We all see things that we believe do not agree with us. Some voice opinions, fewer make an effort to change it. In their own ways Felipe Castelblanco and Serra Tansel use their social roles as artists to influence the wider cultural milieu, this is, after all, where they, and many of us, function.
Turkish-born Tansel, who divides her time between London and Istanbul, found the time (at 10,000 feet, mid-flight) to discuss a few aspects of her current practice ahead of her exhibition in association with ParaSite School and the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens Festival later this month.
The Metropolist: Can you lend us a few words on your residency at ParaSite School? How did you become involved with Felipe [Castelblanco]’s participatory practice?
Serra Tansel: The Royal Academy offers a year-long fellowship to one American citizen each year and Felipe Castelblanco was the fellow artist of 2014-15. Felipe is interested in forming new social structures, finding loop holes within systems he doesn’t agree with. The ParaSite School is a part of Felipe’s practice. Since the Royal Academy is a private institution and cannot provide student visas to international students, Felipe decided to run The ParaSite School inside his studio during his fellowship, inviting 3 non-EU citizens who wouldn’t be able to study there otherwise to share his space for a month each.
Tina Spear who runs noshowspace in Bethnal Green put me and Felipe in touch when Felipe told her about The ParaSite School as she knows about my visa struggles to stay in the UK. Then I filled in an online form, met Felipe to discuss further and he offered me the residency for May 2015.
TM: How did it feel being part of a community within the Academy which, by definition, you weren’t officially permitted to be enrolled in?
ST: The Royal Academy is a very small, cosy school. Sephy is a fantastic cook, preparing lunch everyday. She knows who is vegetarian and cooks according to the number of students in the school each day. I always enjoy meeting new people so it was exciting to meet the students and staff and attending their crits and lectures. Yet, being there for a month didn’t feel like being a part of a community, it was more like being a guest in the mansion of a big family. It’s an exclusive comfort zone, a safe pocket in a city like London.
This exclusivity is not a condition Royal Academy has created, it becomes exclusive because of the education system in UK where the university education is extremely expensive. I sometimes feel more vulnerable and at unease in these comfort zones. While politicians are taming us with fear through Mess Madia and neo-colonial/liberal markets are numbing us with our hurry and worry for earning it and spending it, I try to be cautious about being tamed or domesticated through comfort. A stray cat has higher chance of survival on the streets than a pet cat.
TM: In a lot of ways ParaSite School blends the artistic and the political in way which is truly radical: it works internationally and doesn’t just make a comment on a situation, it intervenes. Strands of your work – particularly pieces you created with Duval Timothy such as ‘Water Is On The House’ – run parallel to this form of hybrid art practice. In what ways does working between countries influence this form of art work, do you think it plays a part in your practice?
ST: The ParaSite School and Su İkramımızdır (Water Is On The House) take action to test out alternatives instead of complaining about problems. It’s useful to propose alternatives and test them out. Theory and practice don’t always match. Practice brings a lot of compromises whereas theory can be as utopian or isolated as one wishes. Practice needs to consider all the current conditions of its context and does shape in unexpected ways. To me, ParaSite School is mostly dealing with immigration issues and education rights and Su İkramımızdır is a response to local conflicts and water politics. I don’t care if they’re art or not.
I’m on my way to London at the moment, replying to your questions on the plane. I will need to ask for a landing card for non-EU citizen soon and will write ‘artist’ as my occupation. But I actually am not so interested in art more than other things in life and I don’t know where the line would be drawn between the art and any other action so I do whatever I do… I’m not surrounded with fine art on a daily basis, yet I am constantly surrounded by the reflections of it or the elements that are hijacked from it. That’s the context I live and work in.
Once, my friend Can said that being a good person is a full time job. I just hope if I am a good person my work will follow. Of course ‘good’ is relative and depends on the context, too.
TM: Have you ever read what Georges Perec said about his obsessive list making and systematising chaos: “…because of the abundance of things to be ordered and the near impossibility of ordering them into a satisfying classification, I never come to an end”. Is this perpetual uncertainty something which you see driving your work or collaborations? A lot of occurrences in fine art which oscillate between ‘either’ and ‘or’ often end up with an ‘and’.
ST: I’m not an anarchist in practice but in theory, I am. I don’t have interest in organising and categorising things, it’s a forced thing for me. I try to perceive things with their fluid / fragmented nature and I guess that uncertainty is my context. Most ‘either’, ‘or’ and ‘and’s are based on dualism. I don’t agree with dualism in the sense that night and day, male and female are positioned opposite each other. They’re not opposite, they’re just different.[LEAD IMAGE: Serra Tansel and Duval Timothy]
Serra Tansel (b.1989) is an artist who lives and works between London and Istanbul. Serra is one of three non-EU artists in residence at Felipe Castelblanco’s ParaSite School at the Royal Academy. She will be setting up her tattoo stall ‘mobile text is the best’, as part of ParaSite, at the Burlington Gardens Festival, 4th July, 12-6pm.