Didem Pekün: at night, on faultlines
6–29 June 2024
Opening: 6 June 2024, 6–9 pm

Between Bridges Residency Space: 
Keithstraße 15, 10187 Berlin
Wednesday to Saturday 12–6pm

How to be moved and move other people in the constant movement of life? How to locate the indestructibility and adaptive resilience at our cores amid the tremors of a world marked by automation, confinement, pandemic, and upheaval? What can we learn from improvisation in pursuit of (co)immunity? Can we sculpt individual anxieties, and desires into a collective source of energy so to disentangle our agency from mechanisms of authoritarian control? In doing so, can we reclaim the inherent knowledge of our bodies? With the twenty-first century’s asymmetric complexities undermining our cognitive capacities to move and epigenetic traumas both individual and collective resurfacing, here is a video installation that proposes a motion to these questions. at night, on faultlines by Didem Pekün moves with both the pandemic-induced tectonics of global disorder and the uncertainty that follows an earthquake in Istanbul, our beloved city of severe seismic bamboleo.

at night, on faultlines is a carefully edited video installation that traces the movements of a group of dancers across the interior of an apartment and integrates closeups of the performers and accompanying musicians and the Istanbul itself, in all of its sprawl, density, and urban hustle and bustle. One key protagonist is Mihran Tomasyan, a well-known dancer and choreographer who is joined by members of his Çıplak Ayaklar Kumpanyası, the studio he cofounded and an integral part of Istanbul’s creative fabric for two decades. The other is Leyla Postalcıoğlu, a performer whose expertise on improvisation as a practice of self-expression and compositional method bounces off the screen, along with her command of gestures deliberate and incisive. The young dancers are confined to an apartment on this fault line, their bodies confounded to participate in an improvised ritual of self-liberation. We, the viewers, are carefully engaged in this filmic space and invited to meditate on the site and processes in which this dance is being created and the shifting dynamics between the dancers in situ. With a space for togetherness created, the ultimate exercise is on: bond in movement. What emerges is a sort of arcane exercise in which deep time is sensed and exchanged.

Pekün reconsiders how the odds and ills of confinement are represented though movement, depicting dance as a raw force in constant dialogue with its surroundings. Intertwined bodies and faces reveal a sensual and aching choreography. A constellation of reflections from Istanbul’s traffic, views from a boat on the Bosphorus, and a closeup of a drummer and musician are intercut in a rhythmic dance, with images pouring through that echo the shifting positions of the performers. Aware of every step and at the same time willing to forget everything, dancing in and chasing the rhythm, the dancers’ encounter leads them listen to each other’s movements and postures, which are impressed upon by time, space, and weight. What are their support points and their physical limits? How do they stretch their bodies with imagination and transform feeling into movement? What commons do they find? What will they remember, as individuals and a collective? Is Pekün’s camera an ally, a participant, an agent of this energetic movement, a mediator between improvisation and us? Does Pekün’s camera pan through structures of feeling? Gestures of the performers’ interdependence surround the camera in indecipherable emotions. An air of aesthetic, and even sensual satisfaction ruminates across the five screens, a sign, no doubt, of concentration and will. Are we looking at entrapment, melancholy, and anxiety or simply witnessing a surrender to the forces of life? 

This performative reimagination of life in Istanbul—an experience at once mythical and subject to geological and political tremors—signals a vivid love and admiration of the performers’ bodies and their interdependence. Pekün works with cinematic techniques and framing to warp performers’ physicality, and her luscious cinematography expands the parameters of filmmaking, using movement to lean into notions of solidarity, repair, and undeniably lived love, as they are contained not only by flesh but also by cement and gravity.

This work features many characteristics of Pekün’s art from the previous two decades, including a rigorous emphasis on individuals, contexts, surfaces, and the politics of staging and cinematically self-reflexive techniques. Pekün’s earlier films Araf (2018) and Disturbed Earth (2021) too are dances, a “choreography of suffering” in the former and “a choreography of bureaucratic incompetence” in the latter, in the filmmaker’s own words. Here, a new leap is taken in her experimentation with improvised movement by both dancers and musicians, the ever-inventive drummer Berke Can Özcan and vocalist, writer, and French hornist Elena Kakaliagou. Pekün’s rhythmic edits and intuitive cuts fits with her mediation of a conventional understanding of cinema as an inherently disembodied cultural form. Unlike her predecessors in experimental film who have challenged preconceived notions of movement and time in cinema and depicted the body as flawed and fragile, Pekün looks at the body as a site of miraculous potential for improvised collectivity and strength against the backdrop of political, social, economic, and ecological injustices in her home country.

Having been academically and artistically invested in the critical examination of the Turkey’s violent reconfiguration as a nation-state and its interconnected resonances today (compounded by a deliberate historiography of amnesia or denial), this new step is no surprise.

“An Armenian, a Greek and a Bosniak went into a bar…” What might have started as a joke among these collaborators speaks to the fragmented, deterritorialized cultural space in which this time-based mapping of a human geography unfolds, with improvisation attempting to undo complex ancestral knots.  I ask myself: Can a camera really move though historical processes and sedimented layers to tap into intelligences involved with political consciousness? Can interdependence work through overlooked sentiments that come with living on a fault line? Can new interfaces created by artists—moving beyond conventional art objects—trace a longer arc of alternate histories and create new temporalities? Can movement help us move toward systems of mutual care and help us transition toward conditions of repair and restorative justice? Can togetherness unpack the hybridity of sensuality and creative pleasures, while circumventing the disciplinary logic of nation-states? Can choreography really be that space of social imaginary where collective freedom resists confinement, incarceration, and surveillance? Too much said and asked, perhaps.

Ensnared in a faux-religious neoliberal scheme, neo-Ottoman maneuvers, and fading Byzantine imaginaries, Turkey’s de facto cultural capital lays out a historical tapestry of political domination stretching from Byzantium to the present metropolis. In the aftermath of the geopolitical disruptions of the early twentieth century, coupled with the echoes of mid-century pogroms, Istanbul today faces the challenges of further inequitable conditions—exacerbated by the pandemic—and the convergence of migratory flows, adding complexity to its narrative. It is now a home away home for most of us, those who live everywhere and nowhere at once, including Pekün and myself. 

Enjoy this take. at night, on faultlines is a testament of an embodied ethics of being in the world that extends to research not only on art and life but also on possible toolboxes of survival in amid authoritarian turns around the world. May this invented dance-ritual of researching, moving, and creating together allow us to purge, purify, and cleanse once and for all. May it pour its fire in our collective imagination, may it continue to deconstruct master narratives and open new ways of moving along the contentious seas of our shared globe.

Defne Ayas

About the artist

Didem Pekün is an artist-filmmaker and educator whose work is characterized by a combination of theory and practice. Thus, in parallel with her research, she has made several films that address issues of political violence, displacement and their myriad intersections. She is currently working on moving image works and an educational platform around notions of repairing the future and community building. Pekün’s practice is engaged with and motivated by work that liberates and work that thinks about liberation. 

Didem Pekün, at night, on faultlines, 2024. Film Installation. 21:23 min, surround sound.

at night, on faultlines

by Didem Pekün

Performances in the video by Berke Can Özcan, Beste Demir, Ekin Önce, Elena Kakaliagou, Leyla Postalcıoğlu,  Mihran Tomasyan, Nazli Durak, Nazli Tecimer and Ufuk Fakıoğlu

Produced by Anna Maria Aslanoğlu and Didem Pekün

The exhibition at night, on faultlines by Didem Pekün is the culmination of the biannual Between Bridges Residency and is presented in collaboration with the Berliner Programm Künstlerische Forschung.