Maria Lai, Libro scalpo, 1990, Mixed media on paper, Stazione dell'Arte, photographed by Pınar Türer

‘Intimacy is a word that comes up surprisingly often, but also in surprisingly unspecified ways’ - a conversation with Pınar Türer

Issue no5
Oct - Nov 2023

PhD researcher Pınar Türer has always been interested in relationality. How do we make sense of each other? How do we relate to each other? In her PhD, she turns to art and the concept of intimacy to explore this. ‘Intimacy encompasses a range of complexities, including messiness, violence, care, trust, and inconvenience.’

—Nesli Gül Durukan What drew you to this field of research?

—Pınar Türer ‘I started thinking about love more than intimacy before my master's degree. I have always been interested in relationality in general, how we make sense of each other and how we relate to each other. I turned to love for that at first. Love as a political concept or as part of ethics. After completing my BA thesis on feminist love studies and literature, I completed my RMA in Gender Studies in Utrecht, where I worked on intimacy more specifically in relation to a rethinking of the self. New concepts emerged that expanded my understanding of the field. I came to feel that the concept of love was not living up to my expectations, and that intimacy was a more expansive and accommodating framework. Unlike love, which I found to be limiting, intimacy encompassed a range of complexities, including a more intriguing sense of messiness, violence, care, trust, desire, or inconvenience.’[1]

—Nesli Gül Durukan How do you envision your work contributing to the field?

—Pınar Türer ‘This question might need the explanation of what that “field” is. For me, as an interdisciplinary researcher, it is a question of fields, which are, among others, feminist and critical theory, and cultural studies. At least for now. Because my background was pluralistic at the beginning, if not yet interdisciplinary; so, I expect shifts and maybe new additions of “fields” that concern me as I go along with this project. One of the ways I hope to contribute to these fields is by shining some light on the ways intimacy is used in various scholarships, especially in the frameworks of feminist theory, gender studies, sexuality, etc. Since I started my PhD at Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis - University of Amsterdam, more research on the topic of intimacy has emerged. It is fantastic to see how the topic became more popular. Also in works not necessarily about gender, or sexuality, intimacy is a word that comes up surprisingly often, but also in surprisingly unspecified ways. I wanted to see how people were using it and what they actually referred to. I also wanted to understand what I meant by it. What it referred to for me. Looking at intimacy more closely, beyond proximity or close relationship. That’s why in the project I also ask what other elements does intimacy have? Things that distinguish it from other kinds of relationships. Trying to specify it without limiting it; opening it up without crushing it.’[2]

' I try to specify intimacy without limiting it; to open it up without crushing it’

Maria Lai, Libretti Murati, 2003, glazed terracotta, Ulassai, photographed by Pınar Türerr

Maria Lai, Libretti Murati, 2003, glazed terracotta, Ulassai, photographed by Pınar Türer

—Nesli Gül Durukan Do you have any other hopes for contribution?

—Pınar Türer ‘Yes, I hope to contribute to a better understanding of the relation between intimacy and knowledge practices. Because that has been something I still cannot find so much in the scholarship around intimacy. I have been curious about how the ways we get intimate (or the ways we are, or act, in intimacy) affect the ways we come to know things – about others, about ourselves, about the world. I think investigating these links could give us something valuable because it changes the questions we ask about epistemology, and it changes the questions we ask about relationality. That’s something I still see as a lack in the fields in which I think and write. We might be exploring material relationships or intimacy’s relation to affect and emotion more in depth lately, but when it comes to questions of how we know each other or ourselves – and what that could mean politically – I still see a bit of a gap. That’s the hope for contribution.’

—Nesli Gül Durukan Could you tell me more about your concrete research plans? What methods you will use?

