10 Minutes with Huo Rf

Huo Rf (born in 1988, Mersin) lives and works in Istanbul. Huo Rf contemplates a wide range of topics including the theory of self, personal boundaries, encounters, modern-day myths and leaving traces. He mainly produces works using painting, sculpture, photography, video and copper for its properties of conductivity, conveyance and reflectivity. Some of Huo Rf’s solo exhibitions are; Abstract Lies, Bilsart İstanbul (2019); … was here, Elhamra Han, Istanbul (2018); Stories in Reverse, Pi Artworks Istanbul, (2017); Mümkün (“possible”), Karl Gallery Istanbul (2015). Some group exhibitions the artist participated in are; Sunday Morning, Galerist, Istanbul (2018); Beyond Words, 4. International Mardin Biennial, Mardin (2018); KEK Sever Misiniz?, The Women’s Library and Information Centre Foundation, Istanbul (2018); Spring, Off-site Project for 13. Sharjah Biennial, Istanbul; Signs of Time, Istanbul (2017); Replaced, Rampa İstanbul (2016). Some artist residencies, work and research programs the artist participated in are; SVA Summer Residency, New York (2019), İstanbul Biennial Work and Research Program, İstanbul (2018-19), Raizvanguarda Artist Residency, Coimbra, Portugal (2016).

Huma Kabakci interviews Huo Rf on his co-founded online platform and ARTBOOK Days, his practice as an artist, his collaborations and more.

You are an Istanbul-based multi-disciplinary artist who also co-runs an online platform for written art pieces border_less (2018) and an art book fair titled border_less Art Book Days (2019). How does your artistic practice and your organizational role feed into each other?

When I look back, I see the collaborations I have established for my life and my artistic practice has been essential in fostering these. The yield of many partnerships that I have made so far was not something I could foresee, yet I have observed the return of experience and correct knowledge over the years, and I can notice its effects on my practice. This process extends to the artist initiative Signs of Time which I was one of the founders in 2012. I find “thinking together” very valuable. Our personal experiences are eclectic, and I believe that being able to produce together makes the subject more diverse and layered. My partners’ and collaborators’ feedback has mostly contributed to the artist books I have published. We have studied or observed the ‘storytelling’ that I have been working on through various sides in each of the publications, together with the author, translator, designer of the book and with the artists I have invited to collaborate. Another significant achievement in this process is learning to surrender and rely on someone else’s opinions or efforts. When you collaborate with a professional on a project, you know you have to give in and trust that person. Of course, your option to question will/should remain.

On the other hand, we are working together with my partner Melek Gençer, to turn this process into a more structured and reliable one. We had worked together with Melek at Rampa Gallery and became friends. We started visiting exhibitions together, thus we began to think and read about art together. In a short time, the artists and the works that both of us feel close to have become similar. Then we started to think about border_less from a very naive point on the grounds of how we can build another structure that will contribute to the art-culture environment with our perspective and bring together our common ideas in one pot. Through the online platform of border_less we publish critics or interviews in Turkish – English, primarily in English and sometimes in the native language of the artists’ and/or exhibitions’ original country. We aim to provide both an alternative platform for writers and an online archive that brings together current reviews and the articles published in the past regarding exhibitions, artists, and many structures operating in the visual field. We have collected over 40 texts so far, and all texts can be accessed online for free on our site.

My participation at the Paris Ass Book Fair held in Palais de Tokyo in 2019 was another threshold. My application process, the event, and other participants of the book fair opened up different grounds and possibilities. During the Paris Ass Book Fair, considering the difficulties I’ve been through while publishing my books and the lack of platforms to share these publications, I decided to work on organizing an artist book event based in Istanbul in the shortest possible time. Melek, a close friend,  a collector, an art professional who sometimes revises my books, reads my translations,. For all these reasons, she is very familiar with my books and the whole process of publishing them. Together with Melek, we met with many art professionals, exchanged ideas, and came together with different structures such as museums, associations, collectives, bookstores, galleries, and artists. And at last, we organized the first edition of the border_less ARTBOOK DAYS in 2019. 

Besides all the needs I mentioned, another issue we had was the lack of financial support for the production of books and the funding opportunities. Due to this reason, we have been organizing an open call for border_less Book Fund concurrently with every edition of the event since 2019. It is not a large-scale fund, but in the past three years, we have funded three different artist books and are trying to create opportunities for ideas. We have worked with highly esteemed names as the book jury, as well as the consultants and the professionals who provide the funding. 

As an artist, I believe in the power of collaborations. I have gained so many experiences and established such good connections  through these collaborative projects. Although sometimes the process has some difficulties, I am grateful for all the results.

Huo Rf, … WAS HERE, 10 copper sheet,
each one 18 x 13 cm, (2018) and 27 photos, (2018).
Exhibited at Elhamra Han, Istanbul.

What are your key interests (both your artistic interests but also in your free time)?

