Silenced Voices - An Interview between Ayse Erek with Rainer Ganahl, January 2008

(unedited - the printed version might differ from this one here)

Ayse Erek - 'Express' - A monthly
magazine that is being published in
Istanbul. This is a left biased magazine with a good
reputation and community of regular readers. For the
coming month's issue, the cover topic will be 'for the
memorial of Hrant Dink', the recently murdered
journalist, as 19th of January is the first
anniversary of his assassination.

link to the work in discussion

Ayse Erek

For realizing your work for the last Istanbul biennial, you've ridden your bicycle between the locations where the recent journalist murders took place and left a flower for each, exhibiting the process as a 4.5 hour video in the biennial. What was your motivation?

Rainer Ganahl
It is true, that for my project entitled "Silenced Voices - Bicycling Istanbul's Topography of 21 Murdered Journalists, 2007, I was riding my bicycles between the 21 sites where journalist have been murdered during the last century - not just recent once. This also brought me to the tragic murder of Hrant Dink which was really so fresh in the memory of people, that I was told by curious passer-bys how the body was lying on the ground in its exact possition. Opposite of my initial idea, I didn't leave flowers at the site but wrote with chalk the name of the journalist, plus "journalist, murdered here (date of the murder)" in English and Turkish on the ground. All this was filmed by me with a hand camera I was carrying and which was running non stop, producing some mapping of the city. This writing got me twice into some problems: once I was aggressed by an older men who didn't want me to write anything and miss took me for some graffiti artist / understood as trouble maker; second I was questioned by two police officers who wanted to take me away and disputed on top the fact, indicating that no murder ever took place here. The result of this project you can see on my website: www.ganahl.info/istanbul.html.

Ayse Erek
How did you make your research on the subject?

Rainer Ganahl:
the biennial put me in touch with a research assistant, Sirin Tabanli who was contacting various historians, journalists and the Turkish institute of journalism.

(more detailed: The research was done by Sirin Tabanli, Murat Alat, Orhan
Tüleylioglu (Ugur Mumcu/Association of Journalistic Research) and the Turkey 
Organization for Journalists. We consulted Alpay Kabacali, Political 
Murders in Turkey between “Tanzimat/reform” (1826) and “March 
12th” (1971); Hifzi Topuz, Turkish Press History, Edition Remzi
 2003; various daily newspapers (Cumhuriyet, Hürriyet, Milliyet, Aksam) from
the archives; and numerous internet sites.)

Ayse Erek
What was your experience of the project, in terms of your preconceptions before starting the project?

Rainer Ganahl:
As I just mentioned, my encounter with the police was a little bit unpleasant and I can easily imagine what would have happened had I not been a foreigner. Even though I could speak to them only in a foreign language they didn't believe me since I wrote the sentence about the assassinated journalist also in Turkish language (my only Turkish sentence I knew) . They insisted that I was understanding Turkish and were very suspicious of me and wanted to take me away. I tried to imagine myself in a position of a Turkish minority member expressing some minimal symbolic protest. I understood that non-tolerant authoritarian state structures weren't too far away in the past. (and for some people in the present). I used chalk specifically for a writing material that didn't damage anything and wouldn't even stay long, so to say, clean itself up after a relatively short while.

I also have to admit that the traffic situation for bicycles is suicidal and very bad. I wish that Istanbul will soon have a mayor who rethinks urban planning and reserves space for bicycles. Needless to say, this project due to its specific mapping quality made me pass through a very wide spectrum of this magnificent town. I saw very wealthy areas as well as very desolate and run down parts of it. It also was a ride through all the social, economic, ethnic and religious contrasts and diversities Istanbul has to offer and has to struggle with. I really liked it and learned quite a bit.

Ayse Erek
As a part of the project, you've written on the ground where each murder took place, the names of the murderees , with chalk. This seems to contrast with the typical object of memorial, say, as realized in the marble sculptures made for some of these journalists. Is this a conscious choice? (Do you think sometimes the memorial serve as an object of forgetting?)

Rainer Ganahl
Yes, this question about monuments and memorials was very much on my mind in general, when I conceived the project and in particular when I came to the murder site of Abdi Ipekçi, killed in 1979. For a short moment, my chalk writing was creating an interesting contrast to the stone memorial already in place. It was the contrast between stone and a chalk graffiti that came in form of a bicycle performance. Of course, the memorial goes on and lives now in form of this “art work” consisting of a poster with all the sites, the map, (please, download the poster from my web site) the video and the discursive formations grouping themselves around this art work that come also with the necessary question “but is it still art”.

This work exists in various forms in various media, in reproductions in print media and on the internet, purely informational, as well as physical, in exhibitions or hopefully one day in a private or public collection. As such the art work and its content - the memorial of these tragic events, the larger question of murdered journalists, political assassinations, press and democracy - stay very evasive and immaterial but also very discursive and open to join multiple debates. I wouldn’t want this art work to end up in a historical museum where these topics are usually displayed or debated but in a museum of contemporary art where it “seams to not fit” but therefore continuous to ask questions.

Often, the problem with classical memorials in stone is that they stop asking questions, that they don’t bother anybody, that people get used to them and just absorb them as urban decoration, in particular when they are “made to fit” into the taste formation of the surrounding.

Ayse Erek
What are your impressions / observations about the reactions from the public after the murder of Hrant Dink, if you have any (The march of the middle classes and the rise of nationalist reactions surpassing these reactions, for example.)?

Rainer Ganahl
Living in New York, I have to admit that I am too far away to add anything to your knowledge. I have followed it with large interest in the New York Times, which dedicated several articles to this specific assassination. It is also often mentioned in regard to general discussions about Turkey which in these days is permanently making International news for a roster of hot topics, ranging from Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, terrorism, bombs, admission to the European Union and the denial of the Armenian genocide. Your Nobel Prize winner in literature, Pamuk, also makes the news beyond his writing and exposes peculiar authoritarian sides in the Turkish legal framework. I really can’t answer this question and would like to hear more about it from you, in particular about the “march of the middle classes”


Thank you!