I cultivated in my studio, at the JVE Academie. I intended to research bacteria and yeast behavior through in-depth fermentation practices as a way of re-questioning lost ancestral knowledge, loss of value due to mass consumption, and the history of human migration through food cultures. I proposed a new culture of eating.
There’s a certain mystical understanding, I believe, in the way we hold a subject in our hands; it’s the love that we put into it that adds something to it. And love, at the moment, is about time, and time means money. In the bacterial world, the feeling of waiting for something to find a new life is, in my vision, very much related to poetry, a romantic idea to the ephemerality of nature. By dedicating time to it, I believe food can act as a catalyst for certain knowledge and emotions to be fermented. As thought enters the mind and food enters the body, it is more intimate than we think.
Throughout the pandemic, my audience became mainly the international community of residents in the JVE academy. Getting to know everyone from a diversity of cultures and identities also inspired me to work with the yeast and bacteria specifically native to those cultures and land. Out of that exchange, I created a platform with the idea to encourage symbiotic relationships with bacteria defined by the poetry of preservation.
You were born in Istanbul to parents of Turkish and Thai descent. As an artist who struggled to secure a visa in Europe, how has your background shaped your work?
I’ve been writing personal diaries since I left home at the age of fourteen. It was out of necessity to let things that were internally happening, out on paper. This silent form of communication with myself came back to me years later. Only when I started to read the book Our Twelve Senses by Albert Soesman, it made total sense to me. He writes: «We have a biographic plan that lies in the depths of our soul. We do not only have complexes, drives, and frustrations, but much else that lives in our subconscious…».
My father lived in Europe and Asia for over thirteen years. He was so fascinated by other cultures, crafts and history. He always encouraged me to look at the world from a wider perspective. That is part of me and I do believe that there is an ancestral calling to attain a higher consciousness of myself and my past.
My mum struggled a lot being a foreigner in Turkey. She adapted in her own ways, from the act of giving to others, to growing flowers and vegetables native to her hometown, in our garden. When you struggle, you realize the urgency of care. I watched her manifest her pain as she processed chili and garlic with a mortar and pestle, with a certain expression on her face. It always spoke to me as something that is much deeper; the chili makes you squint your eyes and sometimes you feel very relieved that something is physically happening.
Cultivating microorganisms in depth also made me think a lot about origins, the subject of foreign and native. We live in a globalized world where everything became part of another, adapted to the circumstances they are given. When a yeast community from another land enters a place, it is also changed in that specific place. To study how it adapts, to me it relates a lot to studying human history as well.
When I share part of my sourdough bacteria to others, it’s an attempt to let it cross borders, where my own physical body may not always be able to. The idea here is to encourage community spirit, like communal ovens and shared alternative spaces as a way to collectively take care of each other. My aim is to mix people with different social classes and ethnic backgrounds, because there is more to share than our differences when the subject becomes something common like baking bread.
How do you see your practice evolving from here?
I can see my work taking different forms, which is always a learning curve. Currently, as a resident at a.pass in Brussels, I am assembling a kitchen lab to observe human interaction with my large scale ferments in a non-domestic space. It’s an evolving project, where I myself am influenced by those interactions in creating situations through scenography. I am driven by my instincts and curiosity and I respond to my work with a “process” mindset where the outcome doesn’t really matter.
I am not inventing something new though; I use my materials as a way to reenact the power of knowledge and how that can liberate us from the current system. The only challenge I face is the increasing separation of human connection because of the digitization of knowledge. Bacterias and yeast can be bought on the internet and cultivated anywhere. This once again separates cultures and actual communication between different groups of people, therefore the history we carry. I am willing to continue working with mediums that are relevant to my artistic practice in an attempt to shift points of perception, but also to be a walking archive of different cultures that have managed to get into my kitchen lab.