—Pınar Türer 'The plan, broadly, is to have three case studies from different cultural locations and in different mediums. I work with three different mediums: literature, textile art, and performance art. As difficult as it is to work across such different mediums, I am convinced that it gives something specific, and fresh to my exploration of the concept of intimacy. Because at the end of it, this is also a philosophical project for me. The underlying method of engagement with my case studies is closely engaging with artworks and objects from an embodied, situated position. Having written one full chapter so far (I am in my second year now), I have the experience of writing on one type of object in this project. That first chapter was on two works of textile art, which started as a close encounter with the objects. I try to give space to the objects (close reading can be said to be my main method of analysis), and approach the object as a philosophical announcement on the world as well. I do not take the theory and apply it to the object. I treat them more similarly.’

—Nesli Gül Durukan How does that work?

—Pınar Türer‘I see the object as a thinking companion, sort of in addition to the theoretical part. I try to keep it imaginative and creative, especially when thinking about art. That’s why I say things like “thinking with” or “thinking companion” – at least that’s partially the reason. In my exploring, or expanding, of intimacy, I am confronted with moments when I need to somehow define it, or be explicit about what I’m talking about. But I am also trying to keep it open in a way that does not limit the project or what it can do. From exploring intimacy or opening it up as a transdisciplinary, multilayered concept, to bringing a feminist and decolonial lens to it and asking questions like ‘can intimacy be thought of as a feminist ethics?’ Or what does it mean to look at intimacy from a feminist lens? There’s a beautiful quote by American writer Lauren Berlant that is holding my hand as I struggle with this constant push and pull, this confusion. They say of critical writing: “The aim is almost certainly always mixed—to control the object enough to say a thing about it and to change it enough that it comes to organize surprising kinds of exemplary association.” I try to go after this mixed goal.’

‘I see the object as a thinking companion. That’s why I say things like “thinking with”

Maria Lai, Libro scalpo, 1990, Mixed media on paper, Stazione dell'Arte, photographed by Pınar Türer

Maria Lai, A Gramsci, 2007, wood, fabric, cotton thread. Photographed by Pınar Türer, Stazione dell’arte, Ulassai

—Nesli Gül Durukan What kind of objects you are talking about in the first chapter?

—Pınar Türer ‘The first one is two works from Sardinian artist Maria Lai[3] and they are objects that bring together textile and paper, or let’s say textile and textuality. One of them is called Errando: a big, dark green-blue velvet canvas with geometrical shapes across it that are made with white threads, with also a shape of a globe stitched on it. There are “fake” writings on it as well, little knots that appear like paragraphs or sentences but illegible. The other object by Lai is called Bookscalp. It is this kind of book that is made with an empty (unprinted) paper notebook that is embroidered with black threads across its pages that look like full sentences and paragraphs. And from both sides of the open book an abundance of black threads flows – like thick hair. It is beautiful. These were the anchors of the first chapter, in which “depth” and “subtlety” were my main concepts that I tried to work with through a feminist lens (for example by trying not to reproduce the gendered binary of depth/surface in my usage of depth in intimacy). There I proposed that the “text” of the depths in intimacy is created, and/or read through subtle signs that open onto an abundance of meaning.’

—Nesli Gül Durukan And in the second?

—Pınar Türer ‘For my second analysis chapter, which I am currently writing, I am bringing together two Turkish authors and artists. One is a small collection of letters titled Tezer Özlü’den Leyla Erbil’e Mektuplar (1995) [Letters from Tezer Özlü to Leyla Erbil], a portion of a correspondence between two Turkish women authors during the 1980s. The other is a contemporary artist, Pelda Aytaş, who works with textile as well. It is going to be interesting, if not seriously challenging, to bring these two mediums together. But I will try to stick to what I saw to be a linking, or common, element in these objects. I also want to bring my questions into the Turkish context. Because I am talking about knowledge practices, and western hegemony that shapes them. I am hoping the in-betweenness of Turkish culture (of which I am also a part) could help me draft a nuanced critique. The third object is not completely certain yet, but I am excited about its potential. It is a contemporary performance project called “Motus Mori” by Dutch choreographer Katja Heitmann.[4] It is an archive of movements that is kept by dancers, performance artists, and volunteers who “donate” their gestures and movements to be copied by, or in, the artists’ bodies, led by Heitmann. They basically collect movements and play with the fleeting nature of – the impossibility of recording – human gestures, mimics and all that is subtle and intimate. Movements like how one takes off one’s glasses, how one sits or walks, or hugs another. So hopefully the third chapter is going to be on this project to an extent, most probably in relation to the everydayness of intimacy and these kinds of movements. The sense of movement keeps coming back, but at the moment I am not sure whether I will be talking about errantry as I previously imagined.’