I haven’t experienced any other life than an artist’s;, I do not carry a distinctive memory or trace of the past. Being an artist brings full-time work with it, and any free time can quickly turn into a time frame that triggers work. Every story, place, or news I come across can easily be a part of a production either at that moment or after a while if I feel related to it. I often rely on a connection to my personal history, the place I come from, and the people I have come across, which can be regarded as a tiny piece compared to human history. For this reason, the dynamics of my interests are variable. While history is referencing some of my works, I can start working on a portrait of a person I encountered on the news at another time or day; I think about the social pressure that creates the portrait. At the end of the day, a work on identity comes into sight. I care about asking questions and documenting them in line with answers. The sum of all these dynamics form the pieces of my practice. Transformative or determinative forms, structures also attract my attention. How boundaries are determined physically, traditionally, and culturally. Breaking down, opening up, talking and thinking about topics such as the process of character building mainly constitutes the basis of my work. I believe that producing and documenting has transformed me into a storyteller over time. My interests play a certain role in the production and research phase, which contours the cycle of my practice.

Inside the double sided glass made of broken glasses and framed cube, a heart sculpture, skin colour painted and made of sculpturing mud.
34 cm x 34 cm, 2015.

What inspires you on a daily basis?

The books I read, the news portals I follow, my friends, my family, the food I eat, the places I travel to, the place-city-region, the people I meet, the movie-documentaries I watch, the partnerships I have,, my flowers, the plants I grow and my cat. The list is long, and there is an endless source of inspiration; I think it is essential to stop, look, touch, smell, hear, see and apply this sequence as a whole, not hierarchically. I am sharing my work and get inspired from a purely mental and metaphorical point.

If you could invite anyone to sit down for dinner with you, who would you invite, and why (please list up to 5 people)? 

I would invite Tomris Uyar, whose work I have recently spent lots of time with, and her books. I think she sees, views, and expresses the world and life from a great and unique perspective.

I would invite Sezen Aksu; it would be a pleasant table with her memories, songs, and voice.

I would invite Gülsün Karamustafa; it makes me feel blessed and lucky every time to hear her experiences directly from her.

I would invite Dara Birnbaum. She was my mentor at the SVA Summer Residency, a very kind artist who generously shared her valuable knowledge.

Finally, someone has to write about this evening with my dream table, so I choose Ece Temelkuran.

What has been your biggest but nicest distraction during the pandemic?

To pause, take time to think in multiple layers, and to take care of our garden and plants. To be able to do this has been our most significant change. Making good food and sparing the time for it.. Spending time with a plant that you have grown, cared for, and are interested in, processing and digesting it when it matures, is very useful and thought-provoking. And also, growing vegetables and plants brings great respect to the vegetables you encounter in the market; the process makes you understand their stories. And lastly, to have the luxury of sharing these days with my cat.

Huo Rf, Apartman Tomris, linoleum cut print on paper
36,5 x 27 cm, Ed.34, 2020

Are you watching or reading anything at the moment? 

Recently, I’ve been watching Flavorful Origins. I am interested in cooking and processing the ingredients, their fermentation, the natural ways, and techniques of making them last longer. 

I am reading Dear Gülşah Dear Laurie, the book compiled by Gülşah Mursaloğlu and Laurie Palmer through their correspondence and contributed by the designer Kibele Yarman. It is delightful to witness and learn how the two artists handle their practice in layered descriptions in their letters.

If you could choose to be any other living species in this world, what would it be? 

I had never thought of it before; however, since I feel like a storyteller, and because of the breadth of their perception over time, last but not least because I love to sprawl, I might want to be a tree, an old one that looks out on beautiful scenery. 

What has been your most recent project or initiative that excited you? 

It is not entirely new, but one of the two projects that got me very excited so far was being accepted to the SVA Summer Residency and the five-weeks I spent in New York in the summer of 2019. And the other one is participating in The Istanbul Off-site Project For Sharjah Biennial 13, BAHAR (Spring), curated by Zeynep Öz with our project as Signs of Time. It was a unique exhibition that had opened different experiences from every angle to the audience and shaped my work.

Any exciting projects coming up?

I have a column in Art Unlimited magazine called Huo is Asking; for each issue I ask five different art professionals a question and receive interactive answers. For example, asking a question about the transmission of culture and kindly requesting a family recipe from them as an answer.

Recently, I have started a new series for YKY Sanat Dünyamız magazine, which will be a year long collaboration. With the title of the series, ‘Feelings/Coincidences/Crossings,’ we open a conversation regarding a word and/or concept we choose with the two artists we invite in each issue, based on their experiences and production.

And lastly, we are organizing the third edition of border_less ARTBOOK DAYS on May 7-9, 2021. I’m very excited to meet again with artists who work on and produce art books. We have already received many valuable applications. This year, we are organizing the event at Bilsart, which is a beautiful art space with the perfect team to work with. We are so looking forward to it!