Nezaket Ekici: Body as Sculpture

By Mariana Roa Oliva

Nezaket Ekici, an internationally recognized performance artist, is visiting Macalester to lead a workshop about performance art. Last Sunday, as part of her visit to the college, she presented a new performance-installation in which some Macalester students and she were modeled by the audience into live representations of a series of paintings from different centuries. Here is an edited version of a conversation with Nezaket where she expands on the theme of performance art and the way she approaches it.The Mac Weekly: How is that you got involved in performance art?
Nezaket Ekici: I came from a background of painting and sculpture, which I studied in Munich, Germany, from 1994 to 2000. While working in sculpture I became interested in experimenting with the powerful effect of having the body being part of it, and I decided to use my body in a sculpture. That became my first performance. After that I wanted to learn more about performance, so I searched for people who could teach me. In Germany I met Marina Abramovic, who was teaching at the Fine Arts Academy in Braunschweig. I studied in her performance art class during four years, doing my Master’s degree. I am very interested in making art with the body, and that’s why I decided to do performance, where my body plays a very important part, but I also work in the performance’s installation, because I want to create art where body, installation room, audience and space are connected to form a “total work”. I consider very important using something more than just the body.

I travel a lot, internationally, and have performed in different spaces: in museums, galleries, festivals, the street, the Prison, etc. For a performance artist it is very important to perform on different spaces, and with different audiences from different cultures.

TMW: Where does your interest in working with the body come from?
NE: For me, it is easier to express art with body than with a pencil. There is more freedom when using the body. I want to show the art with my body, which is my material like in painting paint is the material, that’s how I create art. It interests me a lot to be at one time with the audience and perform, to get their expression and energy and to give my energy to them, and then to see how that works in my performance.

TMW: You talked about the importance of the audience for the performance, what would you say about the audience’s reactions to your work?
NE: You can’t really say what the reactions of the audience are, because the audience is always different. For example if you present the same performance in many countries the public will always react different. The reactions are always different, they come from different cultures, traditions, different societies; it all comes together.

TMW: And what do you think about the reactions of the audience to performance art compared to other art forms?
NE: I think performance is one of the most difficult art forms, because you are producing the art in the moment, you bring together the art piece in the moment. In performance you have life, direct contact with the audience. Here you have to think at the same time about the audience, the space, the duration of the performance, your mental and physical situation during you performance, your movement in space.

TMW: What are some of your objectives when working in performance art?
NE: My performances work with different themes, dealing with cultural identity -I was born in Turkey but live in Germany -, with art history, with daily life situations, gender, politics, etc. I have ideas and images and create them in reality. It is with the motivation of the idea or the concept that I make the performances. It is conceptual art in a way, I think about the concept and then I perform it, even if the concept or idea is difficult to represent.

TMW: Would you give us an example from one of your pieces?
NE: Yes, I worked in the project “Emotion, in motion” since 2000 and performed it in many countries. I got invited to galleries to create the performance installation of my personal room. With red lipstick on, I kissed each one of the objects in the room. I kissed everything, the wall, the furniture, the ground, the ceiling, because in my mind I had this image of thousands of kisses, the idea of being grateful for everything. The performance wasn’t easy, because to show my idea I needed lots of kisses, which takes times and I would get tired; I kissed everything in three days, for 10 hours each day.

TMW: How do you find out if your idea came across to the audience?
NE: Usually I talk to the audience and get feedback from them. Some people understand the idea very quick, some don’t. Some speak about it and some don’t. For me, of course, it would be important to hear from everyone, but it is also okay if not everyone want to express their comments. It is also very important to me that I made the art piece; it was an empty gallery space, and I, through my performance, transformed it with kissing into a new work.

TMW: Could you talk a little bit about the workshop you’re conducting at Macalester?
NE: I came here with the motivation of making a workshop with students, where we combine art history and performance. I like this combination because I find interesting the idea of using painting and sculpture from different centuries, get inspiration from them, and make a three-dimensional work. I’m curious about the ideas and thoughts of the students and their inspirations. The performance Form-it-able from last weekend was very important, because being part of it, experiencing, served for the students as an introduction to the workshop.