—Nesli Gül Durukan How did you decide upon which literary and artistic works to study?

—Pınar Türer ‘I can say that my encounter with the objects happens organically. They take the research question in directions I have not really planned. And I think I can speak for most PhDs on that. Each work I will think about will affect my understanding of intimacy; and working across different mediums lets me pay attention to specific aspects of intimacy. At the moment I can see three mediums that shape my research. One of these is works that use textiles and embroidery, which is present both in Maria Lai and in Pelda Aytas which I will be working on in my second chapter. The other is the epistolary form, while the third one is performance art which brings in the body as medium and as space, archive, or where intimacy can take place. My goal is to imaginatively engage with these different mediums in a way that each gives me something new, some better questions to ask about intimacy and its potential for thinking ethics. The textile arts have brought me, and will hopefully bring more unexpected things (through Aytas, for example), an angle to think matter, materiality in relation to meaning making. This is important to me because I try to think intimacy not only in the sphere of human-human relationships (although that’s a big part of it), but also as a form of encounter, or form of relating that could possibly happen between a spectator and an artwork, or an object and its handler. One of my goals in this project is to broaden the use of intimacy, by – maybe paradoxically – specifying its colours, its echoes, its folds…’

'I try to think intimacy not only in the sphere of human-human relationships, but also as a form of encounter that could possibly happen between a spectator and an artwork’

Letter from Tezer Özlü to Leyla Erbil, 1986, From the book `Tezer Özlü’den Leyla Erbil’e Mektuplar'. Prepared by Leyla Erbil, YKY

Maria Lai, Errando, 1987, thread, cloth, velvet. Photographed by Pınar Türer, Stazione dell’arte, Ulassai

—Nesli Gül Durukan What do the letters offer you?

—Pınar Türer‘The letters are giving me this avenue to talk about the discursive part of intimacy. Because there is some sort of communication happening in intimacy, if we want to take the process of “interpretation” further. This does not have to be clear or unambiguous, but language is, or at least can be, an important part of intimacy. And writing, especially the epistolary form, brings its own, unique framings to questioning what makes something intimate, or what happens in intimacy – say, for example between two women writing each other intimate, personal, intellectual letters… What kind of knowing is assumed there, or what kind of knowledge is produced in witnessing such intimacy? I am also looking for ways to think about the aspect of storytelling or narratives as part of intimacy, especially narratives of the self, or of the intimacy itself. I think looking at letters will help me unpack these elements in relation to a possible ethics of intimacy. The stories we tell, stories we live to hear are very much connected to our ideas of the good life, to our ways of relating to or taking responsibility towards others. And my personal curiosity lies in the intimate stories.’

—Nesli Gül Durukan What about the medium of performance art?

—Pınar Türer ‘The third medium in this project will indeed be bodies and their movements, which have always been central to my attempts to rethink intimacy and ethics. Because the ethics that I have in mind or that I am intuiting towards is something that has to take the body into account and think from a situated, embodied feminist perspective. In that sense, bringing the body is very important to me. I hope to do justice to that, and not fall into the trap of talking about the body as an abstraction from the fleshy, material, spatio-temporal, and also political reality that it is. By looking at these different works, I got to ask questions such as what makes something intimate, or what element of intimacy is troubled there… Exploring certain aesthetic choices or effects in these works makes me understand a piece of intimacy along the way, or the opposite – makes me question what I assumed to be true about intimacy. That is maybe the undulation that I mentioned earlier with Berlant: to open or to close the object, or how they put it: to “extend a question or to put it to rest.”

Nesli Gül Durukan
is an independent researcher, curator and art writer

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 5 — 2023